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Reporting a Murder Trial, 140 Characters at a Time

Posted: 05/24/11 12:54 PM ET

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- You don't have to be at the Bonnie Craig murder trial--the dramatic cold case--nor do you have to wait until the story airs on the evening news or a reporter files a story online, or even for someone to drop a newspaper at your door, to get all the details from the courtroom proceedings.

Nor do you have to wonder what's being left out, what's being filtered through the mind of a journalist.

You can get all the information, immediately as it happens, to peruse at your will, if you have a Twitter account and you follow one reporter's ongoing tweets.

KTVA television reporter Grace Jang is telling the dramatic story of the alleged murder of Bonnie Craig 140 characters at a time. She's tweeting the story of the trial of Kenneth Dion, who is accused of raping and murdering Craig--a bright-eyed 18-year-old University of Alaska student--in 1994.

Craig's ravished body was found floating in McHugh Creek and the murder shocked Alaskans. Posters were plastered all across Anchorage looking for clues as to what happened to her. Her face appeared on television countless times. Story after story was written about her, and her possible killer, still at large. Then came a breakthrough in 2007, when investigators linked DNA evidence from Dion's semen to Craig.

Dion claims that he had sex with Craig but that he didn't kill her.

If you just happened across Jang's Twitter profile today, you'd probably be a little confused at the multitude of tweets about the murder trial--the same way you would be confused if you jumped in the middle of a large, rowdy, raucous conversation, where everybody is talking about different things. Twitter is the cocktail party meets tower of Babel meets language poetry, online. The genius of it--and what keeps it from lapsing into complete anarchy--is that 140 character limit. That's basically the only rule, which you might think would limit Twitter's storytelling capacity. But it doesn't have to if your fingers are quick enough, and Jang's seem to be quite nimble.

But then again, you have to know how to read it, how to put something like this into context:

GraceJangKTVA Defense: Let's talk about night you leave. You have no idea what she told her parents to go to your house. She hid her bike and snuck in

GraceJangKTVA: Defense: Never saw Bonnie other than at school except one night a weekend because your mom was strict. C: yes

GraceJangKTVA: Defense: so Saturday nights were sex nights? C: sure.

Those tweets were from a snippet of time in Thursday's dramatic testimony involving Cameron Miyasaki, Craig's boyfriend at the time of the death. You can see how, if you just came across any of those particular tweets, they might be startling.

At least a few of Jang's earlier tweets seemed so, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack Smith informed Jang last week. He had a problem with two specific tweets Jang sent out at the start of the trial. One of her tweets, which has since been deleted, was about the defendant showing up in the courtroom wearing handcuffs. Another was a description of a juror that could, in Smith's estimation, have made it possible to identify that juror.

He told Jang not to tweet about these things in the future.

Smith favors keeping an open court, he said in an interview about social media in the courtroom. The judge has no problem with tweeting the case as long as it doesn't disrupt the proceedings, he said.

"I'm not a Twitterer, but to me, it's similar to any other reporting mechanism," Smith said.

He did say, however, that it was probably wrong of him to order her not to tweet about whether or not the defendant was in handcuffs because he didn't put that condition on other media. He said he would probably talk to her and clear that up. However, he's sticking to prohibition of her describing the juror. The rules are clear about what they can and cannot say about jurors.

Number one rule: Jurors are not to be identified.

Smith's reaction here was reasonable. ...

Read the complete story only at Alaska Dispatch.

 

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