The Prosecution Rests<$> 

The Tennessean's error compounds negative perception of defendant

The Tennessean's error compounds negative perception of defendant

Tennessean readers had every reason to believe that Max Roybal eluded justice when they read the paper's account last week of his acquittal on charges of murdering his wife, Army Sgt. Laura Cecere. Two years ago, a jury found him not guilty in connection with the death of his fiancée, Karen Anderson.

"In both cases the women are missing and their bodies have never been found," read the story, which was reported by Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle reporter Todd Defeo and ran inThe Tennessean on Friday.

Actually, Karen Anderson was found dead in her home 10 years ago. The Clarksville paper published her obituary. An autopsy provided to the Scene from Roybal's defense team reported that Anderson died of natural causes. Prosecutors believed that insurance money played a role in her death and charged Roybal with murder. During the trial, they presented a second autopsy that showed Anderson died from a blunt trauma to the head, but a former medical examiner testifying for the defense disputed that finding. A jury acquitted Roybal after deliberating for just over an hour.

Sgt. Laura Cecere hasn't been found, but her jawbone was mailed to a Kentucky television station in 1997 a few months after she went missing while on her way to Wal-Mart with Roybal.

Just as the innocent occasionally wind up on death row, the guilty sometime go free. Tragically, we may never know what happened to Cecere and Anderson, and obviously Roybal looks suspicious. Still, The Tennessean's sloppy error certainly stacks the deck against Roybal by reporting that the circumstances of both cases are identical. What are the chances that a man could have both his wife and fiancée vanish?—many readers were likely to have wondered. On Tuesday, the paper ran a small correction, but that probably won't change the public's perception of the case, which was largely created by the paper's story.

Fox fumbles

Last week, at the same time WZTV-Fox 17 reported that Roybal's trial was set to begin, it showed footage of the "Hawk Ride" in Pigeon Forge, where a woman fell 60 feet to her death. Unless Fox knows something prosecutors don't, the two stories are unrelated. For Fox, it was yet another technical error, the likes of which regularly mar the station's up-and-down newscasts. Recently, in a piece about the National Endowment for the Arts, the station showed an image of the National Education Association. It also flubs its programming. A few days earlier, on a Saturday afternoon, the station ran the movie Quiet Days, which includes nudity and profanity. The station later apologized.

Odds and ends

Kudos to the City Paper for breaking the "Gay bill, gay brother story." On Friday, reporters Craig Boerner and Skip Cauthorn uncovered a provocative twist on the gay rights debate currently raging in the General Assembly—the brother of State Sen. Jeff Miller, who is sponsoring legislation to ban civil unions (which aren't legal here as it is), just happens to be openly gay. Gregg Miller sells ads for The Source-The Ultimate Gay Community Directory in Nashville.

"He doesn't agree [with my sexuality], and probably never will, but that's fine," Gregg Miller was quoted as saying in the story.

The Tennessean's Bonna de la Cruz rehashed the saga the very next day on the front page of its local section, with no mention of the City Paper's role in bringing it to light. That's probably OK, as print media are notoriously bad about extending credit to one another, but de la Cruz could have at least advanced the story in some way. Instead, she moved it back. Unlike her City Paper colleagues, she never managed to get in touch with Gregg Miller.... A laurel to Tennessean photographer Eric Parsons, whose front-page photo of an emotional Matt Freije and Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings showed just how vivid sports photography can be. His mouth open in disbelief, Vanderbilt's superstar player was in tears after starring in the most important and dramatic game of his life. Meanwhile, in the background, the newly compassionate Stallings looks far happier for his athletes than for himself. Just one glance at Parson's photo conveyed how in one year the Commodores went from being one of the worst teams in the SEC to one of the best in the country.... In the latest issue of the silly and sloppy Nashville Sun, an understandably anonymous columnist who goes by the moniker "The Instigator" manages to misspell the names of American Idol winner Ruben Studdard, former American Idol contestant William Hung and talk show host Conan O'Brien in the course of five paragraphs. Apparently not blessed with editors who are awake, "The Instigator" also used "actual" to modify "spent" instead of "actually," "tuned-in" instead of "tuned in," and "me write English no good" instead of "I'm really lame at this column gig." OK, we're lying about the last part and, for what it's worth, were Desperately not blessed with editors who are awake, these columns wouldn't read much better than "The Instigator's."

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