Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

Actions speak louder than words

Posted December 14, 2010

When people plead guilty to serious crimes, they often stand up and apologize to the victim and the judge in the courtroom.  It is often hard to assess whether or not someone's apology is genuine, or aimed at getting mercy from the court.

Monday, I covered a plea and sentencing hearing in a child molestation case.  The defendant, a former church volunteer, pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a 14-year-old boy on a church playground in Garner in June.  He had also been convicted of prior sex crimes with children in 1980.  But on this day, Randy Robertson said he had mended his ways.  He told the judge that he had entered intensive therapy shortly after his June arrest.  He said as a result of his treatment, he had turned his life around.  He had found a new job, a new circle of friends and even a girlfriend.  He told the judge he was "remorsefully sorry" for the "hurt" he had caused people.  As apologies go, it was a pretty good one.  But it wasn't what Robertson said in the courtroom that made people form an impression of him, it's what he didn't say.

As soon as the prosecutor, Melanie Shekita, started detailing the facts of the case to the judge, Roberston rested his head in his left hand and prominently displayed his middle finger in her direction.  This also happened to be the direction of our cameras.  After a few minutes, a court official brought the gesture to the attention of the attorneys and the judge, and they retired into the judge's chambers for a discussion.  Going back and looking at the tape, there's no doubt that Robertson's actions were no mistake or coincidence.  The only question is who was his target?  Us, the prosecutor, the victim's family?  I'm sure he thought our video would be unusable as a result of his school-boy antics.  Luckily, our editing capabilities allow us to creatively block out offensive material and still use the video, which we did.

What I was left with, and what others in the courtroom were left with, was a very disconcerting feeling about the sincerity of  Robertson's words in open court because his actions were telling a completely different story.  They showed a disrespect for the court and the justice system, a public forum where the media is welcomed as a protector of the truth.  At the end of the day, the case is not about Robertson, or his well-being, it's about the children who were victimized and protecting other children from danger.  Let's hope for all of our sakes he makes good on his promises.   

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WRAL's Amanda Lamb offers a behind-the-scenes look at what TV news reporters do, the people they meet and how their jobs affect them.