I would bet a hundred bucks that the most-read story in the print edition of Saturday’s Kansas City Star was the one about the four young dipsticks who robbed a guy in Independence Wednesday night after the only girl in the group invited the victim — whom she knew — to meet him and have sex with her.
The story ran at the top of A4, which features local news.
There are two reasons this was probably the most-read story in the paper:
1) The defendants are white.
2) The perps were incredibly stupid.
The latter point always makes for a good read, and the former…well, let’s just say it’s not very often that you see four mugs shots of white people stripped under a crime story.
Three of the defendants look like they might be high-school students; two are 18 and one, the woman, is 19.
For the record, the defendants are Sydney M. Adams, the woman; Zachary A. Donahoo and Tristen W. Bishop, the 18-year-olds; and 23-year-old James T. Hunter. All four are charged with robbery and kidnapping.
As for the dumb-criminal dimension, like I said, the victim knew Adams, apparently very well. The story describes Adams as an “old friend” of the man she solicited.
So, if you’re planning a robbery — and you don’t intend to kill the victim — why would you solicit someone who knows you and can identify you? What would possibly make Adams think she and her compatriots could get away with it????
If you haven’t read the story, here’s what happened, in a nutshell: The guy arrives at the residence and Adams meets him wearing only a towel. She directs him to a bedroom, where he is confronted by the three guys, one of whom has a gun. They rob him, take him for a ride and release him. An Independence police officer spots him — he’s wearing only boxers and shoes — and interviews him. The gig is up.
Longtime Independence reporter Brian Burnes did a good job with the story — just played it straight and let the head-scratching facts carry it. Also deserving credit are the editors who decided to play the story prominently and strip the mug shots below the headline.
Too bad we don’t always see such good editorial judgment.
On Tuesday, The Star ran a three-paragraph under the headline “Kansas man gets four years for beheading man with guitar string.”
I don’t know if the story ran in a print edition. Bill Barnhart, a reader of the blog, called it to my attention.
Bill wrote: “The Star has been reporting about this guy that killed another man with a piano or guitar wire and was sentenced to only four years. How could something like that happen? It doesn’t seem right. Have you heard anything more about that one?”
When I got to checking, I found The Star’s three-paragraph story, which The Star picked up from the Associated Press.
The story, out of Lyndon, KS, about 20 miles south of Topeka, said a man named James Paul Harris, 30, was sentenced Monday in Osage County District Court for involuntary manslaughter in the death of 49-year-old James Gerety. It went on to say that Harris originally was charged with first-degree murder but pleaded no contest to the reduced charge in December.
The Star’s version of the AP story gave no indication whatsoever why the charge was drastically reduced and why Harris got only four years.
But when I Googled the AP story, I found a couple of versions that offered more information. One key sentence that The Star omitted said the prosecution was hamstrung by ‘credibility issues’ with a major witness.
That sheds a little light on the issue, but not much. I got the full story on the website of the Topeka Capital-Journal, which had sent a reporter to Lyndon to do an in-depth story. The story included these paragraphs:
The prosecutor’s office accepted the plea to the less serious homicide charge of involuntary manslaughter because prosecuting James Gerety’s slaying as a premeditated first-degree murder faced challenges, Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones said.
Other than a portion of the victim’s skull, prosecutors didn’t have the victim’s body, the murder weapon hadn’t been recovered, not all the prosecution witnesses were available, and prosecutors faced “credibility issues” with a major witness, Jones said.
“It was going to be a tough case to prosecute,” Jones said.
That explains why the prosecutor was willing to accept a plea bargain with a four-year sentence in a gruesome case.
The Star’s handling of the story, on the other hand, was nothing less than a disservice was to its readers.
A good rule of thumb — and I don’t know if I’ve heard this before or if I’m just coming up with it now — is that if a story poses more questions than it provides answers, it’s better to not run it at all, if you’re not willing to take the time to run down the answers.
In the case of the guitar-cord slaying, KC Star editors were just plain lazy.
One other Star note. Some of you have probably noticed that for most Kansas City Royals’ night games, The Star is now reporting the final score and a few bulleted highlights, instead of full game coverage. There are two reasons for that: The Star has gone to earlier deadlines, and it is trying to push more traffic to the website. Another upcoming change is a redesign of the print edition and the website.