Reporter Linda J. Johnson of the Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader describes in Quill Online the practical and ethical issues that arose when she located an escaped killer who had been on the lam for 15 years. She asks, “Is there a bigger ethical dilemma than debating what to do when a reporter's investigation leads to the location of an escaped murderer? Does that reporter tell all to officials and risk becoming an agent of the police, an arm of an agency the newspaper covers? Or, should the paper grab the headline and story by confronting the suspect, gambling that he won't flee for another 15 years?”
The case involved Ralph Annis, who had strangled his girlfriend's 10-month-old baby in 1978 and had escaped from prison while on furlough in 1990. Johnson discovered that Annis was living under the name Mike Winters in Corpus Christi, Texas. The story developed from a brief item about “wanted inmates” listed on a state Department of Corrections website. Annis was the only murderer among the 119 listed. Authorities provided his alias, and Johnson used Google.com, anywho.com, LexisNexis and AutoTrack to find him.