From the Editor: Remembering Christie Mullins

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Longtime readers ofColumbus Monthlyknow all about this case. In fact, our coverage of Mullins' murder helped put the magazine on the map. "That story's importance toColumbus Monthlywas really enormous," says Max Brown, who, along with his wife, Lenore, founded the magazine. "We launched in June 1975, and if you look at our first seven issues, we were kind of struggling to find our way. That story set a tone for what we were to become."

The story appeared in the eighth issue of a fledgling city magazine and featured a stark, black cover with only a photo of a youthful, smiling Christie Mullins alongside a headline that asked, "Who did kill Christie Mullins?" The word "did" was underlined with a broad, blood-red stripe.

By the time the issue appeared, indeed within three days of the murder, the police already had a confession and their man behind bars. Quick and tidy. The mainstream media unquestioningly reported the arrest and, eight days later, the conviction of Jack Carmen, a mentally handicapped ward of the state. "At that point, the newspapers and TV stations weren't too skeptical," Brown says. But two green reporters from Ohio State's student newspaper,The Lantern, continued to pursue the story and raise questions, including the Mullins family's own misgivings about Carmen's guilt. ButThe Lanternwasn't read much by anyone off campus, and on campus, students paid little attention. Brown, however, noticed and gave the two budding student journalists, James Yavorcik and Rick Kelly, a chance to take their story to a wider audience.

"We didn't think it was much of a risk," Brown says. "We talked to them, and it was quite clear they had a good start. They were into it. They were very committed. We figured if they did just the basic legwork, we could edit it into something that fit our voice. I'm sure we juiced that baby up."

When the story appeared in the January 1976, issue, it had the exact effect that Brown had hoped, heightening the public controversy. By the end of the month, a judge granted a motion by Carmen's lawyers to vacate his guilty plea. In May 1976, it was determined that police had violated Carmen's rights during his interrogation. Prosecutors appealed, and in December, 1977-after spending more than two years in jail-Carmen got his day in court. Brown himself covered the six-day trial, which resulted in Carmen's acquittal, and wrote a sprawling blow-by-blow account, published in the February 1978, issue ofColumbus Monthly. But it was the initial story, in which the magazine took a chance on two university students, that set the tone for the kind of in-depth journalism thatColumbus Monthlywould become known for. "I don't know that it was the finest cover we ever did, or the finest story we ever did," says Brown, who soldColumbus Monthlyin 2007. "But it symbolized what the magazine would become. It was a turning point."

Read "Who did kill Christie Mullins?" here.

--Eric Lyttle, Editor