visual storyteller, photojournalist, stills, video, drone

Dail: Life Unbarred

A forgotten child’s nightgown pushed Dwayne Dail from wrong man to free man. Convicted of rape, he lost half his life in prison before DNA evidence found on the gown proved his innocence. Now free, Dail looks back and tries to make sense of a life unbarred.

Footage: Shawn Rocco, Travis Long
Interviews: Mandy Locke:
Stills: Shawn Rocco
Editing: Travis Long, Shawn Rocco
Additional editing: Rob Roberts

December 9, 2007: In late August, Dwayne Dail , 39, was exonerated after serving 18 years for a crime he didn’t commit. A 12-year-old Goldsboro girl pointed to him as the man who raped her; a jury believed her. Dail spent half his life behind bars until the N.C. Center for Actual Innocence uncovered evidence containing DNA that authorities thought had been destroyed after Dail’s trial.

Colleague Shawn Rocco and I got a call from a picture editor late in the evening Aug. 27, 2007. We were to drive to Goldsboro, NC the next morning where Dail was expected to be exonerated. Shawn shot stills and I shot video. Our reports had to be filed to from the courthouse. This is the video I cut in the courthouse lobby:

Shawn stuck with Dail while all the other photographers and news crews packed it in to file their stories. That’s him in the last few seconds of my news video running ahead of Dail while the rest of the photographers stopped at the curb. It payed off, as Shawn reporter Mandy Locke were able to develop a rapport  with Dail and his family that allowed them to continue with this story.

A few weeks ago Shawn and Mandy traveled to Lehigh Acres, Fla to find out how Dail was coping with life out of prison. Shawn was in Florida for 2 1/2 days. He was responsible for shooting photos that would carry a Sunday page one display as well as video. This was Shawn’s first foray into video (aside from a few daily breaking news videos he shot on a Canon S3). Before he left, I showed him how to hook a lav up to a Canon HV20 and off he went.

Shawn came back with amazing interview, b-roll and photos. After Shawn struggled in vain with iMovie, we decided to team up and hit the studio last Sunday. We started by writing sound bytes onto stickies that we organized into clusters on the window and door of the studio.

On Monday, multimedia producer and all-around ninja, Rob Roberts, envisioned a DVD-like piece that featured a main video with “extras” including video interview out takes, audio, photo galleries, and documents. The main video would be prominent and if folks were compelled after watching it, they could explore all the additional content Shawn and Mandy gathered. We would also debut FULL SCREEN video. It was going to take everything we had to get it live by Sunday.

Rob farmed out parts of the project while Shawn and I cut the main video. Rob went to work programming the shell based on the back end of our State Fair multimedia. We were aiming for a 4 to 5 minute video with three distinct parts: Prison, Exoneration and New Life. We used Shawn’s new footage as well as the news video I shot in August. Shawn drove out to Nash Correctional facility on Monday to shoot some b-roll and get sound to fill out the Prison section.

By Thursday Shawn and I had the main video roughed out. We were asked to show it during the 4 p.m. editors’ meeting. They liked what they saw (maybe too much). We were asked to get it on the site by noon on Friday to promote the Sunday story. Panic set in. Shawn and I were at least another day from having the video ready to go live and the multimedia components weren’t ready either. We came to a compromise. We would put up a trailer by noon Friday. I whipped up a few text slides Friday morning at the breakfast table and tacked them on the end of the first 30 seconds of our rough cut.

Friday night, Rob tightened the screws, color corrected and put a sweet encode brew on the video. In the end I think we came up with something that served our readers pretty well. Now if I could just catch up on sleep.

Update – Frebruary 13, 2008: Dail: Life Unbarred featured in PDN magazine: PDN Magazine wrote a little diddy in this month’s issue on “Dail: Life unbarred.” I think Shawn got more photos in the magazine than he got in the paper. Too bad the article has us working for the Charlotte News & Observer. But hey, we’ll take what we can get. Click to see the print article:

Update – April 9, 2008 “Dail: Life Unbarred” named offical honoree in 12th Annual Webby Awards for Public Service and Activism.

Update March 30, 2008: NPPA Best of Potojournalism 2008 names “Dail Life Unbarred” 1st place Feature Video and Best Web video

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