When former Prosser Mayor Linda Lusk goes in for her scheduled sentencing hearing on July 8, the strange and sordid tale will finally end. What started last summer after talk swirled in Prosser has gone through several delays, changes in the defense and complaints about media coverage as well as complaints from the media about what information was available.
By virtue of scheduling, I shot her first appearance as well as her guilty plea on May 20 — the only two times we photographed her in court. As I touched on before, getting a good angle during the crowded docket in her first appearance was a chore. And while she was the main event at the guilty plea, the cramped courtroom caused headaches of its own. There wasn't much room for all three TV stations and me, along with a mostly full house. Since we were all jammed together around the entrance, I asked if I could set up in the empty jury box. The bailiff said it was fine and I, along with the rest of the media, all moved over.
Aside from having the comfort of a plush Benton County juror's seat, the box also gave me a fresh perspective. The glory was short-lived, however, as a court employee asked if the defense had agreed to be photographed from the front. When nobody knew the answer, she scurried out of the courtroom to find Lusk's attorneys, promptly returning to triumphantly declare that we had to return to the cluttered entrance. As I made my way past her, I wanted to say something snappy like, "I didn't realize you could work for the court and the defense!", before ripping off Dave Chappelle by playing DMX's Party Up to a chorus of cheers and laughter.
I quickly realized that the line wasn't that funny and that I really had nothing to gain by sassing her, but I wanted to show my displeasure, so I said, "It's not like we don't already have pictures of her face."
"That's not the point," was the reply.
I agree with that on a couple points. While I would have been surprised if we could have actually stayed there for the proceedings, what really bugged me was somebody stepping well outside her bounds. If the defense had come in and nixed the idea, fine. Same goes for the judge. I may not be an expert on the courts, but what happened seemed totally inappropriate.
What's funny, though, is that by sticking us near the entrance, Lusk and the defense were greeted with a faceful-o-camera both before and after:
Other than that, I shot the courtroom standards, getting wide and tight shots as key players briefly turned in profile:
What little emotion there was ended up being hidden from us,
which is too bad because that would have been much more compelling than the first shot, which is what we ran with the story.
Unless something really crazy happens at sentencing next week, it's a pretty mundane ending to a case that generated so much attention. It's strange to think it could all end with a prosecution-suggested three months in jail on work release after all the community scrutiny and armchair lawyers filling the online comment sections of every story.
The attention even led one prosecutor to lament, "You have to molest little boys to get a photo gallery in this town," while trying a case with the gender roles reversed. But it was this role reversal, coupled with Lusk's mayoral history, tripled with her marriage to Prosser High School's principal (where the victim was a student at the time) that made this such a juicy story. In fact, it was so big that local reporters were trying to confirm it as rumors dust-deviled through Prosser days before she was charged and it graduated from hearsay.
It was so big that former KNDU reporter Adam Harding apparently claimed he broke the story after getting hired at WMUR in New Hampshire — a story that riled up the reporters I talked to who knew that the story had actually been broken at a press conference despite everyone's best efforts. Maybe KNDU ended up tweeting it first after the formal announcement, but I think that hardly counts as breaking the story when everybody else was at the same conference.
EDIT: Harding, understandably upset about the previous statement, contacted me with his concerns. I agree that I should have contacted him before running the blog and I regret not doing so. It was unfair to not give him the chance to respond, and we've been in contact through Facebook messages since Friday. He contends that KNDU did send out breaking news alerts before the press conference, alerting its subscribers and viewers about the impending conference as well as what the conference was about. If that was the case, then he may stake the claim of breaking the story first. I, nor anybody else I had talked to about this, knew about the pre-conference alerts, but the point of mentioning this tidbit was not to resurrect a year-old pissing match about who broke what. The point was to further illustrate the gravity of the story and all the weird facets associated with it. Apologies to Adam Harding for the blindsiding.
The added connection of Principal Kevin Lusk also added another wrinkle while covering Prosser's attempted school bond measures, and throughout the whole situation, I feel for him and, of course the victim. Although it's always exciting in this business when something salacious happens, I don't think anybody would wish the next Lusk-esque situation on anybody.
And in other news...
The White House and news photographers have agreed on a new plan for covering presidential speeches after a Reuters photo blog post revealed the long-standing procedures for setting up still photos of such speeches after they are delivered. It's one of those nitpicky photojournalism ethical questions that most people probably don't care about, but are important to our profession. Chicago Tribune photographer Alex Garcia has an interesting blog about covering politics.
What's interesting is how seldom the public seems to scrutinize set-up situations that are presented as reality, when they are so quick to accuse people of Photoshop trickery. Another Chicago Tribune photographer, Scott Strazzante, recently felt that heat and posted the sequence of his shots showing a red-winged blackbird hitching a ride on a bald eagle.
Mediastorm.org recently posted "African Air" by George Steinmetz, who shot some stunning aerials from his motorized paraglider. It's a nice contrast of imagery and tone from both the recent turmoil and cliché photos that seem to dominate what we see out of Africa.