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US celebrity court artist captures drama among fallen

Written by: Staff

LOS ANGELES, May 12: Some people vie to be in the same room as celebrities, but Mona Shafer Edwards does one better. She captures them at their most emotional -- in the defendant's chair.

Edwards is a courtroom artist, one of a dying breed who sketches celebrity trials here in a city known for the intersection of celebrity and crime.

From Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson to Courtney Love and Winona Ryder, Edwards -- with a pad of vellum paper and oil-based markers in hand - brings life to the high-profile trials and court appearances of the rich, famous and infamous that capture the imagination of this star-obsessed city.

''Any courtroom can be a fascinating place, but my courtroom is located in the heart of the glamorous, scandalous City of Angels...'' begins Edwards in ''Captured! Inside the World of Celebrity Trials,'' her collection of sketches and remembrances of nearly 50 trials and court appearances, published by Santa Monica Press.

''What I do captures a little bit of the soul of the case,'' Edwards, 54, told Reuters. ''There's more humanity in a drawing than in a photograph.'' Edwards began her career as a fashion illustrator and said sketching allows her to be the ''fly-on-the-wall'' that photographers cannot be since defendants, witnesses and lawyers alike often feel threatened by cameras or alter their performances to play up to them. Edwards estimates there are a mere dozen court artists in the United States, all of whom hope that judges will bar cameras or video in their courts.

Drawing up to eight sketches a day, Edwards begins by seizing on a physical element of her subject, such as bushy eyebrows, an aquiline nose or a prominent jaw.

As she draws - smudging in colour and scraping off excess pen strokes with a blade -- Edwards awaits the ''selling point,'' the moment when her subject breaks down, bows to pray or suddenly sneers.

A sketch of O J Simpson, acquitted of the murder of his ex-wife Nicole but found liable in the civil trial, shows him on the witness stand testifying about ''wrassling'' with her one evening. Simpson denied that he was responsible for his wife's cuts and bruises.

Edwards' drawing shows him clenching his fists as he describes the incident. ''I was looking at his hands during the trial and was wondering what those hands did,'' she recalled. Edwards also notices details the casual observer would not. Michael Jackson's perfectly symmetrical hairline and ever-changing hair length convinced her that he was wearing wigs during his molestation trial, while tough-guy Robert Blake surprised her by showing up in court half-way through his murder trial with his eyebrows shaved off.

''I have killer eyes and a photographic memory,'' Edwards said.

''I can spot a nose job or a face-lift a mile away.'' ''Charlie's Angels'' star Farrah Fawcett, accusing her former boyfriend of battery, struck Edwards as frail and sad, while rocker Love was loud and brassy and did her case no good when she talked back to the judge.

Rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg, found innocent of murder, was ''possibly one of the most impeccably groomed defendants I've ever seen.'' she said.


At a recent book-signing party, the who's who of Los Angeles' legal establishment rubbed shoulders with judges, reporters and -- the only defendant featured in the book to show up -- Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss, whose call-girl ring for the rich and famous landed her behind bars.

''That's my prison blues!'' exclaimed Fleiss, pointing to a sketch of herself in an oversized prison uniform.

Edwards sells the use of her sketches to television, but stars such as Catherine Zeta Jones, Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks -- all celebrity trial figures either as witnesses, plaintiffs or defendants -- have purchased originals.

Sketching the rich and infamous for over 25 years has at times rattled Edwards, who sees human vulnerability at every turn in the nerve-racking environment of the courtroom.

Edwards recalled being jarred by the look of terror in director Steven Spielberg's eyes when he testified against his stalker, sitting just feet away from him.

''It brings home that no matter how powerful and famous you are you have the same fears and emotions as everyone else.''


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