September 24, 2012

How In Session tracks trials

Posted: 02:59 PM ET

Editor’s note: Many of In Session’s Facebook and Twitter followers have asked us how does In Session track trials. In Session’s Trials Editor Jessica Thill wrote the following post to answer some of those questions.


In Session’s Trial Tracking does a critical job for the network – finding interesting cases and keeping watch as they get closer to trial.

There are a number of ways the tracking team members find and research trials. They comb case leads in daily online periodicals, press releases and Google alerts. They also talk to prosecutors, defense attorneys, court clerks, and other court personnel. The trial tracking unit also uses social media to follow trending cases and get suggestions from In Session viewers. All of this information is stored in an extensive proprietary database that currently has data on more than 9,000 criminal and civil cases.

Here is an actual example of the unit’s five-step process for finding trials:


The tracker who covers Arizona finds an article about a woman who is accused of shooting and stabbing her ex-boyfriend and leaving his naked body in a shower in 2008. Police recovered photos of his body from a camera that was left in a washing machine. The defendant has given varying accounts of what happened, but ultimately claims she killed him in self-defense.


The case is definitely one we want to follow, so the tracker starts a file with basic information, including a summary of facts.


As the case progresses through the criminal justice system, the tracker compiles articles and information on the case. The tracker also contacts key players, including the prosecutor and defense attorneys, for additional details and periodically checks with the court clerk and public information officer for updates on court dates and filings.


The case is set for trial in November 2012, so the tracker writes an extensive report, making sure it includes all the pertinent information. Any gaps are filled and the final report is reviewed to ensure accuracy and completeness.


The Trial Tracking team and In Session executives meet every Tuesday to discuss upcoming trials. In Session executives make a final decision on whether the case will be covered and what resources to devote to bringing the case to the audience. The case is selected. The tracker sends a formal application letter to the judge and the attorneys involved. The judge approves our application to put cameras in the courtroom. Field producers, correspondents and technical staff will head to the courthouse and set up cameras and equipment before jury selection begins.

The last step is bringing you gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial on In Session.

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Filed under: Case Updates

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September 17, 2012

1970s murder could be retried

Posted: 03:10 PM ET

Jeffrey MacDonald, the Green Beret doctor, convicted of killing his wife and two daughters in the 1970s, could get a new trial. A federal judge began hearing testimony Monday morning.

MacDonald says a group of hippies broke into his home in 1970 and killed his wife and two daughters. He also says they chanted “kill the pigs” and “acid’s groovy” before they stabbed him in the lung.

MacDonald and his attorneys will attempt to use DNA testing to show that hair samples under one of the victim’s fingernails did not come from him or a member of his family, but from one of the killers.

MacDonald was convicted in 1979 and is currently serving three life sentences for the murders.

Watch the video above to see In Session’s Jean Casarez and Christi Paul talk about MacDonald’s chances of getting a new trial.  


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Filed under: Case Updates

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January 10, 2012

Guilty Plea in Missouri "Thrill Killing" Case

Posted: 02:56 PM ET

17-year-old Alyssa Bustamante is pleading guilty to murder for the 2009 killing of her nine-year-old neighbor Elizabeth Olten.

Bustamante, was 15 years old when she strangled and stabbed Olten to death.  During a videotaped interrogation, Bustamante confessed to the killing, saying she just wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone.  After the confession, she lead police to Olten’s body in the woods.

Judge Pat Joyce threw out Bustamante's confession because she said a juvenile officer present at the interrogation used "deceptive tactics" by telling the Bustamante "she was there as (her) "advocate.""

Friday morning, Bustamante entered a plea deal allowing her to plead guilty to second-degree murder, and avoid the possibility of spending the rest of her life in prison.

Bustamante was set to go on trial Jan. 26, 2012 in Jefferson City, Mo on charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action, which meant she could have been sentenced to life in prison.

Her guilty plea on a second-degree murder charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years, with the possibility of parole.

She'll be sentenced Feb. 6, 2012 at 10am ET.

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Filed under: Breaking News • Case Updates • In Session

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September 30, 2011

Witness: Dr. Murray makes shocking mouth-to-mouth admission

Posted: 09:11 AM ET

Michael Jackson's daughter, Paris, screamed "Daddy" when she walked into his room and saw her father near death. That's what Alberto Alvarez, Jackson’s Logistics Director, told prosecutors yesterday. He says Conrad Murray told him not to let the kids see their dad "like this."

Alvarez says Murray told him something while they tried to revive Jackson. That admission shocked HLN's Ryan Smith. Alvarez says that at one point Murray stopped doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, turned to him and said, "This is the first time I do mouth to mouth. But I have to. He's my friend." Ryan says this testimony could prove critical for the prosecution. The idea that Dr. Murray never did mouth to mouth before could be stunning to jurors and he says it may leave jurors wondering if Murray was paying enough attention to Jackson at that moment.

Do you have questions about the trial? Ask attorney and HLN correspondent Ryan Smith. Find his picture at to contact him via our email form. Or Tweet him @RyanSmithTV

Trial coverage continues on HLN at 11am ET/8am PT.

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Filed under: Case Updates • Conrad Murray • Family • Michael Jackson • Testimony • Trials • Witnesses

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Witness: Dr. Murray was "frantic," children were "screaming"

Posted: 09:04 AM ET

In some of the most dramatic testimony yesterday, Michael Jackson's chef, Kai Chase, had to defend why she didn't call paramedics right away. She told the court she was making lunch when Dr. Conrad Murray ran downstairs frantic, telling her to call security and get Jackson's son, Prince. She told the jury what she thought about the doctor and how he was handling the emergency. She called Murray "nervous” and “frantic."

