When I became involved with The Orange Tree podcast a few months ago, I was immediately captured by every aspect of Jennifer Cave’s story and her family’s pursuit of justice. In just a few days I pored over all of the scripts, and I felt with full force the emotional weight of Haley and Tinu’s reporting. But even with all of the knowledge that I had going into the listening session of the first episode, I was not prepared for the astounding impact of the finished product.
Several other students and I settled into our spots to listen to the first episode via Zoom, and from the start, I was enthralled with every word. Here and there, I’d look at the others on the call and saw the same expressions of focus, excitement, and at some points, pure shock. It is one thing to read interview transcriptions and merely learn the facts of what happened. But there is nothing that prepares you to hear the pain in Sharon Cave’s voice as she describes the desperate search for her daughter. Nothing prepares you to listen to Jim Sedwick, Sharon’s boyfriend and a father figure to Jennifer and her siblings, recall the moment that he found Jennifer’s body in the bathroom of Colton Pitonyak’s apartment.
As the sound faded out at the end of the episode, there came a heavy silence that no one quite knew how to break. But after the initial shock faded, so came the applause and praise. Those who had feedback and constructive criticism shared their opinions, and while there were wonderful suggestions on how to improve the minuscule details of the episode, everyone was expressing the same feelings of excitement, wonder, and anticipation for the next installment.
The most significant feedback came in response to what is perhaps the most powerful moment of the episode, when Haley and Tinu make clear that they refuse to take advantage of Jennifer’s story for the sake of entertainment.
The details of this case would easily lend themselves to establishing a sensationalist tone that you would generally find in a true crime podcast. But The Orange Tree is not about analyzing all of the gruesome details of what happened on that summer night in 2005. Jennifer’s death and the subsequent court proceedings have had a permanent impact on the lives of three families and the futures of three young adults who could have taken on the world. And based on the first episode alone, it is clear that Haley and Tinu’s reporting explores that impact in a nuanced, respectful way that breaks the mold of traditional true crime.