A CRIMINAL JUSTICE “PREMONITION”

After spending decades covering some of the most important criminal cases in the country, legal journalist Wendy Whitman has decided to use her experience, and vast knowledge of past murder trails, to write her debut novel. The book, a crime thriller, titled Premonition, is loosely based on Whitman’s own life and informed by trails Whitman covered that she feels did not get the media attention they deserved at the time. Wendy Whitman joins us to discuss her new book and give her take on some problematic aspects of the criminal justice system.

Aired on July 15, 2021.

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

WENDY HAS SPENT SEVERAL DECADES COVERING CRIME STORIES AND TRIALS IN THIS COUNTRY.

NOW SHE BRINGS ALL OF THOSE SKILLS AND OBSERVATIONS AND EXPERIENCES TO HER DEBUT CRIME THRILLER.

THE NOVEL IS CALLED 'PREMONITION.'

IT IS A PAGE TURNING TAUT THRILLER FOCUSING NOT JUST ON THE STORY, BUT SOME ASPECTS OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.

WENDY IS A GOOD FRIEND AND FORMER LEAGUE.

THANKS FOR JOINING US.

PLEASURE TO SEE YOU, AS ALWAYS.

PLEASURE SO SEE YOU TOO, JACK.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THE STORY.

IT IS ONE OF THOSE PAGE TURNING THRILLERS.

GIVE US A SENSE OF WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT.

IT IS BASED ON MYSELF WHICH I THINK IS A COMMON THING FOR PROBABLY MOST ANY AUTHOR.

ORIGINALLY I PLANNED TO WRITE A NONFICTION BOOK.

I ALWAYS THOUGHT I HAD A BOOK IN ME FROM COURT TV AND NANCY GRACE SHOW.

ONE NIGHT IS DAWNED ON ME TO HIGHLIGHT 20 CASES THAT I NEVER FELT GOT ENOUGH MEDIA ATTENTION.

IT WAS A CATHARTIC CULMINATION OF MY CAREER.

WHEN I DECIDED TO MAKE IT FICTION, I STARTED THINKING I WAS WRITING ABOUT ME AND MY EXPERIENCES AND THOUGHTS AND OPINIONS, BUT I WAS ABLE TO INCORPORATE EVERYTHING IN AN INTERESTING TIME THRILLER.

IT JUST LITERALLY FLOWED OUT OF ME.

I FELT LIKE SOMEONE ELSE WAS GIVING ME THE WORDS EVERYDAY.

I JUST COULDN'T STOP WRITING.

I THINK WITH PASSION THAT'S WHAT HAPPENS.

IT WAS A WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE TO ME.

I HAD THE OPPOSITE OF WRITER'S BLOCK.

I JUST KEPT WRITING AND WRITING FOR THE FIRST DRAFT AND YOU KNOW ALL OF THE EDITING THAT GOES INTO IT AFTER THAT.

YOU TALK ABOUT THERE ARE ELEMENTS OF YOU AND THE WORK YOU DID IN THIS.

HOW DID YOU THEN, BECAUSE THIS IS A ROLLER COASTER RIDE FOR HER.

HOW DID YOU THEN SEPARATE YOU AND SAY THIS IS NOT WENDY ANYMORE.

NOW I HAVE TO TAKE HER OFF INTO A DIFFERENT AND FRIGHTENING DIRECTION.

WITHOUT GIVING AWAY THE ENDING, SHE ENDS UP -- THERE ARE A LOT OF TWISTS AND TURNS AND HER PARANOIA GROWS, AND I THINK THE TAG LINE IS IF YOU ARE NOT PAYING ATTENTION, YOUR PARANOIA IS LOW.

WHEN YOU SEE THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE MURDERED AND HOW HORRIFIC IT IS AND MOST OF THE TIME IT IS RANDOM.

THAT'S WHAT BECOMES SCARY TO PEOPLE.

FOR MYSELF, I THINK OUR ETHNICITIES ARE NOT THE SAME.

OUR PHYSICAL DESCRIPTIONS ARE NOT THE SAME, SO I THINK THOSE ARE TWO OF THE MAIN WAYS I DISTINGUISHED US.

YOU MENTIONED SOMETHING I FOUND VERY INTERESTING.

GOING BACK TO YOUR EXPERIENCE, COVERING ALL OF THESE CASES OVER THE YEARS.

YOU TALK ABOUT HOW THERE ARE ELEMENTS OF SO MANY OF THESE CASES IN THIS STORY.

WHY DID YOU WANT TO DO THAT?

