Intense and serious week has moments of local levity
It was a bizarre finish to a long, stressful trial. When the confusion arose after Circuit Clerk Melissa Meek-Phelps read the first statement the jury foreman handed her and then a juror or blurted out a contradiction, I suspected that someone or more on the jury, after a week’s quarantine, really wanted to get back to Pike County and figured that throwing the trial was the quickest way to get there.
I later learned the real explanation, which you will no doubt have also learned by now, but the confusion increased the anxiety among trial officials and spectators, law enforcement and media.
And along the way the trial had provided a few lighter moments. Pope Fire Dept. volunteer Sandra Hailey gave us one when she described the people who gathered on Herron Road that tragic night, including “rubberneckers.” We had heard the name from at least one firefighter who had testified before, but Hailey gave a waggle of her head to illustrate what she meant, bringing a smile to jurors’ faces.
Then there was Tim Douglas’ account of pursuing to Des Moines, Iowa a suspect who had unknowingly made himself a very viable suspect by confiding to a friend shortly after the time of the murder that he had done something very bad and needed to get out of town immediately. The suspect’s likely location was determined and Douglas got the assistance of an FBI SWAT team in Des Moines to apprehend him. Imagine the suspect’s relief when he was able to tell them that he had only shot somebody in Panola County that night.
Another viable suspect was ruled out when law enforcement was able to verify that “he was at home rubbing his mama’s feet,” according to testimony, to relieve pain from a chronic condition she suffered.
You may have seen the hapless photographer who found himself facing the wrath of Judge Gerald Chatham for a “blatant violation” of court rules prohibiting the photographing of jurors. One of his fellow photographers told me he left town the next morning rather than risk crossing the judge again.
Another journalist was saved from contempting the court by fellow media who poked him in the ribs just as the volume of his snores was ascending toward certain disruption.
Several of us at this newspaper rotated through the courtroom during the trial, but I can tell you that the hours I spent there left me drained. How much moreso for the court officials and law enforcement officers who were on duty with little respite from the time they left Batesville for Pike County on Sunday, October 8 until they returned the jurors home Monday night?
There was also Judge Chatham. I figure that the judge is several years my senior, so I admired his stamina as he presided, hour after hour, appearing unaffected by fatigue. Then I noticed that his bailiff, who I later learned is DeSoto County Deputy Sheriff Ricky Logan and who always accompanies Judge Chatham. He appears to be near the same vintage as the judge and me, but everything that the judge did, Logan did while standing at ease beside the bench!
These lines are not written to diminish the serious, heinous nature of the crime that claimed the life of Jessica Chambers. They are recorded here as footnotes to our history in the local, written record.
Another grueling trial lies ahead. We hope that there will be time between now and then to give all involved enough breathing space to recover their energies.