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This Week On Metro Connection: Year In Review

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And happy almost end of 2012. Can you believe it? It's almost the end of the year. But before we ring in 2013, we wanted to pause a bit and bring you a sort of year in review. And we don't mean the year in review that covers the big huge stories of 2012. Instead, we want to bring you stories that are, you might say, quintessentially "Metro Connection," stories that take you on unexpected adventures across the region.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN

When the poop hits the fan, the adrenalin flows.

SHEIR

And introduce you to some particularly intriguing characters.

WOMAN

Yeah, I'm known as the cat lady.

SHEIR

First, though, we'll head to Clarke County, Va. Just turned right onto Cool Spring Road and we are surrounded by corn. Right in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lots and lots of corn on the left-side of the road, on the right-side of the road, to a 1,200 acre Trappist monastery. Wow, this place, like, goes on forever, known as Holy Cross Abbey. Okay, here we are. Holy Cross was founded in 1950 when an elegant 18th century house, since then Trappist monks have lived in the house and the attached dormitory in accordance with the rule of Saint Benedict, a religious tradition established in the 7th century, living quiet lives of renunciation, simplicity and contemplation.

SHEIR

The monastery grew rapidly in its first 20 years, and at its height, it was home to 60 monks.

BROTHER BARNABAS BROWNSEY

And we're down to about 13 now, I think. So there's been quite an attrition.

SHEIR

And as Brother Barnabas Brownsey points out, it isn't just the number of monks that's changed over the past 62 years, it's the age. The eldest monk, Brother Edward, is in his early 90s. Father Joseph, the youngest, is 55. So Brother Barnabas...

BROWNSEY

I'm 78 years old.

SHEIR

...is just a little bit older than the average. And like several of his fellow monks, he admits he isn't in the best of health. He actually ran the monastery's fruitcake bakery for 15 years. It produces, like, 15,000 cakes annually.

BROWNSEY

But then, one year, my understudy enrolled in the seminary, so he was not available for the fruitcake season. And at the end of the season, I was busted. I was burned out.

SHEIR

Holy Cross's abbot, Father Robert, took note of the situation and called Barnabas into his office where he promptly took him off fruitcake duty.

BROWNSEY

I said, Father, if I was able, I'd jump across the desk and kiss you. So he was relieved, and so was I.

SHEIR

We're laughing here, sure, but here's the thing, Holy Cross's monks are getting older and so are the men who've been joining the order. Most have already had another whole career, if not two or three. I mean, take Brother Barnabas, he'd been an engineer, an executive and an English teacher and had been married with kids. Brother Efrain Sosa worked at a university in New York City, got licensed as a funeral director and spent 20 years as a Capuchin Franciscan friar.

BROTHER EFRAIN SOSA

At age 53, I decided I want to do this. And so I came here and they accepted me.

SHEIR

These days, Brother Efrain is the abbey's vocation director and novice director, so he's in charge of recruiting new men and guiding beginning monks. Traditionally, is the vocation director also the novice director?

SOSA

No. No, it's usually separate. But in our case because we're so small right now, we multitask here. That's our middle names, "Efrain Multi-task Sosa."

SHEIR

Okay, once again we laugh and to be honest, all this laughing did kind of surprise me in a place devoted to a centuries long tradition of quiet contemplation. But the thing is, while Brother Efrain may hold two jobs, his hands aren't necessarily all that full. Are there any novices now?

SOSA

No. We don't have any. We have a few people that are interested. In fact, at the end of this month, we have two people that'll be coming to investigate the life.

SHEIR

Now, whether they'll choose to stay is anyone's guess. The most recent observer at Holy Cross to become a postulant and then a novice, then to take solemn vows was Brother Efrain himself.

SOSA

And I've been a monk here now for seven years.

SHEIR

But while Holy Cross has a clear social problem, fewer potential monks and older, current monks, the traditionally self-supporting abbey also has its share of financial issues. Because, let's face it, the market for fruitcake isn't exactly what it used to be. And since the monks are too old to run their decades-old beef-cattle operation, they've been leasing their 800 acres of cow pasture and feed core and land at less than market rate. The monks also have a retreat house for visitors. That's where I stayed during my visit. But the house barely brings in enough money to cover its own costs. And yet, when I ask Brother Efrain and Brother Barnabas about all of this, they have the same basic response.

SOSA

This is God's work.

BROWNSEY

It's in God's hands.

SOSA

This is not ours.

BROWNSEY

If God wants us to be here...

SOSA

If God wants this monastery to be here...

BROWNSEY

...we'll be here.

SOSA

...it will be here.

BROWNSEY

If he doesn't, we'll go somewhere else.

SOSA

His Will always comes through.

BROWNSEY

God's Will, will be what will be and it's up to us to accept it.

SHEIR

But meanwhile, adds Brother Barnabas...

BROWNSEY

We have to do the best we can with what we have. It's as simple as that.

SHEIR

Which is why, in 2007, Holy Cross embarked on a five-year plan to make the monastery more sustainable. How are you?

