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She Says: Your Questions, Our Answers

Last episode we asked listeners: What questions do you have about Linda’s case and our yearlong investigation? So now She Says host and reporter Sarah Delia and reporter Alex Olgin tackle your questions about police policy, DNA law, and more. 

SARAH DELIA: Since we launched the podcast in May, we've looked into how crime labs work, how DNA laws are applied, and learned more about police department policies. And we've been following a woman we're calling Linda who was sexually assaulted more than three years ago in Charlotte, N.C., as she tries to figure out how her investigation was handled by police. The series documents Linda's attempt to navigate the criminal justice system and hopefully find some closure.

And along the way we've had some listeners write us and ask questions about the reporting process and about Linda's case. So we thought this week we would pull back the curtain ever so slightly and answer your questions, if we can. And to do that, I need a little bit of help. So I have WFAE/She Says reporter Alex Olgin in the studio with me, who has helped to co-report this series.

ALEX OLGIN: Hey Sarah.


DELIA: We have a list of e-mails printed out and we also had some people call us so I think the best thing to do is actually just jump to one of those voicemails that was that was left and we'll go to that caller now.

VOICEMAIL: Hi, my name is Lisa. I'm very interested in this podcast. Thank you for doing it. Two questions I have: How did you connect with Linda? How did you learn about her story and then get connected to actually get the information to do the podcast? Number two: my understanding is it happened on a college campus and I just want to confirm, is that true or am I mistaken? Thanks so much.

DELIA: Thanks for calling, Lisa. The first thing to clarify real quick is that Linda's assault did not happen on a college campus. And one thing that I like that we're doing is that we actually have a timeline of events of Linda's assault and takes you up to kind of where we are in the series, so if you ever have any questions about what's happened, you can actually check out the timeline. And that might be really helpful as you listen to go along and see the who, what, when, where of everything. So her assault did happen in Charlotte in a neighborhood outside of uptown.

To answer how we got in touch with Linda. That's something that a lot of people want to know. So she actually got in touch with us in a way. She started a dialogue with our news director Greg Collard, who is the editor of this series.

And basically they kind of had a dialogue on Twitter and she was just sort of curious about our coverage, what we were going to be doing to cover backlogged crime labs in Charlotte and in the state of North Carolina, and what we were doing to kind of cover sexual assault crimes.

And somewhere along the way, she disclosed to him that she was a sexual assault survivor and they had a conversation on the phone, chatted some more and he said,"it sounds like you have an important story to tell. Do you mind if I bring your story to the newsroom and see if someone is interested in getting in touch with you?" So he did that in the spring, I believe, of 2017. I remember that being brought to the newsroom and I thought it was a really interesting story and I wanted to know more about Linda. And I remember that I thought it was going to, you know, be a very intense story to tell. And I remember thinking that whoever kind of tackled it, it might be very helpful for that person to be a female journalist just because of the type of relationship and the type of questions you would have to ask a female sexual assault survivor.

So, it got assigned to me and I had a really long conversation with her over the phone and then eventually went out to her house and spent the day with her and her husband just kind of explaining to them what it would mean to do this story - and, you know, if they were interested in it.

And just a couple interesting tidbits from that day. I didn't have my recorder with me. I left it in the car because I just really wanted to listen to them and to hear her story and to not have her worried about being recorded. And then at the end of the day, I told them to take a couple of days and think about whether they actually wanted to do the story because there would be challenges -- some that I could kind of foresee and some that I couldn't foresee. So she took a couple of days and then called us and said that she wanted to do the story, and that's how we got connected her.

OLGIN: Yeah, and we have two more questions along this line about our relationship with Linda that I think are important to bring up. And they were submitted by Amy via email, so I'm just going to go ahead and read them both and then we'll tackle them.

So, the first one: Is it difficult not confusing Linda's name with her real name in scripts? What's the production process like for scripts?

And then the second one: What is Linda's involvement in the podcast? And is she providing feedback before the podcast episodes are released?

DELIA: At first, it was definitely hard not to say Linda's real name because I have been speaking to her for over a year at this point. So, I just sort of trained my brain that that was not her real name and that Linda was her real name. And when we're talking about the story in the office, we're not using her real name. We're referring to her as Linda, so that's really helpful.

As far as what the production process is like for the scripts, it's pretty intense. I write the scripts. There have been a couple of episodes where Alex has co-written and so we're writing together. And it goes through an initial edit with our boss, Greg Collard, the news director. And then it gets submitted to a couple of other managers at the station and they give us their feedback then we incorporate those changes. And then it's submitted to a lawyer and he reviews it and he makes sure that we are wording things in a way that won't get anyone in trouble, which is very much appreciated in a really sensitive story like this. And then we take any feedback that he has for us, make some more changes. We also do something where we kind of make like a rough mix.

