News Staffers Help Catch Murder Suspect p.9

By: david noack Newsroom computer research pinpointed the spot
Quick action by two St. Petersburg Times staff members helped the Tampa Police Department apprehend a man just hours after he allegedly shotgunned his girlfriend to death at point-blank range on a city street corner.
In a dramatic series of events on Feb. 18, Susan Clary, who covers the police beat for the Tampa edition, and John Martin, a news researcher at the Tampa bureau, found themselves in the unusual position of directly assisting the police in a murder investigation.
Clary and Martin first alerted police that they were distributing a photo of the wrong man to the press. Then, using computer databases, Martin provided the address he believed the suspect would go to while Clary drove there in her car. She arrived to watch the suspect pull into his driveway and called police on her cellular phone. The suspect was arrested minutes later.
Homicide Sergeant Dan Grossi said the department was "very, very beholden to" Clary and Martin for their assistance.
Here's how events unfolded: Tampa police charged that Jessie Bailey Jr. killed his live-in girlfriend, Bridgette Mokdad, because she stole money from him and planned to move out. They said Bailey drove his pickup truck to the corner where Mokdad was standing with a friend, pulled out a 12-gauge shotgun and shot her once in the chest. She died at the scene.
Police handed the news media a photograph of the suspect, which included his date of birth and a description of the make and model of the bright red pickup truck he was driving. With that information, Clary used her cellular telephone to call Martin to see what additional information could be gleaned about Bailey.
While Martin was searching through a computer database called Autotrack, a public records fee-based service, Clary was already hearing from witnesses that the man in the police photograph was not the murder suspect. Meanwhile, Martin determined that the man in the police photo was actually dead ? a fact he learned from the database.
Clary informed the police sergeant who withdrew the photo minutes before it was set to air on local TV stations.
In trying a different search strategy, Martin found the name of another Jessie Bailey, who had a similar birth date and lived in the same general vicinity in Tampa. He believed this was the man the police should be looking for. Using a Web-based mapping and street direction service, Martin was able to see where the two individuals lived in relation to the crime. Witnesses said the suspect lived close by, while the man identified by police had lived a couple of miles away.
Armed with this new information provided by Martin, Clary went to the new address. As she drove up, a red pickup truck pulled into the driveway. The suspect entered the house. There were no police around. After Clary paged a homicide officer, the police arrived, arrested Bailey, and charged him with first-degree murder.
Neville Green, managing editor of the Tampa bureau, attributed the swift editorial teamwork to Martin doing his work in the newsroom and not being shunted to a side office.
"So our researcher hears the editors. He's only 10 feet away from the editors, so he hears them talking, and one of the things that we've discovered as long as he keeps eavesdropping, he can hear things and start to work on things himself," said Green.
The paper ran a first-person account of events by Clary, which explained how she and Martin became involved in the story.
?(E&P Web Site:
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher February 28, 1998)


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