The Bayshore rape trial
(Writer’s note: This is a summary of a newsroom-wide memo my editors asked me to write about my experience live-tweeting the Bayshore rape trial. For this coverage, I won a first-place award from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors for use of social media in breaking news.)
Luis Munuzuri-Harris, accused of posing as a cop to rape a woman decided, a week before his trial, to ditch his lawyers and represent himself. His constitutional right opened up the unusual, almost unimaginable possibility that he would cross-examine the victim. I anticipated that much would happen. What I didn’t know was that the trial itself would spiral into legal limbo, with a surprise request for a lawyer, a near-mistrial and heated exchanges at every turn. As it was all breaking, I was glad I made a choice early on: To chronicle it minute-by-minute on Twitter, an experiment for the Times. The tweets were widely-followed, inside and out of the courthouse, catching the attention of a national cable news program and even that of the defendant, who brought them up in court. The Twitter feed gave our readers a glimpse into my notebook and made them feel like part of the action. Even the web comments appeared smarter. Live-tweeting is another form of storytelling, a tool to be used wisely given the perfect set of circumstances. In this trial, I argue, it was the best form.
Victim cross-examination: “What made you pull over?” “You…”
Change of heart: “It was a tremendous error in judgment…”
Judge’s decision: “He’s going to have to live with his consequences…”
The defendant’s testimony: “I figured she would call…”
The outburst and the late-night verdict: It hit him so hard, he dropped to his seat and wept…
The end: Or is it?