I got to the courthouse early, planning to sit in the “cry room” gallery and watch the proceedings until it was my turn to shoot. Not only was I very interested in watching the hearing, but I wanted to be sure I was ready to shoot and knew the layout. Showing up early allowed me to set a perfect white balance and compare exposure settings with Doug Pizac, the Associated Press photographer who would be sending my photos out on “the wire.”
In a last minute change, the defense and prosecution teams had switched tables. There had been some concern that the original spot Warren Jeffs would be in would allow him to stare down the witness (I’m not saying he would have). This move meant we would be closer to Jeffs. But it was a surprise when I looked out at Doug and saw he was sitting right next to Warren Jeffs. At most, he was photographing Jeffs from only 36 inches away.
After a moment, Doug switched to a much better position across the room. Now we would be shooting from just in front of the jury box with a clear view of Jeffs, the attorneys, the witnesses, etc.
Every seat in the courtroom was occupied. People were actually turned away. Security was tight but not overbearing as has been reported. In fact, the security wasn’t so obvious, especially outside. The men with guns were there, but not in your face. One tricky aspect for journalists, they didn’t allow any cel phones in the court, which made communications non-existant.
During a break at 10:30 I traded spots with Doug, taking the pool position in the courtroom. I was working with three cameras, each with a different lens. One, with a 24-70mm lens, was for wide shots and overall views of the courtroom. The next was a 70-200mm lens which was pretty much the go-to lens for photographing the attorneys asking questions, the Jeffs supporters in the gallery, the mismatched socks on the defense attorney. On the third camera I had a 300mm lens, which was really good for getting in tight on Warren Jeffs.
(I could have done it with two cameras and switched lenses, but I try not to switch lenses with digital cameras. It just lets more dust in to collect on the sensor.)
In the initial Warren Jeffs court appearance three months ago, I shot machine gun style, firing off dozens of shots in the brief three minutes I had. This time was different. I had two hours, so I could take my time looking for shots and focus my attention on various moments.
One of the shots I kept coming back to was a tight shot of Jeffs with the sheriff’s deputy standing behind him.
During my shift in the court, the victim’s sister testified. So no shots of her. As I talked about in part one, we don’t identify rape victims except in extreme cases. Further, the judge had ordered us not to photograph the victim or her family.
It’s too bad that the victim’s testimony was only heard by those in the courtroom. It was very illuminating into at least this girl’s life growing up in the FLDS culture. At the age of 14, when she was married, she had had zero sex education. She knew nothing about sex, which she called “man-wife relations.” She was asked how often she had “man-wife relations” with her husband, the alleged rapist. She responded, “It seemed like it was all the time…probably once a week.”
The victim’s testimony was very emotional, and she cried through a lot of it. As she started to get into the worst of the story, I went in tight on Warren Jeffs in case there was any kind of reaction. His expression didn’t change. He listened without much emotion.
When the judge called for a lunch break, Warren talked with his attorneys, smiling with them about something. I waited to photograph his exit, but the deputies made me leave everyone leave the room before they took him out one of the two secure exits. Security reasons.
My shoot was over. Doug copied my flash cards and started to distribute them. I went out to my car and moved my picks back to the office. Then I went back in and listened to some of the cross-examination of the victim. Very interesting, watching the defense try to pick apart her story. I missed a lot of it, but did hear the question that was something like, “Isn’t it true that (your husband) found a receipt for condoms?”
Another interesting thing I learned from testimony today: Fred Jessop arranged this marriage, not Warren or his father Rulon Jeffs.
I’m not here to tell you what to think about this case and/or polygamy in general. I’m not out to get Warren Jeffs and I’m not here to be the apologist for polygamists. My goal is to be your eyes on the story, and show you things through my hopefully knowledgeable eyes so you can make up your own mind.
That said, it’s always frustrating to listen to the media coverage after actually being at one of these kinds of events. You hear so many things reported just plain wrong and out of context or simplified beyond all comprehension. If I could give you any advice on keeping yourself informed about the world, it would be to read the news rather than watch it.
This post also appeard on mywork blog, on the Tribune’s website