Originally created 07/10/01

Court TV seeks OK to cover Athens trial

ATHENS, Ga. - The murder trial of Tracy Fortson might well become fodder for daytime cable TV.

With Ms. Fortson's trial set to begin this week in Madison County Superior Court, New York-based cable network Court TV, available in more than 38 million homes, is awaiting permission to tape the trial for airing at a later date, network spokeswoman Ellie Jostad said.

Ms. Fortson, a former Oglethorpe County deputy, is accused of shooting her boyfriend, Doug Benton, in June 2000 and encasing his body in a concrete-filled watering trough. The bizarre case had already attracted wide media attention before Court TV singled it out among the hundreds of trials it considers for coverage.

"It's just a really interesting case," Ms. Jostad said. "It's got that unbelievable aspect, with the body being found in cement."

Ms. Jostad said Judge Lindsay Tise has not ruled on the network's request to install a camera in his courtroom.

If Judge Tise grants the request, it could mean more than 340,000 households will be tuned in to the trial at some point. That's the network's average viewership for trial coverage, according to Court TV's daytime Nielsen ratings average of 0.3.

The trial would not be aired live, Ms. Jostad said. Network schedulers would decide later when to broadcast the proceedings, which would include all testimony and argument, in addition to armchair analysis by a crew of lawyers-turned-TV-anchors.

Neither District Attorney Bob Lavender nor defense attorney Tom Camp could offer their take on the possibility of the trial being broadcast to a huge television audience.

A long-standing gag order has prevented them from making public comments about the case.

Even if Court TV's cameras are not allowed in the courtroom, the network will have a presence in media coverage of the trial. The network has assigned one of its Internet reporters to cover the proceedings for its Web site, CourtTV.com.

It won't be the first visit to a Georgia courtroom for the network, which has covered more than 700 trials since launching in 1991. Last year, it covered the murder trial of NFL football player Ray Lewis, who eventually had charges reduced in exchange for his testimony in Fulton County Superior Court.

Court TV also had cameras in a Hall County courtroom for the trial of a Gainesville police officer who was acquitted of animal cruelty charges in the shooting death of a neighbor's dog.


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