Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Interview: ProPublica reporter Pam Colloff on the Joe Bryan case, blood-spatter evidence, resistance to change in forensic science fields, the best #cjreform podcasts, and the effects of a changing media environment on crime coverage

At a dramatic hearing yesterday on his habeas corpus writ in Comanche, TX, a small town near Brownwood, all of the evidence accusing former high-school principal Joe Bryan fell apart, including blood-spatter evidence which even the original analyst would no long stand behind. Ace ProPublica reporter Pam Colloff gave the details in a followup to her massive, long-form story on the case, which was published in the New York Times Magazine back in May.

As it turns out, Joe Bryan was almost certainly innocent and has been unjustly incarcerated for more than 32 years. Most of the blood spatter on the flashlight turned out not to be blood, and what blood was present could be linked neither to Bryan nor his wife, Mickey, the victim. Underwear that the prosecution told a jury contained semen did not. By the time the hearing was over, virtually nothing was left of the prosecution's case, reported Colloff.

With this news, and the renewed attention on Colloff's blood-spatter reporting, Grits thought it would be a good time to stop procrastinating and put out the full interview I did with Colloff over the summer. An excerpt was included in our August podcast, but here's our full conversation. We talked about the Bryan case, blood-spatter analysis (including the training course she took to conduct it), the state of forensics generally, her favorite criminal-justice podcasts, and changes in the media landscape affecting criminal-justice coverage. The whole thing runs about 40 minutes, you can listen to it here:

Find a transcript of our conversation below the jump. You can subscribe via iTunes or GooglePlay.

Transcript: Conversation between ProPublica reporter Pam Colloff and Scott Henson, Recorded July 30, 2018.

Scott Henson: Hi, this is Scott Henson, Policy Director at Just Liberty, and creator of the blog Grits for Breakfast. I sat down with ProPublica's Pam Colloff to talk about her recent long form report on the cover of New York Times magazine. The story described a 30-year-old Texas murder conviction, based on dubious conclusions about blood spatter evidence that are still used in courtrooms today. Here's how she described the case.

Pam Colloff: This is a story, it's actually a Texas story about a man named Joe Bryan, who is a beloved high school principal in Clifton, Texas, which is about a half hour west of Waco. And in 1985, Joe's wife, Mickey, who was a also beloved local schoolteacher, was murdered in their home, in her bed. Joe had been at a principal's convention in Austin in the days leading up to and around this crime.

And he's always contended, he was in his hotel room, asleep in bed when this happened, which of course is an alibi that's hard to prove, because no one was with him. But there was no evidence linking him to the crime. There is no evidence even placing him in Clifton, Texas that night. Everyone saw him in Austin. But he became an ... It was initially believed to have been a break-in. All the indications in the house were that it was a break-in.

He came under scrutiny when his brother-in-law, the victim's brother, who had borrowed his car for the week, the car had been out of Joe's possession for a number of days. The brother-in-law found a flashlight in the trunk, or so he told the Texas rangers, and it was speckled with what appeared to be blood. And, so began this effort to connect the flashlight to the crime scene and therefore, to Joe. And that's where bloodstain pattern analysis came in.

Scott Henson: Wow. On a flashlight.

Pam Colloff: On a flashlight that wasn't found at the crime scene, that we still are not sure if it's blood that's on it. That's one of the other fun facts of the story. But I had been looking for a case for a while to write about, that was about bloodstain pattern analysis, which I can explain in a second. But this particular case just had a lot of narrative elements as well that I was interested in.

Scott Henson: Sure. The high school teachers.

Pam Colloff: Yeah. This was a guy who had done no wrong, according to people in the town. But by the end of the first trial, people ... He had 36 character witnesses at his first trial, which I had heard of happening in any trial ever before. But when the jury handed down a guilty verdict, as many people told me, they believed in law enforcement, they believed in the criminal justice system. And if that's what a jury found, then he was guilty.

Scott Henson: Wow. How did you get started on blood spatter? You said you'd been looking for a case to be the central focus on that topic. What made you interested in this topic in the first place? Because that's a pretty obscure place for a journalist to say, hey, this is going to be my area. I'm going to spend the next however many years of my life honing in on this topic.

