Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Now Skeeter, he ain't hurting nobody...

As a journalist, my emotions climb high and sink low on a daily basis. Some days I'll be assigned a happy little event with happy people and happy friends and all sorts of sources who just can't wait to talk to me (perfect example).

But today was not one of those days.

Today I covered my first murder trial. Well, I covered the arraignment that will eventually lead to a trial, but you get the idea.

The story is that yesterday, a 19-year-old guy stabbed a 21-year-old guy who was later found dead on the scene. Pretty big news for Nashua, certainly. And I was the lucky one picked to cover his subsequent arraignment this morning when the usual morning cops reporter had an ill-timed dentist appointment.

So I woke up before 7, scooped up a hearty bowl of Wheaties and made my down to the courthouse. And if Nashua is any indication, the smaller courts of America are understaffed, overworked and cranky. They zip through arraignments and have little sympathy for people who show up late or want to give "their side of the story." I can't imagine being a clerk at one of these places right now. No wonder they want reporters to drive down to the courthouse to make copies of a document instead of finding it for them and reading the information over the phone.

The arraignments start at 8:15 sharp. Amidst all the craziness to find the right courtroom, meet up with my photographer and figure out who I should be talking to, I manage to find the father of the accused. He doesn't want to talk to me, but he's not angry. He manages to squeak out a offering of condolence to the victim's family but couldn't comment on more. His sullen face looked like he'd been up all night, worried for his son and terrified for his future.

I moved into the courtroom to wait for the judge. My photographer and I moved up to the front row and sat next to a couple guys from WMUR. We heard whispers in the pew behind us. I turned around slightly and began to speak with the man behind me. He turned out to be the victim's best friend since the two were five years old. The victim was this guy's best man at his wedding. He couldn't say much either, but his face told the story. Shocked, angry, depressed. Completely overcome with emotion. He did an amazing job to stay composed, but the three girls he sat with were in tears for much of the two hours I sat there.

I asked how old this guy was. He said 22. I'm 22. Same age, except this guy just found out 12 hours ago that the best friend he's ever known was murdered. I can't begin to explain what a chilling realization that was.

Our conversation came to a slow stop. There was no "See ya later," no "Thanks, have a good one." It just came to an eventual end. He told me what he could and how he was feeling, but after that the words dissipated.

Arraignment after arraignment came through. A woman who didn't speak English pleading for something. A young guy and a costly speeding ticket. Two women fighting for a restraining order against the other. One by one for at least an hour.

I looked to my left. The father, the guy I spoke to outside for a moment, had his head on his hands, resting against the pew in front of him. Totally lost. The only expression that comes to mind is sheer disbelief. Shock and awe that the kid brought out in handcuffs with his.

This is all pure observation. The room is silent, save for a few sobs and sniffles from the family behind us. When the accused appears through the doorway and walks to his seat, there's no dramatic hush or shouts of fury. There's not much sound at all. The scuffling of feet and the clink of metal. A photographer's shutter cl-cl-click-clicking away. He doesn't say anything. Just a whip of his long black hair and a stone cold look that hints he might not have had much sleep this night.

The two sides in suits say very little. No details are released of the night's events. The only question here is what bail to set. And, since a court so small cannot set a bail so big, the judge lands on "held without." A probable cause hearing is scheduled for Sept. 1. The court sealed the affidavit and thus kept all important details from surfacing until the matter goes to trial.

Done. Next case. Just like that.

No one else could muster the energy to fling a few words at me and trust that I'd protect them, so I went on my way. Back to the newsroom, sinking low on a Tuesday of mixed emotions. But as the job has taught me already, tomorrow's a new day and today's behind me. Only thing to do from here is climb.

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