Bill Lueders has distinguished himself as the news editor at Isthmus, Madison's alternative newsweekly; as an award-winning investigative and interpretive reporter and columnist; and as president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.
But his crowning achievement at mid-career may be his dogged reporting on the case of a visually impaired Madison woman who was raped and then repeatedly victimized by a flawed justice system. Pressured to recant by police, Patty was then charged with a crime for insisting she had been raped. Lueders followed the case for more than seven years in the pages of Isthmus, as Patty fought back to clear her name and bring her attacker to justice.
In his new book, Cry Rape, Lueders recounts Patty's quest for justice in a compelling narrative that has inspired a growing chorus of voices calling for the City of Madison to apologize to Patty and provide her with a measure of compensation for her trauma. Lueders joins Patty, former Madison Police Chief David Couper, Rape Crisis Center executive director Kelly Anderson and Cheri Maples, a former sensitive crimes liaison detective lieutenant for the Madison Police Department, for a Wisconsin Book Festival panel discussion moderated by broadcast personality, public servant and historian Stuart Levitan at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22 at A Room of One's Own Feminist Bookstore.
At what point during your coverage of Patty's case did you first think her story might sustain or merit a book?
I began the book in June 2001, just after the state crime lab matched DNA from the crime scene with that from a convicted sex offender. Until then, the story was too open-ended; I knew Patty was telling the truth, that she was a rape victim who had been revictimized by the police, but I couldn't prove it. The DNA match was her vindication, although much of her ordeal was still to come. For me, too: It took another five years for the case to play out and the UW Press to bring the book into being.
What challenges did you confront in writing Cry Rape that you had not confronted in your coverage of Patty's case for Isthmus?
First of all, the book is wholly different from my reporting on the case for Isthmus. All of the writing and 90% of the story in the book has never appeared in Isthmus or anywhere else. (WISC-TV Ch. 3, in a story it aired this week on the political and police reaction to the book, referred to it as a "compilation" of my articles on the case. Jeez, would it kill these people to actually open up the book and look between the covers?)
Anyway, in answer to your question, the biggest challenge was that the book needed to sustain interest over a much longer haul, which I tried to do with basic storytelling techniques like foreshadowing. And, strange as it sounds, I felt that the writing had to be tighter than for an article. Ninety thousand words is a lot to work with, compared to a typical article, but I actually felt that the stakes were raised in terms of making sure that none of them were superfluous.
What advantages did revisiting the case in a book-length narrative afford you that you may not have enjoyed in reporting the case for Isthmus?
This has always been the kind of story that you could write a book about. There's that much to it, with all of the events and complications. The book-length form allowed for the story to be told dramatically and sequentially. It allowed for the building of suspense and the promise of resolution.
This is a difficult and often upsetting book to read, yet also so compelling that it is even more difficult to set aside. How would you describe the extent to which you may have felt compelled to write Cry Rape relative to the degree to which it was difficult and upsetting to write?
The story tore me apart. The book is my attempt to put it into a context that I can accept and that others can learn from. I'm thrilled that several reviewers have mentioned that it's not an angry book, and even that it's sympathetic to the people who were agents of a terrible injustice.
You can't go on forever feeling angry about the wrongs that were done; at some point you have to accept the humanity that drives people to make mistakes, and the humanity of their refusal to admit them, and you need to forgive. Not forget. Just forgive. Part of my motive in writing this book was to make the case less upsetting, by highlighting Patty's courage and stressing the positive lessons that can be learned from it.
As one reads about each successive setback confronted by Patty and her advocates, and about injustice heaped upon injustice, a reader can feel the outrage build until you feel you are at the limits of human capacity for outrage -- only to read about yet another injustice. As author, how did you separate any outrage you may have felt from the writing of the book, and maintain some semblance of objectivity?
I think I've touched on this above, but I did make it a point not to pass judgment on my characters, except in minor ways, to underscore points. This was deliberate, because it forces the readers to do this themselves. Beyond that, without giving away too much, I think in the end readers are rewarded to going along with Patty on her journey to justice.
What kind of a toll did writing Cry Rape take on your emotional state?
I did suffer as a human being from my exposure to the events in this story, but not as much from writing the book, which was more redemptive. The point where the book caused pain was in the struggle I had to find a publisher. Generally speaking, and with the sole exception of the University of Wisconsin Press, the people involved in publishing are the worst people on earth. They care about nothing but how much money a book can make. Nothing. And that's a brutal reality to confront when you're trying to tell a story that you feel is important and that you know is well-written.
How did the UW Press come to publish Cry Rape?
