By: Joe Strupp
Peter Shellem, an investigative reporter at The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., who was known for digging up evidence that helped release wrongly convicted prisoners, died Oct. 24 of an apparent suicide. He was 49.
An obituary in The New York Times Sunday stated Shellem’s son, Philip, had confirmed his death and said it was a suicide. But the story said the coroner’s office had not confirmed revealed a cause.
The story also detailed Shellem’s history of reviewing cases of those wrongfully convicted, noting “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 Mr. Shellem recovered from a professor’s refrigerator in Leipzig, Germany, exonerated a retarded man of rape and murder.”
It cited five cases that Shellem had investigated that led to convictions being overturned.
The entire story is here.
Shellem’s paper has published (and online at PennLive.com) several artikcles and op-eds. Here is an excerpt from one by a former reporter there Peter J. Shelly, and another featuring tribute by one of the people he helped free, Patti Carbone.
The first thing you should know about Pete Shellem is that he would hate this column and not because I wrote it, even though he was happy to rip on my copy when we worked together as reporters for The Patriot-News.
He was not a fan of putting himself out front. He loathed ?how I got the story? stories.
But here we are: Pete died Oct. 24. Personally, he leaves behind his wife, Joyce, and his two sons, Philip and Alek, whom he adored. Professionally, his legacy is the stuff of legend.
As a longtime investigative reporter for this newspaper, Pete did the work that many journalists dream about: He took on the powerful for the little guy and won.
This is so corny that if Pete were here, he?d tear this up. Subtlety was not a strong suit. But it?s true.
Pete saved lives. His most recent bodies of work freed five people from prison, where they were serving time for crimes they didn?t commit.
He was a force. He was gruff and abrasive and profane and he could trade barbs and slurs not fit for a family newspaper with the best of them.
Forget ?The Front Page? or Woodward and Bernstein. Think Columbo without the charm.
But here?s the rub: Pete cared deeply about justice and fairness. He cared deeply for the down and out, for men and women who literally had nobody else to turn to. Yes, he relished a good fight and a better story, but Pete was in journalism for the people he covered.
He was very thorough, he genuinely had a gift and a heart for the right thing. That is why it breaks my heart he is gone.
He didn?t just stop after an investigation (into my case) he did the legwork, he talked to people, I could tell it became a part of him.
We talked regularly, he let me know what was going on. One time he was telling me he had a conversation with the (state) attorney general about my case and (the attorney general) was going to go back and look at it after what Pete told him. When Pete told me that, I felt like something was going to happen. He made that happen.
When I was finally released, Pete and a (Patriot-News) photographer drove to Johnstown, picked me up and drove me to BWI so I could meet my daughter at the airport. I still have the photographs from that day.