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The final episode of Mississippi Goddam shares new revelations that cast doubt on the official story that Billey Joe Johnson accidentally killed himself. 

This week marks the 13th anniversary of Johnson’s death. His family is still seeking justice. Our reporting brought up questions that the original investigation never looked into. Host Al Letson and reporter Jonathan Jones go back to Mississippi to interview the key people in the investigation, including Johnson’s ex-girlfriend – the first recorded interview she’s ever done with a media outlet. The team also shares its findings with lead investigator Joel Wallace and the medical examiner who looked into the case. 

Finally, after three years of reporting, we share what we’ve learned with Johnson’s family and talk to them about the inadequacy of the investigation and reasons to reopen the case.

Photos

Al Letson (right) and Jonathan Jones (left) interview relatives of Billey Joe Johnson, including brother Eddie (center). Credit: Imani Khayyam for Reveal Credit: Imani Khayyam
Al Letson (second from left, with microphone) and Jonathan Jones (right) interview members of Billey Joe Johnson Jr.’s family. From left are Tiffanie Johnson, India Johnson and Billey Joe Johnson Sr. Credit: Imani Khayyam for Reveal

Dig Deeper

Listen to the whole Mississippi Goddam series.

Explore: Dig into the case files and documents about the death of Billey Joe Johnson.

Share: Do you have information about the death of Billey Joe Johnson? Send us a tip.

Credits

Reporters and producers: Al Letson and Jonathan Jones | Editor and executive producer: Kevin Sullivan | Series producer: Michael I Schiller | Series digital editor: Nina Martin | Executive editor: Andy Donohue | Production assistant: Steven Rascón | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Fact checker: Rosemarie Ho | Reporting and producing help: Ko Bragg, Michael Montgomery, Laurel Hennen Vigil and Melissa Lewis | Original score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda with help from Claire Mullen, Najib Aminy and Kathryn Styer Martinez | Interim CEO: Annie Chabel | Interim editor in chief: Sumi Aggarwal | General counsel: D. Victoria Baranetsky

Mama Blue sang our theme song throughout the series. For this episode, we ran an original version, written and performed by Nina Simone. 

Thanks to the Nina Simone estate and Music and Strategy. 

Special thanks to the Johnson family for entrusting Reveal with their story. 

Series photos by Imani Khayyam. Logo design by Joan Wong. 

