Cameras in Court for Naperville Babysitter’s Hearing

Elzbieta Plackowska pleads not guilty of killing son, girl

A suburban Chicago woman accused of murdering her 7-year-old son and a 5-year-old girl she was babysitting pleaded not guilty Wednesday.

Elzbieta Plackowska's plea was entered during the first broadcast of legal proceedings in the Chicago area. Prosecutors say Plackowska stabbed her son about 100 times and the girl 50 times, at least partly out of anger at her husband.

A day earlier Judge Robert Kleeman decided to allow one television camera and one still camera in his suburban DuPage County courtroom. One still camera and one television camera were directly behind Plackowska as she faced the judge wearing a blue county jumpsuit.

Her next hearing was scheduled for Jan. 4.

DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said he was satisfied the cameras won't be a problem during the arraignment. But Berlin said if and when the case goes to trial he would want the cameras moved away from the jury box. Berlin was worried about shutter noises from the cameras but photographers had equipment that muffled the sounds.

Berlin said he noticed the camera in the courtroom when he first walked in to Wednesday's hearing, but wasn't distracted by it during the hearing.

"Its great the public has an opportunity to see what we do in court every day," Berlin said. "What happens in the courtroom is serious business, not entertainment"

Plackowska's attorney, Michael Mara, was taking a wait and see attitude when it comes to the cameras.

"My focus is representing her," Mara said.

Wednesday's arraignment is the highest-profile test yet of a pilot project launched by the Illinois Supreme Court last January to allow media organizations to electronically record court proceedings. Until recently, Illinois was among about a dozen states that do not allow cameras in courtrooms at all.

The pilot project, in which 23 counties have been approved for cameras, has resulted in cameras inside courtrooms during two recent murder trials, with officials saying that both cases went smoothly and that the cameras did not cause any major disruptions. But those trials — one in Kankakee and the other in the far western edge of Illinois — did not attract the kind of media attention expected from one of the biggest media markets in the United States for the Naperville double-murder case.

The case also will be watched closely by the legal community in Cook County, which soon expects to bring court cameras into Chicago itself. The county's chief judge, Timothy Evans, submitted a cameras-in-the-court application soon after the high court announced the pilot program, but the application was deferred because the court wanted to see how things played out in the test counties.

Every state allows some form of recording and broadcasting in at least some court proceedings, with cameras in most states, said Ben Holden, the director of the National Center for the Courts and Media, in Reno, Nev. According to one article by the former director at the center, the first time a hearing was televised was in 1953 in Oklahoma.

Chicago is not the only big city where cameras have not been allowed. Cameras are not allowed, for example, in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh or anywhere else in Pennsylvania.

But they have been a big part of some of the nation's most sensational trials, with the most sensational of all in 1995 when former football great O.J. Simpson was acquitted on charges that he killed his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and a friend of hers.

The nation saw Simpson struggling with the glove prosecutors said he left at the scene after the slayings and attorney Johnnie Cochran telling the jury, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."

Since then, some of the country's biggest criminal cases have been broadcast live, from that of Casey Anthony, the Florida woman who was acquitted of murdering her 2-year-old daughter to the verdicts in the trial of New York City police officers charged in the shooting of an unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo. More recently, cameras have been in the courtroom for appearances by a man charged in the 1979 slaying of 6-year-old Etan Patz in New York.

In Los Angeles, where cameras have captured hearings of all sorts of celebrities, ranging from music producer Phil Spector to Lindsay Lohan, cameras have become part of the courtroom landscape.

"We have cameras in the courtroom somewhere in the county every couple of days, if not daily," said Mary Hearn, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Superior Court. "It's not a big deal."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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