Through investigative reporting, WBUR played a key role in the exoneration of Darrell Jones after he served 32 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. WBUR Senior Reporter Bruce Gellerman led an initiative in which he found that Jones did not receive a fair trial for a murder conviction in 1986. In 2017, Jones was awarded a new trial after extensive litigation by a legal team that included attorneys John Barter, Neil Austin (law partner at Foley, Hoag), and Lisa Kavanaugh (director of the Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program). Key evidence tracked down by Gellerman played a pivotal role in the litigation effort. On June 11, Jones was found not guilty at a jury trial led by attorney Paul Rudof, in partnership with attorney Lisa Kavanaugh.
In 2014, Boston University’s New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) began investigating Jones’ conviction. Senior investigations reporter and senior trainer Jenifer McKim taught a class on investigative journalism to a group of students from Boston University and Emerson College who investigated Jones’ case. They read transcripts, sought public records, tracked down witnesses to the crime and interviewed police and legal sources. They also reviewed the pleadings filed by Jones’ legal team, comprised of attorney John J. Barter, attorney Neil Austin of Foley Hoag, and attorney Kavanaugh vanaugh of the Innocence Program, which included forensic reanalysis of a key piece of videotape evidence.
In the spring of 2015, NECIR began a partnership with WBUR in which Gellerman and photojournalist Jesse Costa became involved with the case. After extensive research, Gellerman tracked down juror Eleanor Urbati. She expressed to Gellerman that she did not believe Jones was guilty. She regretted her decision to agree with the 11 jurors. Gellerman learned from Urbati that the all-white jury was influenced by racist comments. This fact led Gellerman to uncover additional details that eventually resulted in Jones’ first trial being vacated.
“When Eleanor picked up the phone, it was as if she had been waiting for my call for 30 years,” said Gellerman. “I am grateful that we have seen a positive outcome for Mr. Jones, and I am thankful to the senior WBUR news team who played an instrumental role in providing the journalistic support and resources for this project for more than five years. My work is not done, however. Now the question I ask myself is, if Mr. Jones did not commit the murder, who did?”
Gellerman notes that none of his work would have been possible without support from WBUR newsroom leadership including executive news director Tom Melville, executive director of news content Richard Chacon, managing editor of the newsroom Dan Mauzy and executive producer of news Mark Degon.
“Darrell Jones’ case showcases the importance of journalism to the administration of justice,” said Melville. “At WBUR, our mission is to report the news and tell the stories that hold our government accountable. This years-long effort by Bruce Gellerman is one example of the impact of our journalism on our community.”
Gellerman is a national award-winning, public radio, investigative journalist with expertise covering science, technology and the environment. He served as the founding senior reporter for WBUR’s business vertical, Bostonomix, the host and senior correspondent for PRI’s national environmental science program, Living On Earth, the host and co-creator of WBUR/NPR’s Here & Now, among other roles. Gellerman has received numerous awards including the American Association for the Advancement of Science three times in 1980, 1983 and 2006. In 1992-1993, he received multiple awards including National Headliner Award, National Press Club and Associated Press award for his WBUR series investigating Fleet Bank’s lending practices to minority homeowners which resulted in an $8 billion national settlement. Gellerman received a Bachelor of Arts from Ohio State University and began a Ph.D. program in sociology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. Gellerman currently serves as a senior reporter on WBUR’s new environmental vertical, Earthwhile.
On July 11, WBUR CitySpace will host, Beyond Reasonable Doubts: Darrell Jones’s Story of Exoneration featuring a panel discussion with Gellerman, Jones, Rudof and Kavanaugh.