Pat Duggins

News Director

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.  If his name or voice is familiar, it could be his twenty five years covering the U.S. space program, including fourteen years on NPR.  Pat’s NASA experience began with the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, and includes 103 missions.  Many NPR listeners recall Pat’s commentary during Weekend Edition Saturday on February 1, 2003 when Shuttle Columbia broke apart and burned up during re-entry.  His expertise was utilized during three hours of live and unscripted coverage with NPR’s Scott Simon.  Pat later wrote two books about NASA, Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program and Trailblazing Mars, both of which have been released as audio books.  Pat has also lectured about the future of the space program at Harvard, and writes about international space efforts for "Modern Weekly" magazine in Shanghai, China.

Duggins experience goes beyond NASA.  He led the APR news team on a year long investigation of rural health in Alabama, which was recognized with the 50th annual "Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Radio." The team was honored alongisde The New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC-TV, and PBS FRONTLINE. Duggins and the team also covered the 2011 Alabama Tornado outbreak with dawn to dusk rescue and recovery updates. The news crew also provided national and international coverage for the BBC in London, MSNBC, CBC in Canada, and Australia Broadcasting in Sydney and Melbourne.  His efforts, and those of the APR news team, were recognized with the first two of three National Sigma Delta Chi awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. The Radio Television Digital News Association also honored Pat and the team with a national Edward R. Murrow Award for overall excellence. The Alabama Associated Press also recognized APR as the "Most Outstanding News Organization" in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. And, Duggins' news series on the long-term impact of the Gulf oil spill won a national PRNDI award for best series from the Public Radio News Directors' Association, and a regional Murrow. His documentary "Civil Rights Radio," on the 1963 "children's march" in Birmingham was honored with the international "Silver Radio Award" from the New York Festivals radio competition, and with a "Gabriel Award" from the Catholic Church. 

Pat’s work isn’t limited to radio, with regular appearances on TV.  He also conducts interview/profile segments for "Alabama, Inc." a new University of Alabama TV series on business on airs statewide on Alabama Public Television. Pat also co-hosted “Your Vote Counts,” a program featuring college-age voters who critiqued the final debate between Robert Bentley and Ron Sparks in the 2011 race for Alabama Governor. 

Since his arrival at APR, Pat and the team have won more than one hundred awards for excellence in journalism. Duggins is also the recipient of a Suncoast Regional Emmy.

Ways to Connect

Alabama might allow more former felons to vote in upcoming elections. The change may come after the State approved a list of what crimes will cause someone to lose their voting rights. The State House and Senate passed legislation last month that defines a crime of "moral turpitude" as one that will cause someone to lose their voting rights. Governor Kay Ivey signed the bill aimed at ending confusion over who can, and can't vote, because of prior convictions.

Robert Melson
ADOC

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted this week’s scheduled execution of convicted killer Robert Bryant Melson. His defense team successfully argued against Alabama’s plans to use a sedative which will not render their client unconscious before other drugs stop his lungs and heart. A three-judge panel granted the emergency stay requested by Robert Bryant Melson. He was scheduled to be executed this Thursday for killing three Gadsden restaurant employees during a 1994 robbery.

Churches in the Selma area may soon be on the front lines to combat gang violence. District Attorney Michael Jackson is launching a program he calls "Adopt-a-Gang Member." He says the idea is to help gang members feel more worthwhile by getting them involved in churches. Jackson held a summit in Selma recently with about 50 pastors to explain the program.

Three people are back on dry land after a water rescue twelve miles south of Dauphin Island. The Coast Guard and Alabama Department of Marine Resources received a report shortly before 7:30 a.m. on Friday about a collision between a catamaran with four people aboard and a pleasure craft with three people. The pleasure craft capsized and its three passengers were thrown into the water. The Alabama marine resources boat crew recovered the three survivors and transported them to emergency medical services at Billy Goat Hole.

Please find enclosed Alabama Public Radio’s entry for best lifestyle radio feature, titled “Alabama Midwives Wait In the Shadows.”

Since 1975, the practice of midwifery has been outlawed in Alabama, with violators facing fines or jail time. This, despite the fact Alabama has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation, and only sixteen of the state’s fifty four rural counties have hospitals that can deliver a baby. Some midwives continue to practice illegally with families that travel to Tennessee, Florida, or Mississippi to give birth.

Residents of Sumter County with questions about a proposed charter school can voice their questions tonight.

The Alabama Department of Education is coordinating a public hearing on the proposed new school to be held in Livingston. The University of West Alabama is hoping to open a charter school catering to children from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The proposed school would teach science, math, technology, and art.

