Love, Doodles, a Fallen Hairbrush: The McDonnell Show Goes On 

click to enlarge Mass media: the ritual of the huddle at the federal courthouse downtown.

Scott Elmquist

Mass media: the ritual of the huddle at the federal courthouse downtown.

Former Gov. Bob McDonnell talked about his marriage in the hushed tones usually reserved for discussing severe illness and death.

Things had gotten bad, he testified. So on Labor Day in 2011 after a failed attempt to spend a pleasant weekend with his wife, Maureen, he wrote her a heartfelt note.

"Somehow, the best plans with us never work out," he wrote. "It makes me sad. I am lonely sometimes. I want to be in love, not just watch movies about it."

The federal courtroom, overlooking Broad Street from the seventh floor, filled to capacity again last week when McDonnell took the stand in defense of fraud and corruption charges. Life in the Executive Mansion, as he told it, sounded both bizarre and unsettling.

In the days leading up to the testimony, the length of the proceedings began to visibly wear on the press corps. While enthusiasm for covering the trial dipped, courtroom decorum deteriorated. One reporter appeared in court wearing a T-shirt, another took to removing his shoes, a third sketched abstract doodles in his notepad large enough to see from across the room.

McDonnell's testimony, which continues this week, seemed to reinvigorate the room. And in a new development, at least a dozen spectators and curiosity-seekers showed up to watch in person.

One woman said she'd been there four days. She brought a floral seat cushion to soften the hard wooden pews. "I'm waiting for the cross-examination," she said, cackling wryly.

An older man used a 15-minute break in the proceedings to question a reporter about the status of the case. "I've never been to a trial like this before," he said. The conversation morphed into a mini-debate between two writers about whether the judge would end the proceedings early because it was Friday. They agreed that they hoped he would.

McDonnell's testimony was marked by highly quotable moments — such as the aforementioned love letter — that sent news media scurrying.

When the proceedings concluded Friday, harried reporters from at least four different outlets compared notes to make sure they transcribed the final minutes of his testimony correctly.

While Parker Slaybaugh of 8 News was running from his television station's live truck to the front of the courthouse, a hairbrush fell out of his pocket and onto the sidewalk. When a passerby told him he'd dropped it, Slaybaugh said he'd have to get it on the way back.

Before he sent the jury home for the weekend, Judge James R. Spencer had stern words for the news media in attendance: Stop doing interviews right in front of the courthouse door — other people needed to be able to enter and exit the building.

"Please, just walk to the corner or something," he said.


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