In 2017, a nearly 20-year-old DNA kit was finally tested for a 1997 rape. James Clay was arrested, tried and convicted of the crime and sentenced to 25-50 years in prison. But Detroit Free Press journalist Elisha Anderson’s reporting on the conviction, including interviews with the victim’s family and the victim – who no longer believed Clay was the perpetrator – revealed that there may have been some mistakes made and Clay might not be the guilty party. Following the Free Press’s reporting, Clay’s case was re-opened and he was eventually exonerated and freed.
Of the story, Mark J. Rochester, senior news director for investigations for the Free Press, wrote in his News Impact Project submission, “A tip from a source indicated that a family was getting frustrated trying to get [the] case of James Clay reviewed after his 2017 conviction. Diligent reporting by Anderson secured police case files, court records and other documents that raised questions about the handling of the case.
“Anderson took her interviews and investigative findings to prosecutors, and days after publication, they went to court and got Clay released while they [conducted] a new investigation,” Rochester added. Less than a month later, all charges against [Clay] were dropped.”
Local coverage in Detroit and the surrounding areas, and across Michigan, has been intense, as well as coverage by national outlets. The Washington Post, the Associated Press, CBS News and other national outlets reported out matching stories when Clay was first released, citing heavily the Free Press reporting.
Had it not been for Anderson’s impressive investigative reporting, a wrongfully convicted man might still be in jail. Local journalists are intimately familiar with the events happening in their communities, helping to ensure community members’ rights are protected and preserved.
You can read the Detroit Free Press story, “Detroit rape victim: Wrong man may be in prison for my assault,” here.
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.