The Dastardly Deadline
I’m sure everybody has had to deal with a deadline, usually when an essay or a project is due. But I think on-the-scene newspaper reporters have a unique sort of deadline problem, which stung me up, down and right-round Monday morning.
First, a little background: my newspaper, The Daily Sentinel, comes out in the afternoon. The deadline is 11:30 a.m. for Page 1, and Noon for the rest of the paper. Usually, it’s easy to get everything done by then. But on Monday I had to cover a high-profile criminal sentencing in County Court. And the judge, the attorneys and the attempted murderer weren’t particularly concerned with finishing on my time frame.
Court starts at 9:30 a.m., and the judge calls cases in whatever order he pleases. So I have to be in my seat by 9:30 a.m. and just hope that he is able to wrap up all of his morning casework and the high-profile case in question by my deadline. That didn’t work out so well on Monday. It wasn’t until 11 a.m. that we finally got around to the case I was there to see: the attempted murder of a husband by his estranged wife.
The case: On the night of March 8, 2010, an estranged wife going to her husband’s home…and about an hour later, he runs out screaming for help with a slashed throat. She’s inside with several stab wounds to her abdomen. The police and rescue crews arrive and both survive – but they have conflicting stories. She says that she only went to visit him to discuss a few financial issues, but he was disgruntled, high on heroin and eventually came at her with a knife because she was in a new relationship. She says that he stabbed her in the bedroom, chased her through the house and stabbed her again while she was lying on the living room floor. Somehow his neck got cut during that scuffle.
He says that she came to visit him in a much more festive mood, and convinced him that they were going to have sex. He says that she told him she wanted to try on some bikinis for a trip to Florida, and that he should lie down on the bed and close his eyes. When he did, she put her hand over his eyes, whispered ‘I love you’ in his ear and then slit his throat with a knife. The man survived, jumped off the bed and ran through the house. She chased him and cut him again in the abdomen, as well as cutting the phone cord. He managed to get away and run outside to the neighbors, with her following him out and screaming for him to go back.
After a trial in January, the jury found her guilty of attempted murder. He was never charged because all the evidence points towards his side of the story. She never claimed that she followed him outside, yet they found her blood out there. Among other evidence. I sat through the whole trial and was as convinced as the jury that she was guilty.
Fast-forward to Monday, and she’s going to be sentenced. Sentencings are one of the more interesting stories I get to write about. Because after all the casework and adjournments, and many months after the crime, everybody gets a chance to talk and confront each other in the courtroom. The defendant gets to say a few words, the victim can say whatever they want to the defendant, the lawyers can talk and even the judge gets to say a few words. Family members also get to chime in. For a reporter, there’s a lot to listen to and write about.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get started until 11 a.m…with my deadline at 11:30. The first few people started talking, and I took diligent notes. Then people just kept talking…and more family were allowed to speak. And 11:30 came and went and we weren’t even at the defendant’s turn to speak. And the judge wouldn’t even tell us how many years she’d get in prison until the very, very end.
So there I was in a back hallway off the courtroom calling up a fellow reporter back in the newsroom. I was trying to think up how to word my story off the top of my head, while simultaneously looking up quotes in my notebook and trying to listen to the person who is speaking in the courtroom. Fortunately the defense attorney was droning on and on, giving me plenty of time to try and put my story together over the phone. So bad time to have general brain farts left and right.
But in the end, we got a story done and on Page 1, and we got everything we needed to get. It was a sloppy story and nowhere near as well-written or concise or well-put-together as I would have liked. But it was done, it was accurate and that’s what’s important at the end of the day. Still, that’s the sort of deadline problem I have to deal with on occasion.
Here’s my story online: Camelot Stabber
Once I was covering a trial and a defendant accused of murdering a police officer was taking the stand to testify in his own defense. Of course, after numerous pointless delays that morning in the courtroom, he didn’t get on the stand until 11 a.m. This was a man whose side of the story I’d been waiting to hear for 4-5 years! Who was finally going to explain to everybody why he didn’t do it (He did) and where he really was when the robbery/murder took place.
It was a packed courtroom, so it was very awkward of me to have to keep going in and out. I’d already called in my story that morning, it was ready to go…but dammit, I needed to get something from this defendant in that day’s paper. Page 1 was going to read that this guy was taking the stand, so it would be stupid to not have any of what he said. However, the testimony began with some background information, slowly building up towards the robbery.
And so between all my running around and the crunching minutes, my story lead with the fact that he once washed car windows outside a stadium.