PBS NewsHour Launches Original Podcast Series “Broken Justice”

ARLINGTON, VA (November 6, 2019) — Today PBS NewsHour launched “Broken Justice,” a five-part podcast mini-series that examines the public defense crisis. Hosted by national correspondent and primary substitute anchor Amna Nawaz and general assignment producer Frank Carlson, “Broken Justice” reveals how this system – created to ensure poor clients receive representation in court – is failing those clients and tells the story of one Missouri man’s 22-yearlong quest to overturn his conviction. 

In 1997, Ricky Kidd was convicted of double homicide and sentenced to life without parole, despite strong evidence he was not involved with this crime. For over a decade a private investigator and pro-bono lawyers have worked to free Ricky Kidd – and in the process show how Kidd’s public defender didn’t have the time or resources to properly investigate his case or prepare for his trial. This story is all too common.

Over the course of the next five weeks, Nawaz and Carlson will breakdown the history of public defense in America and follow Kidd’s experience – first as a defendant relying on a public defender and then as an inmate fighting to overturn his conviction. They’ll explore how difficult it can be to fix a system many describe as broken. The show will be available for listeners on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and wherever you subscribe to your podcasts.


“Broken Justice” Episode Descriptions 

Episode 1: Triage

How can an attorney handle more than 100 criminal cases at a time? That’s the reality for a public defender like Jeff Esparza, who represents defendants unable to afford a private lawyer in Kansas City. The public defender system in Missouri— like many across the nation—is underfunded, understaffed and overworked, and attorneys say their clients are slipping through the cracks. 


Episode 2: How did we get here?

Poor Americans didn’t always have the right to an attorney. It all started with a pool hall robbery in Florida, and an unlikely legal advocate: a poor drifter named Clarence Earl Gideon. Gideon brought the fight for free counsel to the Supreme Court more than 50 years ago — and won. But all these years later, despite that victory, the promise of Gideon goes unfulfilled every day, and in 1996, Ricky Kidd found out first-hand what that meant when he was charged with murder.


Episode 3: When things go wrong

The American justice system is based around the idea that you can get to the truth when two opposing sides make their cases in court. But what happens if defense lawyers are so overloaded they can’t handle a case that could cost your freedom? What happens when the most important testimony goes unheard, or when the evidence that could prove your innocence goes unseen? We’ll walk through what happened to Ricky Kidd, and how the system failed him.  


Episode 4: Public defenders fight back

Steve Hanlon, a longtime advocate for systemic legal reform, says public defense in America is a disease. And to cure it, he has a big idea. This is the story of how one man tried to use data to fix public defense Missouri, and how the status quo fought back.


Episode 5: Where do we go from here?

It turns out, providing funding to hire more lawyers is just one possible answer. We take a closer look at St. Louis County’s new prosecutor, and how what he’s doing to change criminal justice could help address how public defenders do their jobs. Plus – after 23 years behind bars, and a crushing defeat in 2009, Ricky Kidd gets a new day in court.  

Amna Nawaz, Frank Carlson, podcast producer Vika Aronson, senior producer Emily Carpeaux, managing editor Erica R. Hendry, and executive producer and WETA SVP Sara Just contributed to producing “Broken Justice.” The series received support from Public Welfare Foundation and The Pulitzer Center. 


About Vika Aronson

Vika Aronson joined PBS NewsHour in January 2019 as its first podcast producer. Prior to NewsHour, she produced and developed a podcast pilot for EW Scripps – the parent company of Stitcher. At Panoply, Aronson co-produced the podcast Business Schooled with Alexis Ohanian. Aronson’s work has appeared on NPR member station KALW, Today Explained at Vox Media, The Kitchen Sisters, and KPFA Radio. Aronson is a graduate of Skidmore College where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government.


About Frank Carlson

Frank Carlson is an Emmy-winning producer, editor, and videographer. Originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, in 2009 he joined the PBS NewsHour and has produced stories on everything from child mining to the opioid crisis to criminal justice reform to country music, and traveled across the country and around the globe on assignment. He lives in Washington, D.C.


About Amna Nawaz

Amna Nawaz is an Emmy and Peabody-award winning journalist who joined PBS NewsHour in April 2018 and serves as a national correspondent and primary substitute anchor. Nawaz has reported politics, foreign affairs, education, climate change, culture, and sports. She also regularly covers issues around detention, refugees and asylum, and migrant children in U.S. government custody. Nawaz has interviewed international newsmakers — including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and Brazilian leader Eduardo Bolsonaro; lawmakers and administration officials – including then-ICE Director Mark Morgan’s first interview after President Trump announced mass raids across the U.S., Acting Secretary of DHS Kevin McAleenan, and former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in her first interview since leaving the Trump administration; and influential voices including Reba McEntire, Gloria Estefan, and Dev Patel.


About PBS NewsHour

PBS NewsHour is a production of NewsHour Productions LLC, a wholly-owned non-profit subsidiary of WETA Washington, DC, in association with WNET in New York. Major corporate funding is provided by BNSF and consumer Cellular, with additional support from Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Ford Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Lemelson Foundation, National Science Foundation, Skoll Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Friends of the NewsHour and others. More information on PBS NewsHour is available at www.pbs.org/newshour. On social media, visit PBS NewsHour on Facebook or follow @NewsHour on Twitter.


Media Contact:

Sydney Cameron, Publicist, scameron@newshour.org