TELEVISION / Summing up the case for the televised trial

WATCHING The Menendez Trial (BBC2 Sun) with a lubricious gawp, I was uncomfortably aware now and then that it wasn't quite enough to be thinking 'Crikey, so that's what a shotgun does to a victim' and 'They'll have to get Glenn Close to play the defence attorney'. The televising of court cases is a matter on which one is expected to have weightier thoughts. One party holds that it demeans the process of justice to convert it from sombre forensic procedure into a chart-topping staple for cable television. Others would argue that if justice should be seen to be done, then it is perverse to argue that it shouldn't be seen to be done by millions of people at prime time, even if they eat hot dogs during the cross-examination. In-camera justice is better than in camera justice, they would argue, to which their opponents would snap back, 'That's not the alternative; a courtroom should be a public place but doesn't have to be a public spectacle.'

After watching BBC 2's gripping digest of the five-and-a-half-month trial, you could certainly understand the plight of the juries a little more clearly (mistrials have been declared in both cases owing to their inability to agree on a verdict). Before watching this programme, I was confident, with the serene confidence of prejudice, that both brothers were calculating Yuppie murderers who had invented a story of sexual and physical abuse in mitigation of a horrible crime. After watching this highly condensed version of the evidence, it wasn't possible to be quite so sure any more and that alone may offer some sort of defence for televised hearings.

Certainly the argument that television may turn justice into showbiz seemed oddly redundant. Jury trials have been showbiz for centuries, the moment that the usher calls for order a curtain-up on a parade of actorly skills and storytelling. At one moment early in the defence cross- examination, Lyle recited the code his father had drilled into him: 'Today I will be master of my emotions. If I feel depressed, I will sing. If I feel sad, I will laugh. If I feel ill, I will double my labour. If I feel fear, I will plunge ahead. If I feel inferior, I will wear new garments . . .'

Knowing California, you can probably already buy T-shirts printed with this Desiderata of High Achievement (the shopping clause would be particularly congenial) but, in the flow of narrative the defence wanted to put forward, it was rather telling, a hint that the father may have schooled his children to a Spartan suppression of their feelings. Intriguingly, Lyle also claimed that his father used accounts of Greek warriors sleeping with their comrades to justify his sexual abuse. The jury had to decide whether this web of detail was real or merely realistic.

Viewed as performance, Lyle's testimony was persuasive too. If this was acting, it was the sort of meticulous method performance that wins prizes - a gulping, distressed reluctance to name the deed that worked effectively on your sympathies. On the other hand, his recall of the murder itself seemed a little cinematic, a little too lavishly storyboarded and there was some damaging testimony from the boys' therapist, who stuck it to an aggressive defence counsel by claiming that he feared he would be murdered if he revealed their confession to the police.

Even if the brothers weren't acting, though, the lawyers were going for broke. 'You just thought a dollars 9,000 18-carat gold Rolex would go well with your funeral suit, is that right?' said one of the prosecution lawyers, pushing on the sore spot of Lyle's post-murder shopping spree. For the defence, Erik's counsel set up a dramatic little stunt for her summing-up in which she stabbed pins through a photograph of a man's torso, reminding them of her client's tales of abuse. This was LA Law on a fraction of the budget.

Perhaps if I had sat there for five and a half months rather than 65 minutes, I would have had a clearer idea of whether they were guilty or not. In the absence of that, it seemed valuable to be reminded that justice won't always deliver in time for the ad-break.

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'