MR. ED LEONARD

Good. Was that too long of a walk?

SHEIR

It was lovely.

LEONARD

Yeah.

SHEIR

Lovely. And as the five years come to a close, the guy heading up the sustainability efforts is Chief Sustainability Officer Ed Leonard. So what is this structure in which we are standing?

LEONARD

This is our funeral chapel, but I think we need to call it something else. I'm not sure chapel is really the right word, commemoration building?

SHEIR

Whatever the term, the wood building is about the size of your average barn, with open walls, kind of like a picnic shelter at a park, only this one has a bell, a steeple and a composting toilet. It's part of the new Cool Spring Natural Cemetery, a green burial ground for people of all faiths. Is there -- is there like a wooden casket, is there no casket?

LEONARD

If you'd like a wood casket, that's perfectly fine, but you can also be buried in just a shroud. You know, what could be more green than laying a body in the ground and just letting the ground do what it's done for millions of years?

SHEIR

But the green cemetery isn't the only way Holy Cross hopes to become more sustainable. It's placed 200 acres of land in a conservation easement. And it's transformed more than 100 acres of cattle pasture along the river, in to cropland.

LEONARD

Cattle are very tough on the land. And the cattle would use the river to drink from, and of course when the cattle would go into the river, they would do the things cattle do in rivers and that would all go to the Chesapeake Bay.

SHEIR

The abbey is cost-sharing the land with nearby Great Country Farms, whose workers have spent months planting a bevy of fruits and vegetables at Holy Cross, everything from tomatoes, zucchini and squash...

LEONARD

Here to our left we have an asparagus patch.

SHEIR

...to cucumbers, blueberries and cantaloupe, which incidentally -- fresh cantaloupe...

LEONARD

Yeah, how about that.

SHEIR

...may very well be the most succulent cantaloupe I've ever tasted.

LEONARD

I even have napkins.

SHEIR

I don't need a napkin. I need a napkin. Ed Leonard says he's confident these initiatives will get Holy Cross Abbey back on firm financial footing. And when I ask Brother Efrain and Brother Barnabas how they feel, curious to get your thoughts about that, lessening the number of cattle and making more farming, the cemetery, the open air chapel. What are your thoughts on all of these projects? They both second Ed's motion.

SOSA

It's all exciting for us because it's for our future. We need something to sustain us in the future.

BROWNSEY

I think we're going to have sufficient revenue to continue, to go on.

SHEIR

But Brother Barnabas hastens to add, much still depends on God's Will.

BROWNSEY

And now all we have to do is hope that God will choose younger men, by young, you know, 40s, 50s and that they will come. They will hear the call and come.

SHEIR

To see photos of Holy Cross Abbey, including the green cemetery, the farm, the 18th century house, the fruitcake bakery, even some chocolate covered fruitcake, which the monks call Frater's or Fraters, visit our website metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

As Brother Barnabas and the other Holy Cross monks wait for more men to hear the call, they're also taking steps to ensure the monastery's future in more sustainable ways. They're hoping to rely less on their fruitcake bakery and beef-cattle operation, and more on one of Holy Cross's greatest natural resources...

MR. JOSEPH VANTU

The land.

SHEIR

1,200 acres of land to be precise. And this Holy Cross resident.

VANTU

I am Joseph Vantu.

SHEIR

Or Brother Joseph.

VANTU

I'm 75 years old. Originally, I'm from Vietnam.

SHEIR

Goes so far as to compare that land to gold.

VANTU

Just like Middle East, they have oil, that's gold for them.

SHEIR

But the key, he says, is using the Abbey's gold appropriately, which is why he's so excited about two brand new efforts here at Holy Cross. First, a green cemetery, which doesn't do embalming, or use non-biodegradable burial materials, and second, a fruit and vegetable farm, run by the Abbey's Loudoun County neighbors.

MS. KATE ZURSCHMEIDE

All right, so we're getting yellow, right?

SHEIR

Yeah, I've never had a yellow zucchini. Just across the Blue Ridge Mountains.

ZURSCHMEIDE

Look at this one.

SHEIR

Great Country Farms. Oh, wow.

ZURSCHMEIDE

That one got a little bit, this one got a little bit over.

SHEIR

How big would you say that is?

ZURSCHMEIDE

I don't even know. It's probably...

SHEIR

It's pretty giant.

ZURSCHMEIDE

Isn't that crazy? That would definitely make a lot of zucchini bread.

SHEIR

Kate Zurschmeide co-owns Great Country Farms with her husband, Mark.

ZURSCHMEIDE

I'm part of the Zurshmeide family, and we have been farming in Loudoun for about 40 years. And we're starting here at the monastery in Clarke, and looking forward to a long relationship.

SHEIR

And as it happens, that relationship came about in a most serendipitous way.

ZURSCHMEIDE

One of our lifelong friends has been providing hospice care here to one of the older monks. And when she heard that the monks were looking to expand into growing crops and trying to have some sustainable use of their farm, said, hey, you need to talk to the Zurschmeide family. They're right across the river; they're 10 minutes away.

