Tags: pamela smart | murder | trial | cameras

Pamela Smart Murder Trial: Were Cameras There to Entertain Us?

Image: Pamela Smart Murder Trial: Were Cameras There to Entertain Us?
In this March 19, 1991 file photo, Pamela Smart testifies in her own defense in Rockingham County Court on March 19, 1991, in Exeter, New Hampshire. (Evan Richman/Reuters/Landov)  

By    |   Tuesday, 19 Aug 2014 01:02 PM

Pamela Smart, convicted of convincing her teenage lover to murder her husband in 1990, returned to the spotlight in an HBO documentary that examined if cameras in the courtroom skewed justice during her trial.

In "Captivated: The Trial of Pamela Smart," which first aired Monday, director Jeremiah Zagar pitched the theory that the public and those involved in the New Hampshire case were so caught up in the entertainment aspect of the trial that justice fell to a distant second place, according to the Boston Globe.

"Even Smart herself seemed to play along, an emotionless and vain character out of central casting who wore bows in her hair throughout the trial," wrote the Globe's Matthew Gilbert. "It's a fascinating topic in this age of litigation as entertainment, which more or less began with the Smart trial. Are we all too eager to fit real-life crimes into the kinds of stories we see on TV, in novels, in the movies, and in the Bible?"

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Gilbert wrote, though, that the documentary spent too much time rehashing the case anew.

Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times said that while the documentary makes a case for how cameras in the courtroom change people's behavior, it was less convincing in making the case if that was a bad thing or proving Smart did not get justice.

"Does sticking cameras in a courtroom alter the behavior of everyone involved, including the judge, the jurors and the witnesses? Sure; that seems self-evident, and televising a trial certainly would have that effect the first time it was done," Genzlinger wrote.

"But how is behavior changed, and does that affect whether justice is served? On these more difficult questions, the film is less definitive. Mr. Zagar also wants to cast doubt on Ms. Smart's guilt, and does to some extent, but the film is often just as coy and cagey as Ms. Smart (who is interviewed) and other central figures are when they talk about the crime and their role in it," Genzlinger continued.

Alan Scherstuhl, of the Orange County Weekly, wrote that the documentary does serve as an indictment against using murder trials as entertainment.

"There is one truth the filmmakers press with urgency and power: the idea that Smart (who seems bright and charming in interview segments) deserved a better trial than she got — the idea that any and all of us would, if charged with the unthinkable, even if maybe we did do it," Scherstuhl wrote.

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Pamela Smart, convicted of convincing her teenage lover to murder her husband in 1990, returned to the spotlight in an HBO documentary that examined if cameras in the courtroom skewed justice during her trial.
pamela smart, murder, trial, cameras
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2014-02-19
Tuesday, 19 Aug 2014 01:02 PM
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