Courtrooms during trials are odd places.
First...there is the issue at hand. Most of the court cases I report on involve terrible murders or sickening sex abuse or sometimes a combination of the two which makes it worse yet.
At first..everyone is quiet and respectful in the courtroom. Then, as the days and weeks drag on...a bit of boredom sets in among the
family and friends from the two sides who are there to see justice performed.
Its especially hard as they wait for the morning or afternoon session to begin. The judge and lawyers are often in the office hammering out issues they do not want to discuss in front of the jury.
But out in the courtroom there are no explanations about what is happening and why court is not starting on time.
The jury waits in a different room.
The audience waits on wooden church-like the pews.
Sometimes those gathered sit and tell jokes to each other...other times they read books or fall asleep.
Today in Clark County a man read the newspaper.
It all changes ...at least for a moment when jailers lead in the defendant.
Today’s case involves James Classen.. He’s a well known dentist in the Battleground area. He’s here after stabbing his wife to death with sewing scissors.
Today he’s wearing a grey sweater with black and white horizontal stripes...over a white dress shirt and dark slacks.
He’s handcuffed in the hallway but the cuffs are taken off in court before the jury sees him.
Two big black note books sit on the defense table in front of him. Black letters on the green binding of each read “State V Classen”.
Each holds hundreds of pages of ....something. The lawyers glance at them every once in awhile.
Classen is sixty years old and wears hearing aids.
His grey hair is mostly combed. His brown rimmed glasses cover eyes that no doubt looked into the mouths of hundreds if not thousands of people over his career to help heal them.
Those same eyes looked at his wife’s face as he murdered her.
The facts of the case are as nasty as any horror movie you’ve seen, which is why I never attend horror movies. There’s enough of it in real life. Its not entertaining.
In this case, both sides agree James Classen snuck into the home where his wife was sleeping around two in the morning on February 8, 2005.
As he reached the top of the stairs, Classen walked into a room on the right. It was his estranged wives’ sewing room. He picked out a pair of sewing scissors then went into her bedroom.
(Feel free to skip these details)
According to courtroom testimony Eveann Classen was sleeping on her stomach. James turned on the light...climbed onto the bed and began stabbing her in the back of the head.
She woke up...and began trying to fight him off. She rolled over and he continued to stab her in the face. When it was done, he’d stabbed her more than 70 times. Classen stabbed her so many times that he bruised the hand holding the scissors.
And Eveann Classen was dead.
Now more than a year later, the former dentist faces a charge of first degree murder.
Roughly twenty people are in the audience for the first day of testimony. Some grow restless waiting for the afternoon session to begin.
They whisper to each other, shift in their seats and watch my photographer set up the video camera and audio mics in the courtroom.
Classen is seated at the defense table. Its on the right, facing the judge. The prosecution table is on the left.
Classen rests his elbows on the table, his hands together near his chin.
Then he leans forward and lowers his forehead onto his hands.
Is he resting? Praying? What could possibly be running through his mind ?
Then he sits back and waits quietly in the pink fabric chair of the courtroom.
Classen looks like he could be here to present a paper on a dental break through. How odd that he’s here for murder.
Two Clark County jail deputies stand behind Classen. They’re wearing green pants with tan shirts and black gun belts. The belt holds a gun and tazer.
Finally, Judge John Wulle and the lawyers enter the courtroom.
As they were about to resume the trial one of those odd and at the same time ordinary things happen. The days of court reporters and their fast fingers are over. Now in most counties I cover, the courtroom has an audio/video system and everything is recorded. This afternoon the microphone in front of the defense team was not working. An aide to the judge entered the courtroom from a side door....said excuse me to the defense team and Classen, picked up the round disc looking mic, and dropped it onto the table.
She gave a grin and a satisfied nod and left the courtroom with the mic now working.
As testimony begins in the afternoon session, Detective James Buckner from the Clark County Sheriff's Office is on the stand. He is the lead detective in this case.
The defense lawyer, Jon McMullen is cross examining the detective. He’s trying to show the jury that Classen was not in his right mind during the murder or after it when detectives interviewed him.
At one point the lawyers get into a bit of a verbal tussle which I’m sure was important to them but sounded silly to the rest of us. Here is how it went.
Defense Atty says: ....and he told you the whole story.
Prosecutor says: Objection! He does not know it is the whole story.
Judge says: Ah
Defense Atty says: Alright, the whole story he told you.
Prosecutor says: Sounds better.
Judge says: You two are doing quite well without me.
The lawyers and the audience all laughed.
As I read it now it does not really look that funny. But if you were there you would have laughed too. Kinda feels weird laughing during a murder trial. But it happens.
Another of those odd moments came when the defense lawyer asked Detective Buckner to open a sealed evidence bag. He handed it to the detective who put on blue latex gloves to open it.
The evidence bag is made of brown paper like you get at the grocery story with a bright red border which might be tape.
The detective takes a pair of scissors and begins cutting. The microphone in front of him on the witness stand amplifies the cutting sound in an odd way...no one says a word. Everyone watches as he opens the bag. It is a black day timer calendar. It belongs to Classen.
There will be more witnesses and more evidence this day and the next and the next. The trial is expected to last two weeks.
It will include odd and unexpected moments and some might even allow a moment of laughter.
But in the end there is no escaping the truth that this was a horrible crime and every moment of it is being examined and unveiled inside a courtroom with church pew benches in Clark County.