Unless we are personally involved, most of us don’t have time to attend trials. Watching the proceedings that convict the guilty or free the innocent (in best case scenarios) has also become entertainment for the masses. Jillian still shares the lurid details of crime, but she writes with compassion, eloquence and grace.
We all need to be familiar with the way our legal system works, or fails us on occasion. We also need to know about the dark side of life because any one of us, or our family members can become a victim.
Arrestrecords.com had the pleasure of speaking with Jillian about her inspiration for founding Court Junkie and her passion for criminal justice issues.
You’ve put together an amazing website. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you started writing about court cases and crime?
Jillian: Thank you! I’m 31 years old, live in the city of Chicago, and was a journalism major back in college, so I’ve always had the writing and news junkie bug.
I’ve followed crime stories for as long as I can remember. I think it all started with the O.J. Simpson trial – I was completely captivated by it. I would race home from school to catch the highlights of the trial on what was then CourtTV (which I wish they would bring back!)
Then, when I was in college in San Diego, the disappearance of Laci Peterson was all over the news, especially after Scott was arrested in Torrey Pines, not far from where I was. My heart broke every time I saw that photo in the news of Laci’s smiling face. I couldn’t even imagine the pain her family was going through, especially after finding out that her husband was the person responsible.
There were countless cases I followed after that, and I started my first true-crime blog about eight years ago, called “The Thirteenth Juror.” I didn’t put much effort into the design; It was just a very basic blog where I wrote about different cases and my thoughts on each one. I had a full-time job, was married, etc., and so I didn’t have much time to commit to it, so I eventually abandoned it.
About six months ago, I lost the full-time job I was in love with after our company was bought out. I decided to take some time off and get another website up and running, this time focusing on court cases, as well as missing person’s cases. I put a lot of thought into the design of the site, and my goal is for it to raise awareness. Too many people go missing nowadays, or are victims of senseless crimes and I firmly believe that awareness can be the key to possible prevention.
I also can’t describe it, but I have such sympathy for families of the missing; my heart just hurts for them. I cry over a lot of cases, but I think it’s important to get the word out about them and see them through. Our court system isn’t perfect, but we’re lucky enough to have access to what goes on inside the courtroom (whereas some other countries aren’t so lucky).
I have bigger ideas for my site – I’m planning to add forums, so people can have a place to discuss each case, and I’d like to have more community involvement. I want it to be a site where you can have everything available on a particular case (including court documents, recorded interviews, etc.) all in one place.
My goal was to make a site that I would want to read and hopefully that’s what I will accomplish with everyone else.
I have always been interested in reading true crime stories and most of the people I know who are fascinated by this genre are women. I’ve read studies that back this up. Some researchers believe that women read true crime because they are more fearful of becoming a victim. They read these stories to learn about the criminal mind and to learn skills to avoid these situations. Do you find that most of your readers are female and why do you think that is?
Jillian: I think that’s definitely a very good assessment. I have found that most of my readers are, in fact, women, and I do think there’s truth in the fear of becoming a victim theory.
One of my worst fears is to have a loved one just vanish, and to not know what happened to them. Or for me to just vanish, and my family to not know what happened to me. I just can’t imagine the “not knowing.”
Take, for example, Beth Holloway, Natalee Holloway’s mother – Natalee has never been found, and Beth may possibly never truly know if her daughter is alive out there somewhere, or if she is deceased. It’s just my absolute worst nightmare.
I think reading about these cases does instill fear in people and does make them want to avoid these situations for themselves.
And delving into the “why” of a crime is also important and fascinating to people. For example, what causes someone to act in such a violent manner? How can this be prevented?
When I was in my twenties (many years ago) my roommate was best friends with a guy who turned out to be a serial rapist. A women I worked with used to be a bank teller and Paul Bernardo was a regular customer. Have you had any close encounters with criminals?
Jillian: Wow! I actually don’t have any connections like that, thankfully! I did attend the Drew Peterson trial (only a couple days of it), and I can tell you that during breaks in the trial, Drew would turn around and look at everyone in the gallery. He would make eye contact with each person, until you looked away. He did it to me several times and each time I would try to stare back but it was so uncomfortable that I did break eye contact every time. It was the creepiest thing, and I hope to never be in the presence of such evilness ever again. But I probably will attend more trials.
