Camera turns tables on Naperville murder drama
DAN MIHALOPOULOS firstname.lastname@example.org November 23, 2012 7:24PM
From left, DuPage State's Attorney Robert Berlin, Senior Assistant Public Defender Mike Mara, Elzbieta Plackowska, a DuPage County sheriff's deputy and interpreter Adam Kleczyngier, appear before DuPage County Judge Robert Kleeman, rear, during Plackowska's arraignment Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2011 in Wheaton, Ill. Plackowska is charged with fatally stabbing her seven year old son and a five year-old girl she was babysitting. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, Pool)
Updated: December 26, 2012 6:32AM
The camera in the Wheaton courtroom last week focused almost exclusively on the 40-year-old woman standing before a DuPage County judge, handcuffed and in a navy-blue jail jumpsuit.
Had the camera swiveled toward the audience, we could have seen another, much older woman: the defendant’s mother.
But the camera switched off after Elzbieta Plackowska’s plea of “not guilty” in the fatal stabbing of her 7-year-old son and a 5-year-old girl she was baby-sitting last month in Naperville.
While the rest of the audience filed out of Courtroom 4000, Plackowska’s mother stood near the county’s public defender, Jeff York.
She was dressed immaculately, in a wide-brimmed hat and billowy, black wrap, as if going to Mass. York told me she did not want to talk to reporters.
The people who helped pull off the debut of courtroom cameras in the Chicago area immediately declared success.
The ramrod-earnest state’s attorney, veteran prosecutor Robert Berlin, said having cameras rolling made no difference to him.
He warned, though, that what happens in the courtroom is serious business, not entertainment.
Illinois is not unlike any of the more than 30 states that already allow courtroom cameras: Some will tune in to see if they think justice is being served, and others will watch at times to be titillated.
But in a case as tragic as Plackowska’s, what we really want to know when we see her will most likely elude us, no matter how closely the cameras focus on the proceedings and defendants.
We would like to look at her and other accused criminals and ponder what could have possessed them.
I looked at her last Wednesday and wondered: Is there anything in her eyes, in her demeanor, that should have tipped someone off?
Something that could at least tell you, “This isn’t the kind of person you would hire as a baby-sitter”?
Maybe not even Plackowska’s mother could guess at the answers to such questions.
She wouldn’t be the first saintly mother of a child who did evil.
The courtroom-camera pilot program does not prohibit filming the audience members, said Joseph Tybor, spokesman for the Illinois Supreme Court, which cleared the way for courtroom cameras in January.
Only jurors and certain witnesses, such as victims in sex-assault cases, are exempt from appearing on camera, Tybor said.
The camera on this foggy morning did not swivel around to pan toward Plackowska’s mother and the rest of the audience.
They will never do so in DuPage County, said John T. Elsner, the county’s chief judge.
“The purpose is to record the proceedings,” he said. “The persons in the crowd are not part of the proceedings.”
If courtroom cameras elsewhere in this state turn toward the crowd, they will veer from the parties in the case.
But they would show us at least the faces of many with the deepest stakes in — and the broadest understanding of — what we see happening before the bench.