Pam Colloff: That's me. That's the kind of stuff I like.

Scott Henson: I know.

Pam Colloff: It was really through Michael Hall. I know him as Mike. Mike Hall's writing at Texas Monthly, about junk forensic science and the Cameron Todd Willingham case, that had raised my consciousness, shall we say, about the problems with forensic science. So, broadly, I had been wanting to write about forensic science and the problems in the courtroom.

Scott Henson: Michael, just to interject, had this amazing story on bite marks that-

Pam Colloff: Yes.
Scott Henson: ... has been incredibly influential. And, like you say, has been one of the journalists who's just hitting it out of the park on these forensic topics.

Pam Colloff: Every time. If you have not read all of Mike's stories, go to the Texas Monthly archives and read them. When I was still working for Texas Monthly, I went and covered a trial that I thought I was going to write about, and it's a very long story why I did not, that I will not go into. But I went and covered a trial in east Texas, a murder trial, in which a man was accused of murdering his wife and stepson.

And the issue in the case was, had this man murdered his wife and stepson, or had the stepson murdered his mom and then killed himself. And there was, what, from photos, looked to be a pretty classic suicide scene of this teenager with long gun between his legs and a single blast to his mouth. It looked pretty straightforward to me. So, I was interested in this case. So, I went to cover it, and Tom Bevel, who's sort of the father of modern bloodstain pattern analysis, testified for the prosecution.

And he said that, by looking at the bloodstain patterns in the son's room, where this shooting took place, that he could tell that this was a double homicide. There was no suicide possible. He gave his reasons for that. Then, the defense presented their side of the case, and they had a former student of Tom Bevel's, who is a crime scene investigator, out in Smith in Wood County, not a bastion of liberalism, who got up there and said, "This was a murder/suicide, and the bloodstain patterns are telling me that that's what it is." So, I'm sitting there watching all this, and was just fascinated. I just thought, how can two men with the same exact training ... Literally, they're going by the same literal book.

Scott Henson: One trained the other.

Pam Colloff: One trained the other. Look at the same exact crime scene and come to two diametrically opposite conclusions. In watching the jury, Tom Bevel, who testified for the prosecution, he's a fantastic witness. He's very polished and very persuasive. This is not a novel concept, but I was struck by the fact that, really, the witness who is the most polished won the day, not science.

Scott Henson: Right, right. Well, and this thing, where it's possible to have two supposed scientists look at something and come to the opposite conclusion, that's a weird thing about forensic science. We're going to talk about that a little more in a moment, but-

Pam Colloff: I'm going to interrupt. Both of these guys were law enforcement. They weren't scientists. I thought that's what was so interesting, was the word science kept ... science, science, science. The jury heard that over and over and over again. And these are cops.

Scott Henson: There's no scientist here.

Pam Colloff: No scientist present. Right.

Scott Henson: That's exactly right. Well, and a lot of these comparison-based forensics, really, that is the case. It's not scientists looking at fingerprints or ballistics. It's just a cop who went through a bunch of training and then practiced.

Pam Colloff: Right. And as Tom Bevel explained in his testimony in that east Texas case, he said, "Before I do this, I read all the police reports. I get as much information as I can." I remember, he faced the jurors when he told them this. I could see that this resonated well with jurors. Like, oh, he really does his homework. He really researches things before he ... This isn't just some quick thing. Of course, I'm sitting there thinking-

Scott Henson: That's the opposite.

Pam Colloff: ... wow, if you had a DNA analysts get up there and say, "Before I did my analysis, I got up and I read all the police reports." People would be horrified. But somehow, for this type of forensic science, that was considered, at least in my read of jurors' reactions, which could be wrong, though they did convict the man, positive.

