The last good thing I did for journalism

Back in September of 2003, my mind was on Aruba. This was back in the day before the Holloway case. This was back when Aruba was more famous for poker tournaments than it was murder. And for me, even then just breaking into the poker world, Aruba was an escape from all things bad. See, then, life was mostly about the bad. The killers, the rapists, the life fuckups who made television news.

As I thought about a desert island, I found myself on the edge of a grocery store parking lot. Charles Williams was inside with a shotgun pointed at his ex-girlfriend, Miranda. As Aruba took a backseat in my brain, Charles Williams pumped a couple shots into Miranda’s back as she tried to run away.

See, my mind had been on Aruba, because I was leaving for vacation the next day. That was my life back then. One minute, I reported on live television as a madman shot a woman. The next minute, I was trying to forget the sound of crying and pain. That week, I went to Aruba and drank for a few days.

Within a few weeks, we learned that Charles Williams was more than a moment-of-passion killer. He’d put together a list of everything he planned to do that day. He planned what he would wear, what time he would go, and where he would find Miranda in the store. He had journals, schedules, and maps. All the while I was booking my travel to a desert island, Charles Williams was planning on how to kill a girl he’d beaten to a pulp just a few weeks earlier.

See, that was what got under my skin about this case. Williams was out on bond after beating Miranda into the store’s parking lot. He got out of jail about the time she got out of the hospital. By the time she made it back to work, Williams had decided he was going to the Bi-Lo with a shotgun.

There were a lot of things about my journalism career that I left behind. There were things I left undone that a part of me wishes I could go back and fix. For instance, there is a guy who has been in prison, unjustly as far as I am concerned, for the past 28 years. I always thought I was on the verge of having the goods to get the guy out, or, at the very least, get him a fair trial. Then, there was a dermatologist who molested his teenage boy patients. I had the goods on that guy, but the business side of journalism got in the way of that one.

Finally, though, was the fact that I left television before Charles Williams went to trial. In fact, the last assignment I went on was a pre-trial suppression hearing. Williams’ defense team was trying to get Williams’ confession tossed before trial.

The judge in the case, Buddy Nicholson (yeah, a judge named Buddy), had moved all the pre-trial stuff to a city 30 minutes away in an effort to discourage we media folk from attending the trial. In large part, his little plan had worked. However, as the trial drew closer, we media types started getting a little curious. What’s more, we started hearing rumors and such. I ended up at the courthouse with a guy named John Boyanoski–at the time, the best newspaper reporter in town.

The next thing we knew, Buddy was trying to kick us out of the courtroom. Knowing he might have some legal trouble if he tried to kick us out on his own, he suggested to the defense that it make a motion to close the courtroom. The defense did and Buddy did.

So, on my last official day as a TV news reporter, I got involved in a legal battle in which I was forced to stand up in court and protest and subsequently defend my right to be in the courtroom. John and I called our attorneys. The attorneys protested. And we still ended up getting kicked out of the courtroom.

And then John and I quit our jobs. As it turned out, neither of us much liked working for large corporations that didn’t care so much about their employees or paying them any amount of money. Both John and I cared about the mission of journalism. And, frankly, I think it’s fair to say that both he and I did a good job at disseminating the news and protecting the freedoms of the American press. And, again frankly, it was sad that John and I left the two biggest news outlets in the area. John went on to work for a weekly newspaper. If you know me, you know what I do now.

I never thought I would continue to have any impact on the business that played such a large role in my life. As it turns out, there was one last thing.

Today, the South Carolina Supreme Court released an opinion on what happened during that pre-trial hearing. You can read it by clicking the link, or, let me sum it up for you.

We were right. Judge Buddy Nicholson was wrong.

And, for some reason, that makes me happy.

(Update: I scooped the Greenville News. The paper just caught up. Insert smiley emoticon here)

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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6 Responses

  1. This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Anonymous Big Tom D. says:

    Way to go man!

    One man with courage makes a majority.

    Something I LIVE by.. It makes me happy YOU do too!

  3. Anonymous Big Tom D says:

    Oh for those who do not know.. “One man with courage.. makes a majority” was by Andrew Jackson


  4. You know I’m still being occasionally contacted by an attorney for the prison escapee I helped catch way back when? Apparently, he’s suing everyone with a badge that got involved.

    Williams. Gah, I can still hear the scanner when the cop on the roof said he heard gunshots from inside, and I glanced up at the monitor to see the SWAT guys running in.

    Glad Buddy got a bit of a thumbed nose for this one.

  5. Rock on, Otis!

    Well done!

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