This was the hardest story I ever wrote. Other stories here won bigger awards, but this is the one I'm proudest of. It was personally heart-wrenching for me, and I had to explain a sport that is still alien to many of my readers, and make them care about something half a world away and 25 years in the past.
Phoenix Terror Cell
When Elton Simpson got shot in a bothched terror attack in Texas, I started going through an 8-year-old box of files. He had been named in a previous terrorism case I covered then, and I began making the connections. This story pieced together the links between five men in terror cases going back a 15 years.
Cold Case Murders
This was the culmination of my work at Cronkite. It began as a class project, and when I learned how badly metro Phoenix police had been at solving murder, I knew I had a good story to write. This was based on a database of 740,000 murders, but grew into a massive public records hunt, and many more sets of data. I returned to crime scenes half a dozen times, photographed them, shot video, collected sound, talked to neighbors and relatives. This story is about two women who were killed within a day of each other and forgotten. But there are others. The work continues.
This is the most complicated story I ever wrote. It began when an ex-FBI agent read an old clip I'd written about an Iraqi who'd been accused of designing IEDs. Families of fallen soldiers were suing big western banks who had let Iranian money fall into the wrong hands. I read 4,700 pages of case files and had to match reports of fatalities with case details to find the Arizona GI's who'd been attacked. It was two stories in one: the investigation of the bomb-maker and dozens more into the finances. The records read like a spy thriller, so I tried to write it that way.
When Jared Loughner shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and many others, the only real mystery was why. I set about to find out. Over the course of a year I delved into everything I could find on his background and state of mind. This story laid out the answers and was part of team reporting that won recognition as a Pulitzer finalist.
Loughner in Prison
The Jared Loughner story shifted as he faced legal prosecution. The question now became would he ever be fit to stand trial? Through court records and expert interviews I pieced together a profile of his very bumpy road to mental recovery inside a federal prison. This story made clear he was a very sick man.
Death of Sanaa
From the moment the press learned of Sanaa's death, 10 months after the fact, this case has been blanketed by politics, secrecy and irregularity. How could prosecutors seek the death penalty when the autopsy did not conclude there was homicide? How could the accused walk free for months after being charged? This case has gripped Australia, with one of their own facing U.S. execution for the first time since the Gold Rush.
This was very nearly a story that never was. We spent 10 hours driving dirt roads trying to get a glimpse of the women from the Perryvale Prison putting out fires, and only caught up to them at dinner after their shift. They gave me a 15-minute interview. But this was never about the fire. What started as a storytelling puzzle became part of a Pulitzer nomination.
Elton Simpson's attack in Texas left the same questions that arise after any terrorism episode. What motivates people to find common cause with groups like ISIS? How do they go from violent thoughts to violent deeds? We dug into his past to try to make sense of it.
The Yarnell Hll Fire was tragic but could have been much worse. While the media pack focused on the fallen 19 firefighters, I turned my attention to stories we kept hearing about residents barely making it out alive. Our coverage got a second Pulitzer finalist placement.
Mapping a Murder Spree
With two suspected serial killers awaiting trial, records slowly started trickling out. This time I got two reports from a spree which outwardly looked random. As I built a crime map, the pattern became clear. On the night the suspect is accused of assaulting, killing, and dumping a woman, her stolen car returned, like a moth, to all the other kill sites. This is that story.
Chasing a Chameleon
The first big Phoenix serial killer case came with the arrest of the man who became known as the Maryvale Shooter. For a summer he terrorized that neighborhood in a string of random drive-by shootings, always slipping away. The name for this story came from a remark at the press conference. An official said the suspect was like a chameleon. This is the story of the near misses and how The Chameleon eluded police for so long.
The Monocle Files
The Great Voter Purge
The original Monocle story came from an anonymous tip, and at first I was skeptical. She accused the unnamed owner of a soon-to-open bar of raping her on the floor there. How would I ever prove, let alone print, that? But some quick document sleuthing turned up a name, and the name had been imprisoned for a horrific child-sex crime conviction. I wrote it up, and stuck at it for months, as he skipped town and justice. He's now serving 6 years.
The News21 Voting Wars project was one of the most satisfying of my career. The ability to team up with top student journalists, fan out across the country and focus on one critical issue for eight months was thrilling. Here I picked up some big data skills, teaching myself SPSS to pour over 57 million voter registration records in search of unfair purges. This project laid bare how delicate the right to vote remains.
Some stories were just pure fun. I was asked to cover the Arizona Republic's innaugural Storytellers event, and write a story based on the best yarn. Naked with Javelinas was an easy choice. My rendition was an attempt to pull out all the tricks of narrative storytelling. And though it was just a light feature, it helped me grow as a writer.
Naked With Javelinas
Hoover Dam Bridge
My editor, who was a compulsive planner did something remarkable on my story about the Hoover Dam bridge. He told me "come up with an angle." It finally struck me: The challenges of building the bridge were not dissimilar to those building the dam. It let to a parallel story of how both were built in troubled economic times.