Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Reporters without clues (or editors)

How kind of the local fishwrap to continue running exercises for editing class under the guise of local news stories:

Odds stacked against suspect in slayings after DNA test
To convince a jury he's innocent, murder suspect Xavier Chase faces tough odds: 1 in 55 quadrillion, to be exact.

Never, ever play fast and loose in court coverage. Jury trials are as literal a case as possible of we report, someone else -- that'll be the "jury" -- decides. (By the way? Suspects don't have to convince juries they're innocent. Prosecutors have to convince juries that suspects are guilty. That's -- all rise, please -- the American Way.)

That's the statistical likelihood that the DNA recovered from inside a Halloween mask found near the scene of a double homicide -- and smattered with a victim's blood -- was from Chase, 40, of Sterling Heights.

So if there's one chance in eighty bazillion that the DNA is from the suspect, what exactly is the problem again? (It's worth noting here that the reporter has no way of knowing whether the conclusions in the first two grafs are true or not. What the reporter knows ... well, let's look at the next graf and see!)

Bart Naugle, a DNA analyst with Virginia-based Bodie Technologies, testified Tuesday that Chase's DNA also was inside gloves found with the mask, which had been tossed about a block and a half north of the Warren apartment building where Chase's ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend were fatally shot last November.

Halfway through the story, some indication that something actually happened on Tuesday: A DNA expert testified about some DNA stuff. (Which is what the reporter should have noted in the first two grafs: This is stuff somebody said in testimony, not something independently known to be true. That's inexcusable deck-stacking.)

Rema Reed, 32, and Terry Buchanan, 36, were ambushed after they left Reed's apartment. Spots of Buchanan's blood were found on the Michael Myers-style Halloween mask, the outside of the gloves and the instep of Chase's shoes, Naugle testified.

Another sentence of background (which we can only hope is confirmed), another sentence of testimony, and a horror movie reference. Why bother to watch the trial?

Chase's lawyer, Tim Barkovic, has said that because the mask and gloves were put into a bag with Chase's other belongings when he was arrested, his DNA could have been transferred to the items.

So the odds aren't twelvety-zillion to one? Because the defense doesn't acknowledge (it'd be nice to know what "has said" means; doesn't sound like Tuesday) that the DNA evidence constitutes guilt? Well, that takes the fun out of things.

The trial is set to continue today.

And some more news. So strip away the attempts to play Junior G-Man and you're left with a graf of news, a graf of background, and a reminder that things would continue. In other words, a brief -- which some alert editor should have brought into being, rather than amplifying the cluelessness with the "Odds stacked against suspect" hed.

Hard to imagine doing worse in six grafs, but ... no doubt someone will try.

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