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My Thoughts as I Cover the Jordan Johnson Trial

District Courtroom
photo by Peter Christian

At times, I feel I’m a terrible journalist. I’m just a radio guy. I have no degree or formal training, as I attempt to cover the Jordan Johnson trial in Missoula. What I am though, is a husband and father with, as of March 1, 33 years of experience.

There are times during the Jordan Johnson trial that I have driven home in tears after hearing the continuing tragedy of two young people that are just a bit younger than my own two children. I have a boy, 29, and a girl, 26, and I simply cannot fathom what our lives would be like if this had occurred in our family. I think.. ‘what if’…it were my daughter on the stand, tearfully telling her story… or, my son, tearfully telling his story.

I imagine the opposing attorneys challenging their versions of what happened that night of February 4, 2012 in the young woman’s bedroom, and the shock waves that have swept through The University of Montana, Missoula and through the unsympathetic eye of the media and the nation.

The pain is palpable in the courtroom, as Mr. and Mrs. Johnson have been faithfully sitting in the front row of the gallery supporting their son, many times in tears, but mostly sitting numbly listening to testimony about allegations that have changed their son’s life forever. I try to imagine what I would do to defend my son. Would I mortgage my home, cash in all my retirement to hire the best attorneys possible to defend him? You bet I would… in a heartbeat.

The same can be said of the young woman’s parents. They have both testified as to the pain their family has suffered through this incident. The emotional cost of the alleged rape, and all that has followed has deeply affected their family.

And, speaking of the families, has anyone noticed the remarkable similarities between the Johnson’s and the young woman’s family? (For reasons of privacy, we are quite rightly not allowed to use her name or image.)

First… all families who send their kids off to college share a kinship. We drive them to the school of their choice, help them get their dorm rooms set up, make sure they have enough money… and a cellphone with free long distance so we can keep in touch, sometimes several times a day. Then, we give them that final hug, and bravely hold back the tears until we make it to the car. Sometimes we make it, sometimes we don’t. And the questions we ask ourselves on the long drive home… ‘Did we do a good enough job raising them?’ ‘Will they make friends?’ ‘Will they be lonely?’ ‘How will they do in school?’ The questions we never entertain are those that have arisen in this trial.

Did you realize that both fathers are school teachers? Both are, or have been coaches. Both are quiet, soft-spoken men, who are immeasurably proud of their children. Both are middle-class families who worked hard in relatively small towns to build good homes for their children. As I sat,observing both families through this trial, I realized that in vastly different circumstances, these two families could have been close, lifelong friends watching their children grow into adulthood.

I think about these things as I’m frantically writing down testimony in my little reporter’s notebook, (my first ever, by the way). And, I hope and pray with all my heart that somehow, someday these two young people and heir families can find peace following this ordeal.

As for the outcome of the trial. I have no idea. Everyone has an opinion, but none of that counts. The final decision is up to seven women and five men, and my hat is off to them.

Full Coverage of the Jordan Johnson Trial

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