It is not an uncommon occurrence for Isthmus to receive letters from incarcerated folks who want us to tell their side of the story. None, however, were from a 17-year-old serving a life sentence for shooting his high school principal. None, that is, until April of this year, when the letter addressed to me from Eric Hainstock landed on my desk.
After introducing himself and his circumstances, Hainstock wrote, "There is so much more to this story, and no one has ever asked me my side of it.... I want my story told and I'm willing to write about it." Slim chance, I thought, that I would allow a convicted murderer to write an apologia for his crime. But then, this might be right up Bill Lueders' alley. He is not one to shy away from an interesting story just because it might be difficult to achieve. I was right, and Bill Lueders has written one hell of an account of the Eric Hainstock story, which is our cover this week.
Why did Hainstock choose Isthmus? It was at the suggestion of his cellmate, Brannon Prisk, who is from Madison and presumably aware of other articles we've published on related themes. There was the story about Audrey Edmunds, a childcare provider convicted of shaking a child in her care to death and who continued to profess her innocence, written by staffer Kenneth Burns ("This Is Not My Life Forever," 6/1/07). Or the article we published on March 7 of this year, "Juvenile Injustice," by Jacqueline Sutton, which investigated the issue of harsh treatment of juvenile offenders in the Wisconsin justice system.
Though we are interested in the issues raised, we are not pushovers for a sad story. In replying to Hainstock's original letter, Lueders wrote thusly:
"First and most important, while telling your story might give you some satisfaction and probably won't hurt you, it will almost certainly not do you any good. Your sentence has been imposed, and that will not change.
"Second, be aware that people are very reluctant to concede the validity of the points you make - that the shooting was an accident, that your cries for help had been ignored. It's much simpler to just blame you for everything and say you got what you deserved. Some people will reject anything that threatens that view of the case. If we did a story, it may generate more outrage than sympathy.
"Third, while our intention would be to be fair to you and accurately represent your point of view, we are NOT on your side. We would strive to be fair to everyone, including people who are unsympathetic toward you. Our fidelity is not to you but to the story."
After these warnings, the story still came to pass. And it is an engrossing one with plenty of documentation, including web extras linked to the story online. We are proud to be publishing it.