LEONARD

Mark and Kate were about the fourth family we had spoken to about this idea.

SHEIR

Ed Leonard is the chief sustainability officer at Holy Cross Abbey.

LEONARD

We were looking in Maryland, we were looking in Pennsylvania, we were looking all over the place. And it was so incredible that Mark and Kate were in our backyard, and we didn't know it.

SHEIR

What's also incredible is that Mark and Kate had actually been seeking more land at the time. And what's more, Ed says.

LEONARD

They were compatible with all the values the monks had. They understand the value of treating this land gently.

SHEIR

Now while the fruits and vegetables grown here aren't certified organic, Kate says Great Country Farms does apply more sustainable practices here, like using fish-emulsion fertilizer.

ZURSCHMEIDE

Instead of, you know, chemical fertilizers.

SHEIR

Growing plants on plastic.

ZURSCHMEIDE

So we use a suppression technique rather than spraying an herbicide every week on all of the fields.

SHEIR

And using pesticides on an as-needed basis.

ZURSCHMEIDE

Rather than every Monday, you nuke the squash, and every Tuesday you nuke the orchard, and things like that.

SHEIR

While Holy Cross Abbey has been providing the land, Great Country Farms has been providing the labor and infrastructure. So things like putting up deer fencing, tilling the land, and doing all the planting and harvesting. But instead of Holy Cross getting a flat rental fee, it gets a percentage of Great County farms revenue. Though, as Ed Leonard points out, there is no annual contract.

LEONARD

And so we're doing cost-sharing with the Zurschmeides. For instance, these 2,000 apple trees that they planted on Good Friday, we're splitting the cost of that. We don't think they should have to financially bear the entire burden and risk. So with an annual contract, that was just too much to ask.

SHEIR

And though the partnership is no more than a few months old, Ed says it's looking more and more like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Kate Zurschmeide agrees.

ZURSCHMEIDE

You know we would love to be in it for the long haul. And to me, if somebody says, 'Plant apple trees,' which have a, you know, 20-year harvest life span. That bodes well for a long-term relationship.

SHEIR

Great Country Farms started planting on this mile-and-a-half stretch beside the Shenandoah River in March. And because this land is so loamy and rich, while you usually wouldn't harvest something like squash until July...

ZURSCHMEIDE

We started the first week of June this year...

SHEIR

Which has been a pleasant, if profuse, surprise for Great Country Farms' 2,000-some CSA customers. These community-supported agriculture members order produce pre-season, and then get 20 deliveries between June and October.

ZURSCHMEIDE

We've been inundating people with squash this year because they're just producing like crazy and so one of our members has actually started 104 Days of Squash Challenge. He's like taken on a blog where he's going to post up a new squash recipe for 104 days, just to deal with the volume that's coming.

SHEIR

But the CSA folks aren't the only ones who get to partake in that volume. Do you see any plans of providing food to the Monastery?

ZURSCHMEIDE

Well, right now, we do a regular stop by at the Monastery for the monks themselves.

SHEIR

Who, by the way, are all vegetarian.

ZURSCHMEIDE

So last week we dropped off some apples and apricots and squash. And I think they're all enjoying having some fresh produce from their own land.

SHEIR

And in the case of Brother Joseph, anyway, Kate's definitely right. He's been enjoying a lot more produce since becoming a monk nine years ago. And now bonus, it will be local. So you are 75?

VANTU

Oh, yes, I am.

SHEIR

You don't look like you're 75.

VANTU

You know why? Because I eat beans. Beans is my favorite. Before I entered here, I don't know that food well. It was just beef, steak or some other, McDonald's. I didn't have bean at all. But over here, I like it. Now I feel young.

SHEIR

Of course, the monastery and its monks aren't actually getting any younger. So Brother Joseph hopes the farm at Holy Cross will help his beloved home live on, both by raising revenue and by making the Abbey more appealing to a younger generation.

VANTU

This is one problem we cannot solve by ourselves. In our house now we are old, so we had to need outside to come and help us to make an environment for newcomers to accept the life over here.

SHEIR

For now, Brother Joseph says he's praying for a positive future. One that's bright, one that's beautiful, and just like the land itself, one that brings forth a bounty of gold.

SHEIR

To learn more about Holy Cross Abbey and Great Country Farms including how you can become a member of their CSA, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." With the final days of 2012 upon us, this week we're bringing you our year in review as we look back at some of the stories that really stuck with us over the past 12 months. In just a bit, we'll spend some time on the overnight shift with doctors in a cardiac intensive care unit and we'll head back to Virginia where people are reviewing years of criminal convictions and tossing some of them out. First, though, we're going to look at an issue that affects many children here in D.C., HIV.

SHEIR

More than 14,000 D.C. residents are living with HIV and among those infected, perhaps none are as vulnerable as children and adolescents. Earlier this year, Kavitha Cardoza talked with two young people about living with the disease. And please note their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

Kendra's childhood was a blur of medical appointments.

