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30 Years Of Criminal Justice Reporting From Robert Siegel

Robert Siegel is retiring in January after four decades at NPR. He talks with Ari Shapiro about some of the memorable stories he has reported during his 30 years as a host of All Things Considered.

Over the years, mostly in the 1990s, Siegel reported what he considered to be an informal series on different phases of the criminal justice system. In 1994, he cruised the streets of Baltimore with an officer named Jim Higgins to provide a glimpse into life as an urban beat cop — and the tensions between police and civilians.

Two years later, Siegel traveled to Alabama to report a two-part series on that state's parole system, and focused on the story of Lewis Downs, a 73-year-old man who was up for parole after three years into a 20-year sentence for killing his neighbor. Before his conviction, Downs' criminal record consisted of one speeding ticket.

In 2007, Siegel reported on the case of Larry Peterson in New Jersey. He was wrongfully convicted of murder — based on pre-DNA-testing junk science and false testimony — and was exonerated after spending 17 years in prison.

Through these stories, Siegel says, he learned that "people who can be perfectly confident in what they have done, and who thought they were doing exactly the right thing and following the truth, can be totally wrong."

"We're flawed, we're capable of error," he says. "And those stories certainly always left with me with that lesson."

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