Special thanks: Katharine Mieszowski, Alexis Hightower and Jen Chien

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

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Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. With me today, my colleague, Alexis Hightower and together, we’re going to tell you a story that starts in 1944 in Tryon, North Carolina.
Alexis Hightowe…:11-year-old Eunice Kathleen Waymon sits on a bench. She’s so small, preparing to play the piano to the big audience, watching in the town hall. It’s a big deal in a town like Tryon that a classical piano prodigy lives among them. Well, not really among the white people, but still. Her parents are the only black people allowed in the audience. They’re sitting in the front row. Before she can touch the keys, she senses something wrong. She looks out into the audience and sees a white couple trying to take her parents’ seats. This was the way of life in Tryon and little black girls should know their place, but not Eunice. She turns to the crowd and says she won’t play unless her parents can stay in their seats. Annoyed, the white couple find some seats in the back and Eunice sits at the bench and plays. Someone comments, “Charming girl, but what nerve?” They have no idea.
Al Letson:Three years later and several states over, Medgar Wiley Evers and his brother Charles stand on the steps of the courthouse in Decatur, Mississippi. They’re staring down a group of 20 or so white men with rifles, shotguns, and pistols. The mob is blocking their way to the voting booth. And Medgar has known this feeling before when the air crackles with the threat of violence. He’s been to war fighting against the Nazis in Europe, but he stands there watching the white man blocking his way. You see beyond an education in violence.
Al Letson:Europe taught him something else, how a man can stand upright, be respected regardless of his skin color. One of the white men tells them to go home or things will turn deadly. The sheriff just watches. Right then, Medgar knows he and his brother could die. He decides not today. He looks to his brother, “Come on, Charlie. Let’s go. We’ll get them next time.” Damn straight.
Alexis Hightowe…:1954, Atlantic city, bright lights, a boardwalk and crowds coming to have a good time. But Eunice Waymon is worried. The young piano prodigy is 21 now, and she’s here to make some money playing at the Midtown Bar. The owner tells her she can’t just play the piano. She’s got to sing. Oh, no. Eunice never sings in public. She just plays the piano. And if her devout mother finds out she’s playing in a place of sin, she would have a fit.
Alexis Hightowe…:She’s ready to leave, but Eunice needs the money. So she decides to reinvent herself and become who she is supposed to be, complete with a new name. The next day, Eunice sits down at the piano in the Smokey Bar. The air conditioner drips on the stool, but she doesn’t care. She just closes her eyes and plays like she’s in Carnegie Hall. She opens her mouth and sings. In that moment on that night, right there at that piano, Nina Simone is born and the world will know her name.
Al Letson:Medgar Evers gets active in the fight for civil rights. He becomes the NAACP’s first field secretary of Mississippi. And in 1955 investigates cases like Reverend George Lee and Emmett Till.
Alexis Hightowe…:Meanwhile, Nina Simone breaks big in ’59 with I Love You, Porgy. 1963-
Al Letson:1963. And the struggle for civil rights is a blaze-
Alexis Hightowe…:And Medgar and Nina are in the middle of it. Nina becomes friends with playwright, Lorraine Hansberry. Lorraine teaches her what it means to be black. The joy, the struggle, the movement, and her role as an artist in it all.
Al Letson:Medgar’s life is constantly under threat, but he won’t stop. Sit-ins, boycots, speeches. But on June 12th, 1963, just a bit after midnight, Medgar is walking to his front door and a gunshot brings out, hitting the back. Medgar Wiley Evers, son of Mississippi, veteran of World War II, tireless advocate of civil rights dies less than an hour later.
Alexis Hightowe…:Three months later in Alabama, four little black girls are killed in a church bombing. Nina Simone is heartbroken. All the ideas Lorraine Hansberry has seated begin to bear fruit. And she writes her first protest song. It flows out of her like the mighty Mississippi River. It’s righteous anger demands to be heard. She thinks about Medgar and those four little girls as she takes the stage this time in Carnegie Hall. She sits at the piano and says-
Nina Simone:The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddamn. And I mean, every word of it. Alabama’s gotten me so upset. Tennessee made me lose my rest. And everybody knows about Mississippi. Everybody knows about Alabama. Everybody knows about Mississippi goddamn.
Al Letson:This is Reveal Serial Investigation. Mississippi Goddamn, the ballad of Billey Joe. Episode seven, Reasonable Doubts. Over the last six episodes, we’ve tried to understand what happened to Billey Joe in an effort to help his family find some peace. This final episode also marks the 13th anniversary of Billey Joe’s death. We’ve looked at this case from every angle, but it all goes back to December 8th, 2008, when Billey Joe was pulled over on a cold early morning by Sheriff Deputy Joe Sullivan in Lucedale, Mississippi. Deputy Sullivan says that no one was in the park lot besides the two of them. But four people told police they were driving by the scene that morning.
Al Letson:One was a middle school janitor who saw Billey Joe outside his truck and saw the police cruiser, but not the officer. The next two were father and son who were out hunting early that morning. They saw Billey’s body on the ground and the officer in his car. The lead investigator, Joel Wallace interviewed those witnesses three days after Billey Joe died. Then 19 days after the shooting.
Joel Wallace:Now, today is the 27th of December.
Al Letson:Joel interviews a man named Clay Herndon.
Joel Wallace:Tell me about certain incidences that occurred on the 8th day of December, 2008.
Clay Herndon:Me and my boy went to the emergency room.
Al Letson:Herndon says he was driving home from the ER when he saw Sullivan chase Billey Joe’s truck. Not long after that, he says he drove by the traffic stop. And by that point, Billey Joe had gotten out of his truck.
Clay Herndon:Appearing to me that he had had his license or a wallet or something in his hand. And as I passed, keep in mind that I’m still talking to my wife on the phone.
Al Letson:After he passes by, Clay says he looks in his rear view mirror and sees Sullivan step out of his car.
Clay Herndon:They were both standing face to face. Appeared to me that officer was speaking with Mr. Billey Joe.
Al Letson:When Clay gets home a minute and a half later, he says his wife calls and asks him to grab some food. So he heads back out and he says from a distance, it appears that there was somebody reaching into the truck.
Clay Herndon:His back toward me at a distance, there’s a good straight of a stretch, approximately two or three tenths of a mile, maybe further, but of course, in a dark and where the light’s going, it just appeared to me. It’s hard to say that it was clarity, but it appeared to me that I seen somebody standing in the door of the truck.
Al Letson:By the time he travels three tenths of a mile or so, he says that person is no longer standing.
Clay Herndon:There was a body laying on the ground and the officer was in his vehicle, was in his patrol car.
