Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Covering the Madrid Bombing Trial
We got here early, around 6:30 am local time. One of the first crews outside the courthouse, even before the main police contingent, although there was security. The courthouse security chief told us to move our cars -- unloading lots of equipment to our “live shot” position under a tent --- away from the court building, as in, RIGHT NOW, por favor ("please," in Spanish; he was courteous, as always). Not as cold as we had expected it to be, one layer of coats, not two, would do.

As daylight came, more police, and well, more police. Security constantly changing at the courthouse where the Madrid train bomb trial was held earlier this year and where the verdict and sentence are delivered. Sometimes they let accredited journalists -- only one per media -- come and go in and out of the building. Today is different. You're in, or you're out. No back and forth. Lots of concern by security and court officials that nothing, but nothing, happen here except the expected verdict and sentencing of the 28 defendants. One of them is in Italy serving a different terrorism sentence, he attends by video conference. Around 10 am, the main contingent of victims came in a large Guardia Civil bus under tight security, a caravan of heavily armed paramilitary Civil Guards surrounding them, sirens blaring. The defendants are hustled in a side door to the court, away from the media cameras.

Outside, I saw a lawyer representing a Chilean woman whose husband died in the bombings, one of the 191 people killed in the attacks on the Madrid commuter trains on March 11, 2004. Under Spanish law, private party plantiffs, like this woman, can hire a lawyer to do a parallel prosecution to the state prosecutors. It can be effective. Prosecutors in June, in revising their charge list, dropped all charges against one Spanish defendant, Javier Gonzalez Diaz, age 55. He earlier had been charged with supplying explosives for the attacks. But a private party plantiff, representing a large group of victims, maintained charges against him. So he will have to wait until the verdict, like the other defendants, to see if he's a free man or not.

Victims Row: as victims and others file into the lobby of the court, two leaders of the largest victims association, Pilar Manjon and Jesus Ramirez, are surrounded by journalists, and they're complaining they've been given just 3 passes to be inside the courtroom for the reading of the verdict. They say other victims groups, which represent a much smaller number of victims than their "Victims Association of 11-M" (as in March 11), got the same number. Ramirez told me only last Friday he expected to have 30 from his group here. Manjon, the president of the association, announces they won't use the three, and instead of them will be in a separate part of the court building, together, to hear the sentence. Manjon lost a son, who died on one of the trains. Ramirez lost 40 percent of his hearing in the blast and hasn't returned to work. Court officials and Manjon's group apparently were talking until the last minute to see if more victims might be allowed to sit in court.

There's always something - the court press room has a high-speed wireless connection. I couldn't connect, called the CNN computer support technician in Madrid, we talked it through, couldn't get anywhere, decided it was impossible, and I plugged in a backup, slower, external device that allows at least some connection. It didn't work, but when I plugged it in, I suddenly got the high-speed wireless I'd been looking for anyway.

-- From Al Goodman, CNN Madrid Bureau Chief.
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