Friday, June 22, 2007

Blogs & Crime Forums

UPDATED Sept. 16th, 2012  I misidentified PIO employee Pat Kelly, as Pat Jackson. Sprocket.
I've posted on crime forums for over four years, following several high profile cases. This is the second trial that I've actually had the opportunity to attend and write about, and the first time where I've written in a blog format. I know there have been other posters on the Court TV message boards who have attended a high profile trial in their area and posted about it, but today was the first time that I had ever heard of any negative consequences stemming from their trial coverage.

Recently, an article by Rick Malwitz came out in the Home News Tribune Online, about a Court TV poster, SummerMadness (a trial watcher just like me) who attended the Melanie McGuire murder trial, and wrote about what she observed in the courtroom, including the jury box. According to Malwitz, there is an "imaginary line" that professional journalists never cross (that supposedly SummerMadness did), and that is describing jury behavior. Evidently, the defense in that case tried to use her writings as a motion for a new trial. Judge Frederick DeVesa denied the motion. Malwitz wrote in his article that SummerMadness lacked an editor (I'm guessing to "guide her" on not crossing that "imaginary line") and didn't use a spellchecker since she misspelled the word "testosterone." For the record, SummerMadness was writing on an internet crime form, and not a "blog" as he labeled her writing in his article. Maybe this picky journalist could use a fact checker at his office, since blogs and crime forums are two totally different mediums. And regarding that "invisible line" he says exists for MSM, I didn't see anything in her posting that was any different than what the talking heads were saying on national television. I believe since SummerMadness wasn't a part of the MSM, she was an easy target for the defense in that case, and for Malwitz to criticize as well.

Another Court TV member told me that a trial watcher who was writing about the Susan Polk murder trial, was somehow identified by Susan Polk, forced to stand up in open court, and, I'm assuming, identify herself. (I don't know if the poster had to state their name for the court or not, but from what I understand it wasn't a pleasant experience for that trial watcher.)

At the Blake trial I covered, Pat Kelly, one of the court's media liaison officers took my name, and the web address of the forum I was posting on at the time. Many of the same officers I got to know at the Blake trial are in the courtroom gallery daily. In thinking about what happened to the poster at the Susan Polk trial, I can just imagine the laughter that would most definitely erupt in this courtroom if I was forced to stand up and identify myself.

Your Honor, my name really is, Betsy Ross. I don't think it could get any funnier.

Incidentally, I checked with my attorney, to see if they thought anything I was writing concerning the jurors could become a problem. They were pretty certain that everything I am saying was totally legal to do. Regardless, they did say, that they would check with their cousin, a Superior Court Judge in a neighboring county, for another opinion.

UPDATE: 6-23-07, 8:45 am.
I knew in my gut that Malwitz's "imaginary line" pretty much resided in his own imagination, and I didn't have to go far to prove it. Below is an entry posted April 25th, by the very professional Harriet Ryan, who is in the courtroom covering the trial via the Court TV blog.

Tryptophan proof
- When prosecutor Jackson resumed his opening after the lunch break, he made a joke about jurors who ate turkey sandwiches falling asleep. So far, it seems like he was worrying needlessly. The nine men and three women appear to be intensely interested in what he has to say. One panelist, Juror No. 4, is literally on the edge of his seat. He's leaning forward and staring hard at whatever Jackson puts on the screen, even enlarged photos of blood spatter, which is what Jackson’s talking about now. His jury box neighbor, Juror No. 6, is also riveted. She's the one whose estranged husband was convicted of murder. She has her eyes fixed on the prosecutor and smiles every time he cracks a joke.
Meet the jury. -- Harriet Ryan
Posted at 5:22 PM
A few things to point out. SummerMadness, in her coverage of the Melaine McGuire trial, did not write anything different about juror behavior than Ms. Ryan did. And in fact, Ms. Ryan's blog entry has the number wrong of the woman juror. It should be #5 instead of #6. And, if you check out the link in Harriet Ryan's blog, "meet the jury," you will read a weath of information about the jurors gleaned from their very detailed jury questionaires.

The truth of the matter is, regular individuals, trial watchers just like SummerMadness and myself, can and do cover high profile trials with the same ethics of keeping the identity of the jury anonymous. Whether the MSM will ever acknowledge that is another issue entirely.


Anonymous said...

I haven't seen you ever post a thing that would pose any problem in terms of affecting the trial. Beth and Jean from CTV always give updates about the jury -- sometimes as a whole, sometimes interesting tidbits about individual jurors (like whether someone wore a snazzy tie or fell asleep or was seen crying, etc.).

Now if you start giving out their names, addresses and social security numbers, you might get in a wee bit of hot water! But mentioning juror reactions to happenings in court is certainly not an issue so far as I can tell. The professional journalists do it, so why can't anyone else who is observing in the courtroom.

I will follow along regardless where you post, but don't let any ninnyheads scare you off of posting wherever you'd like.

Keep up the great work! :-)


Anonymous said...

Does Dominick Dunne know how much you write about him? Is he comfortable with your "reporting" his notes and the Web publishing of private comments? Does he know how closely you watch him for the purpose of your blog content?

DD & Vanity Fair may be concerned when they learn of your obsession with him.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous at 7:54pm (6-23): It's obvious just who has an "obsession" here. I see you found your way from the other forum over to the blog SOLELY to criticize the blogger.

I'm sure Mr. Dunne would have (and maybe even already has had) a good laugh at your expense. Jealousy is a very unattractive attribute. You should find something constructive to do with your time rather than stalking the blogger.

Just say "NO!" to the green-eyed monster. Really, I'm embarrassed for you!