OPINION

GOOD MORNING: Local courts resume socially distanced jury trials

Jerrie Whiteley
Herald Democrat
Jerrie Whiteley / Herald Democrat

This week as the Timothy Barnum murder trial began to unfold in the west courtroom at the Grayson County Courthouse, I felt myself begin to really unwind from the knot that I have been tied in during this whole COVID-19 disaster.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that the pandemic is far from over and I know that people, including me, should remain cautious and continue taking preventative measures.

But with each new shot in a local arm, we move one step closer to a time when things will be more like we remember them.

I started to say the word “normal” in that last sentence, but I am not sure that “normal” the way we used to remember it, will ever come back.

It didn’t feel normal, for instance, to sit in the courtroom wearing a mask or to look across the courtroom and see the jurors sitting in the pews across from me rather than in their box across from the judge.

I couldn’t see the looks on their faces as they listened to the opening arguments or, because of the masks and distance, tell which ones laughed at the prosecutor’s jokes.

Nor did it feel normal to line up outside the courtroom while court staff took the temperature of each person entering the room and searched their bags.

Knowing that everyone around me was masked and had been screened for a temperature did make me feel comfortable being in such a crowd even though by pre 2020 standards, it was not a large crowd for such an event.

More importantly, just the simple fact that the trial went forward this week at all made me feel more comfortable that there is a light at the end of this tunnel.

I know it is a hard week for the Robert Allen family and for Timothy Barnum’s family. It is a week that, hopefully, will bring to a close a number of hard years for those folks who have had to wait to see what really happened to their loved or what might happen to their loved in Barnum’s case.

But at least at long last, they get to be there in person to see it all unfold. After months of socially distanced hearings on the internet, courts are finally open once again to the general public and I am a strong supporter of that.

I think the move to online hearings was a necessary one to keep things moving and people safe, but such hearings were a poor replacement for people actually getting to be in the room where justice happens.

Of course, there are media reports for those who can’t be there in person, but even those are limited. For instance, try as I might, I can’t write down every word that is said in court while also trying to note the way it was said or the looks on people’s faces as it was said, or the sound of the sirens as the fire trucks housed just blocks away roared to life just as a witness quietly uttered a particularly important answer.

I have to pick and choose which elements go into each story to try to give the best representation of everything that happened in an eight-hour day in court. And there is no way to get around the fact that doing that is subjective.

And that means anyone of the other people in the room might pick different examples than I do or tell them differently. That doesn't mean either of us isn't telling the truth. We are just telling it through our own perspective.