Saturday, July 07, 2007

Beyond the Headline

When most people read the headlines next week - "Anderson [--------]" - they'll maybe make a comment or two and by the time they read the celebrity gossip on page two of the Anchorage Daily News they will have forgotten all about Anderson. Well, for this trial there's a little more widespread interest, but still for most, it's print on the page that will be in the garbage or recycling bin before long.

But as I sat in the trial I realized how many people's lives were directly affected by this case. Some changed forever, others impacted for the two weeks of the trial or less. This isn't just a story in the newspaper - real people lived this story.

Tom Anderson - For Bobrick's 'rising star' nothing will ever be the same. No matter the outcome, his name will be linked to Alaska scandal for a long time. If he has a felony conviction, his work prospects will be severely restricted. This doesn't mean that he can't learn from all this and redeem himself some way, but life has suddenly gotten much more difficult than it has been. No one, not even the prosecutors suggested that he wasn't the enthusiastic politician who wanted to help people. Or that we wasn't a likable guy.

Lesil McGuire[Anderson's wife and a state senator] - What was she thinking through all this? I would imagine that up to now things have been pretty one sided for the family. Probably the attorney, their friends, mostly said supportive things. "You were framed by Prewitt and the FBI" and "you didn't do anything wrong, everyone does this, you were just Prewitt's ticket to avoid prison." I would guess that sitting in the courtroom was the first time she heard the whole case against Tom spelled out. What could she be thinking in there? Especially at the end when the Prosecutors ended both the Closing Argument and the rebuttal* to the Defense Attorney's closing argument with, "Why didn't he tell Lesil? Because he knew she would say, "You can't do this; this stinks." Can she disagree with this positive characterization of herself - in her heart of hearts? Especially knowing that it led to this whole trial? Or maybe she's still unconvinced by what the Prosecutors presented. It isn't unreasonable to believe that Tom was entrapped. Without Prewitt, there would be no money funneled to Pacific Publications. Without Prewitt, there would be no tapes.
[*In a previous post I questioned why the Prosecutor got to rebut the Defense Attorney's closing argument, but the Defense Attorney didn't get the same chance. An attorney told me that it was because the burden to prove guilt is on the Prosecutor, so he gets a chance to rebut.]

The rest of Anderson's family. His mother and mother-in-law were there. Other relatives and friends were there, though I don't know who was who. Lisa Demer in her ADN article today wrote, "Anderson said his dad is busy building a home in Wasilla but wanted to come." I'll leave that one alone.

FBI Agent Mary Beth Kepner has been working on this and presumably other related cases since at least 2003 and this is just the first trial. This is her job so it isn't something out of the ordinary the way it is for the Andersons or the jurors. But this is a very intensive, and I would imagine, high stress job. The outcome of this and other trials will surely affect how well her career progresses. The same can be said for the Prosecuting Attorneys Marsh and Bottini. While the outcome of this trial could have some effect on their careers, especially if the outcome is seen as particularly good or particularly bad by their bosses, they do work in a bureaucracy, and there will be plenty of other work ahead. Possibly a brilliant 'win' could mean a lucrative job in the private sector if that was something they wanted. For Defense Attorney Stockler, a private attorney, the outcome of this case could have a much larger impact on his law practice and income. A result of not guilty on all charges could raise his rates quickly.

The witnesses: Bobrick potentially could have his sentence reduced based on how he 'performed' as a witness and the outcome of the trial. But it was clear that testifying was close to the bottom of the list of things he wanted to do this week. I think being abducted by aliens would have been higher. His time on the witness stand was humiliating and the best one could wish for was that maybe it was cathartic to just get it all out and over with. Things can only get better for him the way he described his life. Prison might be worse, but he seemed to already be in a kind of personal hell already. It isn't clear from the testimony whether Prewitt faces any charges or not. He claimed to be confident that he didn't, not because he'd made a deal with the FBI, but because any charges against him were either too old or too minor. But it appears that for the last couple of years Prewitt has begun a new career as an unpaid undercover agent, though after this trial, wearing a wire probably won't be too productive. But he's got all the trials of the other people he's gathered information on.

The jurors are suddenly drawn into some fictional newspaper world they've read about, or not. They are the focus of scrutiny at the beginning. Those not dismissed then have a special status. Everyone has to rise when they enter and leave the court. On some things they are left in the dark while the attorneys and the judge work out procedurally details. But when they come into court they get the best seats. The are first observers and then participants. If this jury is anything like the juries I've been on, most will take this job very seriously, as they weigh the evidence that will so drastically affect Tom Anderson's future. And it will also affect the futures of the family and the attorneys, though to a much lesser degree. Now the jury is the center of attention. Once they give their verdict there will be a short time when they will be sought to give the attorneys and the public an understanding of how they reached their conclusions. Then, they'll slip back into their normal lives. Presumably when they read about future trials, they will have much greater understanding.

As with the attorneys, this is part of the reporters' job. It's the normal job, just two weeks of different scenery. And it adds to the collection of facts about people and politics and justice in Alaska, and ideally some of the 'missing pieces' help them make more sense of the bigger picture.

I also talked to one of the artists who was in the courtroom using some sort of felt pen that created waterpainting-like images of the judge, attorneys, and witnesses. There is something satisfying about how the ban on recording equipment and cameras creates an opening for an artist to get paid some extra money. And there is something about having to study the people carefully so that you can capture their essence in your painting. Sure, a great photographer does the same, but it is so much easier to point the camera and shoot the picture. The artist has to take her time, get a sense of the person and has to 'see' each detail. There was something in her paintings that was very different from what you see in the coldly real photos.

And then there are the other people - the bailiffs, clerks, security guards, transcriber, technicians, etc. - without whom the trial, as we know it, couldn't function.

For all of these people, the trial is part of their real lives, not just ink on the newsprint in the orange plastic bag on the doorstep each morning.

An interesting final point on this case. Unlike many sorts of crimes where the victim is an individual human being who, like the accused, would have friends and family in court with him, we didn't have that dynamic here.


  1. Steve - I just came across your blog today, a lazy Sunday when I have time to peruse the 'net more carefully. You've written a lot of interesting stuff, and your observations have given me food for thought. Thanks. I shall be reading over the next few days. AKGambit

  2. Thanks Elaine. Glad someone found something of use here. I need to go back to a few posts of pictures after the intensity of all this trial stuff.


Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.