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Local news coverage of DeJac lacked perspective

Lynn M. DeJac's release from prison Wednesday was a perfect made-for-TV news story, ripe for several minutes of "team coverage" at the top of the newscasts filled with great visuals.

There was the courtroom scene in which a tearful DeJac was released on her own recognizance; the living room interviews with TV news reporters; her bewilderment while looking for a cab outside after being released; and the questions about what she wanted to say to Buffalo after being granted a new trial after spending 13 years in prison for killing her daughter.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," was DeJac's message to Buffalo after Channel 2's Scott Brown tossed out one of his soft questions. "I can't believe the support out there for me. It is overwhelming."

I'll say. That was a case of Channel 2 living up to its motto, "2 on Your Side." The support of TV news reporters was overwhelming. The emotional TV news reports celebrating DeJac's freedom after the 1994 verdict was set aside lacked any background perspective about the case that landed her in prison.

The TV coverage did enable viewers to hear DeJac speak for the first time since the case became big news again. She came off a little rehearsed but well-spoken. You could see she'd make a terrific witness in a possible retrial. That's if District Attorney Frank Clark goes through on his plans to pursue one despite the cost to taxpayers.

I realize this may make me as popular as Clark, but the DeJac TV coverage played more like a Hallmark Christmas reunion movie set to music than real journalism.

Any reporter with any memory of the trial details should have paused from Wednesday's sentimental moments and reminded viewers this isn't another case like that of Anthony Capozzi, an innocent man who was wrongfully sent to prison for decades for crimes he didn't commit.

DeJac may deserve a new trial to again determine who killed her daughter, Crystallynn Girard. But the details of her old trial illustrated that she wasn't exactly totally innocent. If the 1994 jury was wrong and DeJac didn't kill her daughter, the court transcripts make it pretty clear that her lifestyle, at the very least, put her daughter in peril and DeJac in the defendant's seat.

In his opening statement in the 1994 trial, defense attorney Andrew LoTempio conceded she "was not going to get the Good Housekeeping seal of approval" as a mother.

Her barhopping, booze-filled life in 1994, when her skills as a mother were lacking, didn't make its way into Wednesday's TV reports. That really isn't much of a surprise because TV loves to paint things in black and white and decided to make her out to be a heroine after she was freed Wednesday.

Channel 2 might have lost its right to continue the promotional campaign that stresses that it asks the "tough questions" after Brown's incredibly supportive coverage.

Another Channel 2 reporter, Kristin Donnelly, also made a disputable statement about the case that could be at the heart of a possible retrial. Donnelly said new DNA evidence of DeJac's former boyfriend, Dennis P. Donahue, had been found in her daughter's bedroom and on her on the night of the murder. Donnelly should have added that the district attorney claims it is unclear when the DNA was actually left in the bedroom, which may be more important.

Channel 4 also carried a DeJac "thank you" to Buffalo after the newscast started with the graphic, the "DeJac Decision," set to melancholy music. Then reporter Rich Newberg spoke of the "amazing" reunion she had with her twin boys after "13 1/2 years of lost time."

Newberg also personalized the heartwarming story. "I was able to break the news [of her conviction being overturned] personally to Lynn's husband," said Newberg.

I guess I'm the one that has to break the news to local TV reporters that there is a time and a place for heartwarming stories. This wasn't one of them.

Next time the stations plan to make a heroine out of someone involved in a case like this, let's hope they pause to reflect on the case and decide to say "no thank you, no thank you."

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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