Curiouser and Curiouser

A murky tale from the '91 mayor's race continues to unfold at the courthouse

Turner's lawyers have tried to peg Perry and the Lanier campaign as the ultimate, and confidential, source for Dolcefino's report, contending that Perry supplied the reporter with a summary of the background on Sylvester Foster and "critical" probate documents on the Foster case that would have been otherwise publicly unavailable to Dolcefino, given that he was researching his story over the Thanksgiving holiday prior to its broadcast. The lawyers are asking the judge presiding over Turner's suit to force Dolcefino to answer questions about Perry, which he has refused to do, citing a journalist's legal privilege to maintain the confidentiality of sources. Turner's lawyers argue that the identity of the source is important because of a follow-up story that Channel 13 did two days before the election. That report, delivered as outrage over Dolcefino's story was building in the black community, opened with reporter Christi Meyers saying: "Channel 13 has never revealed the source of its story, but today, in a surprise move, the real source of the story stepped forward. Clyde Wilson dropped a bombshell today by admitting he leaked the story to Channel 13." Later in the report, anchorwoman Shara Fryer intoned, "Sylvester Turner refused to apologize to Bob Lanier today, even though Turner had accused the Lanier campaign of providing the information contained in the Eyewitness News report."

At best, the presentation of something that Channel 13 had known for more than a week as a "bombshell" was a contorted bit of journalistic disingenuousness. But Turner's lawyers offer a darker spin, claiming the station was trying to "cover up" the true source of its story -- Perry -- and further damaged Turner by suggesting he should have apologized for making a statement that was true. They contend that Wilson "stepped forward" only after Tom Doerr, then Channel 13's news director, called and asked him to do so. (Doerr and Wilson did not return calls from the Press.)

In pre-trial questioning in March, anchorwoman Fryer, who had previously said she got the initial tip on the Foster scam in a phone call from Wilson, acknowledged that Wilson gave her Perry's name and said Perry had "paperwork" on Foster. She also acknowledged that she passed Perry's name on to Dolcefino. Perry has testified he doesn't recall meeting with Dolcefino before the story was broadcast and didn't get a full copy of the probate case until after the story aired; Dolcefino, according to Turner's lawyers, has admitted meeting with Perry before his story was aired.

Channel 13's lawyers (among them Chip Babcock, who does legal work for the Press), in arguing that Dolcefino shouldn't be forced to answer questions about Perry, deny that the scam story was "planned, suggested or instigated" by the Lanier camp or that it accused Turner of being part of a conspiracy to defraud insurers. They say the one source to whom Dolcefino promised confidentiality played only a minor role in the assembling of the story, and that there were other sources, pointing in particular to private investigator Bill Elliott, a former partner of Wilson's who had done work on the Foster disappearance and who, during the 1991 campaign, was sleuthing for Cheryl Turner in advance of the divorce suit she would file after the election.

Dolcefino, in parts of his deposition cited by his lawyers, says that while working on the scam story he met with Elliott in the parking lot of the Allen Park Inn, where he was shown a copy of a statement the investigator had taken from Cheryl Turner in which she professed to have recorded "graphic, sexually related phone conversations" between Turner and other men and identified "certain individuals with whom Mr. Turner was allegedly having homosexual relations...."

And so the story behind the story of the 1991 mayor's race continues to unfold. Turner, who along with Dolcefino declined to comment for this article, previously has vowed to seek his vindication in the courtroom. If his suit gets that far, it would go a long way toward answering the lingering questions about what Channel 13 did and who Sylvester Turner is. And it might just reverberate on a larger stage. The suit is now scheduled for trial in April of next year -- just about the time Lanier would be cranking his 1995 reelection bid into high gear.

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