I witnessed a man receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole. It was the most surreal moment of my entire life.
I nervously entered the courtroom, not knowing what to expect. I crossed the barrier to hug Shaun Benford, a close family friend. My sister is the godmother of her grandchild, and her son and me attended the same school and played sports together. My nerves calmed a little after seeing her.
After the hug, I hear “even I don’t get hellos like that.” It was Bill Cook. The legendary photographer, formerly of The Lebanon Democrat, offered me a seat next to him. I have been a fan of Cook’s work for as long as I could remember. He photographed many of my sporting and school events throughout my life. My nerves calmed down a little more as we began to talk.
I sat in the jury box, now less nervous and more anxious about my first murder trial coverage. It was only the previous day that Judge John Wootten called upon me as I sat in the gallery with my reporter’s notepad. He was curious of my purpose for being one of the few remaining people in the courtroom and not knowing I was a reporter for the newspaper.
I turned to my right and saw several cameramen and reporters from Channel 4 WSMV and other news outlets and felt the nerves coming back. “I don’t fit here,” I thought. “Four months ago I was writing for a senior-level journalism course, and now I’m sitting in front of Hayley Mason (News Channel 4).” But nonetheless, the nerves quickly exited my body as I heard, “all rise.” It was game time.
As assistant district attorney Jimmy Lea read the facts of the case, detailing the crime committed and the course authorities took to capture Richard Parker, I exhaled. I put my camera and notepad down after hectically writing notes and taking pictures and looked around the courtroom.
I had never seen the courtroom so quiet. Every person sat like a statue, glued to the words of Lea. Disbelief and shock filled the faces of most of the people inside the courtroom and a few eyes turned red. The usual faces I had become accustomed to seeing around the courtroom for the past two weeks suddenly looked different.
There were no smiles. There were no reactions. We were all in the moment.
It was just like the movies. The only difference is this was real life. A man committed a heinous crime against family. I was covering one of the biggest stories in the history of Wilson County, and the one moment I’ll never forget is when I looked around the courtroom.
I’ll never forget that moment because it reminded me what I need to do more; be in the moment. We all do. Life happens fast, and if you don’t take the time to look around and be in the moment, it’ll disappear before you know it. Your life could change by the end of a sentence.
Xavier Smith is a staff writer for The Democrat. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @wilsonnewswritr.