ProPublica reporter wins 2023 Brechner Freedom of Information Award

By Brechner News, April 4, 2023

ProPublica reporter Brett Murphy is the winner of the 2023 Brechner Freedom of Information Award for “Words of Conviction,” his investigation into the use of a technique used by police and prosecutors to treat people who called 911 for help as criminals themselves.

Murphy first learned about “911 call analysis” when investigating a botched murder case in Louisiana. The technique was developed by a retired police chief, who touted it as a way to determine if 911 callers reporting a death were in fact guilty of the crime themselves.

Most experts agree that 911 call analysis is junk science. But Murphy’s reporting documented more than 100 cases in 26 states where law enforcement used the results of 911 call analysis against defendants, often outside proper legal discovery obligations and without scrutiny.

Murphy discovered that prosecutors know that the technique is junk science but have found ways to sneak it into court because it can help win cases.

Murphy sent more than 80 public records requests to local agencies, interviewed 120 people and reviewed thousands of previously unreleased emails that documented the ways police and prosecutors disguise their use of the technique to accuse and convict people on the basis of how they spoke on a 911 call.

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