by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

The woman was murdered, stabbed 22 times, the knife left ghoulishly in her mouth. Police investigated. They arrested the boyfriend. A dental “expert” said the boyfriend’s teeth matched a bite mark on the woman’s face.

The accused was put in jail. The door was shut. The light disappeared. At a quick glance, it seemed that justice was done.

But only at a quick glance. This is a story for people who think reporters ask too many questions, they’re too nosy, too negative. Not long after Ricky Amolsch, the boyfriend, was locked away, his frustrated lawyer went to a guy named Rod Hansen and asked for help.

Hansen is a dying breed, a radio reporter. Nowadays, most radio stations take network news feeds, or pay kids out of school to read wire copy like robots. Hansen, 54, still carries a tape recorder around his shoulder. He has worked 28 years for WJR, doing something very old-fashioned: digging up news.

The lawyer told him, “This guy is really innocent.” Hansen, who has seen it all, said to himself, “Yeah, they’re all innocent.”

But he drove out to the Westland neighborhood where the murder took place and began to ask questions, because that is what good reporters do.

This was eight months ago. Trading house for a jail cell

Whiff by whiff, Hansen began to smell a mistake. Amolsch, a divorced autoworker with two kids, had no record. He’d never even had a speeding ticket. There seemed to be no motivation for the killing, and the only real witness the police had was a neighbor named Anthony Walker, who said he saw Amolsch’s van the night of the crime.

Hansen made countless calls and did interviews, and reported the case on WJR. Naturally, his stories didn’t make the splash of such important news as Kato Kaelin’s book deal, or Michael Jackson’s marriage. But Hansen kept plugging.

Meanwhile, Ricky Amolsch sat in jail. His life had gone to hell. They had handcuffed him at work, and his two teenage children were sent to state-run homes, because their mother couldn’t take care of them.

“My kids sent me pictures and drawings in jail,” he would later say. “Every time I tried to put them up in my cell, I started crying.”

Amolsch had to sell his house to pay legal fees. His lawyers filed motions and appeals, but justice doesn’t work for the common man the way it does for O.J. Simpson or Leona Helmsley. There were delays. A judge got sick. All kinds of things kept stalling the case.

Meanwhile, Amolsch slept in his maximum security cell. He witnessed things no law-abiding citizen should see, inmates beaten and bloodied, a suicide by hanging. He heard the clanging of lockdown, night after night.

The months passed.

“I just prayed I wouldn’t die there. I couldn’t believe this was happening to an innocent man.” Right questions bring answers

Hansen only met Amolsch once. An interview in jail. They were not old friends. They had no debts. Hansen got involved because he sensed something wrong, and sure enough, he found dental experts who said the original determination — based on photos from the funeral home — was unreliable.

Hansen also learned that the key witness, Walker, was an ex- con, recently out of prison, and that his wife had been looking for him the night of the murder. Hansen began to suspect a lie. The break came when Walker was arrested for brutally assaulting another woman at knifepoint. This time, Walker’s teeth were examined, and a new expert said the marks could have been his — and were definitely not Amolsch’s.

Based on these developments, a judge granted bond. Amolsch — not sure how long it would last — rushed to the home where his daughter was being kept. She burst into tears. Then he went to see his son and hugged him.

A week later, a judge dropped all charges. Ricky Amolsch, who never did anything, was a free man.

Hansen, naturally, found out first. He drove to where Amolsch was having dinner, walked in, and said, “It’s over.”

Amolsch nearly cried. “Rod Hansen has such a big heart. He did this because he didn’t want an innocent man in jail.”

He did it because that’s his job. Stories like this happen every week, unnoticed, in newspapers, on radio, on TV. They are the reason America has freedom of the press. And they are the reason the media — and I don’t mean the E! Channel, Inside Edition or Oprah — but the working media, the journalists still left out here, are essential. They are your last line of defense against the powerful, the corrupt, and the mistaken.

Here is how Hansen celebrated: He took his tape recorder home, went to sleep, then got up the next morning to go on the air. Eight months. One story. People who are sick of reporters might keep this in mind. Sometimes the problem is not asking too many questions. Sometimes, it’s not asking enough.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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