True Defective: The News Demonstrates the New Correct Way to Write about a Murder Case

First, I want to say that Digital is God. Second, I know digital when I see digital. An item that appeared on The Dallas Morning News crime blog yesterday was the new digital version of how to cover a murder trial. It was really breezy and first-persony and it focused not on the murder itself but on cool restaurants near the murder scene. Here is the item, by Sarah Mervosh:

Residents driving to work on May 30, 2014, found themselves passing by a crime scene at one of the neighborhood’s most prominent intersections.

Lemmon and Oak Lawn avenues can connect residents to virtually any surrounding area: Uptown, Highland Park, downtown. And the Shell gas station is next door to Eatzi’s, the European-style market that’s wildly popular, particularly among yuppies. My colleague Brandon Formby jokes that Eatzi’s has a dress code of fashionable workout clothes to get in the door.

That’s the long way of saying that lots of people pass by this intersection every day, and if they have an allegiance to Eatzi’s or any other nearby businesses (the Pizza Hut attached to the gas station, for example), they know it well.

(Full disclosure: I live in this neighborhood and drive by this intersection nearly every day.)

So when police descended upon the Shell gas station last year, it drew some attention. At first, all anyone knew was that a Mercedes-Benz had crashed into a tree at the gas station and that someone had been shot dead.

Police later said Deric Eugene Madison robbed and shot Joshua Tubbleville, a 33-year-old insurance salesman, after the two had shared a drink and played dominoes together.

The case goes to trial this week. Prosecutor Jason Fine will try to prove Madison committed capital murder by killing Tubbleville while robbing him. Madison is pleading not guilty. His attorney, Chris Mulder, argues Madison acted in self-defense.

You can see the car crash and the man police say is Madison running away starting around 10 seconds into the video.

The crime stuck in the minds of many business owners and residents in the neighborhood.

Jeff Neighbors, who works at All Occasions Florist across the street from the gas station, said he was just getting to work when he heard a crash and the pop of gunshots. He said the incident stayed with him, and even infiltrated his dreams.

“I just had this fear built in me — how easy it is to get killed,” he said Tuesday. He added, “It left me sick and eerie for a long time. I watched my back a little closer.”

An employee at a local coffee shop remembered the crash instantly and said it was a “huge distraction” for customers and employees. And Frances Lopez, who said she has worked at Kosta Dino’s Shoe Repair down the street for more than a decade, said the incident dominated conversations among locals for some time.

“We used to to talk about that, the businesses here,” she said. “We didn’t know what was going on. They’d say, ‘What happened? What happened?’ Nobody knew.”

Now, the case is going to trial.

Madison, 25, faces a charge of capital murder and is on trial in Dallas County this week. Follow updates from my colleague Danielle Grobmeier, who contributed to this report, on Twitter as she updates live from the courtroom.

A journalist of my acquaintance who read this item said he thought the “full disclosure” thing sounded fishy. He thought it warranted the cops hauling the reporter in for a more complete accounting of her whereabouts at the time of the murder. I don’t think that at all. Leave her alone. 

Instead of being crabby, I have chosen instead to study yesterday’s murder coverage in the News and see if there is something I can learn from it. Below please find my attempt to write the same item, as digitally as possible:

People dining at Eatzi’s were rudely interrupted during the lunch hour a year ago by the loud death of a person who was unfamiliar to them. Cop cars with loud sirens blaring loudly surrounded a well-liked service station next-door, their piercing strobe lights assaulting the eyes of innocent and guilty persons alike.

Rumors flew among diners that a human being had expired, the result of an act performed by another human being. A year later, some diners still reported weird dreams.

One former diner, speaking off the record, not for attribution and almost inaudibly told this writer: “The whole thing just reminded me all of a sudden how you could be just eating your lunch at Eatzi’s and a whole huge thing could happen.”

Another person said, “It used to be we knew what happened, but then we asked what happened and everybody didn’t say what happened, so after that nobody knew what happened. It stuck in my mind.”

Other reporters at this newspaper tell this reporter that the matter at hand was, indeed, a police incident and that a dead body was found with a bullet from a gun in it. Really. I am not kidding. This reporter has not been back to Eatzi’s ever since hearing about the body. I mean, go back to Eatzi’s? You are kidding, right?

Now there is a murder trial in the courthouse. Danielle Grobmeier is Tweeting it. She is my friend. I think a picture of the murder happening was on Instagram and you can see the accused trying to get away with it. Does anybody have a spare iPhone charger?  

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze