Last week, Mirror staff drove a total of 930 miles to cover former school board member Tony Moore’s trial in Portland, Ore.
It’s not a length that many news outlets will go to provide coverage. But we’re an atypical community newspaper.
Aside from Moore being an elected official, we decided months ago that this trial was important to cover because we heard from many of you in the community.
I had the opportunity to cover the trial’s opening day and the verdict. Both days were full of idiosyncrasies that didn’t make it into our coverage for obvious reasons.
On Monday, April 15 when I arrived at the Multnomah County Courthouse, the trial began before I even got into the courtroom. When I stepped into the packed elevator, a man rolled a huge semi-truck tire inside the elevator that was hard to ignore. It was literally the purple rubberized elephant in the room. Someone asked him if it was evidence in a case but he just stared.
Inside the courtroom, I met with Judge Thomas M. Ryan in his chambers to discuss media parameters — no taking pictures or speaking with the jurors, no photos during recess and no flash.
I took a seat on the bench and when Moore, his wife, sister and attorney walked into the courtroom, bystanders studied their body movements, facial expressions and imagined what they were whispering about.
Jury selection took up most of the day as the attorneys took turns asking about 40 potential jurors about their occupations, if they knew anyone in law enforcement and if they had ever been crime victims.
More than half said they were victims of petty crimes as thieves stole their bicycles — not surprising in a city where many opt for bikes and buses in lieu of cars. One older man recounted how a group of strangers beat him with a baseball bat and, as a result, how it affected his short-term memory years ago. He was ultimately chosen as one of the jurors.
The jury’s demographic make-up was slightly varied, but most were female and fairly young.
Once the trial was underway, I listened to the attorneys lay out their cases during opening arguments. I also heard testimony from two of the prosecutor’s key witnesses before the trial was in recess for the remainder of the day.
Reporter Greg Allmain covered the trial on Thursday, April 17 when the trial was expected to end. He heard testimony from Moore and the “gray world” of the used tire business. When court recessed at the end of the day, the judge had just given the jury their instructions to deliberate.
So I found myself back at the courthouse on Friday, April 18 with publisher Rudi Alcott.
As a man sang “Row, row, row your boat,” a group of people funneled into the courtroom and it seemed like we had propelled into the Twilight Zone. One man hobbled to his seat with no shoes on. Some murmured to themselves, while others twitched and shook from withdrawal. Many seemed hopeless.
We found out it was a mental health court and these underprivileged offenders needed basic things like medication, food and housing. The judge patiently spoke with each person, one by one, while case workers made sure they kept on track so they would not re-offend.
After lunch, the judge’s assistant rolled a tire from the jury’s room through the courtroom to put back with the evidence. The judge donned a black robe and read wedding vows to a young married couple, while I could hear the jury behind the closed door listening to the recorded phone conversation between Moore and his co-conspirator.
It took the jury five hours to reach a verdict. When they did, it took the attorneys and Moore another half hour to get back to the courthouse. During that time, we were hit with more news.
The Mirror’s office coordinator Jennifer Anderson contacted Rudi and I and told us that an education reporter at The Oklahoman called. He was looking to speak with one of our staff for more information about their school district’s soon-to-be new Superintendent Rob Neu.
As the judge then read the unanimous guilty verdict, Moore’s mother closed her eyes as if she was praying. She cried as she held her daughter’s hand, while Moore’s wife looked on. Though this was a story unfolding that we would later relay to the community, it was also a real family in our community whose lives were torn apart.
Since the Mirror broke the news about the verdict, we have heard from many in the Federal Way community about how Moore’s conviction has impacted the Federal Way Public Schools. Many have expressed outrage at Moore, as well as Neu for his decision to leave Federal Way during an uncertain time for the school district.
Whatever your viewpoints are about this, we hope residents will look ahead and think about what characteristics you would like to see in your next school board director and superintendent. What is important to you? Please send us your thoughts to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to reporting on the process to fill these vacancies and continuing to go the extra mile, or 930 miles, for our community.