As we entered the Center for Sustainable Journalism at 8:00 AM for our eleventh group meeting this morning, we were all more eager than usual to get started. Not only were we pleasantly greeted by the delicious sweets that Professor Witt’s wife so kindly baked for us, but we were also greatly anticipating the main event of our morning: responses from our main character, Mr. Christopher Thomas himself.
Yesterday, Tuesday, October 27th, Christopher Thomas responded to the letters we sent last week. That’s right; we sent letters to each of the boys involved in the Pawn Shop robbery, and our main character actually answered. With that reply, Christopher expressed his fervent willingness to share his life with us in detail.
Before reading Christopher’s responses, the journalism team met to discuss the long story segments. Each of the journalism team members described a specific time frame of Christopher’s story based on their assigned segments. Ann talked about Christopher’s early life in numerous foster care homes that led to an unstable lifestyle, then Claire described his life from 12-13 years old, when his behavior became worse and he was eventually sentenced to the Wrightsville Boot Camp for threats to a police officer. Next Kevin outlined Christopher’s story according to the day of the crime, which is told through interviews, various documents, and the police reports (which we finally received on Monday! – who knew a police report from 15 years ago would take so long to dig up). Following Kevin, Camille explained Christopher’s case and trial after he was arrested, then Jackson rounded out the discussion with a clarification of Christopher’s current status in prison and with his case progression with his current lawyer, Steve Reba. Although our deadline was set to be this Saturday, our summaries made us aware of the many holes that still need to be filled in order for us to write an effective, accurate story. For this reason, we have extended our deadline to next Friday, November 6. Until then, the journalists will be scrambling to uncover more information through further interviews and research to write each of their individual segments with greater clarity.
After the long text story discussion, the entire group gathered to prepare for the main event: reading Christopher Thomas’ responses to our questions. Until now, all we knew about Christopher and his story is what we had read in the case documents and what other people in his life – foster care parents, lawyers, reporters, investigators and witnesses – have said about him during our interviews. Now was our chance to hear about Christopher’s life from Christopher himself. And that’s exactly what we did.
We were soon all reflecting on Christopher’s life as we read through his answers to all of our personal questions. From reading stories about his childhood to descriptions of his life in prison today, we were able to gain a better idea of his personal motives and emotions throughout his life. One of the very last matters discussed was his eventual release from prison. We were reassured when Christopher made it clear that if released, he did have friends he could stay with upon his release. The question is – when will that be?
A major remaining question about the case is why Christopher initially received 40 years in prison and why his past legal attempts to reduce his sentence have failed. Recently, the boy who was the other tag-along in the crime received a sentence reduction of 20 years. To determine what is being done now to reduce Christopher’s sentence, we will again contact Steve Reba, his current lawyer, to discuss what legal actions are in play or could be filed that would lead to the court’s review of a habeas corpus petition (legal action or writ by means of which detainees can seek relief from unlawful imprisonment).
Our team has researched Christopher’s life from the age of two years old through today. Now that we’ve heard from Christopher himself, he is no longer just the main character of our story. He is the boy who personally experienced the unstable foster care lifestyle described in our files. He is the boy who has interacted with all of the foster care parents, caseworkers, teachers, police officers, and lawyers we have either contacted or tried to reach through information found in the case documents. And now, he is the 30-year-old man who was incarcerated at age 14 for being involved as a tag-along in an armed robbery at a Pawn Shop. From childhood to incarceration, this story is Christopher’s reality. And it is this reality that we will portray in the most realistic way possible through our long-form journalism story and our virtual world machinima.