The Observer took our bag and pen and notebook and shuffled down to the courthouse last week for the trial: a young man driven by greed; a woman who never deserved the fate she met; a roll of duct tape used to suffocate the life out of her; a shallow grave shoveled out in the dead of night; a body dumped into the hole, where she lay until the police found her. Later, police would come for the young man who put her there as well, and last week, the evidence they collected helped prove him guilty, to be shipped off to the penitentiary where he will die someday, having been given a life sentence plus another life sentence, life on life, as if even his soul will not even be allowed to slip through the bars. Given the crime a jury of 12 regular men and women decided he was guilty of last week, that would probably serve him right.
The haunted reasons that usually bring The Observer to the Pulaski County Courthouse notwithstanding, we like walking down from Scott and Markham for a trial. The old church pews that line the galleries are hard on our narrow rump and the long intervals between breaks make us starve for water, but Yours Truly never feels as much like a real, shoe-leather reporter as we do when we're sitting there in Lady Justice's marble and oak-paneled barn, making every attempt to jot down all the puzzle pieces the prosecutor hopes will add up to a picture of guilt and the defense hopes will amount to reasonable doubt. It's a lovely pageant in its way, full of drama and pomp. But during a murder trial, there is the added weight of the proceedings being hovered over by the ghost, one that's usually the product of a death most wouldn't wish on an enemy.
Last week, the ghost was that of a woman named Beverly Carter, a real estate agent who was kidnapped while showing a house. The medical examiner testified she was smothered by having her face wrapped tightly in duct tape, after the half-assed plan hatched by two married idiots from Jacksonville didn't turn out as they'd planned. We'll not further trouble the dead by writing their names. Let their names be forgotten.
It is tempting, in the wake of a terrible crime, to talk about "monsters" — in this case, to say that those who conspired to kill were two monsters who found each other in the dark, then later ended the life of Beverly Carter. In the end, though, they turned out to not be monsters at all. Instead, they were just the product of what it often turns out to be when someone kills another for gain: a stew of fear, ego and greed that, in this case, resulted in an innocent woman losing her life by way of intolerable cruelty. As The Observer wrote in our trial coverage last week, to call her killers monsters is to flatten the roundness of evil. In hindsight, we suspect it might also be a little insulting to monsters.
The Observer, during testimony that's repetitive, sometimes picks up details during a trial that other reporters don't seem to catch. We've been told that's part of what makes us a good courthouse reporter, though we'd never want to do it for a full-time job like our buddy John Lynch from the Dem-Gaz, a fine journalist whose butt must be as tough as his boots by now from riding those gallery benches for years.
Last week, on the second day of the trial, the thing The Observer noticed and noted was the screen, 4 feet by 4 feet, where the attorneys projected their photo exhibits. It had been set up against the rail of the courtroom, with its black back to the gallery.
Even with the blackout cloth backing, the images prosecutors projected there for the jury showed through like ghosts throughout the trial. An elbow and fingers jutting up from the ground. The body when investigators dug Beverly Carter from the hole. Finally her tape-wrapped face and head. From the gallery, Your Correspondent, along with Carter's friends and family, sat and looked for days into the shapes revealed, horrors on horrors, all reversed as in a mirror in hell, just indistinct and vague enough through the screen that one really had to stare and squint to make them out, like finding the image of Death in a summertime cloud. The Observer has been at this long, but we've never been so ready for a trial to end, so we could finally stop staring into that abyss.