Recent news reports aired on Fox 17 in Nashville might have caused viewers to think Army Maj. Christian “Kit” Martin is the only “person of interest” to investigators trying to find the person(s) responsible for several dead bodies found Nov. 19 in Pembroke, Ky. Why? Because reporter Sabrina Hall omitted many key details in her rush to inform viewers about events in the small town near Fort Campbell. I know this, because I spoke with her by phone multiple times before her stories aired.
Before I continue this piece, it’s worth noting I wrote much of the information in the paragraphs below with the intent of highlighting only the flaws in Hall’s first report that aired the evening before Thanksgiving. In fact, I had transcribed every word spoken during the report. Then, after organizing it into an article and having it ready to publish it, things changed dramatically and the scope of this report expanded. Now that the turkey and pies are gone, I share this expanded set of observations.
THE FIRST FLAWED REPORT
Hall’s first flawed report was 86 seconds long and appeared on the station’s website under the headline, Person of Interest in Kentucky Triple Homicide Found on Online Videos.
For reasons I’ll explain later in this piece, that report is no longer visible on the Fox 17 website; therefore, I’ll use word pictures to describe Hall’s report and then leave it up to you to decide if she gave viewers a fair and balanced account of what’s happening in the world of Major Martin, a 47-year-old attack helicopter pilot who served multiple combat tours in Iraq.
The report opened with two images — yellow crime scene tape followed by a closeup of a logo on the driver’s door of a Christian County Sheriff’s Office vehicle — as Hall spoke in voiceover mode: “When it comes to three people being murdered, the Christian County Sheriff’s Department says Major Christian Martin isn’t talking, but Fox 17 did find this online.”
Next, a short excerpt from a Sept. 2 interview I conducted with Major Martin via Skype appeared. Shown seated behind a desk in his home office, surrounded by military memorabilia and with a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag on the wall behind him, the major said, “They did a secret surveillance on me I didn’t know about for six months.”
The piece continued with viewers seeing a floating image of the Army officer dressed for battle and standing in front of an AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter in Balad, Iraq. At the same time, Hall’s voice filled the air again, saying, “Here, Major Martin talks about the criminal charges he faces: sexual assault, molesting two children and not properly caring for classified information.”
The report cut back to a clip from the interview, with Major Martin saying, “They gave me a three-hour polygraph. I did not expect it to take that long.”
As I reported Sept. 28, Army investigators conducted an extensive, six-month investigation of the major based on allegations made by his ex-wife and one other person. In turn, they found the allegations completely without merit except for the watered-down charge of “not properly caring for classified information” which still stands against him and is something I’ll discuss in a future article.
Next, the on-screen image cut to the exterior of a home, located across the street from Major Martin’s house. Inside that home, investigators had found the body of Calvin Lee Phillips, 59, Nov. 19. Hall continued in voiceover mode: “According to Major Martin’s own attorney, one of the main witnesses who planned to testify against him is now confirmed dead,” she said very dramatically. “Calvin Phillips, shot to death in his own house. Phillips’ wife and neighbor are still missing, although deputies found two bodies burned up in a car. The Christian County Sheriff’s Department says deputies found evidence at this crime scene, leading a SWAT team to swarm Martin’s house.”
What Hall did not say in her report is that the major’s lead defense attorney, Bill Summers, had as much interest in questioning Phillips as Army prosecutors did. Why? Because Phillips was that “other person” mentioned earlier in this piece — the one who stood alongside the major’s ex-wife in making the long-ago-proven-false allegations of theft and international spying. Heck, Summers even told Hall about this Tuesday, she reported it Tuesday evening, and I mentioned her report in a piece the next day.
Instead of mentioning that detail, Hall cut to a clip of Capt. Chris Miller, a spokesperson for the Christian County Sheriff’s Office, saying, “…and we did obtain some evidence out of that home. Can’t say specifically what it is or what it relates to at this point…”
From there, the reporter continued in voiceover mode as short video clips — the first showing a man walking from an SUV in a poorly-lit area and two more showing sheriff’s vehicles — appeared on screen.
“Martin spent four nights locked in Fort Campbell barracks but it now out and back home,” she said. “Detectives say they are working closely with the Army in investigating this case. In these online videos, the major claims his innocence in the charges against him, filed by his ex-wife.”
In reality, Major Martin was not “locked up,” and I had told her as much over the phone. Specifically, I told her what I had been told by Army LTC Chevelle Thomas, a Fort Campbell Public Affairs officer — that is, “Commanders of Fort Campbell have the authority to put administrative limitations (on personnel) within their command.” On top of that, I described his circumstances, for lack of a better phrase, as “house arrest,” and told her the major was not in any kind of a jail cell. Why she opted to use the word “locked” instead? It must have sounded more dramatic to her — or, perhaps, her producer.
As the end of her report neared, Hall cut to the “money shot,” Major Martin behind his desk again, saying, “…and her immediate response was, and I quote, ‘If you divorce me, I will ruin your career. I will ruin your life. I know how to do it.’”
The major’s image remained on screen, his voice fading so that Hall’s could be heard replacing it as she ended her report with the words, “Now, Major Martin has more explaining to do to homicide detectives.”
If it wasn’t so serious a topic, I’d say she sounded like Ricky Ricardo on the old “I Love Lucy” television show, but without the Puerto Rican accent.
Nowhere in Hall’s report did she mention the possibility someone other than Major Martin might have some explaining to do. Among those people is the major’s aforementioned ex-wife, a woman who pleaded guilty in Christian County Court Oct. 14 to a felony charge of bigamy (i.e., she admitted to having married Major Martin without telling him she was still married to another man). Interestingly, this plea came only weeks before the major’s military trial — on the sexual assault allegations she had made — which was scheduled to begin at Fort Campbell. As I reported two days ago, the trial has been ordered delayed indefinitely by a military judge.
And nowhere in Hall’s report did she mention Major Martin’s bigamist ex-wife is, since pleading guilty to the felony count Oct. 14 in Christian County Court, living under judge-imposed travel restrictions, not allowed to travel outside Christian County except to travel to the country where her only legal husband — and father of her second and third child — lives. In addition, she stands to forfeit her $5,000 bond and/or go to jail if she violates those restrictions prior to her sentencing in February.
Though tempted to add details about other omissions by Hall, I’ll save them for future use and wrap things up on the first flawed report.
After watching Hall’s report, I sent her an email message, advising her she had used my excerpts from my copyrighted video without permission. Later, I received a reply in which she asked how much I would charge for use of the video. When I did not reply quickly enough (on the evening before Thanksgiving), she messaged me again to let me know the station would take the video down. And they did, though I later advised her I wouldn’t really charge the station for using the video.
At this point, the report remains off air and, as Martha Stewart might say, “That’s a good thing.”
THE SECOND FLAWED REPORT
The second flawed report, a screenshot of which is shown below in case it, too, disappears from the Fox 17 website, was published Thanksgiving Day under the error-filled headline, Fort Campbell Major Investigated in Pembroke, Ky., Quadruple Murder Investigation.
Quadruple murder investigation? Fox 17 is the only news outlet to report four murders in relationship to this case. Perhaps, they know more than the rest of us. Needless to say, I won’t waste anyone’s time reporting the content of the video segment that appeared beneath that headline.
Stay tuned for more developments as they occur.
UPDATE 12/7/2015 at 8:15 a.m. Central: A military judge continued the military trial date for Army Maj. Christian “Kit” Martin to sometime in March 2016, though no specific date has been set.
UPDATE 12/10/2015 at 11:10 a.m. Central: I’ve learned that Major Martin’s military trial date is set for March 14-18, 2016.
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