Scott Henson: For her report, Pam attended a 40-hour training for blood spatter experts, in which he was given the same training and the same certificate proving it as so-called police experts who testify and cases. Let's hear her describe it.
Pam Colloff: I have 40 hours of training in bloodstain pattern analysis, from a class that was taught by Bevel, Gardner & Associates, Tom Bevel's company. And the expert witness in Joe Brian's case had a 40-hour class with Tom Bevel. So, my intent was, I'm going to get as much training as this expert witness had, and then I'm going to look at the evidence.

Scott Henson: Wow. Tell us about this training. You went to Oklahoma for this, is that right?

Pam Colloff: Yes. At some point in my reporting on this case, I just had one of those light bulb moments that usually happens while sitting in Austin traffic, which takes up a lot of my day. Which was, the only way I'm going to really understand this is, if I just go do it, and I wonder if I could get in one of the classes. And at the time, the Texas Forensic Science Commission ... In fact, let me back up.

The way I found Joe's case, I was looking for a bloodstain pattern analysis case, and the Commission took up two cases in the past 18 months, I think, for the first time, within the discipline. So, I looked at both of them. Either one would have been a fascinating deep dive, but I picked Joe's case. Anyway, the Commission was looking at the training of people who were testifying in Texas courtrooms. So, there was a larger purpose, also, to going and doing this class.

But I was interested, Bevel, Gardner & Associates is one of, if not the go-to private firms that teaches these classes, and Tom Bevel literally wrote the book on bloodstain pattern analysis that is quoted by expert witnesses on the stand all the time. So, I saw that they had an upcoming class in Yukon, Oklahoma, and I just liked the sound of that, also. So, I wrote to them and asked if, as a journalist, if I could take it. I identified myself. I used my ProPublica email address, and explained that I wrote about criminal justice and wanted to understand this better. And they very graciously allowed me to take the class. I had to-

Scott Henson: That's been my experience. I've gone into those sort of trainings as a blogger.

Pam Colloff: Yes.

Scott Henson: And they've let me do it. They're like, "Well, do you have $120?"

Pam Colloff: Yes. This was close to seven ... This was a $655.

Scott Henson: Yeah, but you got a certificate.

Pam Colloff: I did, though I will say ... I didn't get to write about this, but the money side of this surprised me. I was in a room full of guys who have taken a week away from their jobs, where they're doing important stuff. These are crime scene investigators. They're paying for a hotel room, a rental car, $655 to take the class, a per diem. That's all taxpayer money. I found that to be very interesting. I didn't get to go into all that.

But I was with about 20 folks in this class, almost entirely police officers. There were a couple forensic analysts from Oregon. There were people from all over in this class, which I thought was fascinating, also. And we learned how to analyze and interpret bloodstains.

Scott Henson: Did you find it convincing? You had this incident where you watched trained people come to opposite conclusions. Did you now understand why each of them had to those conclusions?

Pam Colloff: Yes.

Scott Henson: Are there areas where there's just an inherent subjectivity here, or what's going on?

Pam Colloff: There's so much, and I'll try to boil it down to the most important things. But everything from taking measurements ... And this is why it was helpful to do it in a hands-on classroom. But when you're taking measurements with calipers, there are tremendous variability in the measurements you're doing, that then have tremendous consequences when you're trying to reverse engineer a crime scene. So, there were things, just from the basic mechanics of, how do you do this, that were troubling to me. The ultimate thing that I found troubling was-

Scott Henson: With calipers.

Pam Colloff: With digital calipers.

Scott Henson: Digital, okay.

Pam Colloff: They were digital. But even that, it's very-

Scott Henson: Interesting.

Pam Colloff: ... challenging. The easy math errors that it's easy to make. We were told upfront my first day, that a 40-hour class would not make us experts. It would give us, I don't have the phrase exactly right, but we would know just enough to be dangerous, I believe was how our instructor put it. He said that several times during the week. That really proved to be true, because when you are comparing, when you're trying to identify a pattern, any kind of pattern, but in this case a bloodstain pattern, you are ... Just to give an example, there are many cases in which people have been convicted because there is quote, "A high velocity bloodstain pattern on their T-shirt." The term high velocity has gone out of fashion, but generally speaking, that's what it's called.

Scott Henson: Because it's a bunch of bunk?