Then she described the scene later, as Michael Jackson's crying children and the household staff came together in the mansion's foyer and hugged, held hands and prayed.

HLN's Ryan Smith reports that Chase's testimony not only helped establish the prosecution's timeline as to what happened in the home, but she also got everyone in the courtroom focused on how emotional it was and how frightened the children were as Michael Jackson was passing away.

Do you have questions about the trial? Ask attorney and HLN correspondent Ryan Smith. Find his picture at to contact him via our email form. Or Tweet him @RyanSmithTV

Trial coverage continues on HLN at 11am ET/8am PT.

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Filed under: Case Updates • Conrad Murray • Family • Michael Jackson • Testimony • Trial Updates • Trials • Witnesses

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Vinnie Politan's 'day three' trial wrap

Posted: 06:41 AM ET

Day three is in the books for the man accused of killing Michael Jackson, Dr. Conrad Murray. Vinnie Politan says "the themes were pretty clear today."

Gavel to gavel coverage and analysis of Conrad Murray on trial starts at 11am ET/8am PT on HLN. Get alerts and updates while court is in session on Twitter: follow @InSession and @HLNtv.

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Filed under: Case Updates • Conrad Murray • Michael Jackson • Testimony • Trial Updates • Witnesses

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August 5, 2011

Casey Anthony's probation status unsettled

Posted: 03:50 PM ET

Filed under: Case Updates • Casey and Caylee Anthony

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June 26, 2011

Week 5: Anthony's defense works to weaken alleged ties to crime

Posted: 12:14 PM ET

(CNN) - Mark Lippman, attorney representing Casey Anthony's parents, told reporters at a press conference this week that his clients just want to know the truth.

"They have no idea what happened," Lippman said Thursday. "They just want both the state (prosecutors) and the defense to do their jobs."

The press conference was held after CNN's Gary Tuchman reported that Lippman told him that Anthony's parents don't think their daughter is innocent, but they also don't want her to receive the death penalty.

Prosecutors allege that Casey Anthony, 25, killed her daughter Caylee in 2008 by rendering her unconscious with chloroform, putting duct tape over her nose and mouth so she would suffocate, or a combination of the two acts. They also allege that Anthony stored the body in the trunk of her car for days, before dumping it in the woods.

Anthony faces seven counts, including first-degree murder, in the death of Caylee, whose remains were discovered in a wooded field in December 2008. If convicted, she could face the death penalty. Anthony pleaded not guilty, and her defense team asserts Caylee accidentally drowned in a pool in June 2008 at the Orange County home that Anthony shared with her parents.

The defense team has argued that Anthony and her father, George Anthony, panicked on discovering the body and covered up her death, though George Anthony has denied that scenario. Caylee was not reported missing to police until July 15, 2008, when Cindy Anthony tracked down her daughter and demanded answers regarding Caylee's whereabouts.


Filed under: Case Updates • Casey and Caylee Anthony • In Session • Judges • Trial Updates • Trials

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June 24, 2011

Prosecutors want another delay in trial of Michael Jackson's doctor

Posted: 04:13 PM ET

Los Angeles (CNN) - Prosecutors want another delay in the start of the involuntary manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson's doctor, but the judge will wait until next month to decide the request.

"I'm not surprised by all of this," Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor said during a hearing Friday.

The trial has already been delayed twice since Dr. Conrad Murray invoked his right to a speedy trial after his arraignment in January.

"When I got myself involved in it, I said 'It ain't gonna happen,' " Pastor said, referring to the original starting date of late March. The case has been "creepy crawly," he said.

Jury selection was under way in May when the defense requested a delay so its expert witnesses could have more time to prepare for new experts hired by the prosecution. Pastor then dismissed hundreds of prospective jurors and rescheduled the trial to start on September 8.

Deputy District Attorney David Walgren said Friday morning that the prosecution needed another three weeks to prepare because of "scheduling issues." Defense lawyers did not object to moving jury selection to the end of September.

Pastor, who said he "rearranged all sort of cases, including capital cases" to start the trial in September, said he would wait until a July 12 hearing to decide.


Filed under: Case Updates • Conrad Murray • Michael Jackson

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June 15, 2011

Formal charges to be filed soon against Joran van der Sloot

Posted: 11:36 AM ET

Joran van der Sloot and his new private defense attorney were in court on Tuesday for a preliminary hearing. The hearing was held behind closed doors at the Castro Castro prison outside of Lima. No cameras were allowed.

A source close to the case told In Session van der Sloot was shown several surveillance videos including one of himself leaving the Atlantic Casino with victim Stephany Flores. Van der Sloot identified himself in the video and spoke fluent Spanish during the proceeding.

The victim's father, Ricardo Flores, was also present. He was asked to identify a wallet that was found inside van der Sloot's backpack when he was apprehended in Chile in June of 2010. The wallet belonged to his daughter Stephany. Ricardo Flores told the court he had given her $2,000 in cash to purchase a laptop the day before she was murdered.

On Wednesday, the case will go to the prosecutor's office so that formal charges may be filed. Once charges are filed, a three-judge panel will set the date for the oral trial to begin.

"For the van der Sloot case, we may be looking at five to seven sessions for the oral proceedings, one session per week approximately," said Giovanna Gismondi, an international relations professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Gismondi is from Peru and is very familiar with the Peruvian criminal legal system.

Gismondi said the average time length for the trial is about two to four months, but because of massive backlog, the period is normally longer.

-Mayra Cuevas, In Session Assignment Editor

Filed under: Case Updates • Joran van der Sloot

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