Al Letson:In other words, Billey Joe is dead and Sullivan is in his car. Each of the four witnesses back up key details of Deputy Sullivan’s account, though none of them saw or even heard the gunshot. But how much weight should we give to these statements?
Richard Wise:Really understanding the nature of human memory is the key to understanding how eyewitness error occurs.
Al Letson:Richard Wise is a former prosecutor. He’s now a forensic psychologist. He says when interviewing eyewitnesses, you have to try to get as much information as possible and take into account what was happening when the person saw the incident. Were they distracted? Did they have a clear line of vision?
Richard Wise:Mr. Herndon mentioned that he was fatigued. So that probably impaired his ability to accurate recall the details of the crime. He also had divided attention. He was on the cell phone with his wife. So he was alternating his attention between those three things, between the road, talking to his wife and viewing the crime scene. Another problem that came out is I noticed that part of the time that Mr Herndon viewed the crime scene was in the rear view mirror, which would actually create additional problems. That’s not the best way obviously to view a crime scene.
Al Letson:He says the other witnesses were good distance away from the scene too. He also points out that Clay Herndon wasn’t interviewed for 19 days. And during that time, something Clay heard or read about the case could have affected his memory.
Richard Wise:One of the rules is you want to interview an eyewitness as soon as they’re emotionally and physically capable of being interviewed and the circumstances of the investigation permit. And the reason for that is something called the forgetting curve.
Al Letson:Wise says the forgetting curve shows that people start to lose key details right away. Putting on your prosecutor’s hat. Would you be comfortable with these eyewitnesses?
Richard Wise:No, I would’ve wanted more information.
Al Letson:Wise told me he’s not qualified to judge whether the witnesses are credible or not. But he says as a former prosecutor, he wouldn’t have put a lot of weight into these statements because there’s a possibility that they recall things inaccurately.
Al Letson:When investigators arrived at the scene, they started documenting it. There are hundreds of photographs of the truck, the parking lot, the gun. And of course, Billey Joe. We had a crime scene expert review them. He said what he saw in the photos doesn’t seem to line up with what the grand jury found that Billey Jo had accidentally shot himself. Instead, he says, it’s more likely that the gun was in Billey Joe’s mouth.
Al Letson:And that brings us to the shotgun itself. One U shell had been found in the chamber. The Mississippi Crime Lab did some testing and found a small amount of blood, but not enough to test and no clear fingerprints, not even Billey Joe’s. On the whole, the gun seemed surprisingly clean. The crime lab started to test how the gun fired, but reported it broke before they could finish. This seems like a big deal. How could the grand jury determine that the gun was accidentally fired if the crime lab didn’t finish testing it?
Speaker 7:We’re ready over here.
Speaker 8:Firing.
Al Letson:We fixed the gun for just $238. It’s a Sears Roebuck model 200 pump action 12-gauge shotgun. Billey Joe’s dad had held onto it all these years. We asked him to ship it to Scranton, Pennsylvania. And in September, JJ and I flew there to meet with Pete [Diaczuk], a forensic firearms expert. Now the grand jury believed that Billey Joe was moving the weapon and the trigger caught on something and went off. Pete tested the weapon and said it would take a significant amount of pressure on trigger for that to happen. So it’s possible, but maybe not probable. In its report, the Justice Department said the manner of death was suicide. So we wanted to know, could Billey Joe have reached the trigger and killed himself with this shotgun?
Speaker 9:Our estimation and my our, I mean, in consultation with a anthropologist is that the arm length is insufficient to reach that trigger, which is considerable distance away from the muzzle. It’s a 28-inch long barrel, which is one of the longer barrels in the world of shotguns. And that presents a challenge to reach that trigger location at the same time as having this unpleasant thing in your mouth. And it is a challenge with that gun. Anyway, you look at it, that trigger is far away from the muzzle.
Al Letson:Billey Joe’s arm length is undocumented in the case files or in the autopsy. But according to estimates, Pete says it would be extremely difficult for Billey Joe to pull the trigger. Dr. Adele Lewis, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy was adamant that the shotgun was not in Billey Joe’s mouth. She believed the buckshot hit the outside of his head and her testimony helped lead the grand jury to declare that Billey Joe’s death was accidental. The Department of Justice and the experts we consulted with disagree with her and said the barrel was in his mouth. When we spoke to Dr. Lewis in 2020, she seemed to be willing to consider other points of view.
Dr. Lewis:I’d be happy to go back and reconsider it and look at the photographs again and reconsider it that way. Sure. The case is never closed.
Al Letson:So we reached out to see if she’d taken another look, her response was brief, but remarkable. “Reviewing the case now,” she writes, “and considering the opinions of the other experts consulted, I agree that this most likely was an intraoral shotgun wound.” Intraoral. So she completely changed her mind. This is a lot to take in. We have a gun expert saying it’s unlikely Billey Joe could have killed himself with a shotgun, but not impossible. His family, friends and coaches said he did not appear suicidal. The only people who said he threatened to kill himself were Billey Joe’s former girlfriend, Hannah Hollinghead and her mother, Esther Barker. Next up, I finally interview Hannah Hollinghead.
Hannah Hollingh…:It all started at the fair that year. I went to the fair. He came to the fair. We had an altercation at the fair.
Al Letson:This is Reveal. Hey folks, Al here with a quick note. So we recently dropped an investigation into how Amazon fails to protect your data. We heard how customer service reps have trolled through celebrity accounts to see what stars like the Kardashians ordered online. And we learned how shady companies went through a back door to take the personal information of millions of Amazon shoppers. Well, during that episode, we should have mentioned that Amazon is a Reveal sponsor, but we report on them just like we report on anyone else. So be sure to check out that investigation on our podcast or online at revealnews.com. Thanks for listening.
Al Letson:Ever since I heard about the death of Billey Joe Johnson, his ex-girlfriend Hannah Hollinghead has come up a lot. Both JJ and I have talked to Hannah on the phone, but she never agreed to a recorded interview with us or anyone else until now. Okay. So we’re recording all of this now. So let’s kind of just take it from the top. We talked a couple weeks ago over Zoom. So in places, it’s a little glitchy. She’s understandably nervous.
Hannah Hollingh…:I’ve been scarred for life because of this whole thing. That’s why I stayed quiet so long because I don’t lay down at night without having to take medicine to help me sleep because that’s all I think about, the pure hell I’ve had to go through for almost 13 years.
