It was WFLA-TV reporter Steve Andrews who found the body last Thursday of Florida State Attorney Harry Lee Coe III-the man Andrews had investigated for financial improprieties in office.
Andrews had gone to the apartment complex where Coe lived after leaving other reporters staking out the courthouse where Coe worked. Early indications were that the body, lying against a concrete pillar under a highway adjacent to the complex, had been there since the night before.
Local news reported that some in the area blamed the media, particularly WFLA-TV, for the apparent suicide. The station acknowledged critical calls and e-mail, but said the volume was not especially heavy. Without waivering on the story or its newsworthiness, WFLA-TV acknowledged that Andrews was left shaken. "You don't ever hope or plan for a story to take a turn like this," said Dan Bradley, WFLA-TV vice president for news. "And for them to have been the crew to discover the body obviously brings a lot more trauma." Andrews could not be reached Friday.
Andrews' investigation concerned whether thousands of dollars in loans Coe procured from two employees who worked for him were illegal. "It was highly unusual, highly questionable, possibly unethical and yet to be determined whether it was illegal," said Bradley. The story included an interview with Coe. On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ordered the state Department of Law Enforcement to look into the loans and the possible purging of computer records that might have indicated online gambling.
"I would caution people not to oversimplify the reasons that people kill themselves," said Poynter Institute ethicist Al Tompkins, who noted that Coe's son did not immediately blame the media and suggested that the reasons for his father's death were more complicated. As a former judge and the state's leading prosecutor, and no stranger to controversy, Coe "was a man who understood that sometimes in the pursuit of truth, a person causes discomfort, even harm,'' Tompkins said.
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