Paul Skalnik. (Texas Public Sex Offender Website)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Pamela Colloff, Jordan Smith, James Ross Gardner, Michelle Dowd, and Jaya Saxena.

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1. How a Con Man’s Wild Testimony Sent Dozens to Jail, and 4 to Death Row

Pamela Colloff | The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica | December 4, 2019 | 54 minutes (13,500 words)

Paul Skalnik is a grifter and criminal. Now a man may be executed because of his dubious testimony. Why did prosecutors rely on him as an informant?

2. The Power to Kill

Jordan Smith | The Intercept | December 3, 2019 | 15 minutes (3,966 words)

When a prosecutor states that she won’t seek the death penalty in any cases, is she exercising prosecutorial judgement or abdicating it? Aramis Ayala and the state of Florida don’t agree.

3. The Octopus from Outer Space

James Ross Gardner | Seattle Met | December 2, 2019 | 14 minutes (3,520 words)

James Ross Gardner explores the Pacific Northwest’s evolving relationship with the octopus and how they’ve gone from dangerous “devil-fish” bent on drowning unsuspecting sea goers to intensely curious, suction-cupped wonders. With nine brains — one in their head and one in each of their eight arms — octopuses are thought to be the most intelligent invertebrates on earth, capable of deep connection with humans.

4. The Thing With Feathers

Michelle Dowd | Alpinist Magazine | November 27, 2019 | 15 minutes (3,800 words)

On mountains, climate science, and hope.

5. What Did ‘Authenticity’ in Food Mean in 2019?

Jaya Saxena | Eater | December 3, 2019 | 13 minutes (3,477 words)

If your restaurant serves a European cuisine, you can have tablecloths and silverware. Anything else, you have to be a hole in the wall with plastic stools. In the next decade, can “authenticity” be less racist?