MURDERING THE TRUTH

When asked why the newspaper had published a compressed quote, Robertson does not answer directly.

"I probably should have quoted the whole thing," he says.
Other journalists are quite direct in their judgments on the condensation of quotes.

"Compressing quotes, or doctoring them in such a way that readers don't hear or read what is in the actual document, is fudging the truth," says Joann Byrd, ombudsman at the Washington Post.

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"I don't see any reason not to tell readers exactly what you had in front of you," she adds.

When asked why the Republic failed to publish a key statement in Vander Jagt's letter--that Lorenzo was not abused at the Boys Ranch--Robertson essentially claims the statement was not germane to the newspaper's story.

The Republic's story, Robertson says, was not centered on allegations that Lorenzo Johnson had been abused by the Boys Ranch.

"The point of the story was Lorenzo Johnson was mistreated by the system," Robertson says.

Nearly the entire Republic story focused on Johnson's final days at the Boys Ranch. The Boys Ranch is part of the "system" used by authorities to rehabilitate troubled youths.

Like Dunwoody, Vander Jagt signed a written statement after being interviewed by Republic reporters. Vander Jagt says the affidavit was prepared after Robertson discussed several different theories on Lorenzo's death with her. One of those theories involved the possibility that the boy had been pushed into the canal by Boys Ranch employees.

By the time the Republic was done interviewing her, Vander Jagt says, she was "80 percent" sure the boy had been murdered.

"The reporters from the Arizona Republic swayed me," she says.

In the days before the story on Lorenzo Johnson's death was published, the Republic made only halfhearted attempts to contact the men who had witnessed it.

A few days before the story appeared in print, Robertson arrived unannounced at the Tempe home of Michael Graham. Graham, who was angry with Robertson because of an earlier story about Boys Ranch, declined to be interviewed.

"I had been interviewed by him before out here at the ranch regarding all this crap [about abuse], and saw how he misrepresented what we gave him," Graham says.

Besides, Graham says, he didn't want to talk about the events surrounding Johnson's death.

"It's real personal, and it's nobody else's business," he says.
Robertson confirms that he sought a comment from Graham, who implied that the other two men at the scene of Johnson's death would also refuse to talk to the newspaper.

"I assumed from that [Graham's reaction] they weren't going to talk," Robertson says, explaining why he didn't try reaching the other two men.

And, Robertson says, their direct comments were not needed. They had given lengthy statements to the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, and the Republic had copies of those statements. "Our goal was to tell their side of the story," he says.

The men's version of events surrounding Johnson's death was included in the Republic story. There was, however, no response from them concerning Dunwoody's allegation that "they killed" Lorenzo.

"I didn't know he was going to accuse me of murder, which is basically what he did," Graham says.

The newspaper also did not interview the homicide detective who investigated the case, Larry Placencio. Placencio says there is no question in his mind that Johnson's death was an accident.

"At this time, there is nothing to indicate any foul play," Placencio says. "I don't think the investigation should be reopened at all."

Robertson says the Republic didn't contact Placencio because it had a copy of his investigative report. "I assumed he put all of his information in the report," Robertson says.

In Robertson's view, that report indicated that Placencio performed only a cursory investigation and failed to look into Lorenzo Johnson's life at the Boys Ranch.

"They didn't track down Karen Vander Jagt," Robertson says. "They didn't . . . have any reference in their report of Lorenzo having run away just a few days before he drowned."

The lack of effort to place Johnson's death in context with the ongoing troubles at the Boys Ranch raised nagging questions about the thoroughness of the investigation, says Robertson, who calls the probe a "slam dunk."

"They walked out there and looked around," Robertson says. "Mel McDonald called it a thorough investigation. Horseshit."

If Republic reporters had interviewed Placencio, they would have learned that he had taken numerous photographs that, in the detective's opinion, conclusively showed that no one pushed Lorenzo Johnson into the canal.

Placencio located Johnson's footprints next to the edge of the canal. He says he found no indication of the struggle that would likely have occurred if the men had shoved Johnson into the canal.

The detective also located the footprints of the three men. They were situated in the areas in which the men said they had been standing.

Two scuff marks from Johnson's shoes etched onto the canal wall also indicated that the boy had slid down the canal wall, as Fleishman told police.

Placencio feels he obtained the most important evidence in his investigation by simple observation. All three men risked their lives entering the CAP canal. The men's disheveled appearances, their soiled clothes and their state of exhaustion all supported their independent versions of what happened that tragic afternoon.

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