Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Tribute to Pete Shellem, by Steve Drizin

It is with great sadness that I inform you all of the death of Pete Shellem. Pete Shellem was one of the finest investigative journalists I have ever encountered. Writing for the Harrisburg Patriot-News, in the middle of Pennsylvania, Pete’s work led to at least four exonerations.

He was at his best when he wrote about the problem of false confessions, a difficult issue for many in the public to understand. His work (and I mean his work not the work of lawyers) led to the exoneration of Barry Laughman, a mentally limited man who had confessed to murdering and raping his aunt. Shellem tracked down the DNA evidence to the refrigerator of a lab analyst at Penn State who had moved abroad; his writing pressured the judges and prosecutors to agree to testing which ultimately exonerated Laughman. Shellem’s brilliant work in Laughman is featured in True Stories of False Confessions (co-edited by Rob Warden and I). In another case, his investigative work helped to clear William Kelly, another man who falsely confessed before Kelly could be convicted. Both of these men were of low intelligence and had only a modicum of support for them in the community. They would still be in prison today if not for Pete’s work.

Pete often called me to discuss his investigations and frequently used me as a source as I began to develop some expertise in the area of false confessions. I recall these conversations well. Pete was on fire, firing questions at me that revealed not only a tremendous knowledge of police investigations and police misconduct, but also a tenacity that almost made me feel sorry for those who he would soon take to task for their roles in these wrongful convictions. I can honestly say he taught me much more than I taught him. It’s a terribly sad day for his loved ones but also a sad day for the criminal justice system in Central Pennsylvania and for the Innocence Movement as a whole.


Editor's Note: Truth in Justice proudly maintains Pete's investigative reports regarding the cases of Barry Laughman, Steven Crawford, Jay Smith, Patti Carbone, William Kelly, David Gladden and Ted Dubbs. Use our site search engine on the main page to locate these articles. Read Pete's own commentary on the Dubbs case HERE to get a glimpse into the kind of man Pete Shellem was.


Anonymous said...

Pete was the finest journalist I ever met. May he rest in peace.

nonk9 said...

why would a wildly successful journalist with a wife and two kids who was born in philly kill himself right before the world series. why isn't anyone investigating what appears to be the murder of mr. shellem?

this guy must have had a lot of dirt on someone to get the criminal injustice system in pennsylvania to reverse itself five times.

Truth in Justice Files said...

My understanding is that Pete died of a heart attack. He was overweight, he chain smoked, and was known to enjoy philly cheese steak sandwiches. Maybe he would have died when he did from some other cause, but this was sudden death due to natural causes.

Anonymous said...

Pete did not die of natural causes. He shot himself in the heart. He was a friend and I shall miss him.

Joyce Shellem said...

Thank you Mr. Drizin for the well done tribute to my husband. He was one of a kind and will be missed forever. I LOVED him with all my heart and soul. He WAS "one of the finest."

Joyce Shellem