Pam Colloff: That's a whole long other story. What has been shown is actually, what can look like that, can be many other things, including someone who's dying aspirating blood. So, these very tiny little droplets of blood aren't always caused by a person firing a gun over them. It can be them finding the body of the person who has just shot themselves or has been shot, and cradling that person. I can't tell you how many cases I've looked at with this scenario with a spouse.

There's a case, Warren Horinek is a man, former a Fort Worth police officer, who was convicted on this evidence, who remains in prison. But anyway, when I saw how a bloodstain pattern that's caused by a gunshot can look nearly identical or identical to a bloodstain pattern that's caused by someone who's dying and aspirating blood. You can start to see the danger of this stuff.
Scott Henson: Right, right. Well, it's a lens you're looking at it through. If you're looking for the gunshot, then that's what you're going to find. There's a lot of these that are that way where, because this ... Some of these things really aren't scientific. They really are just things cops started to do to accuse people. Nobody's really looked at the science. I think about a series of cases we had, where medical examiners in Texas were accusing people of child molestation, based on, oh, the girls hymen looked in a certain way. Well, it turned out, and it may have been Jordan Smith who wrote that story.

Pam Colloff: I know Jordan wrote those, yes.

Scott Henson: Who broke that, where it turned out the guy later took trainings and realized, oh, wait, that's just what they look like.

Pam Colloff: Right.

Scott Henson: Oops. Oh, sorry, and yet, they were testifying in court ...

Pam Colloff: How many people are sitting in prison now. Yes. Exactly.

Scott Henson: Based on this. Arson was the same way. Some of the things that they were basing their arson findings on were almost anti-scientific. The moment they applied science to those theories, they just went up in smoke, so to speak.
Pam Colloff: Right. But a jury hears the word 'science.' They might hear the word 'experiments,' because some of these people do reenactments and things like that. I think, especially, in a case where there are a lot of grays, and so many of the cases I've looked at involving bloodstain pattern analysis are circumstantial cases, I think this gives jurors the assurance that they are hearing a scientific opinion and they can render a verdict based on that.

Scott Henson: Right, and that actually is very common in all the forensics. When I was at the Innocence Project in Texas, we'd see, of course, forensic cases from many, many different disciplines. And one thing people don't always realize about forensics is, it's always something that happens after the fact. They've figured out who they think has done it.

Pam Colloff: Exactly.

Scott Henson: And they've accused them, and nobody is going to spend the money on lab work unless somebody has already been arrested.

Pam Colloff: Right.

Scott Henson: So, the forensic work is something that may come back to corroborate a theory months later, but it's very seldom what causes someone ... There's usually another array of accusatory facts. Well, when those start to fall aside, if maybe your jailhouse snitches don't work out, or if some witness turned out to be an angry ex spouse or had ulterior motives, or whatever it is, then the forensics get sort of hung out there to dry. That's how I think of a lot of these, comparative forensics.

Pam Colloff: Well, just as an example, I do think ... There's one value I saw of out bloodstain pattern analysis in the cases I looked at, and that is, at the crime scene itself, when you are trying to figure out investigative leads. I'll just give you an example. There's something they taught us about. It can be several different things. But it's called a drip trail. That can indicate, not necessarily, but it can indicate that someone left the scene, if you see a drip trail go out the front door, that someone left the scene who was injured.

Okay, well, that might be helpful in your investigation. I totally get that. But that is really different than a police officer at, say, Joe Bryan's trial, getting up there and saying, "This flashlight that wasn't found at the crime scene, and the circumstances in which it was found are very strange. Don't pay any attention to that, because this pattern on this lens of this flashlight, that's two inches wide." So, how much of a pattern do you really have? "Can only have been produced by a close range shooting, and therefore, we know, essentially, that this was at the scene of the crime."

Scott Henson: Right.

Pam Colloff: The theory, by the way, because I always love this theory. The theory was that the killer of Mickey Bryan was holding the gun in one hand and the flashlight and the other. I want you to try to imagine that very strange ... It's a weird way to kill somebody.

Scott Henson: Yes. It really is. I will say, though, even the drip trail part, I'm not sure anyone needs to go to some special class to figure that out.

Pam Colloff: Of course.

Scott Henson: If you shoot a deer and you don't get a kill shot on the first one, it's the same thing you do to go find it. I'm not sure that this is some big secret law enforcement, cop science, that we all have to bow down to.

Pam Colloff: If there's a lot of blood in one part of the room, that's probably where the person bled out. Things that are pretty ...

Scott Henson: That's right. And anything beyond those very basic things, it sounds like, it's a little dubious.

Pam Colloff: I thought everything we looked at was highly open to interpretation, and I was amazed ... Several times, I asked our instructor ... I truly wasn't there as a 'gotcha.' If I could prompt ... I said to him, I think two or three different times, raised my hand, can we talk about the limitations? When can we not classify this pattern, or just something to try to limit what we were talking about.

And I didn't feel that that was adequately addressed, and in fact, in our class, we were coached on how to testify. So, even though, at the same time we were told that we were going to walk out and not be experts, and then we needed much more training before we could call ourselves experts, we were also told how to deflect questions from attorneys on the stand, from opposing attorneys on the stand.

Scott Henson: I'm so glad you mentioned that, because actually, in my experience, what you described about not describing the limit of a technique, in all of these comparative situations is really the big problem with what's going on. It's not that you shouldn't be able to say, oh, well, the blood did this, and so we made this interpretation. But tell us it's an interpretation. Don't tell us it's science. Don't tell us that, you sprinkled magic science dust over it and it came out this way. Even in DNA mixture analyses, it's the exact same types of issues there.

Pam Colloff: I have to interject that, in my effort to understand DNA mixtures, which, it's also a component of this case, I read a lot of your writing on that.

Scott Henson: Thank you, I hope.

Pam Colloff: Which was very, very clear. It's a very confusing subject for a non-science person, such as myself.

Scott Henson: It's an amazingly confusing subject. And actually, since you mentioned the Forensic Science Commission, their audit of the Austin Police Department is probably, for anyone listening, the clearest explication of what the problems with DNA mixture evidence are. You're welcome to read the blog, too, but that's probably the go-to spot.

Pam Colloff: The commission's doing amazing, amazing work.

Scott Henson: They are. Let's turn and talk a little bit about the Commission, about forensics, in general. We're here almost 10 years out from when the National Academy of Sciences had their big report. It was in 2009, Strengthening Forensic Science: A Path Forward, and they're the first ones that identified the problems with all of these comparative forensic methods. I remember, I was so excited about this when that came out that I turned around, it was really even before they came out, because we knew it was coming, right? It was years in the making, and I was ready and was pushing our junk science rit in Texas. I'm like, look, we're going to be challenging all these forensic sciences. We have to have our laws in place so we can do this. We passed our junk science rit, and then crickets.

Pam Colloff: Right.

Scott Henson: Then, every once in a while, on death penalty cases, somebody has enough lawyers where something gets up there, but then more crickets. Then, an innocence case may bring up this narrow thing, and then that person gets out, but nobody else does, and then crickets. Then, you come out with 22,000 words, maybe blood spatter goes down in some states, but not others. And then crickets.

Pam Colloff: I would say crickets. I wouldn't say there's much movement that's happened. I think it's really shocking. I spent a lot of time when I was working on this story looking at, well, what's happened since 2009? I must be missing something. There was so little. There was so little that had happened. And it was really shocking to realize, here we are coming up on the decade anniversary of this, and Jeff sessions disbanded the national commission that was looking into all of this. So, we have the Texas Forensic Science Commission, God bless them. But not every state has that. Most states don't.

Scott Henson: Right. Peter Neufeld, in an interview that we did, I guess in December, said that they're the very best in the country.

Pam Colloff: Agreed.

Scott Henson: And that the other forensic science commissions that exist, especially in New York, where he'd been involved, really just pale in comparison, and are sort of industry-driven, and not really addressing these emerging issues.