The Alabama House of Representatives approved a plan gto shorten death penalty appeals. Representatives voted seventy four to twenty six in favor of a bill that would pattern Alabama's process after the one used in Texas. It requires inmates to raise claims such as ineffective counsel at the same time as appeals claiming trial errors. Currently, inmates appeal trial errors first and then raise other issues. Senator Cam Ward is sponsoring the measure. He says it should drop the appeals time from about eighteen years to nine.

Law officers and school officials will be meeting in Hoover today to try to make schools safer.

The non-profit National Association of School Resource Officers is holding its first-ever national leadership summit. The conference is meant to teach lawmen and educators how to pick the best police officers to work on school campuses. NASRO says veteran officers with no disciplinary problems tend to be the best candidates.

Members of the Alabama House will resume work next week on a stalled prison construction bill. The measure would build four facilities, including a replacement for the state's troubled women's prison. The state would also lease new men's prisons built by local communities. The task in the House is to rework a plan drawn up by members of the State Senate. The state agreed to make changes at Tutwiler women’s prison after the Justice Department ruled inmates there faced an unconstitutional environment of sexual abuse and harassment.

Supporters of an Alabama death row inmate are waiting to see what the state legislature does on the subject of judicial overrides before the end of this year’s lawmaking session, as the fate of a Covington County man could hang in the balance.

Governor Kay Ivey recently signed a bill into law that stops judges from sentencing future defendants to death after the jury recommends life in prison. State Senator Hank Sanders of Selma wants more. He wrote a bill that extends the ban retroactively to people already on death row due to a judicial override.

Alabama’s prison system has been in the news a lot this year, and not for good reasons. Inmate riots, allegations of mismanagement and corruption, and a failed prison building plan in the state legislature have pointed out plenty of problems. The Alabama Public Radio news team has spent the past several months examining what happens as people go into the state’s prison system and what happens when they come out.  I looked into the on-going complaints over how Alabama judges sentence people to death.  

Birmingham News/Birmingham Bar Foundation

“For me, it was just a day of resolve and resolution, and I said ‘sign me up,” says James Stewart

“Well, the first thing I tell them is that I went to jail, and they go ‘Oooh, Grandmama,” and I say well, let me explain…” recalled Eloise Gaffney.

“It was just…you knew God was on your side,” says Washington Booker. “And we knew that it didn’t matter what we were facing. You knew if God was on your side, you’d overcome it.”

Resignations continue to roll into Governor Ivey’s office. Alabama’s Secretary of Law Enforcement Stan Stabler is leaving, after taking over for former Secretary Spencer Collier. Both men were embroiled in allegations that former Governor Robert Bentley had an affair with former top aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Her husband, John Mason, also resigned as head of Bentley’s office of faith based initiatives. Ron Sparks is also leaving as chief of the newly eliminated office of rural development.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has signed a bill ending the state's policy of allowing judges to override juries recommendations in death penalty cases. Alabama was the only state where a judge could sentence someone to death even when a jury recommends life imprisonment. The judicial override issue was part of Alabama Public Radio's series on judicial and prison reform. The measure passed the House last week after a rare showing of bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled legislature.

Alabama’s newest Governor is settling into office. Republican Kay Ivey became Alabama’s second female Governor after Robert Bentley resigned over an alleged sex scandal. His departure marks the end of a trio of legal tangles involving some of the most powerful people in the state. APR’s Pat Duggins has more on the national coverage that went along with it. …

If Alabama has to attract national attention, this probably isn’t what the legislature had in mind…

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley is out and Governor Kay Ivey is in. After Bentley announced his resignation ahead of an impeachment hearing, his successor would become the state's second female governor and the first to rise through the political ranks on her own. Kay Ivey is the first Republican woman elected lieutenant governor of Alabama and the first Republican to hold that office for two straight terms. Alabama's first female governor was Lurleen Wallace. She was wife of four-term Governor George C. Wallace.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has resigned after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges of violating state campaign finance law. The attorney general's office announced the resignation with a plea deal. Bentley's voice began choking with emotion as he addressed reporters at the Alabama Capitol. He said he always tried to live up to the high expectations placed on the person who holds the esteemed office. He apologized for mistakes. Click here to listen to Governor Bentley's resignation address...

A state ethics panel has ruled that there is probable cause that Governor Robert Bentley violated state ethics and campaign finance law. The decision follows a sex-tinged scandal that has engulfed the Tuscaloosa lawmaker for more than a year. The Alabama Ethics Commission voted to refer the matter to the district attorney's office for possible prosecution. Governor Bentley has struggled to shake off a scandal after recordings surfaced last year of him making suggestive remarks to a female aide before his divorce.

