Peter Shellem, whose relentless digging into dusty court records, erroneous crime-lab reports, and coerced confessions during 23 years as a reporter for the Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News, led to the release of five wrongly convicted prisoners, committed suicide Oct. 24, the New York Times reports. He was 49. Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University called him “a rare, one-man journalism innocence project.”
The American Journalism Review wrote of Shellem in 2007, “No one keeps records on such things, but experts on journalism and the wrongly convicted cannot think of a present-day reporter who by himself has compiled a résumé of freed prisoners as thick as Shellem's.” In one case, a man who was a teenager when he was convicted of killing a neighbor was released after 28 years in prison. In another, DNA evidence that Shellem recovered from a professor's refrigerator in Leipzig, Germany, exonerated a retarded man of rape and murder.