OLGIN: And it's important for editors and the lawyer to hear how it sounds. Sometimes things are said differently than they appear on a page and since we are an audio medium, when it comes down to it we like to edit in that form.

DELIA: Yeah, I think that's a really good point because sometimes you could, you know, you could say like, on paper, “I hope you have a nice day,” but then if you hear someone say it like, “I hope you have a nice day,” that means something very different. So it's really important to have people’s eyes on scripts and also people’s ears on scripts.

OLGIN: And in terms of her involvement in the podcast day-to-day or the episodes you asked if she if she gives feedback to us. No, in the sense that she doesn't - she's not involved in the editing process. She is a source. So we ask her questions and we will fact check things with her and you know go over things to say, 'do we understand this correctly?' But no one outside of this building, other than our lawyer, has feedback on the episodes before they are published. And that is just standard practice. We do not let our sources or people that we've interviewed listen to our stories before they're published.

DELIA: So where should we go next, Alex?

OLGIN: So our next question comes from Megan and she actually has two questions, as well. The first one was:

“Is the show made all at once and being released weekly? And do you already know how it ends?”

And so we'll just address that one first.

DELIA: Do we already know how it ends? I have not written the ending yet, so…

OLGIN: We are very much in active production.

DELIA: We are very much an active production (chuckles). We have an idea of how the story might end, but we have not written the ending yet.

OLGIN: And then the second question is:

Did you have any reservations about making this story since Linda wasn't, as you mentioned in one episode, an ideal victim? And do you expect the circumstances prior to the rape to be likely to work against conviction of the assailant if it goes to trial?

DELIA: Well, I don't think it's our place to speculate what happens if it goes to trial. I understand why you asked that question. But I don't think it's our place to speculate that.

Did we have reservations about her not being quote unquote “the ideal victim?” We don't have anything to worry about as long as we're telling the truth. And that was a really serious conversation we had with editors and with Linda at the beginning of this podcast of, you know, we're going to have to ask you some, some very invasive questions, more than once. And, we're going to have to ask for some documents that, in doing so, you might think that we don't trust you, but really it's because we want to have an answer for anything that might ever come up if somebody asks us, ‘How do you know that this is true?’

I don't think I had reservations. I wanted to make sure we were doing our due diligence, and I think we've done that between background checks and medical records and court documents and multiple interviews over and over and over again. I don't think reservations, but an appropriate amount of caution and making sure that we were just going over everything with a fine tooth comb.

OLGIN: Right. And we fact checked and verified Linda's story the way we would anyone else we've interviewed in the podcast. You know, for people that say they worked at police departments, we got employment records to confirm that. We didn't treat her any differently because she did decide to use drugs when she was sexually assaulted. We verify everyone the same way.

DELIA: And then there was another part of that question that Megan asked about: Was the show made all at once? And, being released weekly?

And I think that's something that, you know, this show was not made all at once. We had several episodes ‘in the can,’ as we like to say. And we were, you know, thinking -- we got a lot of advice from other podcasts, and the biggest thing that they said to us was have as many episodes done before you start rolling the series out because you're just going to be swamped with things. And if it's a story that's happening in real time, there are going to be things that come up that you're not going to be able to foresee. So we had about three episodes done. And that was helpful. And now we are in the mode where we're making new content every week. And actually part of, you know, this week is we're coming to you and we're answering your questions. It's also giving us a little bit of a breather, too, to focus on the remaining episodes that are some pretty intense episodes that are coming our way.

OLGIN: Exactly. And like Sarah said, things are happening in real time. They're changing week to week. So that is why we have not finished all production ahead of time, like maybe in some (other podcasts) where you're looking at a case that's already been closed.

DELIA: We'll be back with more answers to those listener submitted questions after this quick break. I'm Sarah Delia alongside Alex Olgin and this is She Says.

OLGIN: Hey, “She Says” listeners. I'm Alex Olgin alongside Sarah Delia and we're here to answer your listener questions. The next question comes from Drea. She writes:

Something I'm curious about and was actually brought up to me by a CMPD member that is a friend is Linda's background and life. Crack is not just a drug that comes to mind on a Saturday night out among most folks that I know. Nor does wandering to a convenience store in the middle of the night. Can you shed more light on her socio-economic status/lifestyle?

DELIA: Part of Linda's deal of doing the story with us is that we agreed to give her anonymity, and there are things that we know and have confirmed -- because we're journalists and we're doing our job -- that unfortunately we just can't share with people because it would compromise her anonymity and her family's anonymity.

I thought the question pertaining to her socio-economic status was an interesting one. I guess what I will say is that, you know, I've been to Linda's home many times and she lives on a nice street. Middle class family. I don't know what image may automatically come to mind for people, and I understand that you crave details and you want to know more about her and just have a better painted picture of her. I get that.

But in order to do this story, there were things that we couldn't share with listeners and that's also why the podcast is about her and it's about her learning to navigate the criminal justice system. But it's also about the criminal justice system and the different agencies that make it up.

OLGIN: And one other thing to point out is this is not unique granting anonymity to Linda. Media have a practice of not naming sexual assault victims -- the crime that happened to them is so horrific. Their names are (often) redacted from police reports. We don't we don't name sexual assault victims in our coverage.

Our next question comes to us from Sarah. Also, a great name. She writes to us in an e-mail:

Linda’ story is so compelling, I'm wondering if you all talked to other victims of sexual assault in addition to Linda before deciding to tell Linda's story? Or, if Linda's story is the only one that's considered for this podcast?

DELIA: That's a good question. You know, Linda's story was a story that I wasn't seeking. It just sort of found its way to WFAE, and we went from there. Before we started the series, we put a call out to people just to see if other sexual assault survivors would even talk to us. And so we set up a voicemail, and they called in and left their stories and we were overwhelmed by how many people -- male, female, all different ages -- left messages on this voicemail to tell us about their stories. So we heard stories in that way. And there was no way that we were going to capture everyone's story. So we do these listener callouts every episode and people leave us snippets of their story involving sexual assault. And that's what we've come up with to incorporate other stories because, unfortunately, we just can't do yearlong investigations into everyone's story, you know. And that's - I wish we could.

OLGIN: We just don't have the bandwidth or the people.

DELIA: Right. But Linda's story, I mean it was unique in the sense that she was willing to talk to us for a full year. She was willing to let me in her home life. She was willing to let me go to different appointments with her and sit in and really capture what that experience is like. And not everyone is able to give that kind of access.

OLGIN: So the next question comes from Julie and she writes:

Is the man who Linda identified as her assailant, is his DNA now officially in the database?

DELIA: So we can answer that question pretty definitively for two reasons. I'll answer the first part. The first reason why we know he is in CODIS now is because under a 2011 law in North Carolina, if you are arrested for certain violent crimes, including something like sexual assault, a DNA swab is automatically taken from you and it's uploaded to the CODIS databases. Now, if you're not convicted, then your DNA should be removed.

OLGIN: Exactly. And we know for a fact that his DNA sample was taken because there is a document in his court file that says it was taken when he was arrested for this crime. So we know it was taken. We assume that it's been uploaded into the system but we can never be 100 percent sure because the state crime lab will not release details about individuals’ DNA. But assuming that all processes go according to the way they're supposed to, yes, his DNA should be in the system.

Then the last question comes to us in the form of a voicemail.

VOICEMAIL: Hi my name is Bobby. I am curious if you are sharing all of the information that you discover with Linda and her lawyers. I listen to a different crime podcast and the host said that they would only share the information if the victim's lawyers agreed to an interview, and I thought that was really terrible. Clearly, their interest is not in helping the victim; it's in making a radio show. And I realize that both things are important, but I'm just wondering if you guys are following that same practice or if that's a standard practice. Anyway, I'm loving the show thank you so much for doing it. I'm sure it's been a lot of work.

OLGIN: Thanks for calling in Bobby and asking that question. You know, it is tricky because as journalists we do not work on behalf of the victim. We don't work on behalf of anybody. We are independent investigators. So, of course, the prosecution and the defense have access to all of the things that we've published. That's all, you know, published online, published in the form of the audio. And we reference where we get information and what documents we get it from. So if they wanted to get those documents they could go ahead and do that. But because we don't work on behalf of anybody, we do not share our information, especially because in this case, one of our sources is anonymous.

DELIA: So, the documents that Alex and I are looking at, they are public documents. Anyone could get them if they wanted to. I understand that listeners get really invested in Linda's story and I can see where it's frustrating as a listener to hear that maybe a journalist doesn't sound like they're being helpful. But I think the best way to be helpful as a journalist is to tell a truthful story and to let the chips fall where they do.

OLGIN: So, Sarah next week we're going to resume with the normal episodes that are published in (the She Says) feed. What should we hear next week?

DELIA: Next week we take a little bit of a detour from Linda's story and we introduce you to someone who is a sexual assault survivor that had a very different outcome and a very different experience walking the winding road. But we also look at -- even though her assault was very different and there were some things that just went a little bit smoother and quicker for her than they did with Linda -- we also see some similarities. Some obstacles that are similar to what Linda experienced and some obstacles that are very different from what Linda experienced. Alex, thanks for being on with me today.

OLGIN: You're welcome.

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Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.