Al Letson:Hannah sits up straight looking into the camera. She’s dressed simply in a red t-shirt. She has long, dirty blonde hair with the same smile I saw on her 10th grade prom picture with Billey Joe. We settle in and she tells me about the first time they met.
Hannah Hollingh…:I remember coming home after I met at him. Like he was just this little country … Well, he wasn’t little, but this country guy. I told my dad, I was like, “Dad, I’ve met this guy, his name’s Billey. And he plays football.” And he was like, “Well, good, good, good. Just be careful, you know how people talk.” And I said, “Oh yes, sir. It’s nothing like that.”
Al Letson:The people that we’ve spoken to have told us that your dad didn’t like Billey Joe, but they would say that primarily, they didn’t think your dad liked him because of his race.
Hannah Hollingh…:My mom didn’t care for Billey. My dad doesn’t care. My dad doesn’t see color. It really makes me angry that those same people that are talking about my dad being racist, because it’s all over the internet. My dad’s side of the family, over half of them are biracial. Like we don’t see color in my family period, but we are talking about 2008. That was 13 years ago. Things were different, but my dad’s never seen color ever. My mom did not care for that because the first encounter she ever had about me and him was that we got into an argument at school. That came from one of the campus police. If my parents were so racist, this is my husband.
Al Letson:At this point in the interview, Hannah’s husband comes into the screen.
Speaker 13:How’s it going?
Al Letson:Good, good.
Hannah Hollingh…:They would’ve never let me marry a black man. I was in a relationship at the time of his death with another black guy.
Al Letson:In her second interview with police, Hannah told them that Billey Joe would hurt her, that he had thrown her against the lockers in school.
Hannah Hollingh…:It all started at the fair that year. I went to the fair. He came to the fair. We had an altercation at the fair. I didn’t even bother with it. The same police from the school informed my mom. There was an issue. My mom called me, asked me, “Did it happen?” I said, “Yes, it happened, but it’s fine. Let it go.” Well then the last thing I heard, my mom and dad were both in front of the fair up by the gate. And they were talking about, he needed to stop putting his hands on me.
Al Letson:When you say an altercation, can you just tell me what happened?
Hannah Hollingh…:We argued. I’m not telling you what happened, but we had an argument. He did grab me, but I was used to that. I was used to that. It didn’t bother me. I didn’t think anybody seen it. I was with my best friend.
Al Letson:So that happened. And then fast forward, apparently Billey Joe called your mother and Billey says to her that according to your mom, says to her that Hannah’s not always right. And she didn’t understand what was going on. And then your mom said to him like, “Listen, if you hurt my daughter, something’s going to be done.”
Hannah Hollingh…:I guess I didn’t know about the phone call, but the thing my mom was about something being done. Every time something happened, my mom wanted to get a no-contact thing on him where we couldn’t speak at all. I wouldn’t say like a restraining order, but a no-contact. I didn’t know about the phone call or if I did, I forgot. I don’t know about that. He did sling me against the wall, like the [inaudible] rooms. I don’t like talking about that because I don’t like remembering him that way.
Al Letson:I understand.
Hannah Hollingh…:He had problems. We tried to work through those. A lot of people ignored his problems. I tried to help him and a lot of people ignored it because of who he was. So I try not to remember him that way. Like I only remember the good and I honestly, all I want is to find out what really happened. The issue really is from the time he ran that red light and the police encountered him, that’s the whole issue. That investigation right there from that time he ran the red light on is the issue.
Al Letson:I totally hear you on saying like it matters what happened after he ran that red light. But I think part of the issue is, is that so many questions were not asked about what was going on before he ran that red light. And that frames, like if he did kill himself and we need to ask all of those questions and understand exactly what was going on in his life. So you’re shaking your head no. Why are you shaking your head no?
Hannah Hollingh…:Because it doesn’t matter. I have peace. I don’t have peace about the whole story, but nothing will ever … Even if the case is opened up, when they came the first time and said it was a suicide, I told them no, that is not right. Nothing ever. I will be 30 years old soon. And in 13 years, no one has ever and no one will ever convince me that he killed himself.
Al Letson:Let me tell you something that I think you probably don’t know. So the grand jury says that it was accidental. So we had a medical examiner look at it. And the medical examiner basically said that what the autopsy said was wrong, that it was what they call intraoral. Meaning that the gun was in his mouth. If the gun was in his mouth, it’s pretty hard to make a mistake. You don’t mistakenly put a gun in your mouth. So either like he did it himself or someone else did it to him.
Al Letson:The other part of it, and this is the thing that I don’t think you know, but the Department of Justice came in and the department of justice did a review and looked at everything. They said it was probably suicide. And part of the reason why they said it was suicide was because of the testimony that your mother and you gave to the police officers. But the way you and your mother characterized Billey Joe in the day before his death, seems like you were saying that he was suicidal.
Female:Well, the only thing that I can just by sitting here, listening to her, that I see that she’s leaving out is the fact that Thursday afternoon, prior to this happening, a statement was made in the barber shop where all these kids get their hair cut, is that it’s going to end. And I’m going to take Hannah with me.
Al Letson:Are you implying that Billey made a statement.
Female:Billey made this statement in the barber shop Thursday afternoon, prior to the eighth.
Male:Would it been other high school students that he made this comment to? Or-
Female:Yeah, there were high school students.
Male:Or like football players-
Al Letson:That tape is what the DOJ listened to and what they kind of took away from. It was that he was suicidal. So that’s one part of it. The other part of it though is that through our, we had to go through and interview and ask all these people that were supposedly at the barbershop and all of them to a person said that they never said that.
Hannah Hollingh…:I don’t expect them to tell the real story of how our relationship was. Those were his friends.
Al Letson:I know this is hard. And I’m sorry, I have to ask you these hard questions. For 13 years, his family has not known what has happened to him. And so when we go through the case files, we’re just trying to get to the bottom of it.
Hannah Hollingh…:And I want them to get justice, but he didn’t kill himself. I don’t care what anybody says.
Al Letson:Do you understand though, like when you make that statement to the police, that Billey Joe says these things, that that is a frame of reference when the investigators are looking at it and they’re questioning whether he was suicidal? You’re very strong in saying that you do not believe that Billey Joe would kill himself. But at the same time, you’re telling me that Billey Joe was threatening to kill both you and him.
