Stolz said he thought I’d left out some important information in the story about the Wichita Police Department’s procedure for handling evidence.
Every day as a reporter, I sift through materials and interviews, trying to pick out the most pertinent facts to craft into a story. We try to take complicated issues and make them easy for people to understand. I rarely use an entire interview. Sometimes our sources question those choices. That’s natural.
“You made it sound like the Wichita Police Department just does whatever they want with evidence,” Stolz said.
That wasn’t my intention, but that was his perspective. So we met Monday afternoon at City Hall with Williams, a former colleague at the Eagle.
Although I used most of our 12-minute interview in the story, Stolz said he felt I missed three points:
- Evidence from some older cases was lost when it was kept in a garage, where the roof caved in due to a storm in 1990. I included that detail in the original story on Feb. 13 about Ronnie Rhodes’ conviction for a 1981 murder he says he didn’t commit. Stolz said he would have appreciated it being repeated.
- The Wichita police always have kept evidence in uncharged cases for as long as the statute of limitations is active for a particular crime. I had not chosen that detail because the story was mainly about a murder case. There is no statute of limitations on murder. Stolz said it explained the police procedure in more detail.
- Once a case goes to trial, Wichita police are required by law to keep evidence for as long it’s needed for trial and through appeals. The police department, by law, cannot dispose of evidence without a court order.
I’d quoted Ann Swegle, a deputy district attorney, as saying the WPD followed those orders in most cases. The Rhodes case has not yet revealed any court orders allowing for the destruction of evidence.
Lack of specific polices, and different procedures used by law enforcement, are reasons why 33 other states have enacted laws specifying how evidence should be maintained.
Stolz made it clear he wasn’t criticizing the accuracy of the facts I included or his quotes. He just wished I would have included the other information. I told him we could add those details in a follow-up story, as police work to implement a policy on how to preserve evidence, especially in murder cases.
When we left the meeting, we agreed I’d give Stolz a heads-up on which quotes I would be using and check facts he’d given me. That way, he’d have a chance to point out anything that might be missing. When this blog post appears, you’ll know I’ve done that.
Anyone I interview may ask for the same courtesy.
Because really, just as police want to get the right suspect, reporters want to get the right story.
Just as people can comment on these posts, and I often respond, when someone criticizes a story in any forum, we’ll listen.