I am not a television star, nor do I want to be. I have a good voice, which is how I managed to work in radio for 14 years. I consider myself a good writer, which is why I think I’ve been able to work for this newspaper for nearly 16 years. As a youngster, I acted in children’s musicals.
I have never, however, imagined being on TV. When I look in the mirror, I don’t daydream about starring in the next iteration of Star Trek or NCIS or becoming the next Ted Brokaw.
So, imagine my surprise when a woman named Ilana called from New York City saying a producer from the Investigation Discovery cable network’s “On the Case with Paula Zahn” wanted to interview me. She could probably hear my eyebrows rise toward my hairline.
Ilana explained what the show does: examine crimes, usually murders, by delving into the mystery, the hard work done by investigators and the impact the crime had on loved ones and the community. Zahn’s team had chosen to focus on the 2014 murder of 18-year-old Briana Rabon at the hands of now 23-year-old Stephen Ross Kelly.
Naturally, I asked, “Why me?”
It turns out Zahn’s people had asked one of Briana’s brothers who else he felt they should talk to. He gave them my name. I was surprised and flattered, of course, but a little skeptical about what I could add.
In fact, I told them, my only initial contact with the case in 2014 was in my role as editor. Other people wrote the stories; I just made sure they were polished pieces of journalism.
But, Ilana reminded me, I did attend Kelly’s plea hearing during which the gruesome facts of Briana’s death were laid bare. I was the one who reported the judge’s decision to sentence Kelly to 50 years in prison instead of life. I also helped write an editorial denouncing the judge’s decision.
These, Ilana said, were why Briana’s brother wanted me to be part of the story. It’s a, frankly, uncomfortable role. While I certainly don’t mind talking (or writing) about my work, I try very hard not to become a part of the story itself.
Nonetheless, and after speaking to our publisher, I agreed.
And so it was at 1 p.m. Dec. 8, 2015, I sat in a large meeting room at the Hampton Inn on the frontage road off I-20 and Clemson Road in Columbia. Dressed more formally than usual (I hate ties, despite my picture to the left), I met Judy, one of Zahn’s producers and two technicians who fiddled with bright lights and lapel microphones and dealt with the glare off the glasses on my face.
We were the only ones in the room and the room itself was darkened. With the TV lights in my eyes, I ended up with a sort of tunnel vision on Judy who asked me questions she and the team wanted answered.
The atmosphere and subject matter affected the way I spoke. Most people who have met me know I’m a fairly gregarious, animated person who easily laughs and sometimes speaks a little too loudly. But this was not me on Dec. 8, 2015. I found myself feeling almost disconnected from what I was talking about, despite -- or perhaps precisely because of -- how emotionally invested I get about cases like this.
The case of Briana’s murder will forever be in my mental scrapbook along with that of Karresha Crawford, the abduction of Elizabeth Shoaf and Hope Melton’s murder.
There have been others, of course, but these are the four which most often come back up in my mind. Briana’s is, understandably, a bit more up front because it is the most recent.
I’m not going to disclose here exactly what questions Judy asked me or how I answered them. And I’m not going to claim I “nailed” the interview. She interviewed me for nearly an hour. Considering, after commercials, the entire episode is probably only 45 minutes long, my time on screen will likely be brief. Which is perfectly fine with me.
Because, after all, this is not my story; it’s Briana’s and her family’s. I’m merely helping to tell a part of it -- your part of it, in a way -- as a representative of the community.
The episode is called “Tracks of a Killer” and will air at 10 p.m. Sunday. I’m most interested in seeing how faithfully Zahn’s team represents what happened two years ago, the work by the real heroes at the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office and the impact Briana’s death had on her family, friends and the Kershaw County community.
Hopefully, they got it right.