Hannah Hollingh…:Because at that time, I was 17 years old. I don’t know how the law works. He did stuff like that because he just wanted attention. And I don’t want to remember him that way. I know you have to ask me these questions, but I don’t want to remember Billey that way.
Al Letson:Yeah.
Hannah Hollingh…:And I know we have to talk about it, but it’s hard because this is why I get the blame of being the racist white girl when I was really the only one that was trying to help him. I never got closure because I don’t know what he wanted that morning. Billey needed something that morning. He deserves justice. His family deserves justice. And honestly, I deserve some closure because I don’t know what happened. My gut and my heart always has said that Billey did not kill himself.
Al Letson:Next, a final interview with the lead investigator, Joel Wallace. And we share with the Johnson family, everything we found. This is Reveal. Do you want to know more about how we do what we do? Well, our weekly newsletter takes you behind the scenes. Our investigations change laws minds. And sure, we like to say the world. Be among the first to read them. Just text newsletter to 474747. You can text stop at any time. Standard data rates apply again, text newsletter to 474747.
Al Letson:When we first met lead investigator Joel Wallace in 2019, I had no idea what to expect. He’s a former cop and we were digging into one of the most important cases of his career. For him, it had to be nerve-wracking. And yet he talked to us for hours. We got to know him pretty well. He seems like a man of integrity, but our reporting turned up several failures in the investigation. And we had to talk to him one last time. So earlier this year, Jonathan Jones and I met up with him in Mississippi.
Al Letson:We talked to an expert who looks at police investigations and he was like, there were two types of investigations. There’s the investigation that looks at specifically what happened and everything surrounding it. And that is a very narrow investigation.
Joel Wallace:Right? Right.
Al Letson:And he was saying that now that time has gone on, people are demanding that police do bigger investigations that stretch outward. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that you were doing a case that was really narrow and focused as far as what happened that day.
Joel Wallace:In law enforcement terms, it was no probable cause or reasonable suspicion to believe that anything else was involved besides those two that were there at that scene. And basically I interviewed the folks based upon the information DA’s office gave me.
Al Letson:But I would just say that the case was so narrow and focused. Like if you had spread out and talked to more people, that maybe people wouldn’t feel like they had been left out of the process because the family feels like they were completely left out of the process. A lot of people in the black community that we talked to would say that they had information and nobody ever called them and talked to them about it.
Joel Wallace:Well, I know this when I first arrived on scene, the first thing I did, I went down and introduced myself to the family, and I’m not defending myself. I’m saying to introduce myself to the family, told them who I was investigating. I came to investigate this case. And that based upon my past reputation, I will give them the facts and circumstances to the case to the best of my ability, as far as investigating it. The mother and the father, and I also told them, I was sorry for they loss. I have never done that in any other case. That’s what I did.
Al Letson:I would say that like a huge part of the issue with this case-
Joel Wallace:Is communication with the family and with the black community. I understand that now. Hindsight is 2020. I understand that. If I had this information, if I had thought that before that it would lead to somebody, maybe I would have.
Al Letson:I know going back and looking at something that that happened 10 years ago is hard. I get it. There’s a moment in the interview with Hannah and Hannah’s mother, where they make these allegations of Billey Joe threatening murder-suicide. You were skeptical of it. You asked her point blank, “How would you know this?” And as far as we can tell, nobody not you, not Scott McElrath and the other investigator ever looked in to her allegations. So we did. She said that they were in a barber shop and in the barber shop, Billey Joe said all these things and like four or five people were there. So we talked to all of them, including the barber and every single one says that she’s lying.
Joel Wallace:I’m going to say maybe I didn’t feel she was credible because I was responsible for myself. I don’t know. I can’t say why. I don’t why I didn’t go to the barber shop and talked to the other people. I really don’t know.
Al Letson:One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot when it comes to Joe Wallace is some of my own experiences. When I was younger, I worked at some places where racism was an issue, but I couldn’t bring it up. In typical gen X fashion, I figured out workarounds because I knew if I said anything, I’d be told I was using the race card or I’d be that guy and shut out.
Al Letson:In the investigation into Billey Joe’s death, race rarely comes up. They only officially interviewed one black person, but it’s clear, race is all over this case. I asked Joe Wallace what he thinks the DA’s office would’ve done if he had brought it up. How do you feel if you had brought that up in the room? Do you think that Scott McElrath would’ve-
Joel Wallace:Man, they would’ve got somebody else to work that case and that would’ve got to somebody else. And I probably wouldn’t even been where I was at. I mean if I say something like that-
Al Letson:You can’t mention it?
Joel Wallace:No, no. You can’t. I mean, you don’t have that liberal freedom.
Al Letson:If you could go back until the Joe Wallace of 2008-
Joel Wallace:Interview, I mean, everybody in George county, if you had to.
Al Letson:This is where JJ brings up that Billey Joe’s friends say police pulled him over dozens of times before he died.
Jonathan Jones:If you wanted to interview his best friends or people on the football team to find out whether he had been targeted by the cops, for example, could you have done it? If you wanted to or did you have to go through the DA to do it?
Joel Wallace:If someone had informed me that his best friend or football players or somebody has information pertaining to the police officers or officers involved trying to hurt this guy or hurt this kid or had been harassing this kid, I would’ve found out from the DA’s office where these people live, because I’m not from there. But I wouldn’t have just arbitrarily went out. If nobody came forward to me and said, “Hey, I played ball with this guy, man. We was riding around in the car and we was playing music.” Or “Every time we riding around this, this officer stops us and they always ask him to check our car.” I would’ve love if somebody had done that and came to me and told me that because I-
Jonathan Jones:But reporters did.
Joel Wallace:Who?
Jonathan Jones:Reporters for who were, they found that out.
Joel Wallace:Who? What reporter?
Jonathan Jones:Reporters who went like the Yahoo Sports guy spent two days on the ground. The color of change, people found that out. The NAACP people found that.
