Consider the following timeline:
- 9:00: The trial of James R. Burke, accused of shoplifting, begins.
- 9:25: District Attorney Alan Ada Swerk calls the first witness for the prosecution, Sergeant Lisa Poe, who describes the day she was called to the GenericMart Grocery Store on July 20, 2007 and found the defendant in the parking lot, with six cans of Uncle Wilbur's Potted Meat under a raincoat.
- 9:45: The prosecution calls its second witness, a Mr. Herbert Q. Thrackenbush, a recently-retired GenericMart clerk who reported that at some time last March, the defendant developed an unusual interest in potted meat, and was seen lingering around the potted meat aisles in the weeks before the arrest.
- 10:00-12:30: The prosecution calls six other witnesses, each speaking for about 15 minutes. [I'll spare you the details.]
- 1:30-2:30: After a lunch break, the defense begins its case, calling another four witnesses.
- 2:33: During a conference at the judge's bench, the prosecuting attorney's cell phone goes off, prompting a rebuke from the judge.
- 2:35: Jury begins deliberations.
- 2:40: Defense attorney suddenly faints. Court recesses briefly.
- 2:55: Less than a minute after the court reconvenes, the sprinkler system goes off; the building is evacuated.
- 3:05: Court reconvenes after the alert was declared a false alarm. Jury files back into the courtroom -- some of them with wet hair.
- 3:07: Jury delivers a verdict of not-guilty
- 5:15: Police are called to a local grocery store, where they arrest Herbert Q. Thrackenbush and charge him with disorderly conduct for running his cart into the potted meat display and shouting "Victory is ours, dear ones!"
If you are assigned to cover a trial that includes a series of events like that, do NOT lead with "The trial started at 9, when the defense called its first witness, Sgt. Lisa Poe...".
Certainly the verdict is more important than this routine testimony. Shoplifting trials happen all the time, but for a single trial to have this many interruptions is very unusual. Focus on the unusual, not the routine. Thrackenbush's behavior seems eccentric enough to be worth more investigation. Should he have been allowed to testify? Will his arrest after the trial have any affect on the validity of the verdict? Maybe the biggest story isn't really the "not guilty" verdict, but rather an investigation into this judge. Was this judge just having a bad day, or his trials always a little on the loopy side?
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