Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Good Wife: Kills Husband, Still Files His Taxes

On Feb. 18, 2010, a Web site representing television news station KRQE published an article that recounted the story of the Albuquerque woman who killed her husband in 2002, buried his body, then filed for taxes in 2006 in his name. Ultimately, the story was written very poorly, and is the worst I have seen in a while for several reasons.

First of all, the headline is somewhat confusing. "DA: Ex killed husband and did his taxes," it says. I read this as being humorous. It seems to imply that she was so used to filing for their taxes as a family that she still did it for him even after he was dead. The headline made it seem like the authorities thought it was a funny, rather than a sober announcement.

Also, the story is written in a very confusing manner. The lead reads, "The woman who admitted to shooting her husband and then burying his body deep in the ground is now charged with filing his taxes and cashing in on the return." When I first read this, I had several questions: when did she actually kill him, when did she admit to killing him, was there a trial, shouldn't she be in jail, when was his body found, how did she have access to file for taxes if she's in jail? The rather ambiguous lead left so many unanswered questions. So, I figured I was originally too impatient with the story, so I continued to read in hopes of having my questions answered.

Surprise! They were not answered.

"Ellen Snyder admits she shot and buried her husband Michael in 2002," the second graph says. "In 2006, prosecutors said she needed him again for his money."

The third graph continues. "Since the body was unearthed two weeks ago at his former home in the northeast heights, Snyder's secrets have surfaced with him," it says.

Okay, wait, what? The writing doesn't clear up any information. She admitted to killing him and burying him--cool, I understand that. But prosecutors say she needed him for money in 2006. Was this during her trial in 2006 that this was said? She needed his money in 2006? Or the prosecutors said this in 2006?

Now in the next graph the writer tries to get cutesy: "Synder's secrets have surfaced with him." Good try at alliteration, but the affect is lost because the message is unclear. Which "Snyder" had secrets? So the body was unearthed two weeks ago? Where? Who found it? How did they find it in the first place? And really, shouldn't she be in jail?

The story continues, talking about a trial and a grand jury, the woman's money problems, etc.

"Snyder's son admitted to police he wrapped his step-father’s body in plastic the morning of the murder and then helped his mother bury the body two days later," the story says toward the bottom. "He has cooperated with police, so at this time he is not being charged."

The story then ends by saying, "Snyder, 50, is still in jail on a $1 million bond."

Now, shouldn't this stuff have been placed more toward the top of the story? The fact that the woman's son helped to wrap up the dead man is pretty important information. The fact that he's not being charged is important. And the fact that the woman is in jail on a $1 million bond is crucial, I think.

Ultimately, what I have gotten from this story after thinking it over several times is that the woman killed her "abusive" husband and with the help of her son buried him somewhere in 2002. That was that and apparently no one cared or noticed or whatever. But somehow people knew he was dead. Then in 2006, she filed for taxes in his name, which is how people discovered she had killed him? I don't really know what's going on in this story.

The story does appear to come from a television news station in the Albuquerque area, which is where the crime was committed. There is an accompanying video, but I did not watch it. If there is a written story with a video, that story should be written well. Most likely, this story is well-known in the area and therefore the station had covered the case previously. The additional charges of tax fraud she faces now is the "news" this time. But, the station should have linked this story to the previous ones, so that outside readers could learn more. I found this story originally from CNN.com under their "U.S." tab. Because of this, I would think the Albuquerque television news station would provide outside readers with additional information if they're interested enough to click the CNN.com link. The news station should be more aware of this, for future reference.

Here is a Web video of a previous story about the woman from the same television news station:

If you are interested in reading more about this case, here is a much better and more detailed story, from a different news station. This was written before the other, and before the newer tax information. It does, however, fill in some of the gaps that other story lacked.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A "Baby" Behind Bars: Robbery Turned to Murder

Recently, a 17-year-old male was charged with the murder of the 64-year-old Iowa City landlord whose death was in the news last fall because of the unanswered questions left behind. John Versypt was killed in early October and the case turned into an ongoing investigation. Local newspapers covered the murder throughout the past few months as new information was discovered. Almost four months later, someone has finally been charged with the murder, and two local publications (The Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Iowa City Press-Citizen) wrote about the young man arrested.

