Kelly to receive Sorensen award

William Kelly
William Kelly

William Kelly will be honored with the Thomas C. Sorensen Award for Distinguished Nebraska Journalism from the College of Journalism and Mass Communications on April 8.

The award presentation is part of the college's annual J Days event. J Days, April 4-8, is celebrating the accomplishments of journalism students and faculty. Other events include an April 7 presentation by Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president of the Knight Foundation, during the J Days honors convocation (; and the April 8 J Days award lunch (

Kelly oversees development, research and writing of television documentaries and radio news features for NET Television and Radio, Nebraska's public broadcasting service.

Kelly's documentary, "CSI On Trial," follows one of the most controversial crimes in Nebraska history involving two innocent men facing the death penalty for a murder they didn't commit.

In choosing Kelly's documentary, Sorensen award judges said, "A few officers forgot the basic tenet of U.S. justice - a suspect is innocent until proven guilty. State lawmakers should look hard at this program and take notes. It points up a need to toughen state law to protect suspects from questionable police practices. 'CSI On Trial' follows the best traditions of American journalism - keeping government honest."

Kelly's research demonstrates the justice system's struggle to find the truth. For more than a year Kelly attended trials, interviewed participants and sifted through thousands of pages of documents.

In NET's letter of nomination, news director Dennis Kellogg said, "All other reporting on the case, local and national, asked the question we were driven to answer: How could a homicide investigation go so wrong?"

For the first time, the documentary tells the full story of how two innocent men were targeted for the murder of a Murdock couple. Among the findings, NET's research sheds light on the work of poorly trained detectives and overworked law enforcement, an under-qualified polygraph operator, and an attention-seeking crime scene investigator. The same case had been covered in a sensational manner by network news magazine programs.

The documentary was broadcast throughout Nebraska in November 2010 and is available on NET's website in a special section dedicated to three documentaries about crime scene investigation. It also provided material for a three-part investigative reporting series on NET Radio.

Kelly's honors include two nominations for regional Emmys as well as awards from the Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcasters Association, the Nebraska Broadcasters Association, United Press International, the Radio and Television News Directors Association and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Kelly's past programs have looked at the politics of the 1960s, the problem of under-aged binge drinking, the power and beauty of steam locomotives, a visit to modern day Cuba and the early, historic days of television.

Kelly previously worked at WOWT-TV in Omaha, KARD-TV in Wichita, Kan., and WLFI-TV in Lafayette, Ind.

He is a past president of the Omaha Press Club and a longtime member of Investigative Reporters and Editors. He grew up in the southwestern Michigan city of Kalamazoo and graduated from Purdue University in 1978.

Sorensen, a 1947 graduate of the University of Nebraska, established the annual award in 1995. Sorensen began his journalism career in Lincoln, first as an assistant night editor at the Lincoln State Journal, then as the director and commentator on KLMS radio. He joined the U.S. Information Agency in 1951 and was assigned to agencies in Beirut, Baghdad, Cairo and Washington, D.C. Sorensen was appointed deputy director of the agency and it was there that he received the Jaycees Award in 1962 as "One of the 10 Outstanding Young Men in the Federal Government." In 1968, Sorensen was deputy manager of Robert F. Kennedy's California presidential primary campaign. In 1972, he began work as an investment adviser in New York City with the Advest Group Inc., a regional securities brokerage firm. Sorensen was associated with the Capital Group Cos. of Los Angeles, one of the nation's largest investment management firms, from 1980 until his retirement in 1996. The Virginia Institute of Political Leadership at Thomas Jefferson's University of Virginia was named for Thomas C. Sorensen shortly before he died in 1997.

- Marilyn Hahn, Journalism and Mass Communications