In 1986, staff writer Thomas French decided to look into the murder of Karen Gregory. He did not know Karen; like most people, he had learned about the case from news stories. But he had some questions. Why had it taken so long for the police to arrest someone who lived across the street from Karen? How had a St. Petersburg firefighter, a man whose job was saving lives, come to be charged with rape and murder? And why had so many neighbors heard Karen scream and not called the police? This last question was especially disturbing. In researching another article, French had discovered that this case was only one of many in the Tampa Bay area in which victims cry out and no one responds.
His reporting on the Gregory case led to a four-part series called "A Cry in the Night," published in late 1986. It provided a portrait of Karen and described the police investigation leading to the firefighter's arrest. The series prompted a strong reaction from readers. To the consternation of many, the series was published before the accused man had been tried.
We at the Times believed that people needed to see what happened when neighbors heard a scream and did not call the police. Moreover, most murder stories focus on the person charged with the crime. But in this case, the newspaper also focused on Karen and what her death meant to those around her. The time to do that, we believed, was before the trial. Once the trial began, the focus would shift to the accused. In addition, the series was published in the knowledge that even in cases with extensive pretrial publicity, the courts are set up to ensure the accused person a fair trial.
Why did the Times devote such attention to this case? In today's violent world, Karen's murder was only one of many. But her death was still a tragedy, just as every murder is. In writing about the Gregory case in detail, we hoped to mirror the ordeal of so many people. And we also hope that we are giving some insight into how our criminal court system works. - The editors
How the series was written
This series is the result of more than one year of reporting. The information was gathered from interviews with more than 50 people and from more than 6,000 pages of court documents, personnel files and other records. Most of the quotes are taken from notes or transcripts of official proceedings, but some are based on people's recollections.