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TNT's look at the Beverly Monroe/Roger de la Burde murder trial is more titillation than investigation.

Cable Court


"I believe that Beverly Monroe should be given a new trial."

So says Judge Burton Roberts. Trouble is, he's a former judge of the Supreme Court of Bronx County, N.Y. And he doesn't say it from the bench. Oh, no. The platform he picks to proclaim his opinion is a cable TV show.

And how, the discerning courtroom buff or television viewer might ask, did the honorable Judge Roberts reach this august conclusion about a Virginia murder case? Not by presiding over any official fact-finding process in anything even approximating a courtroom. Not by coming to Virginia himself. No, he formed his learned opinion by talking to two people who had spent a few days in Virginia, where Monroe was convicted of killing Roger de la Burde. And neither the venerable Judge Roberts nor the two people he talked to spent one minute in the courtroom during the Monroe trial. In fact, the judge's two emissaries didn't even start nosing around the case until eight years after Monroe was locked up at the Pocahontas Correctional Center for Women.

So much for the esteemed Judge Roberts' credibility. Or lack thereof.

The Monroe case is one of two that are dusted off and paraded out for the purpose of entertaining viewers on TNT's new 90-minute tabloid show, "Was Justice Denied?" Monroe was convicted in 1992 in the death of her wealthy lover, a 60-year-old art collector/Polish count/fraud — a man that even prosecuting attorney Jack Lewis calls a "scumbag." Her conviction came despite the fact that the death was first ruled a suicide. Her case wasn't helped, however, by a police statement Monroe signed in which she agreed that it was hypothetically possible she could have been in the house when de la Burde shot himself. Monroe's appellate attorney, Steve Northup, who is the head of litigation for the prestigious Richmond firm Mays & Valentine, L.L.P., and who is working without a fee, explains the statement by saying Monroe is a "naive" and "trusting" person.

The other case profiled on "Was Justice Denied?" concerns the 1996 conviction of a Missouri man Dale Helmig for the murder of his 55-year-old mother, whose body, clad only in a nightgown and weighted down with a cinderblock, was found in the Osage River in Linn, Mo.

You'll find many who think that both Monroe and Helmig were wrongfully convicted — Monroe's two daughters, and Helmig's brother and his estranged girlfriend, for example. And they may be right. But Judge Roberts' methods of adjudicating a case will never persuade anybody with an ounce of understanding of the law. Not when his two "investigators" — a former state's attorney from Chicago and a Denver defense lawyer — ask questions like "Do you still miss your mother?"

That's not investigation. That's titillation. And as Bill Moyers said once, "Once you decide to titillate instead of illuminate … you create a climate of expectation that requires a higher and higher level of intensity." Which raises the question: What's next for TNT and Judge Roberts? One shudders to think.

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