Trial Run

Library (2)

First, the introductions.

The Guys Who Know have graciously allowed me to begin contributing to their blog. My name is Mark Thielman and I am a former prosecutor currently working as a criminal magistrate and aspiring writer. Here’s hoping that I might add the occasional bit of insight into the world of crime, that of a courthouse guy.

My association with these writers grew out of a conversation Bruce Coffin and I had while standing outside the elevators at the Malice Domestic Conference. The conference gathers annually in Bethesda, Maryland. While attending, I also ventured into D.C. and visited Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration exhibit at the Library of Congress. And it is here that I would like to begin.

The intense media circus surrounding the 1935 trial of Richard Hauptman, the man convicted in the Lindbergh kidnapping, resulted in a prohibition on cameras in the courtroom. The increasing popularity of television news in the 1960s, however, produced a demand for visuals to accompany news stories about famous trials. The drawings in the exhibit provide the only visual record of the action and the drama of the courtroom. The works displayed begin with the Jack Ruby trial in Dallas in 1963 and march forward to the recent past. Having lived through each of these decades, the trials pictured felt less like a history exhibit and more like a chronicle of our times in jurisprudence.


Howard Brodie. Diagrammatic view of courtroom used in the Ruby v. Texas

Trial in Dallas, Texas. 1964. Crayon on white paper. Prints and Photographs

Division, Library of Congress (018.00.00) LC-DIG-ds-04020 ©Estate of Howard Brodie. Used with permission.

This drawing of the empty courtroom identifies the locations of all the parties in Ruby vs. Texas. Henry Wade, Melvin Belli, all the famous participants are located. If you look closely along the jury rail, Mr. Brodie helpfully identifies the spittoon. By the time, I tried cases in this courtroom in the 1980s, this magnificent room had a drop ceiling, moldy walls and the murals had been painted over, with no hint of its history or past grandeur. It carried the glamorous name of Auxiliary Trial Court.

Celebrity defendants always  raise the profile of a case. This rendition of Martha Stewart listening to testimony in her fraud and obstruction trial shows but one example. I like the eyes and the button-downed nature of all the participants shown in this sketch. To me, they tell a story about the trial even without learning the details of securities fraud.


Marilyn Church, Martha Stewart Trial. February 1, 2004. Colored

Pencil and water-soluble crayon on ochre paper. Prints and Photographs

Divison, Library of Congress (111.00.00) LC-DIG-ppmsca-51159 ©Marilyn Church. Used with permission.

Telling stories about trials, helping to craft images about the human dynamics of criminal court, this is what I hope to contribute to my colleagues here at Murder-Books. I appreciate their giving me the opportunity.

If you’re in the District, I recommend you check out the exhibit at the Library of Congress. It will be there through the end of October.

2 thoughts on “Trial Run

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