Autopsy Photos: Coveted, Dissed

Kelli Sager’s here

Beseeching on press’s behalf.

Autopsy photos.

6/6/95

Media attorney Kelli Sager petitioned the court on the media’s behalf for them to have access to the autopsy photographs of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. Before Judge Ito ruled on Sager’s request, the prosecution presented the photos as evidence in the trial. Below the following haiku is an account, much quoted from Anatomy of a Trial, chronicling that day.

No respect for kin.

Jurors view gruesome photos

While press eats, chews gum.

6/7/95

Ito had issued a court order, which I posted on the courtroom door and the backs of the spectator seats. The order prohibited talking, reading newspapers, chewing gum, eating or having audible cell phones and pagers on while court was in session. Despite being prominently displayed and being distributed to all media organizations that were assigned a courtroom seat. Yet people still talked, chewed and had phones and pagers going off in the courtroom. Ito scolded from the bench, had cell phones and pagers confiscated and had courtroom deputies get gum chewers spite their gum into. wads of toilet paper.

One day during the lunch recess, Ito summoned me.

“’Come here I want to show you something,’ he said, beckoning me up on the bench. He played a videotape of several spectators, all in media seats, masticating. While most appeared to be chewing gum, one was obviously popping handfuls of some kind of snacks into her mouth.

“Ito instructed me to have that person come to his chambers during the afternoon break. When court reconvened following that break, he announced that those who had been chewing gum and eating in court that morning were to be excluded from the courtroom. Instead of being contrite, as I expected, they and the rest of the media were aghast.

“’What?’ exclaimed USA Today reporter Sally Stewart. ‘Is he serious? He can’t be serious! He can’t do that! That is ridiculous, just for chewing gum in the courtroom. How come we don’t get any warning. He can’t just do that!’

“Stewart, one of the culprits, wondered along with others what the big deal was.

“The big deal, I explained over and over, was:

“(1)   Judges commonly don’t allow eating, drinking or gum-chewing in their courtrooms,

“(2)   Most courtrooms have those prohibitions posted on their doors, as did Ito’s,

“(3)   Ito had issued a specific court order forbidding chewing gum, eating, drinking, reading newspapers, talking, and passing notes in the courtroom, and had copies of the order taped in plain sight all over his courtroom,

“(4)   Not a day goes by that deputies don’t tell spectators not to chew gum and even hand them wads of toilet paper to spit theirs in,

“(5)   Everybody in the courtroom watches those little dramas, complete with the gum chewers’ sheepish looks.

“’It is just unbelievable,’ I recorded in my journal on the way home that night, ‘I don’t know why they think they haven’t had any warning or why they think they don’t know the rules.

“But the way the media related this in their reports was to demean Ito, call him petty and accuse him of blowing minutia out of proportion, given the serious business everyone was there for. Los Angeles Times columnist and future city editor Bill Boyarsky, for instance, announced a preview of his account.

“’I know what my column is going to be about tomorrow,’ he said. ‘My third grade teacher, that’s who Judge Ito reminds me of¼no chewing gum in class.’

“That just went with the territory, so far as Ito was concerned, but what had really offended him was the media’s insensitivity to what else was occurring in the courtroom as the reporter snacked on Skittles. The Los Angeles County medical examiner was testifying about the autopsy photographs and explaining to jurors what they were looking at. I felt pretty outraged myself.”

“’Here is the medical examiner describing those horrendous, fatal wounds,’ I recorded in disgust. ‘Photographs that are graphic. The wounds are laid wide open. Here are jurors who are trying to look at those photographs and understand the portent of it all. Here are the relatives of the people whose loved ones were killed and whose bodies are laid out there for all to see. And here is this woman who is so insensitive that she is popping food in her mouth and chewing so casually as if this is just a leisure activity. And people were saying, ‘How come the judge overreacted?’ I don’t call that an overreaction, I call that a compassionate human being.’”

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