Joel Wallace:No, but wait a minute. But wait, when did they find that out?
Jonathan Jones:While you were investigating the case?
Joel Wallace:Well, nobody never told me that.
Jonathan Jones:I know, but isn’t it-
Joel Wallace:Nobody, the Yahoo sports or whoever, whatever, something about a case when they’re not investigated. They’re not the law authority. I told Mr. And Mrs. Johnson when I got there, I said, “Hey, I’m here to investigate to find out the truth.” Guess what? They got a responsibility to come to me and say, “Hey, you. You’re not looking at this. You didn’t follow this up. This is what I got right here, dude.” Nobody done that to me, man. The NAACP or nobody. If they had, I guarantee you-
Jonathan Jones:No. And it is-
Joel Wallace:The case is about that kid laying on the ground, dead that I saw that day. Okay. That I got to live with. Now, I got to go through you 10, 15 years down the road. I got to come back and live something that looks like, but apparently presume or seen as, as if I didn’t do my job. I only did what I was led to and what I was told to. They got a responsibility, just like I did, NAACP, Yahoo Sports or whoever had information could have contacted me at any time.
Jonathan Jones:Right? People don’t want to go to the cops. They don’t trust the cops.
Joel Wallace:That’s what makes me so unique. The whole Gulf Coast, the article I carried in my wallet until a couple months ago showed you that the community said in the paper that they waiting to find out the truth because this guy here, that’s what made me, Joe Wallace, that other investigators were jealous of that I had that nature about me. I just want justice period. It ain’t even got to be for the Johnson family. If I was bamboozled, fed some information that wasn’t true or hoodwinked about something, I’d like to know that before I die because them folks, if they had that information, man, it ain’t about you. It ain’t about Al. It ain’t about nobody. They should have came and contacted me. They should have found out who this guy, Joe Wallace is and contacted me. And nobody did.
Al Letson:Our final stop is a meeting with the Johnson family. The first time JJ and I met with them was in March, 2018. They were hesitant. I was nervous. And none of us were sure where this would lead. Since then, we’ve come back to visit the family pretty often. I haven’t been apprehensive to talk to them since that first meeting. They’ve always been kind and as helpful as they can be. But during our last visit in November, I was nervous. They trusted us with their case files. And now we’re going to finally lay out everything we found. We pull up to a family member’s front yard on a windy fall day. Mr. Johnson, Billey Joe’s older sister, Tiffany, his older brother, Eddie and his little sister, India are all there. They huddle around us as the wind blows and cars drive by on the country road behind us and JJ and I explain our work.
Al Letson:What we have done is we went through the case files that you all got from the lawyer. We had experts look at it. We listened to all the audio. We interviewed as many people as we possibly could. And we put this together to kind of walk you through it. Back in 2008, kind of the way police were being trained to do investigations was this very narrow focus.
Al Letson:The investigation was flawed because it was too narrowly focused. Investigators mostly talked to people who interacted with Billey Joe the morning of his death. So they only looked at the events of the day, which means they never talked to you guys. Officer Sullivan is related to a district attorney. It’s his, sister-in-law.
Jonathan Jones:A district attorney. And specifically his two investigators. They were bringing the eyewitnesses to Joel.
Al Letson:And we have several of his friends who have said that Billey Joe was getting pulled over a lot. They have interview clips with Hannah and her mother. And basically what they say is that Billey Joe threatened to kill Hannah and to kill himself. Everybody to a person said that didn’t happen.
Al Letson:As we’re talking to the family, I can feel it all settling on them. They’re mostly silent, but you can see it in their body language. They look away from us, give deep sighs at times. Billey Joe Sr. kind of wanders away, still close, but distant at the same time. And the DOJ says it was a probable suicide. They listened to Hannah and Hannah’s mother. They went with the idea that because he was a black male or black boy, he was more likely to kill himself, which we talked to a psychiatrist and she was just like, you absolutely cannot say that.
Male:When you have a suspicious death like this, you’re supposed to talk to his friends. You’re supposed to talk to his family.
Al Letson:Our pathologist looking at it saying the shot was intraoral. Meaning it was in his mouth. The grand jury got it wrong. We didn’t find out what the Johnsons really wanted to know, what happened to Billey Joe on that December morning. But what we have found has called the entire investigation into question. Joel Wallace, the lead investigator, has already told us the case should be reopened. The medical examiner changed her opinion of how Billey Joe died. The grand jury came to his decision after her testimony. That’s justification enough to reopen the case.
Al Letson:The former district attorney Tony Lawrence is now a judge on the Mississippi court of appeals. The current DA Angel McElrath is married to one of the men who initially investigated the case. Now we’ve reached out to both of them to share everything we have found, and neither of them will talk to us. They are the ones with the power to open a new case and to answer all the questions our investigation has uncovered.
Al Letson:Throughout this series, we have seen how Mississippi’s past haunts the present. It’s the burden of history that many of these officials can walk away from. But the Johnsons cannot. It’s all connected. In order for justice to be served, we have to acknowledge the past and follow the facts where they lead. After three years of being deep in this story, we have to tell the Johnsons for now our work has come to a close.
Jonathan Jones:Things can pop up and if they pop up, if more information comes to of the surface, we’ll be back to like work that. It’s not like, okay, the story’s done, we’re out. But this is the wrap up of the major part of the investigation. Do you guys have any questions? Anything you want to talk through? You know, whatever. We’re here.
Male:I’m good right now. [inaudible]
Al Letson:You okay?
Female:Yeah. I’m good.
Al Letson:You all right?
Female:Yeah. I’m good.
Female:I just felt like my family shouldn’t go through so much. When you off so much evidence, when you have so much, but it’s just where you live with the people that don’t want to just stand up for what’s real, what’s right. It’s just not. Shouldn’t go through it. Nobody really cares until it hit home, until they have to face it and go through it. I don’t understand. This going on 14 years and I’m tired. I’m tired. Justice is what we need. That’s what we’re fighting for.
Al Letson:She’s right. And honestly, I don’t know what else to say. All right. Well, I guess we going to head back to mobile and you guys are going to meet us for dinner.
Female:I suppose.
Male:[inaudible]
Female:I’m just sad.
Male:[inaudible] my daddy.
Female:I’m done because I be crying in a minute, so I don’t want to talk and get her upset. So I’m good.