I AM SORRY, ELEMENTS OF WHAT?

YOU TALK ABOUT ELEMENTS OF OTHER CRIMES, OTHER MURDERS, THINGS YOU COVERED.

WHY AND HOW DO YOU WEAVE THOSE IN AS A FICTION WRITER AS OPPOSED TO A LEGAL JOURNALIST.

I THINK SO WHEN SHE CAN'T SLEEP SHE THINKS OF TRIAL AND THINGS THAT FREAK HER OUT.

IF YOU REMEMBER GARY CHRISTIAN WHEN WE DID ONE OF THE DAUGHTER'S TRIALS, I FELT IT DIDN'T GET THE MEDIA ATTENTION IT DESERVED.

THE TRIAL TURNED INTO A DISASTER.

AND THE WICHITA CASE OF THE CARR BROTHERS.

I FELT THOSE GOT CHEATED IN THE MEDIA SO I PUT THEM IN THE BOOK.

THERE ARE 18 OTHER CASES I HAVE WAYS OF REFERENCING.

DANNY ROMAN'S VICTIM MURDERED, THE GAINESVILLE STUDENT.

THERE WAS SOMETHING ABOUT HER EX PRESIDENTIAL.

SHE HAD THE MOST HORRIFIC DEATH.

THAT PICTURE HAUNTED ME.

ALL OF THOSE DIFFERENT THOUGHTS I WAS ABLE TO PUT IN THE BOOK THROUGH CARRIE'S THOUGHTS.

IT WORKED WELL FOR ME.

YOU TALK ABOUT SO MANY OF THE OUTSTANDING LEGAL JOURNALISTS YOU WORKED WITH DURING THE COURSE OF YOUR CAREER AND YOU SAY, BY THE WAY, YOU ARE NOT IN THIS BOOK, BUT YOU MIGHT SEE SOME ELEMENTS OF SOME OF THE PEOPLE.

HOW DID YOU HANDLE THAT?

DID YOU SAY AT SOME POINT HOW DID YOU HANDLE THAT?

I WANT TO TAKE THIS PART OF THIS PERSON AND WEAVE THAT INTO MY BOOK OR IS IT SOMETHING THAT FLOWS BECAUSE OF YOUR PRIOR EXPERIENCE?

I THINK IT FLOWS.

THERE WERE MANY PEOPLE I WORKED WITH.

JUST LIKE I BASED THE WHOLE BOOK ON MY THOUGHTS AND EXPERIENCES, THOSE PEOPLE WERE PART OF MY THOUGHTS AND EXPERIENCES.

THOSE WERE COMPOSITES.

PEOPLE MAY SEE THEMSELVES, BUT THEY ARE COMPOSITES AND SOMETIMES THE SITUATION I AM REFERENCING ARE REAL PEOPLE BUT THEY AREN'T IN REAL LIFE.

THIS IS MY FIRST NOVEL, BUT IT WAS A NEAT EXPERIENCE FOR ME BECAUSE I REALIZE HOW YOU CONTINUOUSLY DRAW FROM YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE AND THOUGHTS, BUT YOU SORT OF MORPH THEM INTO FICTION.

AS A JOURNALIST YOU ARE BOUND BY FACTS WHEN YOU DO YOUR WRITING AND PRODUCING AND REPORTING.

THIS IS FACT, FICTION.

DID YOU FIND IT PARTICULARLY -- EITHER EASIER TO WRITE FICTION THAN IT IS TO WRITE LEGAL JOURNALISM OR DID YOU FIND IT MORE DIFFICULT BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT BOUND BY THE FACTS AND YOU HAD TO CREATE FACTS WHEN YOU WERE DOING IT?

HOW WAS THAT EXPERIENCE?

I THINK THE PART THAT MAKES WRITING FICTION EASIER IS YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO ALL OF THE RESEARCH.

BECAUSE I DID INCORPORATE 22 CASES, I MADE SURE I WAS DOING THEM ACCURATELY.

SAY I PICKED THE TENNESSEE CASE OF SHANNON CHRISTIAN AND DID THE WHOLE BOOK ON THAT, THERE WERE A MILLION WITNESSES.

IT WOULD HAVE BEEN SO DIFFICULT TO DO THAT.

I CHECKED TO MAKE SURE THE WORKS WERE ACCURATE, SNIPPETS OF LONG LEGAL PROCEEDINGS.

FICTION, YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE FACTUALLY ACCURATE, I DID HAVE PIECES OF REAL CASES SO I HAD TO BE ACCURATE.

BUT THERE ARE 20 CASES WOVEN THROUGHOUT THE BOOK.

