BOSTON — Sun Journal staff writer Steve Collins was named a finalist in history reporting in the 2019 New England Better Newspaper Competition hosted by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.

The second-place award was given at the 2020 New England Newspaper Convention on Saturday. The recognition was for a story published in the Sun Journal last May under the headline, “An Auburn murder in 1867 led to political feud in Augusta,” a story detailing the hanging death of former slave Clifton Harris, convicted of murdering two women in Auburn.

The hanging was a controversial one because, during his four terms as governor, Joshua Chamberlain considered commuting the death sentences of a dozen men and ordered the death of Harris only.

Harris, who confessed to killing the women, was 19 years old at the time of the murders and had some obvious mental health issues.

Republicans in Maine at the time were pretty solidly against the death penalty, putting Chamberlain in the minority of his party, which had a strong grip on the state.

A journalist since 1987, Collins has worked for daily newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Maine. He has served as the State House and political reporter for the Sun Journal since 2016. Among his awards are the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2016 Ethics in Journalism Award and the I.F. Stone Whistle-Blower Award in 2015.

Collins is a founder and board president of Youth Journalism International, a charity that teaches students around the globe about news writing, media literacy and issues of the day. His wife, Jackie Majerus-Collins, serves as its executive director.

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