Pam Colloff: No, I think they're the model. There's a lot to be proud of here, between the Commission, the the new crime lab in Houston, which does blind testing, which also does not do bloodstain pattern analysis, by the way. That's part of a story that I'm working on, that's coming up. But there's just nothing that's happened, or so little that's happened. And I think what's also shocking, a lot of people said to me, "Why are you looking at such an old case? Is this stuff still going on?" I said, "Not only is ..."

Bloodstain pattern analysis is really meant to be a stand in for so many of these different types of pattern identification disciplines. But not only is it still, all these things still being widely used in our criminal justice system, but you have a lot of people sitting in prison on convictions that were touched in some way by this. Now, there are plenty of cases, in the case of bloodstain pattern analysis, where that was not the pivotal ingredient. And a lot of people have said that to me. And I said, "How can you separate out ..." You have a prosecution witness who seems so credible, and is tying all the threads of this circumstantial case together. Sure. Maybe that wasn't the tipping point, but it was part of the jury's consideration.

Scott Henson: That's part of what I was describing earlier, about how forensics are almost always an add on. It's really never, with the exception of DNA evidence and occasionally fingerprint, it's rarely the thing that causes the initial accusation.

Pam Colloff: It's the embroidery when they're putting the case together.

Scott Henson: That's exactly right. Especially for these people who've read every jot and tittle in the case, and they're so proud that they've read the whole case file. Well, that's the worst thing you could do to inject cognitive bias into your analysis. Even fingerprint examiners, in some cases, do that, inexplicably.

Pam Colloff: What I think is hard for prosecutors, they're under a lot of pressure, and there's an expectation from jurors who watch these TV shows that, there's going to be forensic science that shows them the answer. So, it's sort of a vicious cycle. Where jurors come in expecting this, prosecutors and police officers know they come in expecting it, and they have to present a case that's going to satisfy that.

Scott Henson: Right. It's a fascinating dynamic, and it hard to know how to break through that juror expectation. You're right. It's probably mostly set by television. But this thing where, two analysts can look at the same evidence and come up with different results is really that even happens in the things that people think of as the gold standard. Like, fingerprints, here in Texas, for the longest time, at DPS, they had ... When a fingerprint examiner made a match, they required a second person to look at it to confirm. If the second person came up with a different result, then it went to the supervisor, and the supervisor made the call.

Well, for years and years, when the supervisor made that call, they weren't informing defense counsel or the courts that one of the analysts had ever disagreed. I actually reported it on the blog and Judge Hervey kind of got upset about it at their Criminal Justice Integrity unit. And they started reporting what it's really obviously brady information. Hey, one of our analysts said it wasn't the guy. But it had not really occurred to them. That was just, well, we have a process for dealing with that. The supervisor looks at it and they decide. Oh, but wait. What does it mean that two of your guys can disagree? It means it's not a science. It means it's somebody's opinion.

Pam Colloff: As long as you have crime labs under the auspices of law enforcement, there are going to be issues like that. Again, going back to the Houston Crime Lab ... I'm not calling it the correct ... It's the Houston Forensic Science Center, I believe, which is totally independent of HPD. You see different work coming out of there. I found ... I didn't find. This was widely written about but ... In the North Carolina Crime Lab, they, for years, with bloodstain pattern analysis, if their analysts were coming up with something that didn't confirm the prosecution's case, it was either not disclosed or sometimes thrown away.

Scott Henson: Wow.

Pam Colloff: They saw their jobs as working for only the DA's office, in whatever particular case it was.

Scott Henson: You had mentioned to me that, you're actually are a podcast fan and listener ...

Pam Colloff: Yes.

Scott Henson: So, I was just going to ask you, tell our listeners, what should they be listening to? What should they be paying attention to? What has gripped you and fascinated you in the criminal justice podcast realm in the past few months?

Pam Colloff: There's so many good things that there ... Well, aside from what you're doing, and thank you for what you're doing. There are three criminal justice podcasts that I really, I don't want to say enjoyed. They're all very disturbing, but you know what I mean. One, which I'm sure a lot of your listeners have heard of is, In the Dark, particularly season two. Which is about a case of a black man in Mississippi who's on death row, who's been tried six times for the same crime.

