I have been in the news business a long time and have covered some major trials along the way. But nothing compares to what I have experienced over the past four months, while covering the Jodi Arias trial for Dateline NBC. It all came to a head on May 8th, when the jury announced they had reached a verdict in the case.
The media, along with Arias-obsessed members of the public gathered on the 5th floor of the Maricopa County Superior Court building, just outside Judge Sherri Stephens’ courtroom. Because of the high interest in the case, the media was told that only members who had been covering the story since Day 1 would be allowed inside. Members of the public had been able to get inside the courtroom through a daily lottery during the trial. However, because of limited seating, none get inside on verdict day.
We already know what the jury decided but for me the real surprise came later, outside. Myself and my NBC colleague wanted to get an interview with one of Travis Alexander’s best friends, Dave Hall, for his reaction to the verdict. He agreed to be escorted with us outside, for what we hoped would be an interview in a controlled, quiet space. What we didn’t realize is that we were the first people connected to the case to exit the building. As we walked through the exterior glass doors, one of the biggest crowds I have ever seen in a small space greeted us. Court security had set-up ropes to keep the exit space clear from the public and cameras, but the overflow crowds quickly closed in. As we walked down the court room stairs with all eyes upon us, those following the case recognized Dave Hall and erupted into cheers and clapping. Hall, still overwhelmed with emotion from the guilty verdict, raised his arm in celebration, which brought more cheers.
In that surreal and strange moment I experienced complete and sad clarity-Travis Alexander was still dead, Jodi Arias was facing the death penalty, and both families would never be the same. A courthouse celebration, which at best seemed poorly timed, and at worst, highly inappropriate.