Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I object(ivity)!

In the courtroom, I almost lost my objectivity - and my lunch.

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.

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Posted by T Dot at 12:03 AM | link

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sorry you had to witness that. That's the duality of this business unfortunately. We're expected to do our jobs without so much as a change in facial expression. I've never had to deal with something like that, but obviously it's difficult.

Posted by Blogger Chris @ 9:10 AM, June 20, 2007 #
 

Was reading some of your work on this, wondering how the heck you make it through the gruesome parts of what's a really gruesome trial. Stay strong, and stay away from mayo-based lunches and or snacks.

Posted by Blogger D. Sands @ 1:37 PM, June 20, 2007 #
 

What's funny is that when the prosecution first showed the gory photos last week, I was fine. I pride myself on having a strong stomach. But somehow, yesterday, things were different. And the pictures got to me. I didn't lose my lunch, but I definitely felt for the woman. And in a lot of ways, I don't think that's such a bad thing after all.

Posted by Blogger T Dot @ 4:53 PM, June 20, 2007 #
 

I'm of the school of thought that empathy will help your reporting. Yes, we need to remain objecive, but the family's story needs to be told too. And the defendant's family has the same right. The facts, testimony and the science of it all is the meat of what we do. But the human element is why people read it in the first place.

Posted by Blogger Duck @ 6:03 PM, June 21, 2007 #
 
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