Al Letson:It’s a strange departure. Not like I’m used to with the Johnsons. Tiffany would usually be teasing me. India, who in the time that we’ve been working on this story has grown up. She’s a mother now. Normally she’d give me a hug and Eddie would give me a pound, but today we all just kind of drift away. This wasn’t an official goodbye. I knew I’d see them at dinner that night. So JJ and I just got in our car and drove away.
Al Letson:I don’t know how you felt, but that really sucked. It sucked because I just felt all their hearts were breaking. Like we were breaking their hearts all over again. I don’t know what I expected this to feel like, but not this.
Jonathan Jones:It does make you think. I mean, I don’t. I don’t know that it’s helpful to think about like, was it worth it? It just is. We’ve done it. We did it. We decided-
Al Letson:No, it was definitely worth it. It was worth it. It’s just like … Do you remember when we had that conversation and you were like … God, man, sorry. You wanted to give. You wanted people to have some kind of hope, you know? And I told you that, like I wanted to make people angry and I do. I stand by that statement, but I think what I was trying to do with this is give the Johnsons some hope and I don’t think we did. I don’t know. It just breaks my heart. What I’m saying, JJ, is that I am you now and you are me.
Jonathan Jones:I want to make them angry. No, it’s sad. It is sad. I mean, they all matter, like their experiences and their loss and their belief that justice failed. It matters. And it matters even more because it seems like nobody else seemed to really think that it mattered here or not enough people.
Al Letson:Yeah. When I found this story in 2011, I tried really hard to get a news organization to take it on. I’d made that promise, but the truth is I was hoping someone else would fulfill it for me. But years passed and no one picked it up. And in that time, I had all these excuses of why I couldn’t go back to Mississippi and look into it. But the truth is I was scared. Not of the police or reporting in Mississippi, I wasn’t sure I could carry the weight. See, being a black journalist and telling stories like this, it takes a lot from you. It reignites old trauma. It stays with you long after the work day is done. And it will never be the neat Hollywood ending we all long for. But then I joined an organization with the investigative muscle to do it. And I knew that if I didn’t tell this story, no one would.
Al Letson:So I took a deep breath and dove in. In the years, since there have been two times that I’ve had to stop and take a break, just breathe. The first was when George Floyd died, it was an intense week. If you remember, Brianna Taylor was killed a few months before the video of the killing of Ahmad Arbery had just been released. And then George Floyd. And for me, it’s not just seeing another black person killed violently, it’s also the debate of that person. And by extension black people’s humanity, it was too much. And so I set the story down for a week. The second time was almost a year later when Officer Chauvin was being tried for killing George Floyd. Ten miles away from that house, Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man was killed by Officer Kim Porter.
Al Letson:The video, like all these types of videos was bad, but what took my breath away was Daunte’s picture. He looks so much like my youngest son and it’s shattered me. I couldn’t get his image out of my head. I tried to keep my son close to me that week like I could protect him, but the truth is I can’t. And that’s what stories like these remind me of. Not just of my own mortality, but of my children’s as well. So I pulled away the series for a few days and reset, but the Johnsons couldn’t. They have to live with this day in and day out. We don’t know what happened to Billey Joe, but given the history of this country, of Mississippi, the way his family was treated, the lack of thorough investigation, of course, they feel the trauma of every death that reminds them of Billey’s and their story is not an outlier.
Al Letson:The last time we were with the Johnsons, we took the family out to dinner. Tiffany and her family, India, her boyfriend and baby, Billey Joe Sr, and brother Eddie, JJ, and I, and our photographer Armani of were all together at a restaurant in [Louisville]. Earlier that day, things felt hard, but this night, all of that tension was gone. I left my gear at home. Tiffany was tired of me putting a mic in her face. So we just came to have a good time, no agenda.
Al Letson:I realized that there was something JJ and I missed in our time with the Johnsons. Joy. You see every time we’re with them, we’re talking about the case and Billey Joe’s death, but that night we just ate and laughed. And it was so clear how much this family loves each other, Billey Joe Sr. and Eddie passed India’s baby around playing with him while India leaned into her boyfriend watching. And I have never seen Billey Joe Sr. smile, so big and wide and free.
Al Letson:And it hit me that all this time I’ve been trying to give them hope, but it was never mine to give. They already had it. Like millions of Mississippians throughout time, their hope is born when their babies open their eyes for the first time and look up and their parents dream of a future where they can live and thrive. History holds no weight in that moment. They defy gravity until tragedy brings them down. And even then, it can’t hold them for long because living, loving and laughter is an act of resistance, resilience, and hope. And while Billey Joe Jr, and his mother, Annette are gone, the Johnsons do their best to move forward.
Al Letson:At the end of the night, Tiffany gave me a hug and thanked me and JJ for everything we’d done for the family. And after 10 years of holding it so tight, that the promise I gave was fulfilled.
Al Letson:I want to give a huge thanks to the Johnson family for entrusting us with this story. And everyone at Reveal for supporting us on this series for the past three years. Our show was reported and produced by Jonathan Jones and me and edited by our executive producer, Kevin Sullivan. Michael I. Schiller is the series producer. Steven Rascón is our production assistant. Nina Martin edited our digital material. Andy Donahue is Reveal’s executive editor of projects.
Al Letson:We had additional reporting and producing help from Ko Bragg, Melissa Lewis, Michael Montgomery, and Laurel Hennen Vigil. Special thanks to Alexis Hightower who provided vocals at the top of the show. And thanks to Katharine Mieszkowski and Jen Chien. Mama Blue sang our theme song throughout series. Today, we ran an original version written and performed by Nina Simone. Thanks to her estate and Music and Strategy. Our fact checker is Rosemary ho. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel.
Al Letson:Our production manager is Amy “The Great” Mostafa. Original score and sound designed by the dynamic duo J. Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs, and Fernando “my man, yo” Arruda. They had help from Clare “C Note” Mullen, Najib Aminy and Catherine [Stier] Martinez. Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our interim CEO is Annie Chabel. Sumi Aggarwal’s our interim editor and chief. Our theme music is by [Camarano Lightning].
Al Letson:Support for Reveal is provided by the Riva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Helman Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson. And remember, there is always more to the story.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.