KENDRA

Getting your blood drawn, having to get shots, getting sick by a drop of a dime.

CARDOZA

Her mother didn't tell her what was wrong with her, but made her take 10 pills a day.

KENDRA

It was just hard because I would have to come in the house early and sit there and take medicine and everyone else was outside playing. Like, why? Why me?

CARDOZA

Kendra is 20 now. But she remembers when she was 13 and a doctor finally told her she was HIV positive.

KENDRA

I got really scared and freaked out and I was just crying hysterically. That was a wild day for me.

CARDOZA

Kendra had contracted the disease from her mother who apologized and sat sobbing beside her. But even as Kendra found out she had something in common with her mother, she realized she was different from other family members who don't have HIV.

KENDRA

I have a younger sibling and an older sibling who are perfectly normal and I'm not saying I'm not normal, I'm saying I have to wake up and think about this every day.

CARDOZA

To the outside, Kendra is bubbly and outgoing. She doesn't tell anyone about her diagnosis and says her secret is like carrying a heavy weight in her heart. She hasn't even told her best friend.

KENDRA

She would just look at me different and give me so much sympathy. And I wake up every day with a smile on my face because I'm waking up.

CARDOZA

When Kendra has an appointment, she just says she has to see her doctor and lets her friends assume what they want.

KENDRA

They possibly think it's sickle cell or something like that because I always come back with band aids on my arms. So they're like, oh, she's getting blood drawn, it's sickle cell.

CARDOZA

Kendra watches her friends go out on dates. Some even have children. She misses having a boyfriend.

KENDRA

You just really want to get to know a guy. You're at the age where you want to have sex, but you're scared.

CARDOZA

She remembers sitting through her 9th grade health class listening to her teacher talk about HIV. And all those anonymous questions asking for specific answers? No one knew they came from her.

KENDRA

It helped me learn how you can be a normal person and no one can ever know. So I thank God for that, that I still look normal.

CARDOZA

You look really stylish.

KENDRA

Thank you, thank you. I do this to encourage myself. I try to make at least the outside appearance look nice, even if I'm not having a wonderful day.

CARDOZA

Kendra says the one place she can be herself is at the hospital in the doctor's office.

KENDRA

Yes. Yes. Because everybody who knows me here knows that I have a problem. I feel really free and open and can just talk.

CARDOZA

Kendra has a full-time job and is also a full-time student. She says she tries hard to remember all the blessings in her life, but there are times, like one day recently, when she feels God has forgotten her.

KENDRA

I was in so much pain and I was so tired. And I just thought, like, when will it be over? That was the day I thought about death a lot.

CARDOZA

She's anxious about whether she might become like her mother who, after 25 years of living with HIV has, as Kendra puts it, more down than up days. She wonders whether she'll ever find a partner who will accept her diagnosis. And she always worries that someone might find out. But Kendra has also realized how strong she is.

KENDRA

I have HIV. HIV doesn't have me. I was put here for a reason. And I haven't fully met that potential. So I'm going to keep striving for it.

CARDOZA

Kendra was born with HIV. But in most cases, the virus is transmitted sexually. And even though it's the same disease that needs the same medications and the same support, young people who acquire HIV sexually often feel the stigma even more strongly. Luke, who's 18 now, was 12 when he first had sex with a classmate. When he was 14, he saw a video about safe sex in school and decided to get tested. But when it came time to get the results...

LUKE

I talked to my friend and they told me don't worry about it, you don't have it. So I did not go and get my results.

CARDOZA

Two years later, Luke donated blood and found out he was HIV positive.

LUKE

I walked out, my face was motionless. I was so confused.

CARDOZA

Luke says he knew unprotected sex put him at risk for HIV, he just didn't think it would happen to him.

LUKE

I was young. I was thinking it's everyone else's problem, not mine.

CARDOZA

This soft-spoken teenager doesn't allow himself to think about his life before HIV, whom he may have infected before he learned of his diagnosis or even who infected him.

LUKE

I just really have blocked that out of my head. I got to think forward.

CARDOZA

But in the early morning quiet, Luke admits he wishes he could rewind his life.

LUKE

Every day. Every day I wish I could live another life.

CARDOZA

Luke has told his two best friends about his diagnosis. With everyone else, he's quiet when the subject comes up.

LUKE

My friend the other day had a rash. He goes like, I was at the beach. The sand was irritating me. And he was like, eww, you've got AIDS, like, go away, you got cooties. I didn't say anything.

CARDOZA

He hasn't told a single family member. His mother works two jobs and he didn't want to upset her with the news.

LUKE

That's a pain that no parent wants to know. And if I was in her shoes, that's not the words I would want to hear from my child.

CARDOZA

Besides, Luke says, everyone has a secret they don't want anyone to know. This is his. And it's one that's easy to keep at home.

LUKE

My mom doesn't go through my room. I do my own doctor's appointments.

