23 July 2010
Wow, that was tough. On Thursday afternoon I was driving along City Road when a text message arrived that I and so many others had been waiting for since 3.40pm on Monday. "Farquharson verdict @ 4.45". It's something we had been preparing for, and so I phoned our executive producer in Sydney, and my colleagues in Melbourne to alert them to the story. I found a carpark in the city, next thing I was running up William St while shouting on the phone, to various people about what was about to happen.
Court 11 of the Supreme Court is much smaller than the court room his first trial was held in, so I sat up the back in the public gallery, as close to the door as possible to make a speedy exit. My heart was beating, and to be honest, I've never felt such tension while covering a story before. There had been so much angst about this retrial, such utter disbelief that the Court of Appeal would order a retrial last year, that the thought of a possible not-guilty verdict would be enough to enact the whole Melbourne court reporting fraternity into anarchy. The irony of the Melbourne media pack locked up for contempt for the night, while Farquharson was driving home to Geelong, crossed my mind several times.
Such was the emotion in that court room. We're used to being in difficult situations, and it rarely affects us. But you couldn't help being affected by this trial. I'm not sure if it was the emotion of the three little boys, I'm not sure if it was the accusation that a father could kill his children on Fathers Day, to get back at his ex for taking the better car in the divorce. But many of us who covered the court case - this one and the last - had found it to be incredibly difficult to remain composed as the verdict was announced.
Some of us didn't. As the jury sat down, several of them sobbed and cried. I haven't seen that before. They were sitting to my right. To my left, was the media pack. I spotted at least three of them putting their hands to their eyes, while trying to write their notes.
Cindy Gambino tried to hold on to her emotions, perhaps emotionally drained. The thing that the Court of Appeal sometimes overlooks, in my opinion, is the toll that a retrial puts on the victims and their family. How can you move on, when the Court of Appeal orders you to go through it all again? One journalist commented yesterday after the verdict was delivered "Never underestimate the Appeals courts... they'll find a missing comma in paragraph 4 of page 37 of the 4th day of the trial. Retrial!". It's of course not that simple, but the perception exists. There has been a lot of criticism of the court's decision to grant a retrial, in what was a very complicated case. It led some to argue that it's almost impossible for an 11 week trial to be undertaken, and 70 witnesses to give evidence, without some small human error along the way. Judges, it seems, are people too. But this is an argument for another day, and we've spoke about it at length on the Melbourne Report.
As I walked out of Court 11 and into Little Collins St to arrange my 5pm live cross, members of Cindy Gambino's family walked out the side door with me, unaware I was a reporter. They looked around and said "thank god, the media's not here". Suddenly a camera crew from two networks arrived, and then the rest followed. Reporters on phones telling their crews to hurry over. And next thing, the whole press pack is standing and filming outside the side entrance of the Supreme Court. We had taken over the entire street. Cindy Gambino's brother, who had earlier muttered to me that he got what he had wanted (with the verdict), told us "You know she's not going to speak, please respect her privacy".
If only it were that simple. Cindy Gambino and her mother had to be carried by their family members. They walked slowly, sobbing, as reporters fired questions "How do you feel?" and on and on it went. It was not a pretty sight. One cameraman shouted out "back it up boys". But no one was going anywhere. And as Cindy Gambino's mother collapsed and her brother shouted to us "See what you've done", she was put in a taxi and taken to the OPP's offices. It wasn't pretty, and not our finest day.
But honestly, it's not the media's fault. There's an argument that the camera crew who shows compassion and returns with nothing is the camera crew that will be compassionately dismissed. This is the real world afterall. I can't link this to the decision by the Court of Appeal to quash his first conviction. But I can say that no-one deserves to go through this once, or a second time.
Let's hope that Farquharson's sentencing hearing is the last time we hear that name.
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