I wanted to let things unfold a bit before jumping in on the weekend triple-murder story, but it’s time to give The Star credit for a great job.
In ordinary times, it’s easy to complain about The Star and how it has shrunk in the last six to eight years. But it’s still the only regional news organization that can pull together the resources and experience it takes to respond appropriately to a story of this magnitude.
The first day’s coverage — in Monday’s paper — was a bit scrambled, but that was understandable, given the weekend occurrence and the inherent difficulty of getting ahold of a wide array of sources on a Sunday.
Even with that disadvantage, though, The Star’s reporting team managed to get a significant amount of information, and the big, bold headline — “Black Sunday” — was terrific.
My fear on Sunday night was that The Star might hold off on reporting Glenn Miller’s “Heil Hitler” comment because the cops wouldn’t confirm it, but it was right there near the top of the story, as it should have been.
Then, on Monday, The Star’s formidable team of courts, investigative and feature reporters — along with outstanding photographers — rolled into full action.
The photo of Will Corporon wiping tears from his eyes while his sister Mindy Corporon (whose son and father had died in the shootings) spoke to the press — was an absolute throat grabber. The editors put it right up in the flag on Tuesday morning.
Also on the front page, the 1984 photo of Miller holding a 10-foot-long (or thereabouts) shotgun in front of a KKK sign made it clear what kind of space junk we were dealing with. And the police mug shot of him from Sunday — glassy- and vacant-eyed — made for a sharp, riveting contrast.
The lead story, appropriately, was Tony Rizzo’s identification and tribute to the third victim, Terri LaManno, whom police did not publicly identify until Monday.
Eric Adler, the paper’s premier feature writer, did a nice job portraying the Corporan family — whose courage and strength to come out in public, and attend and speak at prayer services and press conferences — has been nothing short of remarkable.
The third story on the front page was a takeout on Miller. The writers were KC Star mainstays Laura Bauer, Donald Bradley and Judy Thomas, all of whom have tons of big-story experience.
Accompanying the story, on the “jump” was a photo of Miller’s ranch-style home in southwest Missouri, with a pickup parked directly in front of the front door. Good call — dispatching ace photographer (one of several aces on the staff) Keith Myers on a three-hour-plus trip to get a residential mug shot. It added a lot.
Today, The Star came back with three more outstanding stories, one of which delineated the charges and clearly explained the difference between state and federal prosecution. The Star is fortunate to have a state courts expert, Rizzo, and an authority on federal courts, Mark Morris. That duo provided the guts of the “hate crimes” story on Page 1.
The other front-page story was a real eye-opener. Morris, Thomas and Dave Helling collaborated on a long piece revealing that Miller was once in the federal government’s witness protection program. It was the kind of story that makes most of us want to say, “The son of a bitch should never have been given a break for his cooperation in earlier hate-crime cases, and he should have been in prison the last three decades.”
One source, in fact, said as much. Leonard Zeskind, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (whatever that is) was quoted as saying: “That man shouldn’t have been running around free. He should’ve died in prison.”
So, the reporters let us indulge ourselves in that emotion before bringing us back down to earth with a quote from former federal prosecutor Patrick McInerney:
“For someone to predict that 30 years after he testified for the government he would do something like this is a little bit of a stretch.”
How true. And, indeed, Miller testified for the government in a 1988 trial in Fort Smith Ark., where more than a dozen white supremacists were accused of conspiring to kill a federal judge and FBI agent and plotting to overthrow the federal government.
Pretty serious stuff, and it’s easy to see why the government would be willing to make a deal for incriminating testimony. Unfortunately, the defendants were acquitted.
Topping off today’s coverage was an eerie, creepy photo of Miller in a wheelchair before or after he made a brief, remote court appearance from the Johnson County Jail.
Photographer David Eulitt, another top-notch shooter, caught Miller looking at the camera out of the corner of his eyes, with a sneering, disdainful look on his face.
What a prick…And The Star was able to portray him as precisely that without having to use any four- or five-letter words.
Good stuff, Star editors, reporters and photographers. Thanks for the stem-to-stern, enlightening coverage of this unforgettable, horrible story.