Illinois courtrooms have become more transparent during a pilot program, authorized by the state Supreme Court, to allow cameras and microphones in court proceedings under certain circumstances.
The Lee County trial of Byron Adams, who was convicted this week of the September 2009 murder of Margaret Atherton, provided an example of how extended media coverage opens courtroom proceedings to a wider audience.
Before this year, Illinois was among a dwindling number of states that denied news reporters the use of cameras and microphones inside its trial courtrooms. Reporters with pens and notebooks were pretty much all the news coverage that was allowed.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride changed all that when he, speaking on behalf of the entire court, announced a pilot program early this year to allow cameras in local courtrooms.
Courtrooms in Whiteside and Lee counties have become part of the pilot program, at the request of their respective chief judges.
In Lee County, Associate Judge Charles Beckman granted Sauk Valley Media’s request for permission to conduct extended media coverage and blogging from the Adams trial.
As a result, people could see Sauk Valley Media’s still photographs from the trial printed in the newspaper and posted online at saukvalley.com.
Video images and audio of selected testimony, statements and post-trial interviews were also posted online.
In addition, a reporter was permitted to send short messages during the trial, so that the public could follow the proceedings from anywhere through a computer or smartphone connected to the Internet.
We believe the entire experience provided ample evidence that extended media coverage is useful and practical. Fears expressed by naysayers that lawyers and witnesses would play to the camera proved unjustified.
What came through instead was the sense that the criminal justice system operates in a professional, serious manner in the face of a senseless, terrible crime.
Our hope is that extended media coverage in local trial courtrooms becomes a permanent fixture. Visit saukvalley.com, view the videos posted, and let us know whether you agree.