You can scoff, if you like, at the bromide that journalists should comfort the afflicted, yet for all the stories we publish both in the magazine and online—covering everything from politics to food—our staff writers reserve a special pride for shining a light on the injustices suffered by people caught in the system. So it was particularly rewarding to hear two updates to recent stories as we were working on the February 2015 issue. On December 16 Hannah Overton, the Corpus Christi mom who was convicted of killing her soon-to-be-adopted son by forcing him to ingest a lethal amount of salt, was released on bond and went home to her family after serving seven years of a life sentence. Executive editor Pamela Colloff first wrote about this case in a January 2012 feature called “Hannah and Andrew,” in which she raised serious concerns about how the prosecution had built its case. Pam believed that there was plenty of evidence to suggest that Overton was innocent, and her dogged reporting, including several follow-up stories on texasmonthly.com, helped keep pressure on the case as Overton’s appellate attorneys fought to have her conviction overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Around the same time that we were learning of Overton’s release, associate editor Sonia Smith received a letter from a lawyer about a story she had written for the August 2014 issue called “Asylum Politics.” In that piece, Sonia explored the circumstances behind the long, often unexplained detentions of Sikh refugees at an El Paso immigration facility. Some had been waiting to attend an asylum hearing for more than a year; others had been intimidated by a representative from their own consulate, a violation of federal regulations. Sonia’s story helped bring the detainees’ plight to the attention of immigration lawyers, who filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. As a result, officials at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released one of the detainees and allowed him to reunite with his family in Seattle; other cases are pending.
Of course, good journalism makes an impact only if there’s an audience to read it and share it, so we’re grateful to you, our readers, for helping give our stories life. And based on what both Pam and Sonia are working on for 2015, I have no doubt their impact will be felt again soon.