CARDOZA

Medicaid pays for Luke's treatment and medicines and he hides the paperwork. He's on one pill a day and doesn't have side effects. So nothing much has changed on a day-to-day basis. But he has changed as a person. Luke had plans for his future before his diagnosis. No more.

LUKE

I don't look forward to the rest of my life. I think I'm going to die young.

CARDOZA

He sees his life now, not in terms of years, but in terms of fun. So he goes out all the time with his friends. He has protected sex, but doesn't tell the girls he's with that he's HIV positive. He's determined to be optimistic.

LUKE

You can't just think of life like it's horrible, it's hard. I mean, it is hard. It is horrible. You fall down and you get right back up. You can't just sit there. You have to get right back up.

CARDOZA

These young people are trying their best to keep getting back up. But part of the challenge they face that they can't control is whether their friends, their families and the outside world can start seeing past their illness. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.

SHEIR

One of the spots that treats many children living with HIV in the District is Children's National Medical Center. Children's is also home to a cardiac intensive care unit where doctors and nurses spend their nights performing small and sometimes large miracles armed with compassion, a healthy dose of caffeine and a heaping helping of medical expertise. Jonathan Wilson spent a night inside that unit where he talked with staffers and families who are thankful for their help.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

With the proliferation of hospital dramas on primetime television these days, it's very easy to forget just how quiet the nightshift in a hospital can be. But inside the cardiac ICU at Children's National Medical Center, the only ICU in the D.C. area focusing specifically on cardiac patients, it's often quiet and harrowing at the same time.

DR. CRAIG FUTTERMAN

All right. His heart is much better, but he still has diastolic dysfunction. So we're just going to proceed slowly as he continues to recover.

WILSON

Dr. Craig Futterman is in charge tonight. Right now, he's making rounds getting and giving updates on the 16 children here tonight. He says two or three children are still unstable requiring interventions every 20 minutes or so. But he thinks all are headed in the right direction. But he also says things can change very quickly.

FUTTERMAN

What I've decided over the years, I'm no longer going to be surprised by anything that can happen. I have to be ready to say, all right, I can be awake all night, and I can do it.

WILSON

Futterman is one of seven attending doctors who rotate through this ICU. He ends up working the nightshift about once a week. He's a small energetic man who sports a closely-cropped salt and pepper beard and he likes talking about cardiology. That's a good thing for Dr. Peter Dean, the cardiology fellow on call tonight. Dean is near the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to doctors here and one of the reasons he's here, other than to help save lives. is to learn from Dr. Futterman. Dean says the nightshift can be exhausting, but it's actually the slow nights that get to him.

DR. PETER DEAN

The really -- the slow nights or the ones that kids aren't very sick, that's great. That's a wonderful thing. But sometimes that night drags on. It's 1:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m. whereas if there's a lot going on, new kids coming in, then sometimes you turn around, it's 7:00 and you're ready to go home and it goes by quickly.

WILSON

Tonight, one child doctors and nurses are watching closely is two-week-old Zachary Wancjer. He was born five weeks premature with a congenital defect known as Tetralogy of Fallot, which affects the way blood mixes and flows in his heart. He's a day removed from corrective surgery and his tiny body seems lost amid all the tubes and sensors surrounding him. Zachary's father Hershel says even though he and his wife Dana knew about their son's condition before he was born, the emotional peaks and valleys of the past couple of weeks have been extreme.

HERSHEL WANCJER

It's a rollercoaster. We're on sort of an uptick. Last night was sort of a downtick. He had a rough first night adapting to all the changes that they made in his heart.

WILSON

Dana Wancjer said she's actually been getting a few three-hour stretches of sleep while her son is sedated to help him heal.

DANA WANCJER

Once he comes out of the paralysis state and the sedation and he's more awake, I probably won't ever leave this room. So I'm trying to sort of think about that and take advantage of resting now 'cause there will be a time probably soon, perhaps by tomorrow, that that won't be happening.

WILSON

But while patients and their families can sometimes snatch some sleep and even doctors can occasionally lie down for a few hours, it's nurses who often literally keep the blood bumping here.

MANCCI BARRIS

Why don't you go now?

WOMAN

Because I -- like, I can't leave you with all this to do.

WOMAN

Can you go? Please go. You need a break. See ya. You exit.

WILSON

Mancci Barris (sp?) is one of the charge nurses in the ICU. A native of the Philippines, she stands less than 5' tall and seems perpetually to have a disproportionately large cup of coffee at her side.

BARRIS

Oh, yes. I can't do nightshift without coffee.

WILSON

Barris says she likes the nightshift better. There are fewer doctors and nurses roaming the halls and a greater opportunity to focus on patients. And Barris says the sometimes quiet atmosphere means the staff needs to be even more prepared for the worst when it comes.

BARRIS

You need to have a strong staff of highly skilled workers to respond to whatever emergencies that could possibly erupt because we're it.

WILSON

For all the coffee they may consume, Dr. Futterman says all it takes for the doctors and nurses here to shift into high gear is a patient who needs help. Even after 25 years and even though he's sworn off ever being surprised, a busy ICU is enough to make him a little nervous. And he says that's a good thing.