Interestingly, both articles describe the murder suspect in a way that highlights his young age in juxtaposition with the crime. The Gazette describes the suspect in the lead as a "17-year-old boy." Easily, the article could have read "A 17-year-old has been charged with first-degree murder...," omitting the "boy." The Gazette's decision to refer to him as a "boy" shows how they probably are highlighting his young age. The Press-Citizen, on the other hand, does not call him a boy directly. Instead, they include a quote from the landlord's widow near the lead at the top of the article, in which she calls the boy "a baby."

Both articles include either a photo (the Press-Citizen) or multiple photos (The Gazette) of the accused murderer. These photos make him look young, which, of course, he is. Not only do the lead paragraphs paint a picture of a young "baby" "boy," but so do the photos. Here are two photos that especially show a young, mischievous-looking man:


The Gazette

Aside from the representations of the suspect in both articles, on the whole, again, I think the Press-Citizen had the better article because it had more information about the case, including quotes from police and the murder victim's wife.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

IC Counselor's Case in Court

The Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Iowa City Press-Citizen recently published a story about an accused Iowa City molester and his trial. As a quick recap of this case story, a former elementary school guidance counselor is accused of inappropriately touching a boy who was then 10 years old in 2004. According to both stories from The Gazette and the Press-Citizen, the boy was regularly visiting the guidance counselor because of his introverted personality. Specifically on two occasions, the boy said the counselor touched him and muffled his voice with a stuffed animal. The boy did not report the 2004 incidents until five years after they allegedly occurred. The counselor denies the accusations. The trial is underway and is expected to end this week.

Editorially speaking, I actually enjoyed the Press-Citizen’s story much better than The Gazette’s because it was more thorough and detailed. Both stories were an update concerning the trial, along with background information, but the Press-Citizen did a better job giving more background information that really completed the story. For example, both stories took a different approach in the lead: The Gazette said the case is in the hands of the jury, while the Press-Citizen referenced what the boy said at the trial concerning the 2004 incident. Ultimately, I liked the Press-Citizen’s version better because it actually taught me something. Obviously the case is in the hands of the jury, but since I did not attend the trial, it was nice to learn that at the trial, the boy said he "didn't know how to react" to the 2004 incidents at the time. But aside from the stories themselves, there was definitely something strange about the photos chosen by the publications to represent the trial.

Matthew Holst/Press-Citizen

Brian Ray/The Gazette

Mallory Cole/Edited Gazette Photo

A strange thing I found was basically the exact same photo on both Web site stories, with different photographers in the caption. The use of both newspapers to use a very similar photo is interesting for several reasons. It is very strange that both used the same photo. Comparing the two, they look almost exactly the same, perhaps edited to look different. The lighting is different, but that can be changed simply by editing the photo on the computer. The cropping is virtually the same as well. The focus in the photos are a bit different concerning the background's visibility.

It's a bit odd that out of all the photos that could have been taken by the photographers during the trial, both took this exact shot (supposing the photos are indeed shot by the two photographers from different newspapers). Why not use a file photo? Why not use a mug shot of the suspect? How ironic that both photos are almost the exact same photo? If the photos are different because they were indeed taken by different photographers, how strange is it that the photos were taken at the exact same time (which you can tell by looking at the body movement and facial expressions) and then used for both newspapers?

So, for fun, I edited my own version of The Gazette's photo to make it look more like the Press-Citizen's photo. I did it in a few minutes on my computer with regular photo editing software that usually comes standard. I couldn't make the photo look exactly like the Press-Citizen's, but the editing options are numerous if a person does try to claim another person's photo as their own by editing it.

Either there’s definitely something “fishy” going on there, or it’s a coincidence. What do y'all think?

UPDATE: The defendant was found guilty. His sentencing is scheduled for later.