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The new-look

Rocky Mountain News

debuted today, and there's plenty to say about it; the design, and the reasons behind the changes, will be explored in a future edition of the Message. But lost amid the hoopla over the tabloid's tweaked appearance (symbolized by the cover, seen here) was the curious nature of the edition's lead local news story -- a reworking of an alleged blockbuster from the previous day that proved to be wholly false.

"Attorneys: Grand Jury Could Help Break Silence in Williams Case," the Charlie Brennan-penned article in question, hangs on an awfully slender thread. The piece begins this way: "Denver police raised the possibility a day after Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was killed that a grand jury could hear testimony in the challenging case. A source knowledgable about the investigation said a Denver investigator told him on Jan. 2 that a grand jury already had been convened."

These two sentences seem contradictory. The first talks about the police in an overall sense, suggesting an official response or action by the department as a whole. Moreover, the cops are said to have merely "raised the possibility" that a grand jury "could" hear testimony, much as they might have "raised the possibility" that a specific gang was involved in Williams' slaying. Yet the second sentence cites an anonymous individual who claims that he was told by a single investigator -- not someone speaking for the force in general -- that a grand jury had already been convened as of January 2, the day after Williams died.

Confusing? Just wait.

After Brennan alludes in his next line to "legal observers" who "say a successful prosecution could rest on a grand jury's subpoena power," he goes on to quote Lynn Kimbrough, the spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney's Office, who denied that a "grand jury was taking testimony in the football player's death." That's followed by a passage bordering on the bizarre: "Upon hearing of Kimbrough's denial, the source who told the Rocky Mountain News about his Jan. 2 conversation with police theorized the detective might have been bluffing."

You read right. The story leads with a source saying that a grand jury is hearing testimony about the Williams killing. But after a representative of the DA's office shoots down this assertion, the very same source concedes that the officer who told him about the grand jury may not have been sticking to the facts.

These are hardly the ingredients of a credible scoop -- and the Rocky knew about the problems quite some time before the report saw print. According to Kimbrough, the Rocky sent out a "breaking-news alert" and posted information on its website declaring that a grand jury was hearing testimony in the Williams case. Shortly thereafter, she says, "Other media outlets in town who saw the Rocky alert called me to say, 'Can you confirm what the Rocky is saying?' And I told them that I couldn't." Two grand juries are available to look into matters at any given time in Denver, Kimbrough points out, but neither of them are examining the Williams matter.

As a result of Kimbrough's actions, other media outlets steered clear of the grand jury angle. In addition, the Rocky sent a correction to the same folks who'd received the original alert, and removed the website post. However, the paper didn't dump the story entirely. Rocky reps "gave me a heads-up last night, so I wouldn't choke on my coffee when I saw it the next morning," Kimbrough reveals. "They told me they'd gone back to the source, who said, 'That's what the cops told me, and maybe they were bluffing.' And that was reflected in the story today."

Kimbrough believes this material provides context for the piece as a whole. Still, she thinks the original tip raises at least one significant red flag. In her words, "For a murder on January 1 to be before a grand jury on January 2, the logistics of that... Common sense would tell you it's not true."

Looks like common sense had nothing to do with it. -- Michael Roberts

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