Monday, February 11, 2013

Things You Should Know About Me: Courtroom Artist

I was once a courtroom artist.

Back in the early 1990s I got a phone call from my former high school art teacher. He was moonlighting at a local TV station as their graphic designer and said they needed a courtroom artist for a prominent area murder trial. He wasn't available (due to his daytime job as art teacher) and asked if I'd be interested. Being the young and dumb artist that I was back then I enthusiastically agreed to do it. I was sure that such a high profile gig would get me noticed and lead to more work.

I showed up at the courthouse the next day, drawing tablet and colored pencils in hand. Things took a turn for the worse early on as I saw that everyone had to pass through a metal detector to enter the courtroom. Right before it was my turn I suddenly remembered there was a metal X-Acto knife in my pencil box! As I was trying to think what to do, a policeman barked "Next!" at me and I sheepishly walked through the detector. Amazingly the knife didn't set off any alarms, so I spent the entire day in court with a knife on my person. Take that, courtroom security!

I took a seat and got out my pencils and paper. There was a stylish and attractive woman sitting next to me who glanced at what I was drawing from time to time. There was also a family of less than stylish people in the row in front of me who noticed what I was doing and kept turning around to watch. I didn't think much about them at the time.

The trial involved a defendant in his late twenties who was accused of killing an underage girl and burying her body in a shallow grave in a field. Real Citizen Of The Year material. There were lots of grisly descriptions of the body and the crime scene. It probably sounds interesting in a morbid kind of way, but it was anything but. Despite the way they're depicted on TV and in movies, courtroom trials are extremely tedious affairs. In fact it took several hours just for the two sides to decide if a certain word could be used to describe a piece of evidence, lest it color the jury's attitude.

As the trial dragged on I sat there and sketched the defendant trying to look innocent, the judge looking scholarly and pensive and the jury looking like wished they'd been smart enough to get out of duty. The family in front of me kept monitoring my progress, pointing and whispering excitedly to one another.

After what seemed like eons we broke for lunch. When I came back I took the same seat and noticed the family in front of me was gone. The stylish woman was there though and leaned over and introduced herself, telling me she was the prosecuting attorney's wife (!). Talk about a small world. She said that right after I left for lunch, the family in front of me asked her where I went (thinking that she knew me).

It turns out they were the family of the accused murderer! Apparently the mother of this clan was very impressed with my drawing abilities, especially my portrait of her son. You know, her son, the accused murderer. She actually asked the lawyer's wife if she knew how to get a copy of my drawing of him! What the hell was she going to do with it, frame it and set it on the mantel? 

"Let me show you my pichures, Betty! This here's my daughter Luann and her husband Junior, this one's of my sister Jolene and her third husband Eddie, these here are all my grandbabies, and this one... this one here's my pride and joy, drawn special by a genyoowine artist. It's my little boy Bill at his murder trial!"


  1. So basically it was a one time gig? Lol yikes!

  2. The TV station contacted me for a second trial, but my work schedule prevented me from attending. Plus the crime in question was even more gruesome and disturbing and I decided I didn't want anything to do with it.


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