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The Bayshore rape trial

January 16, 2011

(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.

The stories

Jury selection: “I’m going to ask you to bear with me a little bit. Obviously, I’m not a trained professional …”

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…”

Tears: It happened after Harris was told he couldn’t pass a note to a television news reporter…

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?

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