NECIR wins Gabriel Award for radio storytelling

Photo: Catholic Press Association

A radio series about a wrongfully convicted man’s effort to rebuild his life after nearly four decades in prison earned the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) and WGBH a national prize for storytelling from the Catholic Press Association. 

CPA presented the Gabriel Award for Narrative Series Storytelling, first place, during its annual meeting in St. Petersburg on Friday to NECIR Reporter Chris Burrell, NECIR Investigations Editor Paul Singer, WGBH Executive Producer, Editor Aaron Schachter, WGBH News Engineer Doug Shugarts, and WGBH Director of Photography Meredith Nierman.

The Gabriel Awards seek to “recognize outstanding artistic achievement in a television or radio program or series which entertains and enriches with a true vision of humanity and a true vision of life,” according to CPA. 

After a year of research and interviews, Burrell told the story of how hypnosis helped send Fred Clay to prison 38 years ago when police used the now-discredited technique to sharpen the fuzzy memory of a witness in Clay’s trial for the murder of a taxi driver. That conviction was thrown out by a superior court judge in Boston, freeing Clay after 38 years behind bars. 

Even though Massachusetts law calls for immediate services and monetary compensation for wrongly convicted men and women, Clay’s newly-won freedom quickly turned into a struggle for basic survival without any support from the state that wrongfully convicted him.  

The spotlight on Clay’s story helped him win $1 million in compensation from the state and inspired a bill to improve support for those wrongfully convicted after their release.  

Read the series and follow-up reports and interviews. 

All Gabriel Award winners will be honored at an event on June 21 in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Catholic Press Association has nearly 225 publication members and 600 individual members. Member print publications reach nearly 10 million households. Learn more about CPA at catholicpress.org.

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit newsroom based at Boston University and WGBH News, seeks to expose injustice through investigative reporting and training. Learn more at NECIR.org.