Curiosity compels handful to sit through Helmick trial
Miriam Helmick brings her legal note pad.
Martha Scott brings her homemade pillow.
When you’re determined to sit in on a monthlong murder trial with your rear-end planted on the wooden benches of the Mesa County Justice Center, comfort starts to matter, Scott said.
“My grandfather said any damn fool can be uncomfortable,” Scott, 67, said of her multicolored pillow, which has drawn compliments from security staff at the courthouse.
A retired schoolteacher with a penchant for true crime novels, Scott and her pillow have been a fixture in District Judge Valerie Robison’s courtroom since the murder trial of 52-year-old Miriam Helmick began in the second week of November.
You’ll find Scott at the end of the benches near the door; she likes the arm rests.
Steve Heacock, 69, prefers sitting in the second row, behind the prosecution’s table.
“It’s a pretty good view of the witness,” Heacock said.
Attendance at Helmick’s trial peaked at roughly 40 people on Thursday as Helmick testified in her own defense, accused of killing her husband, Alan, in June 2008. The weeks and days before brought a committed group of about six to eight people, mostly women, sitting in on daily testimony.
Most are retired and found themselves looking for something to do, when a big something that they had been reading about came around. For several, it isn’t the first criminal trial in Mesa County they’ve sat in on.
Scott attended portions of the trial earlier this year of former Grand Junction High School administrator Johnnie Walker.
“The slow, steady, logical unfolding of the facts is so much more compelling than fiction,” she said.
Heacock said he attended several days of testimony during Michael Blagg’s 2004 murder trial because he lived close to the Blagg family’s former Redlands home.
Around the same time, Heacock said, he made a sales phone call to Alan Helmick, pitching an offer for a customized phone message. Helmick wasn’t interested, he said.
“I suppose I feel some sort of distant connection to this,” Heacock said.
Hal Mason, 64, started showing up out of curiosity, but soon learned through testimony that he had a link to the case. Mason learned that his aunt and uncle owned a fruit orchard near Cedaredge, which neighbored a property owned by Alan Helmick’s family.
Mason sits in the back row, on the prosecution’s side of the courtroom.
“Just trying to stay out of the camera’s way,” he said.
For Scott, she said the trial has been remarkable for what she hasn’t seen when compared to her television crime dramas.
“The cordiality, deference from one colleague to another ... it’s very impressive,” she said. “For all the hue and cry you hear about the demise of our democracy from both political parties, I’m just impressed by this demonstration.”
Plus, there’s what Scott called her “voyeur side.”
“It’s creepy and compelling at the same time,” she said.
Closing arguments in the Helmick trial are scheduled for today.