My coverage of Thomas L. Bortvit’s June, 2015 murder and the trial of Lee S. Christensen, who killed him, was awarded runner-up in the Iowa Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper competition.
It’s not an award I wanted, based on the circumstances of this case.
However, I poured my soul into creating an unbiased and complete report of it, because I thought it was important.
So much gossip and misinformation was floating around.
I provided space and time on my reporter Facebook page, @EvilleAmy, for citizens to express their thoughts and opinions, with the caveat that personal attacks and vicious remarks would be removed and their maker banned. From radical free speech, we moved to that which was at least not vitriolic.
This was a case in which many of the community members knew both families, both young men, and were distraught and conflicted. There was no conflict in the fact that Thomas Bortvit was a great young man and his death left a terrible hole.
There were many conflicts about Christensen. He’d not been in trouble before. He was a good man to his family and loved ones. There was question of whether he had cerebral disorder from benign tumors in his brain. Those were treated with the best possible medical care. From his journals, he was certainly depressed. His family was trying to get him out of town to Arizona to get his mojo back and his running times in the range of a state championship.
Instead, he spent his senior year in jail awaiting trial.
Was it first or second degree murder? Only the jury knows for sure why they chose second degree. The defense raised the question of voluntary manslaughter. Did Christensen want to cause Bortvit’s death, or was the shooting in the heat of the moment?
The defense didn’t present much, but preserved issues for appeal.
We await the appellate court’s decision.
I do have some background and talent for court and crime coverage.
I don’t ever want to cover another murder trial like this. Emmet County, let’s stop killing one another.
I feel grateful for my first major newspaper writing award, and hope to add more in the coming year.