FUTTERMAN

Sometimes if it's a very busy unit with a lot of unstable patients, all right, I'll have a little bit of angst going into it. But I'll tell you, if it's been a very busy night and I've done my job well, it's a rush. You know, you leave the unit in the morning knowing that everybody's still alive. A bunch of them could've died, but didn't because of the good work that you did. It's a great feeling.

WILSON

And make no mistake, even on a quite night like this one, lives have been changed and saved in the cardiac ICU. I'm Jonathan Wilson.

SHEIR

We return to Virginia now for a story about the past and how it's playing a major role in the present. As with any state, Virginia's been home to a number of criminal trials and the books closed on many of these cases awhile back. They would have stayed that way, too, but thanks to a forensic scientist's unusual work habits and a convicted felon's quest to clear his name, Virginia is now scouring old DNA evidence for judicial errors.

SHEIR

Over the past decade the massive review has uncovered at least 10 wrongful convictions. And according to a recent study of the data, more exonerations could be forthcoming, along with more information on the true rate of wrongful convictions. Jacob Fenston has the story.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

Back in the '70s and '80s, before the advent of DNA testing, forensic science was limited to things like testing blood stains to see if they matched the blood type of a suspect.

MS. KELLY WALSH

Is this Type A blood? Is this Type B?

FENSTON

Kelly Walsh is with the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center. She says one of the analysts in Virginia whose job it was to do this testing, well, she had a peculiar habit.

WALSH

She would take swabbings or clippings from the original evidence and tape them to her files.

FENSTON

The tip of q-tip from a rape kit or the tiny corner of a stained sheet. Now, this was not standard procedure. And this analyst, her name was Mary Jane Burton, she wasn't thinking ahead, planning for the day when DNA testing would be invented, she just liked to keep these little bits of evidence as a prop to hold up in court and tell the jury...

WALSH

This is what I tested.

FENSTON

When Burton passed away in 1999, she left behind this secret archive of evidence, the DNA of thousands of convicted offenders was hidden away in storage.

MR. MARVIN ANDERSON

During the trial, basically I remember is that she had notes in front of her.

FENSTON

In 1982, Marvin Anderson was on trial for a rape that had occurred earlier that year in rural Hanover County Virginia. It was the summer before senior year of high school, when his life took this abrupt turn. One Tuesday he went into work at his summer job and got called into the office.

ANDERSON

No reason why, just, you know, come to the office. And when I arrived at the office there was two officers from Hanover County and Ashland Sheriff Department standing there waiting on me.

FENSTON

Anderson had no criminal record, but he was identified by photo and then in a line-up.

ANDERSON

From that moment when I was standing in the Hanover jail, I knew I was going to prison. Automatic, straight from the bet, I knew I was going, whether I did the crime or didn't do the crime, I knew I was going to prison.

FENSTON

He was put away at age 18 and wouldn't get out of prison for 15 years. When DNA technology came along, he wanted his evidence tested, but his lawyer at the Innocence Project in New York kept getting the same answer from the state crime lab.

MS. SHAWN AMBRUST

We don’t save evidence. We send it back to the submitting agency.

FENSTON

Shawn Ambrust with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project says the students working on Anderson's case were so convinced he was innocent they wouldn't take no for an answer.

AMBRUST

Can you just look? You know, these students won't leave me alone.

FENSTON

In 2001, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science finally pulled Anderson's file out of storage.

AMBRUST

Oh, wow, there's evidence here.

FENSTON

Taped inside were the q-tips from 1982, little snippings of evidence Mary Jane Burton had saved. In 2002, then Governor Mark Warner pardoned Anderson, officially exonerating him of the crime that took place 20 years earlier.

GOVERNOR MARK WARNER

What struck me, not just with Mr. Anderson, but a few other folks, was that how little malice they bore, how little bitterness they had.

FENSTON

Anderson was the first, but over the next two years, four more men were exonerated by the evidence Mary Jane Burton had saved.

WARNER

Yeah, I was very surprised.

FENSTON

So in 2005, Warner ordered the state to test every case where evidence had been retained. The Department of Forensic Science began sifting through more than half a million case files. Kelly Walsh with the Urban Institute says this test-them-all approach created a totally unique set of data.

WALSH

What Virginia did is take the traditional methods of looking for wrongful convictions and turn it on its head.

FENSTON

In June, the Urban Institute released a report finding the evidence in Virginia supported exoneration in 38 cases. If you do the math and subtract the cases where the DNA was too corrupted to provide any answers, the report suggests a possible wrongful conviction rate of eight percent in murder cases and 15 percent in sexual assault cases. But Walsh says those numbers come with caveats and further study is needed.

WALSH

Even if reality is half of this, even if reality is closer to four percent or 7.5 percent, that's still much, much higher than any previous estimate from other research.

FENSTON

But Virginia's DNA testing project has been mired in criticism throughout. Shawn Ambrust with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project says in the early years, the state was extremely secretive about the whole project.