Jonathan Jones is a reporter and producer for Reveal. In his two decades in journalism, he has produced a series of award-winning investigations on topics ranging from eminent domain to problems in the fertility industry. He has covered conflict and human rights in 10 countries, including Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. In 2013, he teamed up with A.C. Thompson of ProPublica and PBS Frontline on a yearlong investigation into abuse and neglect at the largest assisted living company in the United States. In 2015, his exposé of Firestone's operations during the Liberian Civil War for ProPublica and PBS Frontline was awarded two News & Documentary Emmy Awards for outstanding investigative journalism and outstanding research, as well as the top Investigative Reporters and Editors Award in the large multiplatform category. In 2018, Jones, along with colleagues at WNYC's Snap Judgment, won the Best Documentary Gold Award at the Third Coast International Audio Festival for "Counted: An Oakland Story," which profiled those lost to violence in Oakland, California, in 2017 and the impact on their communities.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Michael I Schiller

Michael I Schiller is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. His Emmy Award-winning work spans animation, radio and documentary film.

“The Dead Unknown,” a video series he directed about the crisis of America's unidentified dead, earned a national News and Documentary Emmy Award, national Edward R. Murrow Award and national Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award.

His 2015 animated documentary short film “The Box,” about youth solitary confinement, was honored with a video journalism award from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter, a San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award and a New Orleans Film Festival special jury prize, and it was nominated for a national News and Documentary Emmy for new approaches.

Schiller was one the producers of the pilot episode of the Peabody Award-winning Reveal radio show and podcast. He continues to regularly produce audio documentaries for the weekly public radio show, which airs on over 450 stations nationwide. Schiller is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Nina Martin (she/her) is the features editor for Reveal. She develops high-impact investigative reporting projects for Reveal’s digital and audio platforms and television and print partners. Previously, she was a reporter at ProPublica, covering sex and gender issues, and worked as an editor and/or reporter at San Francisco magazine, The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, Health magazine and BabyCenter magazine. Her Lost Mothers project for ProPublica and NPR examining maternal mortality in the U.S. led to sweeping change to maternal health policy at the state and federal levels and won numerous awards. Martin is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Andy Donohue is the executive editor for projects for Reveal. He’s edited Reveal’s investigations into the treatment of migrant children in government care, Amazon’s labor practices, rehab work camps and sexual abuse in the janitorial industry. He’s been on teams that have twice been Pulitzer Prize finalists and have won Investigative Reporters and Editors, Edward R. Murrow, Online News Association, Third Coast International Audio Festival, Gerald Loeb, Sidney Hillman Foundation and Emmy awards. He previously helped build and lead Voice of San Diego, served on the IRE board for eight years and is an alumnus of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. Donohue is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Steven Rascón (he/they) is a production assistant for Reveal. He is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism with a Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy Fellowship. His focus is investigative reporting and audio documentary. He has written for online, magazines and radio. His reporting on underreported fentanyl overdoses in Los Angeles' LGBTQ community aired on KCRW and KQED. Rascón is passionate about telling diverse stories for radio through community engagement. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater arts and creative writing.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) is the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Sarah Mirk (she/her) is a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison. Mirk is based in Portland, Oregon.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is a sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. As a multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the original music, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. He has held four O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary abilities. His work has been recognized with Peabody, duPont-Columbia, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb, Third Coast and Association of Music Producers awards, as well as Emmy and Pulitzer nominations. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio for media and TV ads, and co-founded a film-scoring boutique called the Manhattan Composers Collective. He worked with clients such as Marvel, MasterClass and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck+Company, BUCK and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles, such as SFJAZZ Monday Night Band, Art&Sax quartet, Krychek, Dark Inc. and the New York Arabic Orchestra. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 Percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker,” Wondery’s “Detective Trapp,” MSNBC’s “Why Is This Happening?” and NBC’s “Born to Rule,” to name a few. Arruda also has a wide catalog of composed music for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which has premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. The original music he makes with Jim Briggs for Reveal can be found on Bandcamp.

Claire Mullen worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until September 2017. is an associate sound designer and audio engineer for Reveal. Before joining Reveal, she was an assistant producer at Radio Ambulante and worked with KALW, KQED, the Association of Independents in Radio and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She studied humanities and media studies at Scripps College.

Najib Aminy is a producer for Reveal. Previously, he was an editor at Flipboard, a news aggregation startup, and helped guide the company’s editorial and curation practices and policies. Before that, he spent time reporting for newspapers such as Newsday and The Indianapolis Star. He is the host and producer of an independent podcast, "Some Noise," which is based out of Oakland, California, and was featured by Apple, The Guardian and The Paris Review. He is a lifelong New York Knicks fan, has a soon-to-be-named kitten and is a product of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Aminy is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Kathryn Styer Martínez

Kathryn Styer Martínez (she/ella) is a production assistant for Reveal. She studies audio and photojournalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She is also a Greater Good Science Center reporting fellow, focusing on Latino well-being.

Martínez was the 2020-21 Toni Randolph reporting fellow at Minnesota Public Radio, the 2019-20 New Economy Reporting Project fellow and the former director of KGPC-LP FM, Peralta Community Radio. Her work has appeared in El Tecolote, The Oaklandside, MPR News, National Public Radio, Outside Online, Talk Poverty, New Life Quarterly and Making Contact.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in Raza studies and political science from San Francisco State University.