What the reporters find out who work on this is just ... I didn't think I could be shocked anymore by how bad a case could be. But they go through and systematically show you every element of the case that's wrong, from the snitch testimony to the bad forensics, and so on and so forth. And it's devastating. The second one I've been really captivated by, it has a bit of a dark name, but stick with me. It's called Missing and Murdered. And the second season is the one that's-

Scott Henson: That may be why I hadn't tried that one.

Pam Colloff: It's actually sort of the brainiest of all the ones I've listened to despite the ... It's not quite the right word, because In the Dark has such integrity. But it's called Missing and Murdered, but it's the second season, Finding Cleo, that I'd highly recommend listening to. This is a podcast done out of Canada, that is about indigenous women who are subject to a crime rate that is astronomically higher than the rest of the population.

Sexual assault and murder. And in Finding Cleo, the reporter, Connie Walker, goes about trying to find this woman who, as a girl, was separated from her family, and what happened to her. They have heard rumors that she was killed. In the course of actually solving this mystery, tells you a lot about how the criminal justice system completely fails the indigenous population in Canada, and you can extrapolate a lot from that here.

Then, lastly, is a podcast that WNYC is doing, called Aftereffect, that breaks down a police shooting. It goes through it very methodically, in a way that is just fascinating. I haven't finished it, but I, so far, have just thought it was very, very smart.

Scott Henson: Actually, WNYC has a Supreme Court podcast, too, that's excellent.

Pam Colloff: I want to plug, I'm blanking on the name. WNYC also has a incredible juvenile criminal justice podcast, about juveniles being locked up. I'm so sorry I can't remember the name, off the top of my head.

Scott Henson: I'll see if I can find it and put a link in the post.

Pam Colloff: Yeah, that'd be great.

Scott Henson: All right. Last, but definitely not least, I wanted to talk to you about a question that you are truly uniquely qualified to discuss, and that is the state of journalism, and specifically journalism on criminal justice topics in America. Just as a setup, when I left the University of Texas, it turned out that, that was the high point for journalism employment in America.

Pam Colloff: Yes. Who Knew?

Scott Henson: And from that moment, and I guess I knew, because the Dallas Times Herald went under, and then I couldn't get a job. So, I went into politics. I actually could have told you back then. The newspaper industry was dying long before the internet got there. People don't understand that. That was really true. The Houston Post went under soon thereafter, and young people like me couldn't get journalism jobs for the '90s, really. But today, we've had this amazing resurgence of journalism in many ways, but it's no longer local journalism. Crime coverage, criminal justice coverage ... Crime journalism is transforming into criminal justice coverage. And instead of the Dallas Morning News reporting on who got robbed, who got raped, who got murdered, crime coverage is frequently, more frequently, being done by nonprofits or by a secondary or tertiary outfit.

Pam Colloff: Or citizen journalist types.

Scott Henson: Citizen journalists. The rise of the cell phone videos for the police shootings has sort of spurred all of that. And you were at Texas monthly for years. You've led one of the most blessed journalism lives imaginable.

Pam Colloff: It's true.

Scott Henson: Because of the amazing things that your editors have let you do over the years. You must be like this Svengali within the budget room, somehow convincing them to do this.

Pam Colloff: I'm not going to comment on that, but I've been very lucky. Very, very lucky.

Scott Henson: Yeah. You and I have joked that we might take a forensic hypnosis training together, and if we get to, I'm wondering if you haven't already mastered some of these techniques and used them on your editors to get them to let you do all this. But at Texas Monthly, you got to do these amazing long-form stories, and at ... Then you moved to a ProPublica, New York Times partnership.

Pam Colloff: Yes.

Scott Henson: Tell us about that. Very unusual.

Pam Colloff: Jake Silverstein, who used to be [crosstalk 00:34:06] my editor at Texas Monthly, the Editor in Chief, he went to the Times Magazine, oh my goodness, I think, four, maybe five years ago.

Scott Henson: It can't be that long, but guess it is.

