In the March 25, 2021 edition of the newspaper, a story entitled “Protester who was found not guilty of Sept. charge found guilty of failing to disperse when told to at July 11 protest,” included several quotes from open courtroom testimony during the trial of Maurice Wells, Jr. the previous day.
Several of the quotes involved references to two forms of a common expletive that is not appropriate for print in a family newspaper.
The format used by the newspaper to refer to the language without actually using the words, by hyphenating the word (a written equivalent of a “bleep”) may have inadvertently led some readers to infer that some of the participants actually uttered the profane word or phrase in the courtroom. They did not. They merely made reference to the initials of the first letter in the respective words.
During the trial, the only actual utterance of the full terms, quoting the defendant’s comments prior to his arrest on July 11, was made by assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison.
Sheriff Terry Johnson, for instance, was quoted as repeating quotes alleged to have been made by the defendant that day which included M– F– and F-ing.
Similarly, the reporter covering the case perceived the presiding judge, William Lunsford Long, III, to pick up on that initialed phraseology at one point, jokingly using the F-ing gerund.
However, the Editor has found that neither a transcript of the hearing, nor an audiotape of it, confirms any such comment from the judge.
While it is difficult to reconstruct a verbatim transcript of courtroom testimony via the audiotape (just as it was difficult to have precision in parts of the trial in the first place), inasmuch as voices are often low and muffled since most participants were wearing masks, we can find no confirmation that the judge used the initialed phraseology even in jest.
We regret and apologize for the error in attribution of comments to the judge that cannot be verified.
We also regret and apologize for the lack of clarity in the story that may have led some to conclude that certain witnesses used profanity on the witness stand when they did not.
In the future, the newspaper will try to make more explicit how profanities (that still will not be used in the newspaper) were uttered or characterized in court.
– The Editor