Monday, March 15, 2010

Eugene Experience

I finally utilized the power of being part of the 'media' this past Friday as I spent the day down in Eugene, covering the court appearances of LaMichael James and Jeremiah Masoli. It was all volunteered, no O.T. pay but a chance to be behind the scenes, to witness the sentencing of those two was a life-time experience.

It wasn't the best story to cover and I had to still come into work at my normal time (2 a.m.) and then left for Eugene around five. Arrived in Eugene at about seven and then James was due in court at 8:10 a.m. There were three of us, our reporter Mark Ross, photographer James "Sparky" Sparks and myself. Mark and Sparky drove down in the satellite truck, while I tagged along in my Honda. The Lane County Courthouse was swarming. Plenty of media setting up and camera men running around. ESPN was there, Shelly Smith was reporting on the case (no one is a fan of Shelly Smith). With tripod and cables in hand, the three of us marched up to the third floor and court room 305. Sparks plugged into the Pool feed, only one camera is allowed in the courtroom so all the stations plug into a box to get the feed into the camera. Everyone was anxiously awaiting for LaMichaels' arrival, cameras pointed right at the elevators. Eventually James just appeared in the courtroom, so he must have came in the side door. 8:10--showtime!

The audio was terrible, very hard to hear what was going on in the court room but I was able to make out a key phrase: 10-day sentence. James would leave the court room through a side door once again, much to the shigrin of the camera men. Once Mark Ross came out of the court room, he confirmed it: a 10-day jail sentence with credit for days served, 24 month probation. All in all, a fitting punishment for what LaMichael pleaded guilty to, that being harassment (his former girlfriend, Heidi, pleaded guilty to the same charge). Upon retiring back to the satellite truck, I was reading the court documents that stated exactly what occurred that night between James and his girlfriend. The documents have been made readily available (but cost us $2.75 at the court house), and many of you probably have read it. But it was sobering to read what actually happened and to compare the story to the rumors swirling around the internet.

The time between the James and Masoli hearing was rather uneventful, a failed attempt to get lunch at Papa Soul Food was rather disappointing. After ingesting the video from the James hearing and helping out KGW (yes, we do aide rival stations), I found out that I would be going on campus to get student reactions from the court hearings. As in, I would be 'asking the tough questions'! But...first things first, Masoli.

As we sauntered back up to the court room, room 305 again (same judge too), we caught up to some family friends of the Masolis'. They said they did not know what kind of punishment Jeremiah should receive, but they were there for support no matter what. And the support didn't stop there. As I sat in the back of the court room, several football players entered the room, one of which was Simi Toeaina. Masoli sure had a lot of support. As soon as they sat down, the judge entered and the hearing began.

We quickly gathered that this was going to be more than just an arraignment. Garrett Embry was also present in the court room. He and his attorney did a majority of the talking. Embry's attorney asked that a sentencing occur on the same day. The most surreal moment of the day occurred shortly thereafter when Masoli stood in front of the judge and openly admitted that he intended to steal property from the SAE fraternity house, his only response to the judge being, "yes". Masoli's expression did not change once in the court room. He had a deadpanned stare the entire time. That definitely differs from his happy-go-lucky, easy-going attitude that he normally sports when on the football field. This difference in appearance will be the lasting image for me.

As with LaMichael James, Embry and Masoli disappeared from the media's view after the hearing. Everyone and their grandmas knew that Chip Kelly was going to have a press conference on the matter, so every media member booked it to Autzen Stadium and the Casanova Center to prepare. My job was to follow a second photog who came down before the second hearing and go to campus to get reaction about the sentencing from students. Mark Ross had given me some tips as to how to be a good 'interviewer'. Luckily I had Tad, the second photog, there to help me out as well. Tad, an Oregon alum, asked me if my major at U of O was in journalism. Heh, not quite. So he stepped in and helped out some, and made it easier to get the good sound bites. We got four or five interviews and then rushed back to Autzen to ingest the video so we could use it on our 4 and 5 o'clock hits. That's where everything went wrong.

Operating a satellite truck requires three people: the reporter for the live shot, the photog to shoot and edit video and a satellite operator to solely operator the satellite truck. We had: the reporter, the photog....and me. So that left Sparks, our initial photog, to run the the sat truck and edit video. That doesn't work, so that is why Tad came down, to edit video that Sparky shot. That also doesn't work because Tad doesn't really know what Sparky shot. See the problems?

We eventually got our shot, a half hour late. I definitely got the crazy end of how live shots work, but it was a ton of fun and I have to thank Mark Ross, James Sparks and Tad for allowing me to help and learn.

As for my take on the Chip punishments: overall, I am content. I think he did the right thing with LaMichael but I do think that Masoli should have been kicked off the team given his prior history and that he also lied to Kelly about his involvement in the theft. I think if Jeremiah comes back in 2011, it will just cause problems for the entire program once again. As for who will be the next starter...I support Darren Thomas but I do think Nate Costa will get the first shot.

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