SBM McCree Award winners to be honored at ceremony

A Detroit Free Press team of journalists has won top honors at the State Bar of Michigan's 37th Annual Wade H. McCree Awards for the Advancement of Justice for their print/online multimedia series uncovering Wayne County's failure to pay $4 million in restitution to crime victims.

The broadcast category winner was WEIY NBC 25 for a series about Michigan's Paternity Act.

W. Anthony Jenkins, president of the State Bar of Michigan, will present the 37th annual McCree Awards at the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame Induction banquet on Sunday, April 17, at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing. The McCree Awards are given each year to foster greater public understanding of the inherent values of our legal and judicial system.

Detroit Free Press reporter Jim Schaefer, computer-assisted reporting specialist Kristi Tanner-White, and videographer and photographer Eric Seals documented the failure of Wayne County to pay crime victims nearly $4 million. Using county circuit court records, they tracked down many crime victims, some of whom were owed more than $10,000. One such victim was an 89-year-old woman who had been severely beaten in her home two years before. Though one of her attackers paid Wayne County $1,210 in restitution, the county never sent her the money. Because of the Free Press investigation, Wayne County's executive hired a consultant to bring the backlog to order. Last December, the county clerk's office finally cut checks to almost all victims found by the newspaper.

Andy Hoag, from The Saginaw News, took second place in the print/online category for his coverage of an unusual plea deal made by the newspaper's former editor and publisher, Paul C. Chaffee, after he was arrested for drunken driving. The police report noted that Chaffee boasted about having money and connections after his arrest. Though Chaffee was charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, with a maximum sentence of 93 days in jail, he made a plea to the civil infraction of careless driving, and only had to pay a $178 fine. Hoag's investigation prompted the judges in Saginaw County to reevaluate their authority in objecting to plea deals, and it also looked into the dramatic difference having a defense attorney made in the sentencing outcomes of county court cases.

The Detroit Free Press and Metro Times tied for third place in the print/online category. Free Press reporters Jennifer Dixon and Jim Schaefer won for ongoing coverage of the corruption of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's administration. The Free Press' 2010 coverage revealed that federal agents had been collecting evidence for years that Kilpatrick had been running a criminal enterprise from inside city hall, and that they planned to charge him under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Among the allegations revealed in the Free Press investigation was that Kilpatrick and his father, Bernard Kilpatrick, had taken bribes and favors from at least nine Detroit-area businesspeople in exchange for political favors.

Curt Guyette, news editor for Detroit's Metro Times, won for his coverage of ongoing developments across Michigan in response to the vague Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. The first of the stories detailed a planned medical marijuana "compassion center," a place where medical marijuana patients could buy and consume marijuana, in Detroit's Eastern Market. Subsequent stories focused on clashes between medical marijuana supporters that pushed the boundaries of the law, local governments that began drafting ordinances to restrict medical marijuana, and law enforcement agencies that arrested users of medical marijuana for activities they still believed to be illegal.

Mike Martindale and Mike Wilkinson, reporters at The Detroit News, won a print/online McCree Award for a story that highlighted the problems that arose when the Michigan Department of Corrections started accelerating the rate of prisoner paroles in order to cut costs. Prosecutors sued because they didn't get enough time to appeal certain cases, but the state maintained that they had the right to release people on the earlier end of their prison sentences, and given budget cuts, they had to do so. Public policy groups backed the state by arguing there is no evidence that longer prison terms help to reduce recidivism.

WEIY NBC 25 reporter Jessica Harthorn won a broadcast McCree Award for a series that has followed Fenton resident Daniel Quinn as he fights for custody of his biological daughter Maeleigh. At the time Maeleigh was born, her mother, Candace Beckwith, was married to another man, Adam Beckwith. For two years Candace and Quinn raised Maeleigh, until she decided to return to her estranged husband. Michigan's Paternity Act gives parental rights to a woman's husband, even if he is not the biological father of the child, as long as he promises to care for the child. Adam Beckwith promised to care for Maeleigh, but then used her for drug trafficking. Now Maeleigh is in foster care, and Quinn is working with state legislators to change the law and gain custody of the little girl DNA tests have proved is his daughter.

Published: Wed, Apr 13, 2011