City and County schools statewide will be closed to the threat of bad weather on Wednesday. For the most up-to-date information on your child's school, be sure to call your school's front office. Pat Duggins

Monroe County Public Schools--Closed

Conecuh County Schools--Closed

Boaz City Schools - closed

DeKalb County Schools – closed

Fort Payne City Schools - closed

Marshall County Schools – closed

Etowah County Schools

Talladega County Schools

Blount County Schools

Clay County Schools

Walker County Schools

The state of Alabama is trying to fix its infant mortality rate—one cardboard box at a time. The state is giving away sixty thousand so called baby boxes to expectant parents. Each box is filled with supplies like diapers and baby wipes. The empty box is also designed to be a baby bed. There’s also on-line information available to help parents take better care of a newborn. Alabama currently has just over eight infant deaths per one thousand births, which higher than the national average. The death rate for African American babies in Alabama is almost fourteen per thousand births.

A Houston County judge says the killer of three people at a Dothan County should die by lethal injection. Judge Brad Mendheim sentenced Ryan Clark Petersen to death. His decision follows last week’s jury recommendation in favor of death. Prosecutors say Petersen opened fired after being told to leave a nightclub following a fight with an employee. Jurors rejected Petersen’s defense that he was drunk and mentally impaired. His defense team says there will be an appeal and a request for a new trial.

A hearing has been set for a lawsuit challenging Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's decision on an election to replace Senator Jeff Sessions. Dr. Bentley wants to wait until 2018 to hold the vote. State Auditor Jim Zeigler says a hearing for his suit against Bentley is set for April twelfth in Montgomery County. The injunction hearing will give lawyers a chance to update the county judge on their positions. Zeigler argues that Bentley violated state law by postponing the election date for Jeff Session's former U.S. Senate seat until 2018.

Alabama lawmakers will vote next month on the state's "judicial override" law. That statute current allows a judge to impose a death sentence when a jury has recommended life imprisonment. Alabama Public Radio covered this policy as part of its multi part series titled "...and justice for all." Alabama is the only state that allows a judge to do this.

Arkansas lawmakers have given final approval to legislation removing the holiday honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The "Natural State" observed the Lee holiday on the same day as slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The state House approved the proposal by a sixty six to eleven vote on Friday and sent it to Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson. He urged lawmakers to end the dual holiday. Once the bill is signed into law, Mississippi and Alabama will be the only states that honor Lee and King on the same day.

The state of Alabama is seeking to enforce a state law against a commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure. The state has appealed a federal judge's ruling that blocked enforcement of the state's 2016 law banning abortion through dilation and evacuation. State lawyers wrote a brief filed last week for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, say the procedure is described as "particularly brutal." U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that ban would cause Alabama women to lose access to abortion in the state after fifteen weeks of pregnancy.

An investigation is underway at Alabama’s Elmore State prison after two inmates and a guard were stabbed. The corrections officer was injured trying to break up a fight. Elmore is on lockdown as a result. The DOC says a third inmate is suspected in the stabbings. Tyrone Dunn is serving twenty five years for assault. All of the men who were stabbed were released after treatment at a hospital. Investigators don't yet know what started the fight. Critics say a prison building plan approved by the Alabama Senate won’t address this type of violence.

The Alabama Senate has approved a pared down prison construction plan. The bill authorizes the state to lease up to three prisons built by local communities. The bill would also authorize a three hundred and twenty five million dollars state bond issue to build one new prison and renovate others. The Southern Poverty Law Center is criticizing plan as inadequate and that it will not address problems like prison violence and understaffing. Go to apr.org to hear Alabama Public Radio’s multi part series on prison reform titled “…and justice for all.”

A bill to regulate daycare centers in Alabama could spark a serious political fight. Lawmakers will debate a proposal to require all day cares to be regulated by the state. That idea would end a longstanding exemption for faith-based facilities. The bill is expected to face pushback from lawmakers who want to keep the exemption open for churches. Supporters of the bill say the loophole leaves children vulnerable to abuse and neglect. The group VOICES for Alabama's Children says the state is one of seven that broadly exempt faith-based day cares from regulation.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says it’s reached a settlement over what critics say is a modern day debtors’ prison. Alexander City and its police chief were accused of unjustly jailing residents who were too poor to pay fines or court fees. One hundred and ninety people were imprisoned for non-payment over a two year period. The alleged practice resulted in a federal class action lawsuit. The U.S. District Court in Montgomery approved the settlement which will pay each plaintiff five hundred dollars for each day of unlawful imprisonment.

There will be a delay in the reckless murder trial of a former NASA Astronaut. The judge in the Tuscaloosa case against James Halsell says the trial will be delayed until June while both sides work on a possible plea agreement. The defense requested a delay due to negotiations for a possible settlement involving Halsell. A motion says the two sides also are still exchanging evidence. The sixty year-old former astronaut was arrested after a June traffic crash that killed led eleven year old Niomi James and thirteen year-old Jayla Parler.

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