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CBS first to air state court case under camera experiment

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CBS first to air state court case under camera experiment

  • The broadcast news program “48 Hours” will televise a murder trial, the first airing of a Mississippi case since the state’s Supreme Court gave cameras temporary access.

Oct. 2, 2003 — The CBS news program “48 Hours Investigates” will air a murder trial this fall, the first case in Mississippi to be televised since the state’s Supreme Court cleared the way for courtroom broadcasts.

On April 17, the Supreme Court adopted rules — on a pilot program basis — to permit broadcast and still camera coverage of trial and appellate court proceedings. Mississippi was one of 11 states that barred cameras from trial courtrooms.

Stephanie Stephens Watts is currently on trial in Forrest County Circuit Court for the murder of her husband, Dr. David Stephens. Dr. Stephens was found dead at the family’s home on May 1, 2001, at the age of 59. Stephens’ death was initially ruled to be from natural causes, but an autopsy later revealed his body contained high doses of Etomidate, a general anesthesia used for surgery.

According to a recent story by The Associated Press, producers of “48 Hours” said the case against Watts was an interesting subject for a television program. How well CBS presents that subject, however, will likely play a role in determining the future of cameras in Mississippi courtrooms.

Critics of camera access say CBS’s broadcasts will interfere with the judicial process, making witnesses nervous and prompting attorneys to show off. Open-court advocates argue that the benefits will far outweigh any possibility of theatrics.

“It’s a step in the right direction in terms of informing the public about the justice system,” Justice James E. Graves Jr. told the AP following the April decision. “It brings Mississippi in line with the majority of the other states which allow camera access to courtrooms.”

Graves was chairman of a panel of judges and journalists who recommended that Mississippi courts allow camera access.

(Mississippi v. Watts) AS

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