CBS “48 Hours” reporter Erin Moriarty began reporting on the Texas murder of four teenage girls 18 years ago. This weekend she continues her reporting on what she tells us is “the most horrific crime I’ve ever worked on, that you’ve ever heard of.”
We spoke with Moriarty this week about the show and she told us she began working on the story her first year at “48 Hours” in 1990. “I thought, ‘It’s going to get resolved, if not while I’m there, in a few months, we’ll have a trial,’” she said. “And then years went by.”
Moriarty became increasingly involved in the case and those affected by it. “It’s been tough on me as a reporter,” she told us, admitting that elements of the case still get to her. “I cried through the interview [with one of the mothers] — you will not see a cutaway of me — because even today, the pain this woman feels…it just cuts through. That is the difficulty. You have to report it, but after 18 years, you know everyone and they know you.”
In 1999, as a result of weak shield laws in the state of Texas, Moriarty was actually forced to testify in front of a grand jury when she wouldn’t hand over tapes from an interview with one of the suspects.
“I was very upset by it, very upset, I didn’t want to do it,” she said, describing it as “one of the worst experiences I’ve had as a reporter.”
“I put myself in that position by pursuing a young man before he’d even been indicted. He never was indicted though and to this day I still believe he had, based on our own investigation, nothing to do with this.”
She tells us it should have made her more hesitant about pursuing interviews, but it hasn’t. “I still would fight handing tape over,” she said.
Moriarty is the only reporter on the staff who’s a lawyer, and she says there’s a big difference between legal reporters like herself and commentators like Nancy Grace. “Nancy Grace has never met a person charged with a crime who wasn’t guilty,” she said. “She’s a commentator who takes a point of view on a case whether or not she’s reported on it.”
“I am a reporter,” she said. “We don’t make judgments unless it’s based on long reporting.”
Even though she’s worked on the case and trial for so long and so closely, she tells us she’s been able to keep her judgments out of the reporting. “On the face of it you might say, ‘Oh it would be difficult to be impartial.’ But I don’t think so. Because every single person in this case has a point of view.”
Crime reporting and programs like “48 Hours” have remained very popular. Moriarty admits that there’s an unfortunate “entertainment value” to it for some people, but says the main reason people tune in is because “it’s real.” “We can’t imagine being in that situation…and yet the people we cover on ’48 Hours’ are just like everybody else. They are seemingly so normal. The legal system is always fascinating.”
With the higher costs of experienced journalism and the decreasing budgets of news divisions, some worry about the future of investigative and legal reporting in the long term. Moriarty remains optimistic and believes that equipment costs will go down and that enough reporters will remain invested in these important stories, insuring the job will get done.
For now though, she believes shows like “48 Hours” will be fine: “We’re kind of a hybrid show, so we fall under entertainment, and I think that’s going to allow the show and shows like us to survive a little longer.”
“48 Hours Mystery: Innocence Lost” airs Saturday, Jan. 9 at 10pm on CBS.