Saturday, December 22, 2007

Pickton Trial Part 6: Verdict Day

That Sunday morning began like so many mornings. The standard "walk in" shots of the cast of characters that we have become so familiar with.
Sue did her hit into Newsnet, the discussion between her and the host back in Toronto centered around the question of a potential record breaking deliberations. When the hit finished, I began to settle in for the long day ahead. I had brought lots of entertainment to pass the time between hits. Our next one wouldn't be until late in the afternoon.

I went up to our office, ( yes we have a bureau office just a stone's throw away up the long stone stairway of Begbie Square) to warm up and grab a diet Pepsi. I sat down for a second to shoot the shit with Gary T who was tech. producing today.when all at once he said to me as he checked his blackberry: "Verdict!"
"Bullshit" I responded. Hell I was just down stairs and Tapper had a reputation for being a bit of a joker.
As he turned toward me, and I caught the expression on his face, I realized the boy who cried wolf was not joking.
I leaped up out of my chair and ran down the long and treacherous stairway. It must of been quite a sight seeing a short fat guy sprinting down stairs taking them three and four at a time. I was at my camera in less than one minute.
God love Sue, she already was mic-ing herself up. Before I knew it we were breaking into programming and up on Newsnet.
This was it, the day that we had waited for nine days for. There would be a verdict. Word spreading like wild fire to families and lawyers holed up nearby. It would take near 40 minutes for the Court to reconvene. All the while Sue was on the air. Calmly reporting the excitement that was enveloping the area.


I knew that we would be having guests and had a mixer set up, but because of audio routing, I would need a break to bring up her mic and the guest mic together. At the rate and appetite for information, Toronto was not about to break away for me long enough to make it happen. So I decided to deep six the mixer and simply go with a hand held and she would have to conduct her conversations with guests "old school" single stick mic. It was a decision I was glad to have made. The less complicated the better as the situation was very very fluid.

Tamar, our chase producer, was busy hunting down guests and working two cell phones notifying our prearranged guests (experts in law and DNA sciences) to make their way to us. All the while Sue is cranking it out never missing a beat.
It looked like we were going to be on the air for a very long time. As I squinted into my viewfinder, I congratulated myself for having the foresight to have powered the camera with an AC pack as opposed to using a battery. That feeling quickly fleeting as speaking of batteries, I realized that the double A's in the wireless Sue had on might be a bit long in the tooth.
"Shit" I thought, how the hell am I going to change batteries on the fly, live??

I grabbed a pair of AA's and crawled on my hands and knees over to her. I asked Tamar to relay to the control room in Toronto to have the host ask a "long question". They did and it gave me just enough time to switch in fresh batteries.

The temperature was just above freezing outside at our broadcast location, and here it was maybe 10 minutes into our coverage and I am sweating like I'm in the freakin' desert. All the while Sue is doin' her thing. Giving the viewers a great performance and exquisite oratory. I was in the presence of greatness.

By now all media outlets were on the air and the anticipation of just what the verdict would hold was at a climax.
"The jury is just now entering the court" Sue proclaimed. It was indeed very close now. Blackberries all over the courtyard were no doubt buzzing with information coming from inside.
"Not Guilty!" she said as the information was being read off the screen.
Then she said" but wait, we are now getting information that the Not Guilty verdict is for 6 counts of first degree, Guilty on counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and yes 6 counts of second degree murder"
There it was, a conviction. But the drama was just beginning. While we were on the air the streets had been blocked off by police. I did notice a sudden increase in police presence on the square, but it had not registered as I had been dealing with my own situation. It was not long before the families and court watchers came out of the court past the small crowd of TV cameras and newspaper photographers.
Sue describing this for the viewers giving everyone a sense of actually being there. The families came out past the waiting media and over to the CTV local tent. there they had formed a circle and began a solemn ceremony, lighting candles, remembering their loved ones, the six victims. It was a very moving moment, one that when I look back and remember it, brings goose bumps to the back of my neck. The impromptu gathering was shot from another camera position. All the while Sue respectfully staying quiet only occasionally interjecting a poignant observation to our viewing audience.

Families gather for a candle light ceremony remembering their loved ones

Sue on the air with a family member, while in the background an emotional embrace

There were tears and there were hugs. The anguish written on many faces. Yet relief. These folks had indeed been through allot, yet took the time to come to us and share their thoughts and reactions to Sue. It is something that has always humbled me as a story teller, the willingness for people who are hurting, speaking to us under the glare of my lens and sharing with us raw feelings that are very personal and pure.

Sue handled each guest, be it a relative of one of the victims or an invited guest "expert" as if they were her own family. Often the conversation was emotional. But her gentle ways comforted those who spoke to us. Her interviewing mined those golden nuggets of information giving us glance into someones heart. It truly was a privilege to behold.

Sue speaking with the sisters of Georgina Papin one of Robert Pickton's victims.

The Newsnet animal is a hungry one however and the coverage was wall to wall. It was the biggest national story of the day and the Net's appetite was ravenous. Tamar was hustling and wrangling guests for Sue. When it was finally over for CTV Newsnet, Sue had been on the air for just over eight straight hours. Then after a quick sip of coffee she did a hit with CP24 and Court TV Canada.

Crown Prosecutor Mike Petrie speaks with Sue Sgambati during her eight hours on Newsnet. It was Mr. Petrie's first one on one after his pooled presser.

Sue enjoying that sip of Timmy's finest just before she did her CP24 and Court TV Canada commitments.

I have been in this business for almost 27 years and I have never seen such an incredible performance by a single broadcaster. Eight hours, never missing a beat, never stumbling a line or fact, never flustered. God damn that was amazing and I was proud to have witnessed it first hand.

Needless to say, we all had a wrap dinner that night, toasting our team. It was bitter sweet as now that the verdict was over, so too was my time with Sue.
The girls were being released from the story after 3 full weeks. Now they could return to friends and family back at World Headquarters. Sue got out on the first flight home to return to her family and to her duties as host and producer for Court TV Canada. Tamar left later the next day and after a couple of days off returned to her duties in the control room.

Our Newsnet team -Tamar Vartanian , Murman, and Sue Sgambati - posing for one final group shot at the end of Verdict Day

For me the Pickton trial had one final chapter, and it would come in the form of the sentence. I was reassigned to local coverage and teamed up with both Lisa and Janet for the shows. It was a great way to finish what was a very tough assignment.

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