Monday, October 6, 2008

REPORTER BLOG: The Emotional Casualties of a Murder Trial

Brianna Savoca
bs201506@ohio.edu

A mother. A widow. A brother. A grandmother. A son.

Most people can relate to at least one of these people, and all of these people were present at the Jonathan Bebb murder trial.

While I could not videotape any of them for television, I still saw them all when I covered Bebb's trial.


Jonathan Bebb's mother, Wilhemina Lusty, sat in the front row directly behind her son.

Susan West, the widow of the victim, Philip Bebb, watched the trial from the opposite side of the courtroom.

Bebb's brother sat with his grandmother a few rows in front of West.

Finally, Jonathan Bebb, the son, sat stoically with the defense before the judge and the jury. He rarely spoke- just sat, stared, and occasionally blinked.

All the components of a family were sitting right before my eyes, yet they were pulled apart by the trial.

These people, a family, clearly had been through so much. A father had been murdered, and son had been in jail for a year, charged with his death. It was my job to tell their story and report on the outcome for their son.

I felt a great responsibility while sitting at the trial to:

1) Get all the facts right.
What I report may be viewed by many people in the area, and I need to be sure all information is correct.

2) Be fair and unbiased.
It was so difficult to sit in that courtroom and watch a mother's face when her son's verdict was being read. The jury determined Jonathan Bebb was not guilty by reason of insanity.

I watched Philip Bebb's widow, sitting three rows in front of me, looking at crime scene pictures of her murdered husband's body, projected on a huge screen for the jury. Jonathan Bebb had slashed his father with a knife almost 50 times.

Jonathan Bebb's brother got up and left the room during the post verdict hearing to determine what would happen to Bebb, when Bebb said his father sexually and physically abused him when he was 7-years-old. Psychologists testified Bebb imagined the abuse, as part of his delusional disorder.

While it is my job as a reporter to keep my emotions out of the story, it is hard to not feel for this family after everything they have been through.

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Dr. Jolie Brams, one psychologist who testified, said to me, "Have some empathy for this family. Try to imagine what this is like for them."

Here's my empathetic take on the situation:

-Tragically losing a father/husband is a very emotional ordeal by itself.

-Knowing the son, another family member, took his father's life multiplies the emotional stress of the situation.

-Plus, having a psychological disorder as the cause of the murder adds an additional element of stress to the situation.

The Bebb family has clearly been through a very tragic, trying ordeal.

A father is dead. A son suffers from a severe psychological disorder. A wife lost her husband. A mother will have to visit a psychiatric hospital to see her son for the rest of his life. And it all played out on the front pages of local newspapers and in the lead stories of our radio and tv newscasts.

I am not trying to sensationalize or editorialize this situation. I am simply using the facts and what I witnessed in the courtroom at Bebb's trial to put myself in someone else's shoes, which we probably should do more often as reporters.

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