Bang, bang, bang. On the night of Nov. 30, 1998, someone fired three bullets from a handgun, the last aimed at the head of 64-year-old Prince Chapman.
For three months, no suspect, and then police arrested the man, wait — the 12-year-old boy, Jamone Williams, charged with murdering Chapman, a business owner, community activist, and the killer’s youth football coach.
Is this the start of one of Sandra Chapman’s investigative reports or her own story? It is both.
Murder and justice have been familiar topics of coverage for the Peabody Award-winning journalist since graduating from Ball State University in 1986. But more than 20 years ago, the cameras and questions shifted to her family when her father was taken “by the same violence he spoke out against,” she said.
For her station at the time, CBS affiliate WISH TV in Indianapolis, Chapman later pursued a series about children who murder.
“It’s a response maybe only reporters can understand, but I felt called to report, and it was ultimately healing to talk directly with families on both sides of these crimes — even speaking with Jamone’s father (also incarcerated) to better understand society’s role in these crimes,” said Chapman, who left WISH
in 2003 to join WTHR’s Eyewitness News Investigators, now known as 13 Investigates.
“Was it a fine line to walk, ethically? Absolutely. Has it made me a better journalist? Most definitely. Would I give it all back to have my dad? Of course.”
Throughout her reporting, Sandra never interviewed her father’s killer, but she’s kept tabs on him since his early release in 2012. Her mother, Rosa Chapman, presented Jamone a Bible at his 1999 sentencing, telling him: “You still have this life to live; find redemption and be better for society.”
According to records, Williams hasn’t broken any laws since his release, and “that’s the best we can ask for,” Chapman said.
Chapman approaches each story with the same tenacity and heart — “to make a difference,” she said, “that’s why we are here.” Her reports have led to tighter environmental controls, improved customer service at the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles and expansion of Zachary’s law, which requires sex offenders to register their addresses and a personal photo with local authorities. From the 2011 Indiana State Fair stage collapse and post-9/11 reports to decades-old murder cases — Chapman has narrated the state’s major news, and awards have followed nearly every story.
Kathy Hostetter, ’91, news director for KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, had a front row seat to Chapman’s work ethic and talent as WTHR’s news director from 2013-18. Hostetter supported Chapman during a multiyear investigation into high childhood cancer rates in Johnson County, just south of Indianapolis. WTHR’s report, “Desperate for Answers: Testing for Toxins,” gained national attention and continues to spark government action to address contamination in Johnson County.
“Sandra felt an instant connection to the families, and her work helped arm a community with access and documentation so they could become advocates for change,” said Hostetter. “Words matter, and Sandra’s commitment to accuracy and ability to marry story with complicated facts made for impactful journalism. She is a champion for holding the powerful accountable, exposing wrongdoing, and getting results, all with a strong ethical backbone.”
Chapman returned to Ball State in March as part of the Department of Journalism’s 50th anniversary events and in celebration of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.
It was standing room only at Ball State’s Alumni Center as Ball State’s 2005 Outstanding Alumna spoke about how she approached the Johnson County report.
Former Franklin residents Kari Dotson Findley and Stacie Davidson joined Chapman on stage.
“Officials just saw us as soccer moms with too much time and too much Google, so I have no doubt we’d still be waiting on the courthouse steps or listening to elevator music on call waiting had it not been for Sandra,” said Davidson, whose stepson Zane’s acute lymphoblastic leukemia is in remission. “She taught us so much about our rights to public information and answers, and watching her work — how thorough she is with a heart for others — is inspiring.”
Finding her voice
After her talk, Chapman stayed to talk with students majoring in health professions and journalism. She talked openly about not “checking her faith or humanity at the door” as she works to balance heartfelt journalism with fair coverage. Kayla Bickham, ’19, a magazine media major and theatre design minor, said she appreciated Chapman’s authenticity.
“She made sure to show us every successful and unsuccessful moving part that leads her to her final stories, and that was most inspiring to me,” Bickham said.
Chapman is first a journalist, but she can’t help but recognize her platform to empower and mentor women and African-Americans entering the field. She gained that confidence as a student at Ball State, particularly from Darrell Wible, who retired from Ball State in 1999 as the first faculty member of what is now the Department of Telecommunications. What she thought at first was picking on her in class, she realized was the legendary broadcaster and professor challenging her to question everything, be prepared, and have the confidence to speak up.
Wible and others, like former telecommunications department chair Nancy Carlson, “taught me that I didn’t need to try to be something I am not and helped me find my range. That was empowering and liberating.”
According to a 2018 Women’s Media Center report, women of color represent about 8 percent of U.S. print newsroom staffs, 12.6 percent of local TV news staffs, and 6.2 percent of local radio staffs. Diversity in newsrooms is critical to representing diverse communities and issues, Chapman said.
“Truth be told, though, I never knew I would face barriers because early on, I saw one of my mom’s friends, Fran Walker, who had her own local show,” added Chapman, who is active in community organizations to empower women and minorities.
“I hope I can be that same inspiration for others.”
Family remains at the core
Shortly after her mother died in 2016, Chapman was diagnosed with breast cancer. She caught it early, and the treatment was swift and effective, but the experience continues to teach her the importance of balancing work and family.
She is fiercely protective of her family time, including watching her son, Quentin Taylor, who walked onto the Indiana University basketball team, and her daughter, Nia Taylor, who has broken track and field records at her high school. Chapman also enjoys cheering on her oldest son Austin Taylor, ’16, an outside linebacker coach for Zionsville, Indiana, Community High School.
Throughout it all, her husband of nearly 30 years, Randal Taylor, has been by her side. As assistant chief of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, Taylor has what it takes to be married to a reporter. “Both are high-stress jobs, often with little thanks for the positive impacts they make,” he said.
“As a detective myself, I can appreciate how she gathers her information and assembles it to paint a true and accurate picture of what took place,” Taylor added. “She equally allows for those who have been accused of wrongdoing (purposely or accidentally) to form their thoughts and responses in a way that is fair. I have known of times she could have made people look really bad, but she chose a more professional approach.”
That respectful, community-focused approach comes from her parents who, even after moving to the suburbs, never forgot their connection to urban neighborhoods — operating businesses and founding two nonprofits to empower neighbors in East Central Fort Wayne.
On Aug. 25, 2002, East Allen County Schools opened Prince Chapman Academy to honor her father.
Chapman credits her parents with inspiring her love of journalism. Growing up, she would sprawl out on the cozy living room floor to watch the nightly news with her father — newspaper in his hand. Oh, if he could only see her now.