Court reporter dies before finishing transcript in Mo. girl's murder case

06/16/2014 11:57 AM

06/16/2014 12:56 PM

Greene County authorities are trying to determine if the death of a court reporter will affect the trial of a man accused of kidnapping and killing a 10-year-old Springfield girl.

Longtime court reporter Jeanette Freeman, who died June 3 at her home of natural causes, had been hired to take notes during the preliminary hearing for Craig Wood, who is accused of killing Hailey Owens of Springfield in February, The Springfield News-Leader reported. Prosecutors have suggested they might seek the death penalty.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Todd Myers said no legal problems are likely even if Freeman did not complete the transcript because an audio recording of the hearing is available.

“We’re not going to have to redo the preliminary hearing,” he said, noting that Freeman also made an audio recording of the hearing.

Linda Dattilo, executive director for the Missouri Court Reporters Association, said a tape does not provide the same accuracy as a court reporter.

“(Court reporters) can say, excuse me, we didn’t hear that or understand what was said. If someone has a coughing fit or talks softly or walks away asking a question with his back to us, we can stop and remind them that we can’t or didn’t hear something,” Dattilo said.

She said digital audio recordings can sometimes be inaudible “because digital gives the same weight to the sound of a cough, gum snaps, paper rattling as it does to a person speaking, and you cannot make out on the tape what is missing.”

Dattilo said another certified court reporter can transcribe a reporter’s notes, if necessary, but the Wood case would be a challenge because Freeman used shorthand to take her notes. Court reporters typically use a stenotype machine to take notes.

“She might be the only one in the state using shorthand,” Dattilo said. “There might not be anyone who can read her notes.”

Judge Dan Conklin, who is scheduled to preside over Wood’s arraignment this week, said any problems with the transcript would not put the case in jeopardy but could require another preliminary hearing, although he is hopeful the questions will be answered so a new hearing isn’t required.

Myers said prosecutors have relied on Freeman for years and she always produced quality work. She had been a court reporter for 55 years and owned Freeman and Associates Court Reporting.

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