You do a great public service by providing information on missing people and links to resources on your website and Facebook page. The more publicity we get for these cases, the better chances of finding them or finding information about the person. Can you share a happy story about someone you featured that was found safe?
Jillian: Thank you, I’m trying!
I absolutely agree that the publicity is important, which is ultimately why I wanted to do this. I have had a couple of cases that I posted in which the missing person was found safe, but I typically take the post down afterwards, especially if it involves a minor. What goes on the Internet stays on the Internet forever and if a child has run away, I wouldn’t want someone to Google them years down the road and read about it on my blog. I’m not in it to sensationalize anything, and my general rule is that if a court case doesn’t come out of it, I won’t typically post it.
However, I have left up a few great outcomes.
One is the kidnapping of 29-year-old Bethany Arceneaux who was kidnapped by the father of her child. Her family was relentless in searching for her and eventually found her in an abandoned house. They kicked the door down, had a confrontation with her kidnapper, and saved her life. I struggled with whether I should take the post down after she was found safe, but I decided to leave it up because the family’s resolve to find her was absolutely inspiring.
On Debate.org there is a 50/50 split on whether criminal trials should be televised. The arguments against it are compelling, but we are both on the “yes” side. Why do you think it is important to allow the public to see what goes on in the courtroom?
Jillian: I can see both sides of this argument too, but I lean more towards “yes.”
We are lucky enough that in our country and Canada, we get to know everything that happens in a trial, and I think this is important. This ensures that every decision made in that courtroom is on the “up and up.” Televising a trial also brings more awareness, like we were talking about before. For example, regardless of your feelings on the Michael Dunn trial, it was incredibly important to see how the law applies itself, and how we, as a society, can lobby for changes, if necessary. A closed-door trial would be a very scary thing, in my opinion. Regardless of who the defendant is in a case is, they have rights too and shining a spotlight in the courtroom ensures that their rights will be met because tons of people are watching.
I do think there’s a difference between being televised and being sensationalized though. I love that HLN airs certain trials, but I don’t love how they sensationalize them. In my opinion, these cases aren’t glamorous; most times they are tragic. There really are never any winners, and I think it’s in poor judgment to name the trial something catchy like, “The loud music murder trial” with their background music and graphics. I doubt the family of the victim appreciates that. The publicity is great, but it needs to be done in a more respectful manner, in my opinion.
I often think about how I would cover trials differently if I had the power and money to start my own CourtTV channel.
What recent court decision has got your blood boiling?
Jillian: One recent decision that got my blood boiling would have to be the latest news about the duPont heir, Robert H. Richards IV. Granted, that sentencing was handed down in 2008 and recently just came to light, but that was definitely one that made me mad. This guy admits to sexually abusing his 3-year-old daughter, and he’s sentenced to probation?? The judge ruled that he “wouldn’t fare well” in prison. I’m sorry, but who exactly does the judge think WOULD fare well in prison??
It definitely makes me think that wealthy people can be, in fact, treated differently in our court system than someone who is poor. And again, this is another example of why publicity is important. People are outraged over this decision, and maybe the more people who speak up about it, the better the chances are that something can be changed.
The Internet has given law enforcement another way to solve crime, obtain evidence and locate missing people through social media and forums and other online sources. It’s also given the average person more opportunities to learn about the people they interact with, such as checking to see if there are any sex offenders in your neighborhood. Do you feel that we are becoming a “big brother” state, or is this access to information worth losing some of our rights to privacy because it provides us with more security?
Jillian: In my opinion, the access to this information is definitely worth losing some of our rights to privacy. If you’re a sex offender, and you abuse a child, why should that be private? You might be able to go into rehab and become a changed person, but your neighbor definitely has a right to know what your tendencies may be. An educated decision is the best decision and awareness like that might make all the difference between letting your child hang around that person or not.
Everyone is of course entitled to their own opinion, and the thought of losing privacy might rub some people the wrong way, and I get that. I just think the benefits outweigh the cons.
Thank you, Jillian, for sharing your story and the stories of missing people and victims across our country.