Pam Colloff: It has, amazingly. We're talking over the years about how to work together again. And I had done some freelance work for ProPublica, and was just a huge fan of what they were doing. So, we sort of hatched this plan about a partnership between the New York Times Magazine, where he's now the Editor in Chief, and ProPublica, and everybody liked that idea. So, the idea is to bring both narrative writing and really rigorous public interest reporting together, into the stories that I do. Every story has to have both of those components, which I like, because, to me, that's the way you get people interested, is with the narrative. But it also has to be about something that matters.

But I think what's interesting to see is, how many nonprofits right now are doing incredible criminal justice work. Propublica has been doing some amazing work. Megan Rose did a series last year on Alford pleas that should be required reading for everyone. Ken Armstrong came on board from the Marshall Project. Propublica last year, just came out with a story on Friday, that I highly recommend reading, about a very troubling case in Indiana. Ryan Gabrielson has been reporting on the Supreme Court. I could go on and on.

It's an incredible team of people. Then, you also have Jordan Smith and Liliana Segura at the Intercept. You have Maurice Chammah and everybody at the Marshall Project. Locally, you have some amazing reporting going on at the Texas Tribune. What am I leaving out? There's so many that-

Scott Henson: There are a bunch. The Fair Punishment Project.

Pam Colloff: Fair Punishment Project. That's the most exciting new thing, I think, going on right now is, what they're doing.

Pam Colloff: And that they have The Appeal, is what they're calling it.

Scott Henson: That's right. Beyond that they're ... have partnerships that published with other places, too. And they've just figured out, okay, no one was covering prosecutors. We're just going to hire somebody to go do it. But at the same time, I think that this is somehow changing the nature of criminal justice coverage. It certainly is no longer ... the folks in coming at it from those perspectives, from those nonprofits, are looking at it more systemic stuff. It's not just, oh, somebody got shot. We know what the lead story is tonight. It's a very different ... And on the flip side, you have vendors like the mugshots.com, or folks who are just sort of bottom feeding. There's still a market for that. There's still a market for the shame factor of, oh, look who got embarrassed and look who got arrested.

Pam Colloff: I think the biggest growing part of all of this or the unscripted series on Netflix, there's so many of them and podcasts. While I would say that I dislike about 95% of crime podcasts, I will say, there are a lot of them out there that have taken old cases and dug into them in ways that have had interesting results. I don't like, in both of those genres I just mentioned, there's a real exploitative streak that is really unfortunate, I think for victim's families, that makes me deeply uncomfortable, and I think tarnishes what a lot of us are doing sometimes.

Scott Henson: I have that discomfort with a lot of true crime stuff, to be honest.

Pam Colloff: Yes.

Scott Henson: I walk on edge of, how much I appreciate it, right along that axis that you're describing. It is fascinating how the podcasts have allowed people to look at these old cases just like you're doing. Now, on that vein, just to get us out of here, I will add one more podcast to your list there. I've been listening to one lately, that has been reevaluating all of the, now, nearly 50-year-old cases, from the original first Scooby-Doo season.

Pam Colloff: No.

Scott Henson: And demonstrating why-

Pam Colloff: Did they use forensic science?

Scott Henson: ... why all of those men were falsely accused. Yes.

Pam Colloff: That would be a great podcast.

Scott Henson: It is an excellent podcast. They actually go episode by episode.

Pam Colloff: Is this a real podcast?

Scott Henson: It is a real podcast.

Pam Colloff: What is it called?

Scott Henson: The Scooby-Doo Innocence Project , I believe it is. (ed. note: actually the Scooby Doo Justice Project)

Pam Colloff: No.

Scott Henson: Something along those lines. You'll find it searching Scooby-Doo Innocence. It's amazing.

Pam Colloff: That is amazing. We need to get those people and give them a few real cases, and set them loose, but okay.

Scott Henson: Oh my gosh, yes. There's some compelling ...

Pam Colloff: Wow. I'll have to check that out.

Scott Henson: All right. Thank you so much, Pam, for coming on the podcast.

Pam Colloff: Thank you so much for having me. Thanks for the work you do.

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