Murder of LaToyia Figueroa

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LaToyia Figueroa (January 26, 1981 – August 2005) was an American woman of African-American and Hispanic descent who was murdered in 2005. Figueroa, who was five months pregnant at the time, was reported missing on July 18, 2005 after she failed to show up to work. She was later found strangled to death after being featured on America's Most Wanted.[1]

Police discovered Figueroa's remains in a grassy, partially wooded lot in Chester, Pennsylvania, located 13 miles south of Philadelphia. They arrested Stephen Poaches, the father of her unborn child, on August 20, more than a month after she was reported missing.[2] On October 17, 2006, Poaches was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Figueroa and her unborn child.[3][4]

The disappearance of Figueroa sparked controversy about media coverage because cable news channels, such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel, neglected to cover her story in favor of Natalee Holloway, a Caucasian teen missing on the island of Aruba.[5] Some observers protested that Figueroa's case was similar to the Laci Peterson case (which also covered the same timespan) and thus deserved greater attention, implying that race was a factor in the lack of coverage.

Details of the case[edit]

The Figueroa case bears a similarity to the case of Laci Peterson, who was found dead and whose husband, Scott, was found guilty of her murder. The Peterson case was covered heavily throughout 2004 and led to public consensus that Scott Peterson was guilty of the murder.

Figueroa's family stated that the lack of media coverage of her disappearance only brought more tragedy to an already troubled search. Figueroa's mother, Ann Taylor, was murdered when LaToyia was a toddler. Figueroa had a seven-year-old daughter. Joseph Taylor, Figueroa's uncle and family spokesman, has actively criticized the media. America's Most Wanted and the Philadelphia Citizen Crime Commission teamed up with police to aid in the search. A $100,000 reward was funded by rap stars Beanie Sigel (while in a prison) and Damon Dash, Beneficial Bank, T.G.I. Fridays, local philanthropists Joe Mammanaand, Kal Rudman, and Internet bloggers to help the family in the search for LaToyia.[6][7]

As of 2010 Stephen Poaches, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections#GV2311, is located in the State Correctional Institution – Houtzdale.[8]

Media coverage controversy[edit]

The disappearance of Figueroa has spawned controversy about media coverage of missing people and how cases get national attention, with the terms "Missing White Women Syndrome" PBS journalist Gwen Ifill referred to the phenomenon as "The Missing White Woman Syndrome" at the Unity Convention of Journalists in 2004 [9] This phrase was invoked by Professor of American Studies Sheri L. Parks) [10] on March 13, 2006 during an interview with American news reporter, Anderson Cooper) to describe a phenomenon characterized by critics as a short and cynical equation: Pretty, white damsels in distress draw viewers; missing women who are black, Latino, Asian, old, fat, or ugly do not. Critics accused major news outlets of ignoring Figueroa's disappearance to focus on cases involving young, usually attractive, white women like Laci Peterson who was also pregnant when she was reported missing. [11] Several internet bloggers began writing about the inadequate coverage cable news networks gave to missing people of color and pressured them to give equal coverage of non-white young American women like Natalee Holloway and Jennifer Wilbanks; they succeeded in gaining attention and Figueroa's case received coverage by major news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel. Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, referred to this phenomenon as "Pretty Girl Syndrome" and said, "I'm embarrassed that there's so much air time absorbed by the latest missing-girl story." [12] In March, 2011, Malkin's younger cousin Marizela Perez went missing and her story was covered all over major media news sources, much like the cases she criticized for getting so much air time in the news.

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