EVENT: Pulitzer Prize-winner Gilbert King to discuss his "Bone Valley" podcast
If you're curious about podcasts and a fan of 'true crime,' join us on Wednesday
We're delighted to welcome Gilbert King back to the NYS Writers Institute on Wednesday, Feb. 1.
King, a Niskayuna native, won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction for Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (2012), a meticulously researched, elegantly written account of the future Supreme Court Justice’s role in defending four black men falsely accused of raping a white woman in Florida in 1949.
Now he's back with "Bone Valley," his critically acclaimed podcast that tells the story of Leo Schofield, who was sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife Michelle in Florida in 1987 and remains behind bars despite the fact that another man, Jeremy Scott, has confessed to the murder.
In Sunday's New York Times, David Segal wrote a story about the Florida judge who gave Gilbert the tip that led to his podcast. "In a move that is certain to confound more than a few colleagues," Segal writes, "Judge Cupp will resign his seat on the 20th Judicial Circuit Court in Charlotte County, Fla. — he has been a judge since 2014 — and dedicate all of his working days to springing Mr. Schofield from behind bars."
Bone Valley was featured in the New Yorker's The Best Podcasts of 2022, Paste Magazine's The 10 Best Podcasts of 2022, Uproxx's The Best Serialized Non-Fiction Podcasts Of 2022, and "The 13 Best New Podcasts of 2022" on Lifehacker.
Gilbert King will be making his third visit to the NYS Writers Institute.
Gilbert King: The Bone Valley Podcast
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
4:30 p.m. — Craft Talk, Standish Room, Science Library (3rd floor) 7:30 p.m. — Reading / Q&A, Campus Center West Auditorium University at Albany 1400 Washington Avenue, Albany NY 12222 View map
Below is an interview with Gilbert King published in the Times Union earlier this month.
Pulitzer winner Gilbert King to speak on cold case podcast in Albany
Niskayuna native is part of the spring New York State Writers Institute series and will discuss "Bone Valley"
By Jack Rightmyer
First published Jan. 18, 2023 in the Albany Times Union. Reprinted with permission
Niskayuna native and author Gilbert King was giving a lecture several years back at a judicial conference in central Florida. When he finished a Florida judge walked up to King and gave his business card. On the back he had written “Leo Schofield is wrongfully convicted. He’s an innocent man.”
King had already written three nonfiction books, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for “The Devil in the Grove.” One of his great passions is telling real-life stories of people wrongfully accused of crimes. “A judge is not supposed to do something like that, so right from the start this story had a lot of credibility,” King said.
When King returned home to Brooklyn he called the judge and, after receiving the transcripts from the 1987 murder case of Schofield’s 18-year-old wife Michelle, the author began to see how the evidence for the conviction didn’t seem to hold up. “I eventually went down to meet Leo in prison and he said, ‘My story is never going to change. I’m an open book. You can look into anything. I have nothing to hide.’” King did indeed look into all areas of the case. What he didn’t realize, he said, was that it would take up four years of his life. “I thought this might be a break from a book I was working on, maybe eight months or a year and it would end up becoming a feature story, but it just kept getting bigger as I went deeper.”
He recognized early on that the story was different than anything he had worked on before. “I’m used to dealing with old cases where all the important people are dead, but now I was getting these amazing interviews with people who were there when this occurred over 30 years ago. That’s when I thought maybe I should try this as a podcast,” King said.
The nine episode, 9 1/2-hour podcast “Bone Valley,” produced by Lava for Good and released in 2022, has been named one of the year’s best podcasts by numerous national magazines and newspapers. It tells the story of then-21-year-old Leo Schofield who was convicted in 1989 of his wife's murder. Fifteen years after the conviction, fingerprints of Jeremy Scott were found at the scene of the crime. Scott eventually confessed to the murder and was convicted, and yet Schofield remains behind bars in a Florida prison.
King’s research assistant, Kelsey Decker, was an important asset in bringing the story to life. “Initially neither of us knew what we were doing. Doing a podcast is a totally different experience than writing a book. Kelsey had great passion for this story, and she really cared about Leo," King said. "Eventually she learned how to do all the audio recording and, when working with the scripts, she was kind of like an editor for me.”
The two were astounded at how poorly the police and detectives conducted their investigation. “They never looked into footprints found at the scene where Michelle’s body was discovered. They never inquired about the full pack of cigarettes found there, and they never looked into the unknown fingerprint found in Michelle’s car. Was it shoddy work or intentionally bad? It seemed like prosecutor John Auguero only cared about getting a conviction and didn’t seem to care if it was correct.”
What makes the story even more confounding is that Scott, who eventually confessed, gave detailed statements admitting to the murder of Michelle. “It’s just plain unbelievable that Jeremy’s fingerprints are found in the car of the murder victim and Jeremy has admitted to killing her and yet Leo sits in prison still today. It baffles me why they are so intent on protecting their wrong conviction.”
King and Decker, in their investigation, also came upon another murder, of a cab driver, around the same time in the Lakeland, Fla., area. King said Scott admitted to that murder, and they presented the information they had on that case to police.
As you listen to this thrilling podcast most listeners begin to care deeply for Schofield, who has been in jail for 35 years, and it’s easy to even have some empathy for Scott, who was raised in a severely dysfunctional family. “I’ve met other exonerated people who’ve spent years in prison for crimes they never committed, and many of them are extraordinary people to be able to survive that kind of injustice. They reach another place that most of us will never know. For Leo to survive he had to find a way to lose his anger and bitterness at Jeremy Scott and at the people who put him in jail. That is the key to his survival.”
Schofield has created a positive community for himself in prison. He plays in a band called The Watchers. He writes music and has become a pastor. “When I talk to him he sometimes worries what will happen to some of the people in the jail if he ever gets his freedom. Many of his fellow prisoners rely on him.”
King has also become one of the few people who corresponds with Scott. “He’s told me more things about himself than he’s told anyone else. He’s been in jail as long as Leo, and I think this is his way of coming clean. When he admits to a crime it’s his way of a cry for help. He told me that when he goes to sleep at night he sees the faces of the people he’s killed. As the years go by those crimes must really weigh on him.”
This podcast may be the last chance Schofield has to ever live as a free man. “It’s a bit intimidating knowing Leo’s legal options are pretty much gone, and he’s depending on this podcast to hopefully correct this injustice. He’s very understanding and is happy that Kelsey and I have told his story. Leo often says he’s a better man today than he was at the age of 21. Prison has been difficult, but he’s a changed man.”
King is amazed at the power of a podcast. “Millions of people have listened to this podcast, and I know millions of people have not read my books. We have a petition at change.org and we’re working with The Innocence Project calling for an independent review by a Conviction Integrity Review Unit. We have 10,000 signatures right now and we’re gaining momentum. Leo also has lawyers that are planning new strategies, and important people in Florida have heard the podcast and want to help. I’m encouraged about where this could go.”