THESE WERE INTERESTING TIDBITS OF CASES THAT PEOPLE NEVER KNEW ABOUT A CASE EVEN IF THE CASE WAS WELL-KNOWN.

THAT'S ONE OF THE GREAT ELEMENTS OF THIS BOOK.

YOU KNOW IT IS FICTION, A NOVEL, BUT YOU FIND YOURSELF BEING DRAWN IN TO THESE CASES FROM THE PAST.

I FOUND IN MY NOVELS, AS OPPOSED TO US AS JOURNALISTS, WE ARE RECOUNTING THE FACTS AND DECISIONS, YOU MIGHT GET TO A SECTION AND SAY THIS JUST ISN'T WORKING AND YOU SAY I WILL JUST CHANGE IT.

WHICH IS SORT OF A DELAY.

YOU TALK IN YOUR ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS, ABOUT WANTING TO SHINE A LIGHT ON SOME OF THESE PRIOR CASES YOU FELT WERE UNDERSERVED BY THE KBLEED AND TALK ABOUT THE FACT YOU ARE SHINING A LIGHT ON SOME OF THE FAILINGS OF JUSTICE SYSTEM.

YOU HAVE CHRONICLED THE JUSTICE SYSTEM FOR SO LONG.

WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

ONE IS BUGBY, THE GREEN RIVER KILLER.

THEY THINK HE COULD HAVE KILLED UP TO 100.

I THINK HE WAS CONVICTED OF 50.

HE BARGAINED OUT OF THE DEATH PENALTY BY REVEALING WHERE SOME OF THE BODIES WERE.

THAT DOESN'T COUNTERACT THE MURDER.

BODY BARGAINING HAS NEVER SAT WELL WITH ME.

WHEN PROSECUTORS SAY WE ARE TAKING THE DEATH PENALTY OFF THE TABLE BECAUSE HE IS GIVING UP THIS INFORMATION.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE REASON FOR DOING THAT?

QUITE HONESTLY I DON'T UNDERSTAND.

I UNDERSTAND WHERE THE DEFENDANT IS COMING FROM.

IF HE TELLS WHERE TEN BODIES ARE.

I DON'T KNOW WHY, WHEN A CASE IS SO OPEN AND SHUT.

HE GAVE LOCATIONS OF BODIES, BUT THEY DID FIND SOME OF THEM AS WELL.

I WOULD SYMPATHIZE WITH THE RELATIVES IF THEY WERE WILLING TO GIVE UP THE DEATH PENALTY TO FIND THEIR LOVED ONES.

BUT IT RUNS ME THE WRONG WAY.

SOMEBODY WHO PLAYS THE SYSTEM AND WINS.

THAT'S WHAT BOTHERS ME IN IT.

YOU MENTIONED THERE WAS A SECOND ELEMENT.

THE HILLSIDE STRANG LERS, THEY GOT THEIR VICTIMS BY POLICE BADGES AND TOLD GIRLS THEY WERE UNDERCOVER COPS.

IF THERE WERE NO SUCH THING AS UNDERCOVER POLICE CARS, NO ONE WOULD HAVE BOUGHT A BADGE THEY COULD PROBABLY GET AT A TOY STORE.

I THINK POLICE CARS SHOULD BE CLEARLY MARKED.

IF ANYONE CAN DRIVE AROUND AND SAY THEY ARE A COP -- THESE GIRLS WERE INNOCENT GIRLS.

THEY PULLED THEM OVER AND SAID IT WAS A TRAFFIC THING.

DID DIFFERENT THINGS FOR EACH ONE.

THOSE MURDERS WERE AWFUL, THE THINGS THEY DID TO THEM.

THAT'S THE KIND OF THING THAT RUBS ME THE WRONG WAY.

I DON'T THINK THERE SHOULD BE UNDERCOVER POLICE CARS.

WENDY, THE BOBBOK IS ENTITLE 'P 'PREMONITION.'

AND IF YOU ARE NOT PARANOID WHEN YOU ARE READING THIS -- AND I CAN TELL YOU YOU WILL BE PARANOID WHEN READING IT.

IT IS A DEBUT NOVEL, BUT IT LOOKS LIKE AN AUTHOR DOING THEM FOREVER BECAUSE IT'S SO WELL DONE.

A GREAT PAGE TURNER.

I AM WRITING THE SEQUEL RIGHT NOW.

PERFECT.

WENDY, ALWAYS A PLEASURE.

STAY WELL.

TALK TO YOU SOON.

THANKS, JACK.

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