If there’s anywhere that crime pays, it might be at this year’s National City and Regional Magazine Awards, where a majority of the winning stories, announced last night at the annual CRMA conference in Dallas, document murder, mayhem and bad policing.
Texas Monthly dominated the CRMA contest, winning seven prizes, including four writing categories. Executive editor and Storyboard regular Pamela Colloff won the feature writing award for her profile of Michelle Lyons, a former spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who had witnessed 278 executions.
“She cracked her window, grateful for the cool air on her face. Mornings, when her commute offered time to think back on everything she had seen at the Walls, were the hardest. She was flooded with memories from her time inside the Death House: of the conversations she had shared with particular inmates in the hours before they were strapped to the gurney; of the mothers, dressed in their Sunday best, who had turned out to attend their sons’ executions; of the victims’ families, their faces hardened with grief; of the sudden stillness that came over the prisoners soon after the lethal drugs entered their bloodstreams. She could still see some of these men—their chests expanding, their chins stiffening as they took their last breaths.”
The writer of the year honor went to Colloff’s colleague Michael Hall, who was cited for telling “illuminating stories with a voice that resonates.” Among those stories was this extensive investigation into the murder of three teenagers at a lake in Waco in 1982, told from the perspectives of five people involved in the case, including a patrol sergeant who arrived at the crime scene that day.
“Simons, walking among the bodies as he searched for clues, was shaken. Who would do something like this? And why? On instinct, he kept returning to Jill, who he sensed had been the main target. Standing over her, he felt overwhelmed by the evil that had befallen her.
Simons crouched down next to her lifeless body. ‘I don’t know what’s happened to you,’ he whispered in her ear, ‘but I promise you one thing. Whoever did it won’t just go to jail—he is going to pay for this. I promise you that this won’t be another unsolved murder case in Waco, Texas.'”
Also, Texas Monthly’s Sterry Butcher took the column-writing prize and the magazine was recognized for excellence in writing for its September 2014 issue.
Other reporting and writing standouts included Robert Sanchez, who earned the profile-writing award for his story in 5280 about an anti-gang activist whose life fell apart when he shot another man.
“He’s hunched at the shoulders; his face is drawn. His soft brown eyes belie his usual street confidence. He’s wearing his ball cap, a solid black T-shirt, and baggy black jeans he’d recently purchased for $10 at Walmart. He apologizes for his appearance, says he’s been living out of hotels since his release from jail, that the pressures have weighed heavily on him. He’s worried about paying his bills, about a potential prison sentence, about his four children, about the bangers from his old ’hood who would love to even the score from behind the barrel of a semiautomatic. ‘In a week’s time—in a second’s time—I became jobless, homeless, and I’m on the run,” he tells me. ‘I can’t go back to my community.’”
Los Angeles magazine won four awards, including the reporting prize for Celeste Fremon’s examination of the LA Sheriff’s Department in “The Downfall of Sheriff Baca.” The civic journalism honor went to David Bernstein and Noah Isackson of Chicago magazine for their ongoing investigation into the Chicago Police Department’s manipulation of violent crime statistics. And Boston magazine, recognized for general excellence, also took the essays and commentary category for a piece by Jennifer Roberts about growing up black in the Irish, mob-ridden Boston neighborhood known as Southie.
“What was clear to me, even as a little girl, was that my mother wanted no part of our shared racial heritage. The bubble of denial she created for herself was solid Teflon. Everything rolled right off of her and onto me. At home, I was Irish. On the street, I was something different: “jigaboo,” “nigger,” “Oreo,” “Jenny the spook.” These names were spoken to me almost as if they were endearments, nicknames. Nearly everyone in Southie had a nickname.
I was from Southie; I was one of them. I was their black girl.”
For the full list of CRMA winners, go here.