As you dive into reading BODY OF PROOF: Tainted Evidence in the Murder of Jessica O’Grady? you will quickly discover the book’s three main characters.
They are: University of Nebraska at Omaha campus coed Jessica O’Grady, Lone Star Steakhouse bartender Christopher Edwards and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office CSI Commander David Kofoed of Omaha. But one of the most influential persons in the entire book won’t pop up until you’re at least half way through your reading. His name is J. Russell Derr.
He’s one of the Douglas County District Court judges in Omaha, Nebraska, and, for the most part, Judge Derr tries to lead a low-profile existence on the Nebraska bench. I covered some court proceedings in his courtroom during my days as an Omaha journalist from 2003 through 2012.
BODY OF PROOF #1 BESTSELLER IN “TRUE CRIME-CRIMINALS”
Overall, Derr is not a huge fan of having a large continent of newspaper, radio and television journalists hovering around courtroom, but he has to put up with it since court proceedings are
a matter of public interest.
Before being appointed to the Nebraska bench in 2003 by the state’s governor, Judge Derr worked as a private attorney at one of his city’s most prestigious Omaha law firms. Derr came up through the legal ranks as a civil attorney — he was not a criminal prosecutor or a criminal defense attorney.
However, once on the bench, Derr, like most judges, was forced to handle both the criminal and civil docket. There was no special reason why Judge Derr got selected to handle the courtroom proceedings in the Jessica O’Grady murder case. That’s just the way it turned out.
Some years later, the judge did not welcome the additional news media exposure that the case was regenerating as well. More details about this episode are documented in great detail in BODY OF PROOF.
In any event, some local judges don’t mind the spotlight of the press within their courtrooms because they realize the press can be a conduit. The press can help the public better understand how the criminal justice system really works.
As you read BODY OF PROOF, I have no doubt that you will develop an impression of Judge Derr.
Will you like you him? Dislike him? Find him fair? Think he’s biased?
That’s all up to you.