For the better part of the past year and a half, Fox News investigative reporter Jana Winter’s life has been turned upside down—simply for doing her job.
She, her brother, and her father all received death threats from “supporters” of alleged Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooter James Holmes. There were nights she simply didn’t sleep, wondering whether she’d have to go to jail for reporting a bombshell story that detailed a chilling notebook Holmes mailed to a University of Colorado psychiatrist—one that was “full of details about how he was going to kill people.”
On Tuesday night, she still couldn’t sleep. But on this night, it was because she was too excited. “I’m still in shock,” she told Business Insider in an interview Wednesday. “The last year and a half have been a shock. It was so great to go to sleep last night. Well, I didn’t really ever get to sleep because I was so excited.”
On Tuesday, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in a 4-3 decision that Winter wouldn’t have to testify in Holmes’ murder case. Holmes allegedly killed 12 people and injured dozens in a shooting during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” July 20, 2012. Holmes’ defense team wanted to compel her to reveal the sources of her story on Holmes’ notebook. If the New York Court of Appeals had upheld a lower court’s opinion, she would have been compelled to do so. She said that she would have gone to jail rather than reveal her sources. The court’s ruling was based on New York State’s “shield law,” which offers protections for journalists.
For Winter, the case first became real Dec. 10, 2012, exactly a year before her eventual end in the case. She knew that Holmes’ attorneys were upset about her story. “I’m an investigative reporter—if people aren’t upset, something’s usually wrong,” Winter said. Still, she and pretty much everyone in her circle thought the threat of a subpoena would go away. But on that day, 14 law enforcement officials denied being Winter’s source. Holmes’ attorneys said they would subpoena Winter.
She credits Fox News and Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes for “making it clear” in the very early stages of the case that they were willing to fight for her. Along the way, she got unexpected support from a variety of sources. Judith Miller, the Fox News contributor who was jailed for 85 days in 2007 for refusing to reveal a source for a story in The New York Times, was a “godsend” for advice. Shepard Smith, the Fox News anchor, would drop occasional “pick-me-up” emails, as would anchor Greta Van Susteren and Judge Andrew Napolitano.
She talked with old Columbia Journalism School professors, and got support from sources for stories from her J-school days. Even from some “random” people whom she met while traveling in India years ago. “It makes you realize,” she said, “that this stuff is really important.”