Monday, May 19, 2008

Courtroom Artist Follow-Up

Judge Thomas Ellis.

Witness on the stand.

A former video poker machine operator who had over $1.7M in cash hidden at his house.

The prosecuting attorneys, Richard Edwards and Corey Ellis.

The trial that I was working as a courtroom artist is over. Former sheriff Bobby Medford and former "captain" Guy Penland (he was really an unpaid volunteer) were convicted of ten counts each of charges related to skimming protection money from illegal video poker machines. It wasn't even a close decision: after two weeks of testimony, the jury only needed two hours to reach a decision.

From my end, this was a good gig. I was working for WLOS TV, the local Asheville station, as their courtroom artist. I was in the court every day, drawing the defendents, lawyers, prosecutors, judge, and witnesses. At 11 every morning, I'd scoot out to the van and hit the drawings with watercolors. This would give the cameraman time to shoot the pictures and edit them into the narrative for the noon news show. Then I'd go back inside and work until they broke for lunch. In the afternoon, I was out of there at 4 to prep the drawings for the afternoon show. Occasionally I played "cub reporter" and took notes for the real reporter who was prepping the broadcast or doing the live stand-up.

From the drawing perspective, there was a huge difference in the stuff I did in the first few days and the stuff I did in the last. The first ones look like amateur scribblings (at least, they do to me), while the last ones are at least acceptable. There's still a lot of room for improvement, of course, and the Big Guys in LA, New York, Chicago, or Atlanta probably have nothing to fear from me. But that's fine. This kind of work is fun and pays the bills.

I had a great time working with the WLOS reporters and the cameramen. They were all smart, personable, fun to work with, funny, and extremely professional. Asheville may be a small market, but it doesn't mean the news crews aren't pros.

I would like to do some more courtroom art, but there's not much demand for that here. WLOS only needs me about once every 12-18 months. I'll prep some brochures, samples, and letters and send 'em out to some of the other news stations in a reasonable radius: Knoxville, Chattanooga, Greenville-Spartanburg, Winston-Salem, and see if there's any interest out there. My paintings are still my #1 priority, but courtroom art might be a good sideline.

All the above sounds a bit mercenary, doesn't it? Well, it is. I had mixed personal feelings during the Medford trial. Bobby Medford is in terrible health and I couldn't help but feel sorry for the pain he was obviously in. And Guy Penland looks like everybody's doting, friendly grandfather. But listening to the testimony painted a very different picture: these guys had no compunction about shaking down crooks for "protection" money and violating the trust that the public had put in them. And if that wasn't bad enough, I heard some horrible stories about run-ins that other people had with Medford and his crew that have not been, and never will be, examined by the public. So good riddance, Bobby and Guy.

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