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Peterson on Trial

Falls, the "clown car" and other nuances from the Peterson trial

by and

The stairway was narrow, steep and dark. It was late, around 3 a.m. By the first bang it was obvious what was happening. The thumps and bangs went on for an impossibly long time--no doubt the sounds were that of a person falling down a flight of stairs, probably from the top, all the way down. She was under the influence, the blood alcohol level not known. But that factor, along with the late hour, probably conspired to allow her feet, clad only in light socks, to slip out from underneath her. The noises eventually stopped and I held my breath for a second, rose and opened the door to the hallway, prepared for the worst. I could see it now "Journalist Covering Peterson Murder Case Held in Death--Circumstances Nearly Identical."

I opened the door.

"I fell down the stairs," she whimpered in a small voice, curled up in a sitting position, disoriented, beyond.

"Good God, are you all right?" said I, scooping her up.

I led her to a light and examined her for injuries. Nothing to speak of, a hematoma on her right forearm, and a toe that was going to turn black--exactly the sort of injury that a conscious person would be expected to sustain when the feet go out from underneath them, falling on that wonderful, soft, rounded cushion provided by the lord for us bipedal humanoids. Slid down the stairs on her ass she did.

This is madness. I'm already conducting spontaneous research on falls. Seen others too, Scotty and his legendary New Years plunge (covered in the old Spectator, and sadly now unavailable).

One week into it and the situation is coming unglued. We have, it seems hacked everyone off, the court officers, the legal teams, the media--you name it. We are resigned to our status as the mosquitoes at the picnic. I have a minor rebellion on my hands and the "newspapers of record" are continuing this infantile proprietary seizure of the clown car, AKA "media box." You'd think they could help me salve Olason's inner-Eeyore and allow the poor guy to sit in the crummy box while they are going over, like, the phone bill or something. But no. Now I've got this mook developing a distinctly diva attitude.

"I'm not spending the rest of the summer drawing women's backs," says Olason.

"Look, dude. You've gotten everything you wanted. You got the situation, you got the shared byline. Don't do this to me."

"But I want to draw from the box. It's the good view," he says, pouting like a kid who got an orange for Christmas.

God. These monumental egos.

"Plus, it's cost me $450 so far."

"$450! How did you do that?"

"The speeding in the work zone on I-40. It's all your fault."

"My fault? I wasn't even in the car."

"Doesn't matter. It's your fault. Plus, you get paid more than I do. It cost money to run an SI."

"What, 50 miles there and back? That's $3 a day. Tell you what, I'll give you 10 cents a mile--I'll be generous."

So that fire's out. Now to the box business. I'll be up front and say that The N&O has been nothing but accommodating when it comes to their photo resources, allowing us access to the literally hundreds of photos they shoot per day courtesy of the digital revolution. (In the bad old days of actual film, the processing costs alone would make the bean counter in the basement choke on his gum.)

Problem is, they are the same. And try as Robert does, he cannot explain the difference between a drawing and a photograph--drawing from life produces nuance and shades of meaning that a camera cannot hope to capture. So Robert got all pissy and wrote a note giving back the CDs that the paper so generously provided. He crossed out "Indy" scrawled on the sleeve and wrote, "N&O, thanks, but nothing appropriate. I want to draw Freda from the box, asking questions."

Maybe CourtTV is interested in courtroom art. I can see it now, Robert inking a deal with CourtTV and disappearing in a puff of jet smoke, never to be seen again, leaving me to dwindle away perched on a barstool, "Lemme tell ya, I was the brains behind the operation. dat Olason whouldna been nuthin' witout me. He's a bum, I tell ya."

"Beware of any enterprise that requires the purchase of new clothes," said Thoreau. Good thing God made thrift stores. And here's an unsolicited plug for the Disabled American Veterans on Raleigh Boulevard (across from the other one) where one can buy a gorgeous Haggar summerweight in fake, but convincing linen the color of walnut ice cream for five whole dollars. I know seersucker is de rigueur for these Southern summer trials, but it is almost too much, sometimes you gotta go conservative.

Tell you one thing, you mention you cover a murder trial and you've got a conversation. Everybody either has an idea or else wants to pick your brain. I've had my run in with dead people, don't get me wrong, but I never expected to become sort of an expert, the voice of authority on how people die--scalp lacerations, defensive wounds, "cast-off" (blood slung off from a cudgel). There are as many different nuances of blood as Eskimos have words for snow.

"Yeah, but the dude din't git li'l Rae Rae off."

"You mean Carruth."


"True that."

A tough case. I don't know who I'd go with if I was up for murder. I guess I'd have to go with Duncan or the Smith brothers. Stay with the home team.

"You sure know a lot of criminal attorneys," Robert mused.

"I've lived in Raleigh a long time." EndBlock

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