December 8, 2007

Man Attempts Rape, Gets Probation

A St. Paul man who tried to rape a woman will face 25 years of probation.
Michael Rodriguez, 30, was charged with fourth-degree attempted criminal sexual conduct, according to the Pioneer Press, but the probation department wanted a harsher sentence.
Ramsey County District Judge Michael Monahan also felt that the punishment was inadequate, the Pioneer Press reports.
Rodriguez attacked the woman after drinking with her at Alary's Bar on Aug. 2, the Pioneer Press writes.
He followed her outside and tried to rape her, but two bystanders stopped Rodriguez until police arrived, the Pioneer Press reports.
Rodriguez was already on probation for burglary when the attempted rape occurred.
To read the entire article, go to:

Guilty Verdict for Gang Member

A gang member who allegedly shot and killed a 16-year-old boy last October has been found guilty in Hennepin County District Court.
Jeremy Jackson, 21, was charged Friday with first-degree murder and is scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 8, according to the Star Tribune.
Jackson was found guilty of shooting Gennaro Knox, who he mistook for a rival gang member, the Star Tribune reports.
The case came to court in September, but a hung jury led to this week's retrial, the Star Tribune writes.
The article quotes the victim's mother saying she hopes the verdict will send a message to other gang members about the consequences of violence.
To read the full article, go to

December 5, 2007

No Match Letters

Here is an article I wrote for my reporting class (Jour 3121) on "no match" letters. It's a little dated, but the issue is still a hot topic.


The idea for this story came after I attended the Civil Rights Commission's monthly meeting in early October. There was a lot of bureaucratic/logistical actions taken for the first thirty minutes or so until one of the commissioners raised a very newsworthy item about no match letters in San Francisco. Mr. Higinbotham did an excellent job of selling the importance of the issue. After the meeting, I went up and talked to the commissioner and received copies of articles and charts he brought with him. Luckily, he was very cooperative and started talking to me about his experience running restaurants and the whole employer/employee relationship. He really gave me some perspective on the employer's side of the issue. My talk with the commissioner jump started my reporting and I started doing some Web research. I found the Homeland Security homepage where I found a lengthy transcript of a press conference with Michael Chertoff concerning no match letters. I pulled most of my background info from this Web site. I also contacted Katherine Fennelly by searching Professor Fennelly shared a couple of anecdotes about people she knew who were directly affected by no match letters, and she provided a lot of reasons why the system is not completely effective. Professor Fennelly was also very cooperative in sharing her knowledge. I discovered that asking nicely and explaining my purpose (I know this sounds very obvious) helped my sources to open up. There is always a chance they'll say no, but I think getting over the fear of rejection (sounds corny) is vital for news reporting. Once I started making the calls, going to meetings, and doing some research, I found the reporting process very interesting and fun; it's not something I do on a regular basis. Writing for print is not my forte but I definitely enjoyed the process of discovery.

Continue reading "No Match Letters" »

November 27, 2007

Baby Undergoes New Heart Procedure

Mohammed Amermouche was born with a deadly heart defect, but a new surgical procedure developed at the University of Minnesota's Children's Hospital may save his life.
Amermouche was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which means the left side of the heart is unable to pump blood to the rest of the body, according to the Pioneer Press.
The new procedure, administered by Dr. Daniel Gruenstein, director of pediatric interventional cardiology, involves three procedures performed over several months that reconstruct the heart, the Pioneer Press reports.
An older procedure called the Norwood operation involves open-heart surgery just a few days after birth, but complications after surgery (a 20 percent death rate) made it an unpopular choice for Amermouche's family.
They decided to go for the U's latest procedure, and so far, Amermouche has seen improvement, the Pioneer Press reports.
Critics of the new procedure claim it only delays the heart reconstruction process.
To read the full article, go to


The Pioneer Press article written by Suzanne Sobotka is a fairly balanced story exploring the benefits and criticisms of a new heart procedure for new-born children. Amermouche's story really directs the reader into the theme of the story and helps us connect emotionally. Without it, the news in the article may not have seemed as immediate or as interesting. When I emailed Sobotka on her approach to covering feature stories, I was surprised to learn that she is a journalism student at the U of M taking the Pioneer Press practicum course. She received a press release from Fairview explaining the new procedure. There were some conflicts with communicating with the Amermouche family because they were not fluent in English. Sobotka overcame this obstacle through the help of one of her fellow students who spoke Spanish. Sobotka also admits she did not do a lot of background research on the subject. She interviewed Dr. Gruenstein and recorded all the information from him. It just goes to show that journalists are not omnisicient, and it's our job to report on behalf of the people.

