His lead about window coverings was risky and odd but inspired. I wouldn't have made that choice. I might have started with the prosecutor pulling the woman's hair back to reveal the stab wounds because that highlights her bravery - mirroring the headline. But his originality captured some of the mundane details of a highly sensational trial and made it more real. He used it to build suspense and to humanize the victim by demonstrating her sense of humor and resilience. Powerful!
His speculations about what the killer "maybe was thinking" . . . defy some reportorial norms. But they highlight the human struggle to make sense of the incomprehensible.
The respect, admiration and empathy Sanders demonstrated for the survivor made the story a flawed masterpiece. His description of how everyone in the courtroom cried during the survivor's testimony brought tears to my eyes.
He powerfully summed up the emotional touchpoints of her testimony - the strength of her relationship with Butz, how Butz touched her killer's heart and said "there must be some good in here," what she screamed when she learned Butz was dead. His use of pull-out quotes put the story in the victim's words. I view this as a master class in how to make trial testimony come alive and tell the story
Sanders explanation that she testified because "You must hear - must know-must listen - this happened" rang true. This also used powerful alliteration.
I'm impressed by the masculine sensitivity he demonstrated. He now qualifies as one of my personal journalistic heroes for being such an enlightened male.
This piece exemplifies a story demanding that objectivity be punctured.
On a personal note, I had a hard time reading the piece because my eldest daughter was sexually assaulted in Bulgaria in December (no penetration, thank G-d). This story made me realize just how much worse the assault could've been.
I'm attaching column here.
One People with One Heartby Sharon Rosen Leib January 30, 2017
“I know you’re a doctor and I’m worried about my baby girl being so far away from home,” I said, protectively wrapping an arm around 22-year-old Oldest Daughter’s shoulders. I was about to leave her in Sofia, Bulgariafor a 10-month stint as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. What would happen if she got sick?
When I made this entreaty to Dr. Alexander Oscar, the 38-year-old secular head of Bulgaria’s Jewish community, I blew my journalistic cover. Dr. Oscar, whom I’d been interviewing for an SDJJ story, dropped his guarded professional demeanor. His dark eyes instantly brightened and he grinned at my maternal outburst, “She’s your daughter? I thought you were both journalists,” he said. “Please, don’t worry. Of course we’ll take care of her!”
I departed the following day with greater peace of mind. Oldest Daughter was in good hands. Bulgaria’s Jewish community would watch over her.
In my darkest nightmare, I never could’ve imagined why we’d need the community’s support so soon. One weeknight in early December, Oldest Daughter stepped outside the front door of her apartment building to wait for a cab. A heavyset man in his 30s made brief eye contact with her. Then he grabbed her, covered her nose and mouth and shoved her face down onto the sidewalk. She tried to scream as he reached for her skirt. Fortunately, her heavy winter clothing proved a formidable barrier. Unable to disrobe her, he mounted her back, humped her and ejaculated on her coat. When he saw the cab’s headlights, he fled. The entire incident lasted only a few minutes. Oldest Daughter was traumatized but relieved she hadn’t been raped or suffocated to death.
Instead of panicking and jumping on a flight to Sofia (which would’ve taken at least 48 hours), I emailed Dr. Oscar for urgent help. I had two very specific requests: number one — to find a good English-speaking therapist to assist my daughter process her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); number two – to have a security camera installed outside her building that would alert her via an iPhone app to anyone lurking outside her door.
Dr. Oscar emailed me back within hours saying, “Shalom, the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria will do anything necessary to help.” He’d already contacted Eric Rubin, the United States Ambassador to Bulgaria, who also happens to be Jewish. Ambassador Rubin told Dr. Oscar he’d take immediate action and forwarded the name of an English-speaking Jewish therapist. Both Ambassador Rubin and his wife Nicole emailed me directly expressing their concern and ensuring me that Oldest Daughter would get whatever support she needed.
Julia Dandalova, head of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s office in Bulgaria, also contacted me. She let me know she’d be speaking to the Sofia Jewish community’s head of security about having a camera installed outside Oldest Daughter’s apartment building. Within days, Dr. Oscar, Ms. Dandalova and Ivan Panchev, the head of security, met with Oldest Daughter to discuss the type of security cameras to be installed. They took care of all the details and installed the cameras.
The U.S. Embassy connected her with an outstanding therapist who has been helping her process the attack and her feelings in the aftermath. In short, Bulgaria’s Jewish community stepped up and took care of my daughter in her time of crisis.
My husband and I are tremendously comforted knowing that Sofia’s Jewish community continues to have our daughter’s back. I wrote Dr. Oscar and Ms. Dandalova that their incredible support made me realize more than ever that we Jews are one people.
Dr. Oscar responded, “One people with one heart (am echad b’lev echad).”