June 2, 2006 | 6:37 p.m. ET   

A man defends himself when he's tried for his wife's murder (Josh Weiner, Dateline producer)

I've served on a jury for a criminal case. I've also had the opportunity to watch several murder trials in person through my job at Dateline. Every case has been interesting. But a trial where the defendant represented himself? This is one I'll never forget.

By all accounts Janine Sutphen was an artistic, gregarious and talented woman with many friends. So when she disappeared on January 22, 2003, the community of Durham, North Carolina was stunned. Her body turned up four months later and that's when her husband, Rob Petrick, was charged with first degree murder.

Their marriage had once seemed so ideal. But it turned out Mr. Petrick was keeping secrets. The biggest secret wasn't just that he'd been cheating. He'd actually gotten engaged to another woman.

I headed down to North Carolina last fall, just days after coming across the story of this upcoming trial. I knew this case would be fascinating and unique. You see, Rob Petrick, who had no legal background, made the risky decision to act as his own defense attorney.

Within days after the trial began, Mr. Petrick was cross-examining witnesses about his own behavior. Some were his ex-girlfriends, and his questions veered into the most intimate details of their relationships. To watch these women reveal such personal details in a courtroom full of people was often uncomfortable, yet compelling.

Rob Petrick had already pleaded guilty to fraud charges before the trial began. He was even serving a prison sentence. But the jury in his murder trial didn't know that. They had no clue that his daily commute involved being transported by police while wearing the orange prison jumpsuit and handcuffs.  Every morning, in the hallway outside the courtroom, the guards escorted Mr. Petrick into a small, dark holding cell where he would change into a suit and tie and review legal documents.

Included in the daily crowd of people attending the trial were other reporters and an assortment of Janine's friends and family. They're a tight-knit bunch and it's clear they are still heartbroken over losing Janine. They always sat closely together, commenting to each other and even taking notes. A Web-group called "Friends of Janine" had been created, and every evening after court, her friends would share updates online as the trial progressed.

After nearly three weeks, the case went to the jury.  Everyone was wondering... had Rob Petrick, the amateur attorney, been able to convince the jurors he had nothing to do with his wife's death? Watch our story to find out.

The report on the cellist's murder airs Dateline Saturday, 8 p.m.

June 2, 2006 | 3:34 p.m. ET   

Julie's story (Jack Cloherty, Dateline producer)

Every once in awhile you come across a story that just breaks your heart.  Julie LeMoult's story is a heart-breaker, but it also is a story that is full of love, and a story that sheds new light on a critical national problem.

But let me begin at the beginning. Before we met Julie, we met her family. Her husband Chris is a vigorous, athletic guy who obviously adored his wife. Their little boy, Logan, is an energetic and charming three year old who loves to dance. Then there are Julie's parents, Bruce and Donna Ellis. They are the kind of Mom and Dad anyone would love to have — kind, loving and fiercely protective of their daughter.  Through them, we met Julie.  The heartbreaking part of this story is that we could only meet Julie through the videotape that her family keeps and treasures. Julie is gone, and her death reverberates through her family's life.

Our Dateline team — Lea Thompson, Yolanda McCutchen, Terrie Verna and myself — sat silently in a darkened edit room and watched the tapes of Julie.  I don't think there was a dry eye in the room.  There was Julie, dancing like a princess at her wedding.  There were Julie and Chris, heading to the hospital to have Logan.  The excitement and love virtually jump off the screen. Finally, there was Julie, holding baby Logan in her arms and crying tears of joy.

Video: What happened to Julie? But Julie never made it out of the hospital that day. Less then 24 hours after Logan was born, Julie was declared brain dead. An infection had attacked her brain and ended her life. She would never get to see her son grow up, never have a chance to have another child, never have a chance to grow old with her husband. We wanted to find out how, and why Julie died.  We discovered a complex case, and a shocking national problem.

Julie's family is convinced she was the victim of a hospital-acquired infection, and is suing the hospital. The hospital, in brief, says Julie's brain infection got so bad, so quickly, that she must have had the infection before she came in.  As journalists, we had to take a step back and examine both sides of the story.  We found a complicated set of facts, and medical experts who themselves disagreed about the how and why Julie died.  Julie's case will end up being decided in a court of law. 

The problem of hospital infections is not in dispute, and the problem is so big it's mind-boggling. Think about this: hospital infections kill as may people in this country each year as AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined. In fact, the government's Centers for Disease Control says one in every 20 patients — nearly two million people — will get an infection while they are in the hospital. An estimated 99,000 Americans will die this year from hospital acquired infections.

So there are a lot of heartbreaking stories out there of people who go to the hospital to get well, and instead pick up a serious, sometimes deadly infection.  The thing is, the experts say many of those infections could be prevented by improved hygiene. Dirty hands, uncleaned gowns, filthy equipment, contaminated rooms and lax procedures cause many infections. And what's really scary is that a growing number of these infections are now resistant to antibiotics. If you get an infection like that, you are going to have serious health problems.

Here is a link to tips on what you can do to protect yourself when you have to go to the hospital.  That's a good place to start, but patient advocates say more hospitals have to start taking hygiene more seriously, and start testing patients to make sure they have not already developed a drug-resistant infection. Those patients can be isolated so they don't pass along their infection. Some states are now requiring hospitals to disclose their infection rates, so patients will have a chance to check a hospital's performance before they choose where to go for treatment.  Click here if you want to check out what your state is doing about disclosing hospital infection rates.

Julie's family hopes some of these measures will help prevent future tragedies. That's why they wanted to do this story with Dateline. And for our part, we really don't want to have to do more stories like this one. No family should have to go through the heartbreak of needlessly losing a loved one like Julie LeMoult.

The report on hospital infections airs Dateline Sunday, June 4, 7 p.m.

May 26, 2006 | 5:14 p.m. ET

A story of strength and forgiveness (Christian Martin, Producer)

The beauty of this job is that you get to meet remarkable people. Gracia Burnham is one of them.

Gracia, along with her husband Martin, was kidnapped from a luxury hotel in the southern Philippines in May 2001. They were taken by a terrorist group with ties to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Ladin called the Abu Sayyaf. From the moment their ordeal began and the Abu Sayyaf beheaded three of their fellow captives because they didn't fit onto a bus,  the Burnhams were subjected to horrors the mind has difficulty even processing.

During Gracia's year of captivity she survived numerous deadly gun battles, she witnessed a fellow American hostage, Guillermo Sobero, marched off to his own beheading and saw her fellow female captives were "Sabaya'ed" which means taken as property and raped. She was routinely denied food and water. Her captivity at the hands of the terrorists ended more than a year later with her husband Martin dead in her arms — shot to death during a final rescue attempt by the Philippine Military.

Gracia shared her story — and her journey back to the Philippines to help prosecute the men who kidnapped her — with Dateline. We got to spend an incredible amount of time with her and her family as she told us her story. But the thing that is so remarkable about Gracia is her faith. Here is a woman that had so much taken from her and yet she seems to harbor no bitterness. In fact she has a picture of one of the men who held her hostage, Umbron, on her refrigerator. She continues to pray for him and all of those who held her in captivity... everyday.

Gracia Burnham's story airs Dateline Sunday, May 28, 7 p.m. Click here to read an excerpt of her book, "I'll Fly Away."


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments