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Gutknecht: The public deserves to know

Friday morning, Publisher David Clemons and I started our day at the Newton County Judicial Center in Alcovy Judicial Circuit Chief Judge John Ott’s courtroom pleading our case.

No, The Covington News did not do anything wrong. We weren’t there on a criminal proceeding. We were there for you, our reader.

Georgia Law requires media agencies to file what is called a “Rule 22 Request” in order to bring any type of recording device into a courtroom, whether it is a camera, audio recorder or a video camera. With these requests, attorneys in the case have the right to appeal, but have to do so under one of the nine pre-designated reasons.

Friday morning, David and I went to discuss The News’ request to be in the courtroom with a camera for the arraignment of Christopher Michael McNabb and Cortney Marie Bell. You can read the story here to see how that hearing turned out.

First and foremost, I want to say “thank you” to Judge Ott for listening to our case and being more than understanding in allowing us to take pictures in your courtroom. It is a courtesy we do not take lightly.

Secondly, since cameras were not actually allowed in the Friday morning hearing, I thought I would use my little corner in this newspaper to describe to you what I saw in the courtroom.

To set the scene, I was sitting on the front row on the right side of the gallery, right behind District Attorney Layla Zon. Judge Ott was positioned diagonally across from my position facing out, and the defense team for both McNabb and Bell were to Zon’s left.

Judge Ott walked into the courtroom, we all stood, and then the defendants were let in.

First came McNabb. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, he was wearing shackles around his ankles, which were connected to a waist chain and handcuffs. To describe his appearance I wrote down one word: “greasy.”

McNabb’s hair was longer than I expected, unkempt, and featured a middle part. His chin was covered with a beard. He looked messy.

After McNabb was seated, Bell was brought in. She was wearing a pink jumpsuit with a white undershirt and had the same shackles as McNabb. Her hair, which is colored pink, was in a ponytail with bangs hanging down on the left side of her face. She looked more presentable.

These are the types of images I look forward to being able to provide you with Tuesday afternoon now that Judge Ott has graciously allowed us to be in the courtroom with cameras. You will no longer have to take my word for it; you will be able to see it for yourself. 

Jackie Gutknecht is the managing editor of The Covington News. She can be reached by email at Twitter: @jackieg1991