It's because the Press, and especially Raphael Kadushin, care more about publishing books they consider to be good and important than they do about making money. Raphael was impressed by the story, but so were several other editors who did the calculus -- rape case, no one wants to read about rape; Madison case, no one cares about Madison -- and turned thumbs down. The book is doing much better than anyone anticipated -- after three weeks the initial 1,500 copies are almost gone and a second printing has been ordered -- and it's possible the book may in time break even. That would be nice, but the book only got published because the Press was willing to take a chance that others weren't.
Katha Pollitt, a columnist for The Nation, has called Cry Rape "a textbook example of how not to investigate a rape." As a textbook, for which courses ought Cry Rape to be included on the syllabus, and for whom ought it to be required reading?
I think it's a good book for people in the criminal justice system, since a main theme is the reluctance of the system to admit its own terrible capacity for error. For police, it's an object lesson about the perils of tunnel vision; for prosecutors, it shows the danger of assuming that police got the right result; for judges, it highlights the wisdom of looking beyond what the law allows to ponder what is proper and appropriate.
How does Cry Rape reflect the way you view your role as a journalist -- the obligations, duties and responsibilities of your profession?
The book is fully in keeping with a kind of journalism I have been practicing for years, the kind that grows out of the experiences of ordinary people. That's how I got involved in reporting on police complaints to begin with, and why this case was called to my attention.
But I do it all the time -- next week, I'm writing about a disabled guy who is worried that he's going to lose his apartment and two guys who are struggling for the right to open a restaurant. Both stories implement public policy and led me to interview public officials, but at their heart they are about the ordinary people who are caught up in these policy debates. This is the kind of reporting I hope to do till I die.
Since the publication of Cry Rape, Madison Common Council President Austin King has proposed a resolution calling for the city to apologize to Patty and pay her $35,000 in restitution, a growing chorus has called for the city to apologize to Patty and compensate her, and Madison Police Chief Noble Wray appeared before the Council to apologize to Patty. Are these kinds of gestures sufficient to bring closure to the case? Is the ultimate resolution of Patty's case conceivable? If so, what are the prerequisites to resolution?
Austin's resolution is a great start. It does several meaningful things. And the Chief's apology is a wonderful thing -- but, as he himself admitted, long overdue. Also, at this point, it's really not enough. For his apology to mean anything, he has to show his willingness to embrace policy changes that make a recurrence of this episode less likely. I think it's clear that the Madison Police Department needed some prodding in this direction. But my guess is that nothing will change and also that King's resolution will fail unless there is significant public pressure brought by the citizens of this community.
Finally, because the struggle for justice is eternal, I don't think the issues raised by this case will ever reach a point of resolution.
As someone who first met Patty and started reporting on her case almost 10 years ago, how would you measure the dimensions of her courage, and to what or whom would you attribute it?
She is truly and beyond a doubt the most courageous person I have even known. At each stage in her struggle for justice, she was advised by people who were looking out for her best interests to give up. When she was charged with a crime for reporting being raped, her first attorney advised her to plead guilty; she rejected that advice and found a new attorney, at considerable cost. It was only because of this that the state crime lab did additional testing that turned up DNA from semen at the scene.
When the charges were dismissed, her new attorney, Hal Harlowe, advised her against having the rape investigation reopened and against filing a lawsuit against the police. She did both anyway and was subjected to terrible new torments. But as a result of these choices, a suspect was identified and the entire history of the case was laid bare for all to see, creating opportunities for learning that exist to this day.
How would you describe the reception to Cry Rape at your readings and book-signings?
I've met a surprising number of people who have read the book and are very deeply moved by it. I hadn't expected that, and it's been very gratifying. No one has told me they hate the book, not even the cops who I know have read it. At my first reading, some people were crying and otherwise very emotional; it was amazing to connect with people on that level.
Without giving too much away, what can the Wisconsin Book Festival audience expect from Sunday's panel discussion at 4 p.m. at A Room of One's Own?
I think some panel members, and some people in the audience, will express very clearly that they want this case to lead to change, not just rhetoric. There will be a continuation of an effort to ensure that some tangible good comes to this community as the result of Patty's ordeal. And we will hopefully help make that a bit more possible.
What was the last book you read that you would recommend to Wisconsin Book Festival audiences, and why would you recommend it?
I'm not quite done but I'm now reading Anthony Shadid's Night Falls Near, about his experiences in Iraq. Anthony is a former UW student and Isthmus intern who went on to work for the Boston Globe and Washington Post, where he is today. His reporting from Iraq, about the experiences of ordinary people (hmmm), earned him a Pulitzer Prize. Night Falls Near, based on that reporting, is one of the best books I've ever read. I've learned more about the Iraq conflict from this book than anything else. It's also a marvelous book about the challenge of reporting. BTW: Anthony will be in town next Thursday at University Bookstore at Hilldale, 7 p.m.