April 10, 2003 When the Pulitzer Prizes in journlaism were announced this week, a name familiar in the Virgin Islands was on the list of finalists. Melvin Claxton, former V.I. investigative reporter, was a finalist for a 2003 Pulitzer in the category of public service - the same category that won him and The V.I. Daily News a Pulitzer in 1995, when the newspaper still was owned by the Gannett Co. chain.
Claxton and two colleagues, Norman Sinclair and Ronald Hansen, were honored for their work on a three-part series in the Detroit News called "Hiding in plain view."
The series, published last December, exposed the fact that up to 26,00 fugitives — some dangerous felons wanted for crimes ranging from firearms possession to car-jacking and murder — were on the loose in Wayne County, many in plain view of law enforcement in the Detroit area.
The series, which at first attracted the ire of the Detriot police, quickly led to the formation of a 32-member task force charged solely with apprehending the fugitives — some of whom had been on the loose and living at addresses known to police for several years.
So far, 520 fugitives have been picked up by the task force.
Claxton said this week he was particularly pleased about one fugitive, a child rapist who had fled to Florida: "We actually tracked him to Florida and he was picked up after we gave information about his whereabouts to local police in Florida."
Claxton said fugitive Michael Durham, whose mug shot appeared on the front page of the Detroit News the day the series broke, has since been convicted of rape. "He is being sentenced tomorrow," Claxton said. And the sentence "may be fairly substantial," he added.
"As wonderful as it is to get the recognition the Pulitzer Prize brings and to be awarded honors by your peers, it's far more important for me to do stories that make communities better," Claxton said.
His 1995 Pulitzer was for a series which exposed the links between the Virgin Islands' rampant crime and corruption in the local criminal justice system.
The Boston Globe was the winner of the 2003 public service Pulitzer, for "its courageous, comprehensive coverage of sexual abuse by priests, an effort that pierced secrecy, stirred local, national and international reaction and produced changes in the Roman Catholic Church," according to the Pulitzer Prize Web site.
The prize for public service is given "for a distinguished example of meritorious public service by a newspaper through the use of its journalistic resources … as well as reporting," the Web site states.
Claxton has served on the advisory board of the V.I. Source publications from their inception.
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