Executive editor Michael Hall left law school at the University of Texas more than three decades ago, but he is a familiar figure to the leaders of the State Bar. They just awarded Mike his third Texas Gavel Award, which annually honors journalists who “deepen public understanding of the legal system.” The bar acknowledged a pair of Mike’s stories from 2020 that exposed the challenges faced by two Texans convicted of murder, then were shown to be innocent by new evidence, but pleaded to be exempted and allowed to resume their lives.
Rosa Jimenez and Lydell Grant spent a combined 26 years behind bars for crimes they did not commit. Jimenez, jailed for the 2003 murder of an Austin toddler, heard two judges order different that his conviction be constitutionally flawed. But it wasn’t until a third judge agreed that he was finally released, earlier this year. Grant was convicted of a 2010 murder in Houston, but DNA evidence later convinced the trial judge, the district attorney, and the police chief that he was innocent. Still, he took the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal another year and a half to finally exempt him.
Mike reports for months on each story, follows retired judges, interviews legal experts, and tells the human stories of Grant and Jimenez and their families. Advocates for both credited Mike’s work and shining a public spotlight on the cases. His stories reveal how difficult it is for a wrongly imprisoned person to gain release based on evidence that appears after his conviction. When Mike won the top City report award and Regional Magazine Award this year, the competition judges described his Jimenez story as an “enticing account that puts the entire legal system on trial.”
Mike no doubt would make a fine lawyer, but I’m grateful that he chose a different path, hiring in Texas monthly in 1997. His editor, feature director JK Nickell, observed that “when Mike meets someone who has been wrong in the justice system, he is relentless, obsessive — and deeply sympathetic.” A former professional musician, Mike still plays in an Austin band called The Wild Seeds, and he often writes about music as well as the courts. “Musicians, like criminal defendants, tend to be foreigners,” Mike says. “I love digging into their world and coming back with their story.”
This problem cover history about Fort Worth singer-songwriter Leon Bridges was written by Casey Gerald, who grew up in Dallas and graduated from South Oak Cliff High School. Casey went to college at Yale, where he played varsity football and cofounded the Yale Black Men’s Union. He later received an MBA from Harvard Business School and cofounded MBAs across America, engaging business students and entrepreneurs to revitalize dozens of communities, including in Texas.
JK and I and several of our colleagues are fond of Casey’s TED talks and his writing, including his acclaimed 2018 memoir There will be no miracles here. JK and former editor John Spong launched him a couple of potential assignments, and he eventually felt compelled to write on Bridge. “K. Firepower intellectuals and his singular voice in full display of this story,” says JK While celebrity profiles often come across as canned exercises in public relations, JK adds, “Casey got the bridges open up on his inner struggle. His story is a deeply human work of art. ”
Casey said that, while driving away from Bridges home in Fort Worth, he thought about “the little miracle of the two broken and lonely Black boys that Leon and I were, now taking up all the space in someone’s magazine I hope that some children like us will read this profile and know that the bigger their life, the freest possible too. ”
I share that hope and encourage you to let me know what you think of Casey’s story and the rest of this issue.