Dog Beheading

A St. Paul man was sentenced to one year and nine months in prison for beheading his ex-girlfriend's dog.
Anthony Gomez, 25, pled guilty in September for making terroristic threats to Crystal Brown, according to WCCO.
Gomez and an acquaintance shot Brown's 4-year-old Australian shepherd and then cut off its head, the WCCO reports.
They sent the dog's head to Brown in a gift-wrapped box.
Gomez was charged and sentenced for animal cruelty and torture.
To read the full WCCO report, go to

November 18, 2007

$1.8 Million Dollars for Foreclosure Aid

Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced a plan to increase the number of foreclosure counselors in Minnesota in order to help homeowners with their mortgages.
The plan includes $1.8 million dollars in aid, bringing the number of counselors to 37, according to WCCO.
The money will not directly assist homeowners, but the counselors will be able to offer them advice on mortgage payment options and opportunities for financial aid, WCCO reports.
20,000 households are expected to lose their homes by the end of the year and thousands more are falling behind on their payments, according to figures provided by the Minneapolis non-profit HousingLink and the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund.
The plan is being paid by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and other private/local/charity organizations, WCCO reports.
To read the entire article, please go to:

November 15, 2007

Woman Stabbed at Bus Stop

A 49-year-old man has been charged with stabbing a woman at a St. Paul bus stop.
The incident happened late Monday night when John Arthur Heitman cut a woman in the face, according to
Heitman yelled racial slurs at the woman and tried using his dog to attack the African immigrant and her sister.
He returned later with a knife and slashed the woman on the chin.
Police said that the victim and Heitman have known each other for over a decade.
To read the entire report, go to

November 11, 2007

MnDOT Fires Executive

The Minnesota Department of Transportation fired one of their executives Friday for behavior unbecoming of a state official.
Sonia Kay Morphew Pitt, MnDOT's director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, allegedly made unauthorized trips around the country and several personal calls using a department cell phone, according to the Star Tribune.
For several days following the I-35W bridge collapse, Pitt was actually in Washington D.C.
A report released by MnDOT claims Pitt was visiting Daniel Ferezan, one of her friends from the federal highway administration.
Pitt did not return immediately to Minnesota because she felt her staff was handling the situation well, according to the Star Tribune.
Pitt does have the right to appeal her firing, the Star Tribune says.
For the full article, click on this link:

November 8, 2007

Eden Prairie School Boundaries

The Eden Prairie school board voted Wednesday to take back a decision that would have redrawn elementary school boundaries for purposes of racial diversity.
The vote to overturn the plan came after the U.S. Supreme Court decided race should not be a factor in school assignments, according to the Star Tribune.
The Eden Prairie school board wanted to shift school lines in order to balance out non-white student enrollment.
For example, Prairie View Elementary is 19 percent non-white while Forest Hills Elementary has a minority student population of 42 percent, reports the Star Tribune.
The decision last spring would also have eliminated the district's fifth and sixth grade intermediate schools, but residents were strictly opposed to the idea, according to the Star Tribune.
To read the full article, go to

November 1, 2007

Steel Mill Plans Move Forward

Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced yesterday that Minnesota will support an Indian company's plans to build a state-of-the-art steel mill on the Iron Range.
This comes after Essar Global Ltd. pledged in writing not to build an oil refinery in Iran, which would have violated the U.S. government's Iran Country Sanctions Act, the Star Tribune reports.
The $1.8 billion steel mill will be the first fully integrated ore-to-steel processing facility in the United States, according to the Star Tribune.
It will provide hundreds of permanent jobs to Nashwauk, on the western edge of the Iron Range, which has suffered economically due to mine closures.
Last Saturday, Pawlenty called Iran a terrorist state and said he would oppose the mill project if Essar engaged in activities prohibited by the U.S. government, the Star Tribune writes.
For the full article, go to:

The Star Tribune article was written by Larry Oakes, a 23-year veteran of news reporting. He calls these types of stories "quick and dirty" because there is not an extensive amount of enterprising involved. In fact, it was Gov. Pawlenty's office that called the press conference and provided most of the info concerning the Essar deal. Larry did make contact with the mayor of Nashwauk to get comments on the situation. The article does a nice job of summarizing events leading up to Pawlenty's announcement. It does not stray too much into international politics, which would have been a temptation for sure, but stays within the limits of the news event itself. Although Larry makes use of press conferences, he advises to dig deeper if there are any questions left unanswered. Pawlenty's message was cut and dry, but Larry admits he'd like to do some more enterprising on the subject before construction gets under way. The greatest tip he had to offer for student journalists was to be honest to potential sources, explaining to them exactly what you're doing and why you're doing it.

