Recognition for our story on Rica’s death

For journalist, the recognition we receive for our work mostly comes from readers and listeners who let us know our work has struck a cord — positive or negative — with them.  It’s always nice to have our work recognized by our peers.

We recently received word that a story I co-authored with Ryan Denham, digital content editor for WGLT, received two Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association awards. “Failing Rica” took second place honors for the Best Investigative Report and Best Hard New Feature.

The story is a memorable one on many levels. Rica Rountree was just eight years old when she died of a series of injuries inflicted by her father’s girlfriend. Cindy Baker is in the McLean County jail awaiting sentencing on murder charges. Richard Rountree, Rica’s father, is in prison for child endangerment.

As part of our story, we reviewed the extensive records that often come with these cases.  Rica was failed by those closest to her and, many have argued, by the child welfare system that did not protect her when signs of serious abuse were literally written all over her face.

Kudos to Ryan — awarded best reporter for the third year in a row– and my colleagues at WGLT for their excellent work.  Here’s a list of winners in the local radio category:


Radio II/Local Radio


Best Spot News: First, Ethan Kruger and Rick Koshko, WCMY-AM, Ottawa, “Skydiver Lands in River”; Second, Scott Reeder, Herb Trix and Michelle O’Neill, WVIK-FM, Rock Island, “Liggins Sentenced to Life.”

Best Sports Report: First, Jason Parrott, WIUM-FM, Macomb, “RAGBRAI’s Visit to Keokuk”; Second, Zach Wilson, WVIK-FM, Rock Island, “Shrinking Minor Leagues Could Affect Local Teams.”

Best Light Feature: First, Brian Mackey, WUIS-FM, Springfield, “Have We Been Misspelling J.B. Pritzker’s Name?”; Second, Brad Palmer, WSIU-FM, Carbondale, “Students Solve Death Investigation.”

Best Hard News Feature: First, Dusty Rhodes, WUIS-FM, Springfield, “School Nurse Breaks a Rule to Save a Life”; Second, Ryan Denham and Edith Brady Lunny, WGLT-FM, Normal, “Failing Rica.” 

Best Series or Documentary: First, Eric Stock, Ryan Denham and Dana Vollmer, WGLT-FM, Normal, “Down On the Farm”; Second, Mary Cullen, WGLT-FM, Normal, “Fines and Fees System Fail The Disadvantaged.” 

Best Investigative Report: First, Rachel Otwell, Alex Mierjeski and Mary Hansen, WUIS-FM, Springfield, “Preserving the Reputations of Sexual Harassers”; Second, Ryan Denham and Edith Brady Lunny, WGLTFM, Normal, “Failing Rica.”

Best Use of Sound: First, Rich Egger, WIUM-FM, Macomb, “Jingle All the Way”; Second, Amelia Blakely, WSIU-FM, Carbondale, “SIU’s Field School Unearths Forgotten History.”

Best Digital Presence: First, Ryan Denham, WGLT-FM, Normal; Second, Tim Shelley, Dana Vollmer and Kristin McHugh, WCBU-FM, Peoria. 

Best Newswriter: First, Susan Stephens, WNIJ-FM, DeKalb; Second, Dave Dahl, WTAX-AM, Springfield.

Best Reporter: First, Ryan Denham, WGLT-FM, Normal; Second, Sarah Jesmer, WNIJ-FM, DeKalb.

Best Newscast: First, Brian Moline, WILL-AM, Urbana; Second, WGLT-FM, Normal. 

Outstanding News Operation: WGLT-FM, Normal. 



The 21st explores The Unforgiven

I talked this week with Brian Mackey, interim host of The 21st, a public radio program with listeners across Illinois.  Our conversation included portions of an interview with Steve Skelton, Amanda’s Hamm’s lawyer, during his interview with the podcast “Criminal” and excerpts of one of Amanda’s interview with police.  Here’s a link to The 21st interview which begins at the 17:30 mark in the program:

Susan Hazlett’s view

Susan Hazlett, long time columnist with The Pantagraph, shared her view of The Unforgiven in a column this morning. The same thorny issues of forgiveness and culpability that others have wrestled with after reading the book were also issues for the columnist. Here’s a link to her work : Susan Hazlett.

The years fly by

Where has the time gone?  I had a great time talking with WEEK anchor Caitlin Knute about some of the major stories I covered during my three-plus years as a journalist.  And the chance to show off a few of the vintage photos was icing on the cake!  Here’s the interview:

A conversation with Jim Dey

My friend and columnist for the Champaign News Gazette interviewed me recently about The Unforgiven. Jim shared his recollections of the case and the nagging questions that still swirl around the two very different verdicts returned by two juries three years after the deaths of the children.  Here’s a link to his column and a podcast recorded a few days later :

A fond farewell from WGLT on my retirement

My friend Ryan Denham invited me to share some thoughts on his WGLT Sounds Ideas program last week. We talked about some of the more memorable people and stories I’ve covered during my 12 years with The Pantagraph as courts and legal affairs reporter.  Among the more compelling projects were collaborations with Ryan that took a deep dive into local shooting deaths that left several killed and their assailants facing murder charges.

Here’s the link to the interview:

Our audio book artist:

Bill Flick hit a home run today with his column on Keith Sellon-Wright, the artist who read The Unforgiven for the audio version of our book. It’s really important to chose the right person to bring a book to life in this unique way. As Steve said, we couldn’t think of a better artist than Keith for the job. Here’s a link to Bill column, if you missed it: Link to Bill Flick

Keith Sellon-Wright

Bloomington library visit:

Bloomington Public Library Date: Thursday, June 6, 2019 Time: 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM Location:Community Room The Unforgiven – Bloomington Public Library
205 E. Olive St  Bloomington, IL 61701  tel. 309-828-6091   (Entrance and Parking on the South Side of the building)


Upcoming Event for The Unforgiven: Normal Public Library in Normal, Illinois, sponsored by the Normal Public Library Foundation. The date is June 2, 2019 in the Community Room from 2:00 – 3:30 PM. Address is 206 W. College Ave., Normal, IL 61761. Normal Public Library

We had a great visit Thursday with Andrew Welp WYZZ WMBD and his co-host Shelbey S. Roberts on their morning show to talk about The Unforgiven.


We explored details of our book on the Clinton Lake tragedy on WJBC this week:

It was fitting that our first interview after the book release was at WHOW Radio in Clinton:

Local authors explore 2003 drowning case at Clinton Lake

The Pantagraph breaks the news of our new book:

New book focuses on 2003 drownings of 3 children at Clinton Lake

Our friends at WGLT shared news of the book. It’s always nice to chat with Ryan Denham:

New Book Explores Justice System Through Clinton Lake Drownings

We enjoyed being guests recently on WCIA- Channel 3 News:

Book on Clinton Lake drownings to be released