If anyone has ever had the inclination to witness a live criminal trial, there has never been a better time. In the interest of personal growth, I would recommend everyone sit through just one trial if they have the opportunity. Journalists try their best to bring it to you, but nothing can state the experience like actually being there.
Sitting among the long wooden church-like pews captivated by the slow and unfolding search for truth .. to trace the wandering eyes of a defendant as heís defended and attacked.
Easily the most intense moment of any trial comes at the end. A verdict always comes forth to the most silent of rooms, as if someone had just blurted out a personal secret in a crowd at a time of an awkward silence.
The next most intense moment is when the defendant takes the stand. The way it goes is that the defense attorney asks his questions first. Once finished, the long anticipated conflict between the state and the defendant is granted in public display as the prosecutor gets to finally speak to the accused, often for the first and only time.
The tentative relationship of public media, the judiciary and the community is certainly one thatís often strained. The infamy of the accused will again grace the front pages of every local paper as a number of men charged with murder prepare for trial.
There are several scheduled to begin later in the year, some of them are among the most potent of crimes. Three different men currently sitting in our county jail have murder charges hanging over their heads.
For those removed enough from these specific tragedies, it may imitate a great theatrical release once they begin, with coverage spilling over the pages, drowning out many other local stories.
A husband accused of slaying his wife, a man charged with running down a child in his truck, an infanticide and a friend who gunned down another.
The next murder trial scheduled in the county is set to begin in May and is expected to last four to five weeks.
These intense, dramatic and drawn out ordeals are only magnified in their effects by burdening them with the aspect of open publication. Information, like current rushing through high-tension power lines, stretches out across the valley in routes of print, broadcast and picture. This distributed network of information feeds directly into the eyes and ears, and from there, into our hearts and minds.
Therein lies its danger and power. I see in the national and world news the same kind of sad stories that have played out here. Being so regularly engulfed and removed from such pessimism encourages us to become apathetic. However bearing witness to the process and seeing the impact of local tragedy has brought many of these much closer to home.
Itís hard to explain all the intricacies of any story. No one is fit to pass judgment on a man after simply reading a newspaper article or catching a 3-minute highlight on the evening news. These things can not conform to our growing need for instant gratification; there is no fast lane to justice or easy fix. Media can describe an experience, but it can never recreate it.
Before our courts these are not guilty men; in fact justice demands we assume their innocence. It has been even more difficult for the public to maintain this required presumption in our growing age of extensive media coverage and instant communication. The rights to a free and public trial are revisited like never before in history. We are descendants of great men who handed us the profound responsibilities of objectiveness and reason. We can rise to the challenge by making ourselves ever more critical of the information we consume. Media can be the greatest educational tool for the public and an unprecedented means of influence depending on how we intend to wield it.