Wednesday, June 20, 2007
For the last few weeks, I sat in courtroom 4E at the Kent County Courthouse, chronicling the ups and downs of the murder trial of James Richardson, accused of killing Margaret Duffy-Stephenson in 2005.
I sit across the aisle from the family. A seat behind the defendant has my name on it. I chat with the family members about the climate in the courtroom, and joke that maybe tomorrow, I'll bring my parka.
I'm the only reporter who's been in the courtroom since day one. I sat through the motions to suppress, jury selection and opening statements. I detailed testimony in tight stories for the next day's paper. I made corrections when the family pointed out mistakes.
But mostly, I listened.
I listened when Margaret's coworkers told about how their friend was a great teacher's aide and always willing to help someone. I listened when her husband, James Stephenson III, told us about the last time he hugged his wife. I listened when her father told the court that when he found his only daughter covered in blood at the bottom of the stairs, he reached over and touched her face.
So when the prosecution showed a photo of Margaret's wounds on the projector screen in the courtoom, I almost lost it. My mouth gaped open as I stared at her wounds. I swallowed hard as the medical examiner explained Margaret's killer had cut her throat so deeply her backbone was visible through the hole in her neck. Of the 11 wounds on Margaret's body, more than half were stab wounds.
My stomach started to churn.
I looked at those pictures and no longer was Margaret just another victim in another homicide. She was Margaret. The mother of Robert. A teacher's aide at a local elementary school. The only daughter amongst a gaggle of brothers. That was Margaret's body on the autopsy table.
I glanced over at the family when the pictures went up - instinct. To my left, Margaret's sister in law was visibly shaken, tears streaming down her face. Her husband - Margaret's brother - comforted her.
I glanced down at the wooden pew, almost ashamed for having witnessed the family at such a vulnerable time. I took a deep breath and focused on the notes I was writing. I had a job to do.
After court recessed for the day, I went to my car and stared out the windshield in silence. It was all I could do to hold back the tears.continue...