JShu on the Journey

A Kansan takes on Missouri

Archive for August 2012

Jessica goes to court

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Today my first full trial kicked off with opening statements.

Not only is it my first trial, it’s actually a pretty high-profile case in the Chicagoland. A man is accused of murdering his wife and three children while reportedly en route to a waterpark trip, allegedly part of a bigger conspiracy to leave his family and live in Northern Canada. Possibly with a stripper he wrote a poem about. The trial is also going on at the same time as another high-profile case, the Drew Peterson case. It’s going on next door.

Last night I realized, hm, I should look up the courthouse’s location. I did and mapped my route, and decided to leave an hour early (it’s 30 minutes from my doorstep), giving myself 30 minutes of wiggle room.

Today was the Murphy’s Law of first days reporting on court. Anything that will go wrong, will. While it’s terribly cynical, I have to admit that more often than not, Murphy’s Law informs my day-to-day decisionmaking and planning. I think some of my parents’ neuroses (and their looking out for me) have definitely rubbed off on me in this arena. For better and worse.

Anywho. All is going fine and dandy and I roll into town (Joliet), ready to take in my first day. I’ve got plenty of time to find a parking space in the giant lot next to the courthouse until I realize … it’s full. And I really don’t know my way around downtown Joliet. At all. It’s a maze of one-way streets and I was misreading my iPhone map app and got lost. By the time I circled back, I had 15 minutes to have my rear in a chair in Courtroom 406. I swooped into the first public lot I could find, located an empty spot on the top of the parking deck, and booked it down three flights of stairs and about 4-5 blocks down to the courthouse.

I had minutes to spare as I joined the security line, where I knew my phone would be an issue, but I thought I’d see if they gave exceptions to media personnel — Chicago media outlets have been tweeting a storm over Peterson’s trial — it follows logic, right?

Well, you might see this coming, but I was wrong. It’s the norm in Illinois that cell phones, especially those with cameras, are not even allowed in the courthouse. In my county, where I’m at the courthouse regularly for records, they don’t hassle me because they know me and they know I know the rules. Plus, Grundy is a very small county in comparison to Will County.

The security guy tells me I can’t have my iPhone with me. Drat. Then he tells me, also unlike Grundy County, I cannot leave it with security. I trudge back several blocks to my car and then have to return to the courthouse. I get in this time.

Then I make my way up to the courtroom well past 9:30 a.m. and find, wait, that trial that was starting at 9:30 a.m.? It’s starting at 11, 11:30 a.m. No big deal, but if I had known that up-front my morning would have been a lot less stressed.

After I was told I was in the right place by a sheriff’s department rep there, I was also processed for a pass that allows me to skip the regular security line and also bring my iPhone into the courthouse. Take that, civilians. I still, however, must keep it locked up in a locker down the hall from the courtroom while court is in session.

The trial started, I wrote ferocious notes (thanks to the advice of my courts pro friends Livi and April) and came back with a legal pad more than halfway filled with scribbles. It was not my first time in the courtroom, but it was my first look at how a trial starts, with the state and defense teams each framing the story they want to tell to the jury.

As my case is a quadruple homicide (state says man did it, defense says man’s wife committed murder-suicide), there were some pretty grisly photos, but sadly, I think being part of a generation so sanitized by violence, it doesn’t hit me as hard as it should.

The day went well through 4 p.m., with opening statements and initial witnesses taking the stand.

After, I briefly hung out with the videographers/photogs a bit as everyone exited the courthouse (another Illinois quirk — no still/video photography in the courthouse, so they stalk around outside until the people leave) and found that as someone who had actually seen the attorneys, I knew something that could help them figure out who to chase. Print sometimes has its perks, I guess. Nobody (defendant or victim’s families or attorneys) wanted to give comment, so that was that.

Except I returned to my car to find that I needed cash to leave the parking garage. Great. I saw my bank somewhere downtown and realized it was right next to the courthouse. So I stalked back over to the atm and got myself some cash to leave and extra exercise.

You might be wondering how a broken heel fits into this. On the way back, I took a step and heard a pop and saw something roll into the street, only to realize it was the bottom of my shoe heel. I couldn’t go after it immediately and I walked back to get it to find I couldn’t find it. So…yeah. That sucks.

On my way back, I also passed a city parking garage a block away from the courthouse. D’oh. Insult, meet injury.

Eventually, I got out and spent forever trying to figure out what to do with my five million pages of notes. My story was 41″ long. That’s really flipping long if you are not used to counting in column inches.

I also got rained on today during a short break, and didn’t get to lunch (tomorrow’s plan: Clif Bar), but that’s neither here nor there. Or that exciting.

I won’t be able to cover every day of the trial, but it is definitely going to be an interesting one. I’ll keep you posted on how it continues to go. I’d better sign off — I have to leave Morris by 7:15 a.m. tomorrow. Gross.

Written by Jessica

August 21, 2012 at 12:40 am

This seems appropriate.

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It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

“The Real Work” by Wendell Berry (via The Writer’s Almanac)

Written by Jessica

August 6, 2012 at 11:50 pm

Posted in Wisdom