Before senior writer William Nack went off to cover the Mike Tyson trial, we made sure he had a good lawyer. Two of them, in fact.
In 1965 Lester Munson quit his job as a city-side reporter at the Chicago Daily News to finish law school at the University of Chicago. After earning his degree in 1967, he worked in Illinois state politics, then spent 16 years practicing law in Chicago. When two classmates from his undergraduate days at Princeton started The National sports daily in 1989. Munson accepted their invitation to return to journalism. At The National he broke a story about the NHL owners alleged misappropriation of pension funds and was pursuing other investigative pieces when that publication folded last June. Munson began working for SI as a special contributor just in time to help us with our coverage of allegations that Tyson raped a contestant in an Indianapolis beauty pageant on July 19. Since then, Munson has spent six weeks in Indianapolis. His legal background helped him navigate reams of court documents and extract information from attorneys working on the case. "Typically, lawyers are not thrilled about talking to reporters," says Munson. "But lawyers are more than happy to talk to other lawyers."
Staff writer Sonja Steptoe, who earned her law degree from Duke in 1985 and joined SI in 1990 after five years as a reporter on The Wall Street Journal, drew the difficult assignment of providing background on Tyson's alleged victim. While Tyson had plenty of surrogates—notably his promoter, Don King—eager to speak for him, the young woman and her attorneys were constrained by a gag order. Steptoe had to construct a profile of the alleged victim with bits of information provided by anyone she could find who knew the 18-year-old college student. "Her friends and family were understandably trying to guard her privacy," says Steptoe. "It was very delicate work."
Each day during the trial, Munson and Steptoe supplied Nack with files—the journalistic equivalent of legal briefs—thereby allowing Nack to focus on the human drama in the courtroom. "Lester and Sonja have been invaluable," says Nack. "They did almost as much work on this case as prosecutor Greg Garrison."
Steptoe, who also provided regular trial updates for Time Warner's cable affiliate Court TV, and Munson contributed to several SI pieces early on in the Tyson affair. Nack joined the team in early January, and his story in this issue is his third on the case. Nack, who first wrote about Tyson for SI in 1986, covers horse racing as well as boxing; last month he earned his fifth and sixth Eclipse awards for excellence in writing about thoroughbred racing.
"The three of them provided coverage that was riveting as well as educational," says senior editor Steve Robinson, who has overseen our Tyson-trial coverage. "Some people say the country has too many lawyers. But there's no such thing as too many lawyers who are also journalists when you are trying to explain what's happening in a criminal trial."
Munson (center) and Steptoe briefed Nack on Indiana v. Tyson.