Coincidentally, I sat next to the man who wrote this very well done commentary (linked above) during last Tuesdays courtroom proceedings. (Actually, squashed next to him would be a more apt description as the Courtroom had become standing room only as expected, forcing all of us to pack the benches like sardines.
Monday, being the first day of the trial, it stood to reason that the crowd, including the media, would be at its most prolific. Today it seemed attendance had thinned just a hair and this was enough for me to assume that as the trial progressed, public interest or just plain perseverance would wane just a bit, at least to the point where seating might not be such a commodity. After four days I'm not sure my logic was all that sound, for while yes, some of the public might become tired and drained by the proceedings and the neccesary machinations to simply get in and out of the courtroom. Other, new people will certainly fill in these vacancies, and on it will go, especially as the media attention sparks more and more interest in the case.
In any event, after waiting on two very long lines, one at the security entrance to the court and the second, upstairs at a second security checkpoint outside the courtroom, one stands for an hour, not certain if they'll make the grade, ie actually gain entry after all of this. But realizing that it is a necessary part of the process you do the only thing you can-you wait.
Once you do manage to get in clearing the official public seating quota, you try not to wear your relief all over your face. You make your way into the courtroom looking for a seat on the left side, where just the last several rows have any seating room at all and these, you know from prior instructions from the Connecticut Judicial Branch, are reserved for the "general public" .
Note: When I initially contacted the courthouse reps in charge of the " official" approved Press seating list, it was suggested to me that despite the fact that I might appear to fit the technical designation as a member of the press as defined by the Connecticut Judicial branch ie " a person or entity involved in the gathering of and disseminating of news" As a owner and author of a Blog, adding me would be like opening a Pandora's box of sort for all Blog owners who wish to attend with a Press pass. Needless to say, it wasnt going to happen.
From a practical standpoint, the rep politely suggested that I'd be more likely to get a seat as a member of the public anyway, considering there were substantially more seats reserved for the public than the press.
The first three rows behind the defense row of seating were to be the 25 first come first serve seating for the approved Press. However on opening day, it had become somewhat of of free for all in court room 6A, with press members spilling over into the seats reserved for the public.The fourth row is where I ultimately resided on Tuesday. In a seat technically reserved for the public but in actuality flanked by members of the press(which was fine by me) I sat with an over the shoulder view of a remarkably swift court room artist who was hastily capturing images of witnesses as they came and went throughout the days proceedings.
I sat on the hard wooden bench and was glad for my "spot" albeit a half a real persons spot, although at 5 3 and 115 lbs, I couldnt help but wonder if a larger person would have made it in at all. A few minutes of quiet murmurings and a rather Joltinhg "Court is in session, Judge Blue presiding "All Rise!" barked by
At this point, I must interject that attending this trial is truly a surreal experience, an emotional juxtaposition of sorts. At times you may sit through long periods of sometimes mundane and/or repetitive testimony/ lawyer-speak minutia, But believe it or not you will soon grow grateful for the mundane
for it becomes mini- respites from the upsetting, emotionally wrenching testimony and evidenciary viewings that are inevitable.
The courtroom happenings occur in fits and starts, either due to defense attorneys or prosecutors objections or "sidebar" requests ie "may we approach the bench your honor" type of thing and then quiet-( or not so quiet if you're lucky )murmurings from the bench which we, the onlookers, are not supposed to be privy to.
Sidebar requests would seem to be more common with the Defense than the prosecution, this via Attorney Thomas Ullmann, a fact that has not escaped the mostly good humored barbs of Judge Blue who at times grows understandably impatient with Ullmanns bull-dog like tendency to never relent re a point or disagreement with the bench.
Proceedings might be moving along relatively innocuously and then with little warning, a witness and accompanying evidence is introcuded and the next the thing you know, you are hearing about the smallest of details concerning another human being's terror and violent ends.
In this case, it is three human beings, a mother and her two young daughters,
as well the battered lone survivor, Dr William Petit, who sits in the courtroom on the right side flanked by his Friends and family, at times bracing his arms against the seats in front of him, as if to brace himself against the pain and anger that he must be feeling just being within a few feet from the man who assaulted and strangled his wife and is responsible for burning his two children to death.
Restraint and integrity seem the watchword for both the Petit and Hawke families. Despite Dr Petit's thoughtful and soft spoken demeanor, there runs a river of quiet strength and determination beneath a personae that literally smacks of decency. I sense there is a powerful force that likely stems from a deeply ingrained faith matched only by a enduring love and devotion for his stolen family, qualities clearly shared by his families.
To the left of the courtroom, and at various points in the day the lights are dimmed and we are shown evidence that is pertinent to the days testimony.
Much of it is upsetting, some of it almost unbearable to view. But view it we must, for it is has become testimony from beyond: from the three people whose lives we are here to honor by ensuring that justice is obtained for them: Jennifer, Hayley and Michaela Petit.
Rest in Peace, Angels.