AMBRUST

I think a lot of the issue is that the project was so overwhelming. And it was given to the State Crime Laboratory itself. And they're good at science, but it was hard for them to sort of conceive of come up with a plan that made sense for the criminal justice system as a whole.

FENSTON

For example, the Commonwealth's clunky process of tracking down convicts who could possibly be exonerated by DNA. In the beginning the state would simply mail a letter to the convict's last known address.

MR. JON SHELDON

Basically, what it's saying is we're the government, we're here to help, contact us if you need us. And this is being sent to people who have been wrongfully convicted by the government.

FENSTON

Jon Sheldon, a criminal defense lawyer in Fairfax, is one of several attorneys who volunteered to help the Commonwealth track people down. Now Sheldon is moving onto the next batch of 60-something names.

SHELDON

Statistically, from our past experience, there should be a couple of these guys who are innocent.

FENSTON

Altogether, the state has to track down more than 1000 offenders from the '70s and '80s. So far, several hundred have been found. Finding the rest could take months or years. I'm Jacob Fenston.

SHEIR

After the break, D.C.'s first ladies of basketball.

WOMAN

They were, like, bouncing the ball off each other and just "bow" slam-dunking it and it was, like, I'm in love.

SHEIR

That story and more coming your way on "Metro Connection" on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. Today, we're looking back at the year that was and bringing you some of our favorite stories from the past 12 months. This next story in our year in review comes from our up-all-night edition of the show back in June. In case you missed it, oh, it was a ton of fun.

SHEIR

We chowed down at an all night diner. We chatted up night owl tourists on the National Mall. And we searched for the sorts of creatures that prowl our urban landscape long after the sun goes down. Among those creatures, feral cats. Genetically, they're like a housecat, but they're born in the wild. And as Sabri Ben-Achour tells us, trying to get a handle on these felines keeps a very particular group of individuals up all night and well into the morning.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

In an alley off of 10th Street Northeast, old grapevines, garbage cans and chain link fences are all the same yellow hue under the harsh glow of street lamps. It's 4:00 in the morning. Amanda Novotny is unloading her station wagon.

MS. AMANDA NOVOTNY

So these are humane box traps.

BEN-ACHOUR

Novotny is with Alley Cat Allies. She's trapping feral cats.

NOVOTNY

So when the cats enter the trap, they have to go all the way to the back to get the food and they step on a trip plate which makes the door close behind them.

BEN-ACHOUR

There are at least 13 feral cats, including five kittens that live in this alley.

MS. PAT GILLIAM

Well, I could show you the damage they've done to my car.

BEN-ACHOUR

Pat Gilliam is a neighbor. She watches the scene from her balcony.

GILLIAM

These cats are too wild. They keep mating. And when they mate, it's a bunch of raucous. You know that. And then the babies come and they get aggressive because of the kittens and, like, they attack my dog and me.

BEN-ACHOUR

Amanda Novotny and another neighbor, Kathy Sinzinger walk up to a back porch full of cats and set out the traps.

MS. KATHY SINZINGER

The black and white one on the steps is the grandma cat who's been sentry.

NOVOTNY

Smelling around the front of the cage -- the trap thinking about it.

BEN-ACHOUR

Thinking about it, but like typical cats, grandma is unimpressed.

GILLIAM

We all have a bet that the black and white one will never be caught because she's smart.

BEN-ACHOUR

After a half hour, one of the mothers takes the bait. She isn't happy, not at all. But these cats aren't being taken away, at least not for long. They're just taking a trip to the vet, says Novotny.

NOVOTNY

So male cats are neutered, female cats are spayed. They're getting their rabies vaccination. Their left ear, the very tip of that is removed so the ear tip is a universal sign that lets people know that that cat has already undergone spay neuter surgery. We'll pick them up tomorrow morning and release them tomorrow afternoon.

BEN-ACHOUR

This is called Trap Neuter Release or TNR, fix the cats and put them back. Novotny says after getting fixed, they won't be as aggressive, won't howl, won't fight and most importantly won't reproduce. Still having the cats back doesn't thrill Gilliam.

GILLIAM

I just feel that they shouldn't be able to run loose like this.

BEN-ACHOUR

The alternative, though, is for the cats to be put down. Feral adult cats taken to a shelter will get euthanized because they're unadoptable.

GILLIAM

See, I do not want any animal euthanized at all. I just wish they had a home, but they too wild to have a home, aren't they? No, bring them back. No, bring them back.

BEN-ACHOUR

As she speaks, the colony's matriarch finally takes notice of the trap.

GILLIAM

Mama's going in there. We got mama. Yeah, 'cause mama is the ring leader, okay?

BEN-ACHOUR

Now Trap Neuter Return has its detractors.

MR. ROBERT JOHNS

There is no reason to believe it works.

BEN-ACHOUR

Robert Johns is with the American Bird Conservancy.

JOHNS

The University of Nebraska did an exhaustive literature search on this issue and they could not find a single legitimate case where TNR actually eliminated a cat colony.

