Spencer S. Hsu of The Washington Post receives the $15,000 Ursula and Gilbert Farfel Prize, given in cooperation with Ohio University's Scripps College of Communication and the Farfel Endowment, for “Forensic Science.” The series exposed the Justice Department's use of flawed data in more than 20,000 criminal cases. Congress, the courts and the FBI have responded to the series, and now hundreds, if not thousands, of defendants will get another chance at justice.
JUDGES' COMMENTS: "Forensic Science" is investigative reporting at its most powerful, a story neither prosecutors nor the government wanted out that uncovered known flaws in forensic evidence used to convict thousands. Most importantly, Spencer Hsu exposed the Justice Department's trail of deception to keep the information hidden. It would have been easy to play up the melodrama in a story like this. But Hsu let the mountain of evidence tell the story with a clear, straightforward story. Line after line, he built outrage over the callous, irresponsible behavior of the Justice Department, saving his eloquent and understated narrative voice for the men wrongly convicted and imprisoned. He didn't overdramatize their anger, but instead gave his audience a glimpse into lives shattered with shoddy and inaccurate evidence. The results speak for themselves: two convictions vacated and a Justice Department review of 20,000-plus criminal cases that relied on flawed evidence. This project illustrates that in the face of overwhelming obstacles, such as decades old, redacted documents, an enterprising reporter can develop his own database that ultimately reveals a disturbing truth about flawed science. The inclusion of two video interviews with the principal subjects also brought an intimate and local voice to a story with national implications. His work changed the lives of not only a few, and revealed the value of relentless watchdog journalism.