Naked City

Beard Trial: Alert the Media!

With all the hustle and bustle last week in and around District Judge Julie Kocurek's courtroom on the seventh floor of the Travis Co. Criminal Justice Complex, you might have thought some complex, gritty legal issues of national importance were under consideration at the bar. You would be wrong. What was all the fuss? The murder trial of Celeste Beard Johnson opened on Feb. 3. That case -- featuring allegations of murder for hire and lesbian relationships combined with a slew of tape-recorded phone conversations and a slain television executive -- has garnered a significant amount of national media attention. Aside from the regular contingent of local media folks, Kocurek's courtroom is playing host to crews from the television newsmagazines 48 Hours and Primetime and the legal eagles from Court TV. Naked City was told that the Massive Ego Contingent is already crowding out courthouse regulars. One national "news" hotshot appeared in the already-packed courtroom and asked a colleague, "Who are all these people?"

"Oh," his colleague replied, waving a dismissive hand, "just locals."

The national newsies have apparently convinced themselves that their purpose here is almost as important as they are. KXAN reporter Sally Hernandez asked network newsmagazine producer Jenna Jackson why she and her colleagues are interested in the Beard case. "I think it's just one of those stories that's got so many human elements that it's important to everyone," Jackson replied. Right.

While the out-of-towners were focusing their headline frenzy on the Beard case, the once-more-notorious "Yogurt Shop Murder" case was unraveling beneath their notice, as DA Ronnie Earle announced he was dismissing all capital murder charges against defendant Maurice Pierce. Seems there were a few constitutional problems with the evidence, not to mention the three years of incarceration of a defendant against whom the state had no evidence.

Perhaps that's a bit too complicated for a 22-minute hour.

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