BEN-ACHOUR

And, he points out, cats are predators.

JOHNS

When you save the cat by putting it in a colony, what in fact you're doing is killing a handful of wildlife every year.

BEN-ACHOUR

He claims 500 million birds and other small creatures are killed by cats every year. TNR advocates point to numerous anecdotal cases where the practice has worked, including at sites in D.C. And Fairfax County says the strategy has reduced the number of feral kittens brought into its shelters by almost 60 percent. Back on 10th Street with almost all of the adult cats in traps, Novotny has just pulled two kittens out of a drainpipe. These kittens are young enough to be socialized. Unlike most of the cats born on the streets of D.C., they are now looking for a home. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

SHEIR

You can find photos, tips on deterring feral cats and information on how to adopt kittens on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

We'll stay in D.C. for this next story, but we're going to move south to Barry Farms, where neighbors are coming together over allie-oops, slam dunks and fast breaks. The Goodman League consists of about 18 basketball teams that play from June to September. The league draws fans from all over the area. And at most games, right in the front row, you'll find a few devoted fans known as the First Ladies.

SHEIR

Jonna McKone and Emily Berman caught up with several of the ladies, DNice Reeves and sisters Tangie and Tya Travers, back in July as they got ready for a big game.

WOMAN

These are shoes. You see they have all these gold shingles and see the design there and they're so comfortable. It's nothing -- oh, one thing that can be challenging is you don't wear heels to the game. I mean, it's just a no-no. The girls who do it, you know they're not regulars. You know, they're there to kind of flaunt around. It's a basketball game. I'm just going to do my makeup and get all ready.

WOMAN

Yeah, so I'm going to go with a neutral eye today. Games can take a toll on your relationship. Right now, we're going through a tough break-up. So anyway, last summer, I kind of like put him on a pedestal, you can almost say. And I have missed a lot of my games. And this summer, I decided that I wasn't going to do that. Ultimately, it was just like, look, maybe we can pick this back up in the winter.

WOMAN

Hello. There's my sister.

WOMAN

A first lady means that we have been coming down there, for one, for years. So we kind of earned this title.

WOMAN

Your whole, own little world.

WOMAN

It makes you feel like, you know, you're expected. You're presence is wanted and expected.

WOMAN

Hey, DNice.

WOMAN

D, so she's the original first lady.

WOMAN

You can hear, she has a raspy voice.

MS. DNICE REEVES

This is what we do. We're going to be there. You're going to see us on the front line.

WOMAN

And when I first went there, of course we didn't have our designated section. I was sitting in the bleachers like with everybody else.

WOMAN

I was about 19, 20. It was a social thing for me, the very first time it was like, wow, all these people in one place having all this fun? But then one day, I won't forget, pow, slam dunk and then to be up close, live and personal and see somebody jump that high off the ground, it was just like, I'm in love.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

Oh, look at the First Ladies and the Goodman girls, stars in the (unintelligible) royalty.

REEVES

Hey, nephew.

MAN

Hey, ladies.

REEVES

Yeah. All right.

MAN

Hey, baby.

REEVES

Hey, baby.

WOMAN

So you see now what we're doing now is we're making room, sometimes people be in our spot. But you see they quickly have to, you know, things have to get rearranged.

MAN

Nine seconds in the half. Time's up. Count it and send them to the line.

MR. CLARENCE LANCEY

My name is Clarence Lancey (sp?) and my name on the basketball court is Show Time. I am the oldest one in the league. I'm at 47, but I feel like I'm 18. You know, when I get out there on that floor, I feed off my fans. And when you come to see me play, I give you what you're looking for.

MAN

Stopping clock, second half on the way over the top.

WOMAN

So Miles is the guy over here on the mic. He's following the game. He's the commentator. He's the comedian. He's the CEO. He does it all. So right now, he's sitting half court directly across from where we sit. So we can go over and say hi to him if you like.

MAN

Yeah, I can look in one section and tell you what these guys would be beefing with each other in four to three hours or four hours, however long we're in here. All of that squash and they will watch basketball and go home, and we come back and we do it again. That's the best part.

REEVES

We love all the players. But then there's ones that don't give us their all, yeah, we talk about their kids, their family. But that's how we got to get them excited, get them riled up. It's street ball, so we got to get them street talk. I mean, like, "Hey, we come out. Get out there and run."

WOMAN

Yeah, Percy. The court that we're playing on now is like a full NBA Nike-style court. We used to play on hard concrete with chains. There are no nets. You know, like, it came so far. And you got to give your thanks to Miles because if he ever had given up on this league, it wouldn't be where it is today. Everybody is showing us love, and we get that love because of the commitment.

WOMAN

I know I feel special, like I have a special place in the gates. We all do.

WOMAN

That's our song. This is the theme song. Inside the gates, inside the gates, it's about to go down. Uh-oh.

SHEIR

For more on the Goodman League as well as pictures of the First Ladies, visit our website metroconnection.org.
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