October 30, 2007

Charges Filed in Nanny Shooting

Second-degree murder charges have been filed today against a 19-year-old accused of shooting and killing a nanny answering an online classified.
Michael John Anderson allegedly shot Katherine Ann Olson, 24, in the back with a .357 magnum handgun, according to the Star Tribune.
Olson's body was found inside the trunk of her car at Warren Butler Park, five blocks from Anderson's home.
Bloody towels and a broken cell phone were also found inside a nearby trash can, according to the charges.
The Star Tribune says Anderson initially denied his involvement in the crime.
Anderson later changed his story when faced with overwhelming evidence, including phone records and email accounts confirming he had contact with the victim prior to the shooting.
Anderson claims he was present at the shooting, but his friend pulled the trigger, the Star Tribune reports.
To read the full Star Tribune article, go to:

October 24, 2007

Judge Says Church Demolition OK

A 100-year-old church building is closer to coming down after a Hennepin County district judge rejected a request to save it.
According to the Star Tribune, the Olivet Methodist Episcopal Church occupies a space bought by the Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, who are looking to build a parking ramp there.
Judge Herbert Lefler rejected a proposal made by the Alliance of Historian Activists who asked that the church be spared, the Star Tribune writes.
Lefler said it's unlikely the city failed to follow regulations when obtaining construction permits.
To read the entire Star Tribune article, go to this link:

No New Trial For Terror Suspect

Mohamed Elzahabi's request for a new trial over immigration charges has been denied by a federal judge.
Elzahabi allegedly paid an exotic dancer to marry him in 1984 so he could obtain documents to work in the country.
He was convicted in August on three counts of using fraudulent documents to get jobs in Minnesota.
U.S. District Judge John Tunheim wrote in his ruling Tuesday the evidence against Elzahabi is enough to prove him guilty, so the court has no reason to give him another trial.
Elzahabi was also arrested three years ago for his alleged ties with terrorists.
According to an FBI affidavit, Elzahabi told interviewers he fought for al-Qaida in Afghanistan in the early 1990s.
The Minneapolis AP story can be found here:

October 18, 2007

$130 Million For Airport Noise-Proofing

The Metropolitan Airports Commission approved a $130 million dollar settlement this Monday in a lawsuit filed by the cities of Eagan, Minneapolis, and Richfield over airport noise.
According to the Pioneer Press, the settlement will be under review today.
The lawsuit filed two years ago claims the MAC left out thousands of homes in their noise-insulation plan.
The Pioneer Press says the proposal will offer soundproofing improvements which include central air conditioning installation, wall and attic insulation, and chimney treatments.
Most of the $130 million will finance these repairs and reimburse home-owners who already had improvements installed.
The MAC intends to pay the money through airline fees and airport revenue from parking and concessions, according to the Pioneer Press.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the Hennepin County District Court must approve the proposal.
To read the full article, go to:



The Pioneer Press article on the multi-million dollar settlement was written by Maricella Miranda. It is extremely detailed in terms of the settlement's provisions and even includes specific dollar amounts. Obviously the reporter did a lot of research to get the data. She also presents opinions from both the MAC and city administrators to maintain balance in the story. There is a lot of information to digest, and the writing is very dense because of this, but overall, the article does a good job of informing the reader about the past, present, and future of the Minneapolis airport noise issue. I called Maricella to ask about her approach in writing local government stories, but I got her voicemail instead. I will try to get her response posted as soon as she calls back.

October 15, 2007

Sen. Larry Craig Moves to Appeals Court

Today, Sen. Larry Craig asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals to take another look at his case concerning an airport sex-sting.
Craig wants the court to overrule a decision made by Hennepin County District Judge Charles Porter who refused Craig's request to withdraw his guilty plea from the case.
Judge Porter made his decision on grounds that the senator plead guilty voluntarily and with full knowledge of the consequences.
According to the Star Tribune, the Court of Appeals may take a while before coming to a final decision because preparing legal briefs is a long process usually lasting more than 100 days.
Even with the preparation, Craig's outlook is bleak, according to Steve Simon, a legal defense expert at the University of Minnesota Law School.
The Star Tribune quotes Simon saying Craig's chances for appeal are even less likely than they were in winning over Porter in the county court.
The full article can be read here: