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34 Rare Courtroom Sketches From Infamous Trials Where No Cameras Were Allowed

As the courtrooms are being invaded by cameras, the US Library of Congress has decided to share their collection of 10,000 courtroom drawings, which for the last five decades gave the American public a glimpse at the most infamous trials in country’s history.

Illustrations exhibition is called “Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration” and is now at the Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington, DC, and it features 98 drawings sketched right in the courtrooms as the dramatic events unraveled.

“While artistic styles vary, each artist brings the theater of the courtroom to life, capturing gestures, appearance, and relationships in a way that humanizes defendants, plaintiffs, lawyers, judges, and witnesses,” Sara W. Duke, the exhibition’s organizer told Hyperallergic.

These series includes powerful moments like Charles Manson lunging at the judge or KKK clan member walking away with murder thanks to the all-white jury. It even features an illustration by Howard Brodie that dates back to the 1964 trial of Jack Ruby, who was found guilty of killing Lee Harvey Oswald while he was in custody for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“Whether it is a once-beloved celebrity or a reviled terrorist — Americans want access to the legal system. By acquiring, preserving, and making courtroom art accessible to researchers and the public, the Library’s courtroom illustration collection preserves an enduring record of American life and law.”

Take a look at our picks below and if you have the chance visit the Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington, DC, or at least their online exhibition for the full list.

More info: Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration (h/t: hyperallergic)

#1 Helter Skelter in the Courtroom


In the more than nine months that Charles Manson was on trial for the murders of Sharon Tate and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, he grew increasingly agitated. On October 5, 1970, he quickly leaped from the defense table, pencil in hand, preparing to stab Justice Charles H. Older. Bill Robles captured Manson’s frenzied energy, which seemingly required all the might of the burly bailiff to restrain him. The pencil, still in motion, flies through the air toward the judge. By all accounts, Older did not even flinch. Walter Cronkite led off CBS Evening News that night with Robles’s drawing.

By Bill Robles. Manson Leaping at Judge Charles H. Older! October 5, 1970. India ink and watercolor with scratching out on vellum paper mounted on board.

#2 Son of Sam Breaks Down in Courtroom


David Berkowitz had terrorized New York City for a year, killing and injuring young couples out late at night and sending letters from the “Son of Sam” to New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin before he was captured. Appearing in court on May 22, 1978, for sentencing, Berkowitz exploded in the courtroom, shouting, “I’ll kill them all,” as guards escorted him out. The judge delayed his sentencing until June 12, when he was much calmer. Rather than face a jury trial, Berkowitz pled guilty. Joseph Papin’s drawing, which captured the criminal’s anguished mental breakdown so vividly, appeared on the cover of the New York Daily News.

By Joseph Papin. [David Berkowitz screams obscenities as guards struggle to drag him from courtroom], May 22, 1978. Porous point pen, blue ink, and opaque white on gray paper.

#3 Vietnam Veterans Against the War


Eight members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War argued intended to demonstrate peacefully at the 1972 Republican National Convention but were lured into more violent behavior by government infiltrators. During the trial, two FBI agents were caught using electronic surveillance to listen to a private defense team conversation— perhaps helping the defense, as the veterans were acquitted on August 31, 1973. Aggie Whelan had been sent by CBS to cover the trial. During the pre-trial hearing, Federal Judge Winston Arnow told the court illustrators they were not permitted to draw in his courtroom or from memory. Whelan, though outside the courtroom, sketched anyway and the government found CBS guilty of violating its orders. On appeal, the decision United States of America v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 497 F.2d 102 (1974) reaffirmed the right of courtroom illustrators to work during trials.

By Aggie Whelan [Kenny]. Gainsville [sic] 8, 1973. Pastel and charcoal on blue-green paper laid paper.

#4 Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman in Court


Actor Paul Newman casually sits and reads next to his actress wife Joanne Woodward, who knits. His attorney, W. Patrick Ryan, protects his interests against Westport delicatessen owner Julius Gold, who sued the actor for breach of contract in the manufacture of Newman’s Own salad dressing. Gold argued that he had been promised a percentage of the profits, but that Newman had reneged on the deal. Newman claimed no promise had been made and gave all profits to charity. On June 23, 1988, Judge Howard F. Zoarski of Connecticut Superior Court in Bridgeport declared a mistrial when jurors inadvertently saw information not admitted into evidence. The judge denied the plaintiff, Julius Gold, the right to have his case retried.

By Marilyn Church. Salad Dressing War, June 1988. Colored pencil, water-soluble crayon, and porous point pen on ochre paper.

#5 Trial of Michael Jackson


In 2005, Michael Jackson faced trial in Santa Monica, California, on charges of molesting a teenager. He was found not guilty. After the trial Jackson said, “I haven’t been betrayed or deceived by children. Adults have let me down.” Artist Bill Robles found drawing at the trial a challenge—he endured the “Melville diet” named after Judge Rodney Melville who scheduled only three ten-minute breaks and no lunch. Robles had barely enough time to meet the network news truck to film his drawings before returning inside to draw again.

By Bill Robles. [Michael Jackson], June 15, 2005. Porous point pen and India ink on translucent paper.

#6 Death Penalty Argued Before the Supreme Court


Lawyer Anthony Amsterdam made a specialty of arguing death penalty cases before the Supreme Court, culminating in the 1972 case Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238. Amsterdam had worked through the NAACP’s Legal and Educational Defense Fund, building up a case that death penalty sentences, while rarely carried out, were handed down to disproportionate numbers of African Americans. Instead of focusing on the violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, Amsterdam castigated the flawed procedure of jury selection and instruction. Here in one of his earlier cases, Maxwell v. Bishop, 398 U.S. 262 (1970), Amsterdam demonstrated one of the problems with jury selection. In this case, the court found a death sentence cannot be carried out if the jury automatically excluded jurors who voiced general objections to the death penalty.

By Howard Brodie. Capital Punishment, Lawyer Anthony Amsterdam Arguing, May 4, 1970. Color crayon on white paper.

#7 Fear of a Defendant with AIDS in 1984


Edward Coaxum, wearing a surgical mask, sits while his lawyer, Frank Gould, stands before the jury. Accused of stabbing a man to death in an area of East Harlem where drug addicts gathered, Coaxum faced prejudice as a man stricken with AIDS in his 1984 trial. New York State Supreme Court Justice Arnold G. Fraiman permitted nervous jurors to be excused or wear protective clothing. At a time before there were effective treatments for AIDS, Coaxum died before his case could be heard on appeal.

By Marilyn Church. 1st AIDS Case, October 26, 1984. Colored pencil, water-soluble crayon, porous point pen, and graphite on olive Canson wove paper.

#8 Bernie Madoff in Handcuffs


Elizabeth Williams, an artist whose skills were honed by decades in the courtroom, showed her journalist’s sense in U.S. District Court for Southern District of New York in Manhattan. After Bernard Madoff had entered his plea, she lingered long enough to see him handcuffed and led away by officers. Madoff had taken more than $64 billion in assets from investors through his Ponzi scheme. Williams later said of the drawing. ” . . . I knew that was what everybody wanted to see. It wasn’t a great drawing or anything; it was more like a great moment.”

By Elizabeth Williams. Bernard Madoff, Going to Jail Post Plea, March 12, 2009. Pastel and watercolor on tan paper.

#9 Bobby Seale, Bound and Gagged


Bobby Seale had not participated in the advance planning for the demonstration, but was arrested and tried with the MOBE members. A co-founder of the Black Panthers, Seale had gone to Chicago as a last-minute replacement for Eldridge Cleaver. Seale, whose lawyer was unavailable due to hospitalization, was denied both a continuance and self-representation. Seale verbally lashed out, interrupting the proceedings. On October 29, 1969, in an extraordinary move, Judge Julius Hoffman ordered Bobby Seale bound and gagged. His trial was severed from the Chicago Eight on November 5, 1969. Finding him in contempt, Hoffman sentenced Seale to four years in prison, appealed at, U.S. v. Seale, 461 F.2d 345 (1972). As he was led from the courtroom, spectators shouted “Free Bobby!”

By Howard Brodie. [Bobby Seale attempting to write notes on a legal pad while bound and gagged in the courtroom during the Chicago Eight conspiracy trial in Chicago, Illinois], between October 29 and November 5, 1969. Color crayon and on white paper.

#10 Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald’s Assassin


Just days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended for the crime. As Oswald was being moved from the Dallas police station, Jack Ruby (Jacob Leon Rubenstein) shot him on live television. Howard Brodie, having worked for two decades as a newspaper illustrator, called an army buddy who was a CBS executive to offer his services in covering a trial that forbade filming. He became one of the first courtroom illustrators to work for television. This drawing of the empty courtroom depicts the names and positions of the defendant, defense attorneys, judge, district attorney, assistant district attorneys, bailiff, court reporter, jury, and even the spittoon.

By Howard Brodie. Diagrammatic view of courtroom used in the Ruby v. Texas trial in Dallas, Texas, 1964. Crayon on white paper.

#11 Satire Is Protected Free Speech


Publisher Larry Flynt provoked a lawsuit for damages for satirizing televangelist Jerry Falwell in a fake Campari ad in Hustler magazine. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreed in Hustler v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988), that a parody, which no reasonable person expected to be true, was protected free speech. The justices also stated that upholding the lower courts’ decisions would put all political satire at risk. Alan Isaacman defended Flynt before eight justices, as Justice Anthony Kennedy recused himself. Flynt (in a wheelchair) is isolated due to an outburst during a previous Supreme Court appearance in another libel case.

By Aggie Kenny. Larry Flynt (Foreground) & Issacman [sic], 1988. Watercolor and graphite on tan paper.

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