*"Life Without Parole…" Kingston, NY. 6•May•11

“F*ck You, Niggah! Suck My Di%k…!”

Trevor Mattis is forcibly removed from Judge Donald Williams’ courtroom after an expletive laden outburst directed at the judge, during his sentencing in the Ulster County Courthouse in Kingston, NY on Friday, May 6, 2011. Judge Williams sentenced both Mattis (23) and co-defendant Gary Griffin (30) to life sentences in state prison without the possibility of parole for their roles in the shooting death of Charles “C.J.” King Jr. on a midtown Kingston street in February 2010. CHET GORDON/Times Herald-Record

I’ve been in this business for more than 20 years and can honestly say I’ve never seen or heard anything like the instantaneous few moments in a county courtroom I witnessed today and photographed. Never. Ever. My career has taken me to earthquakes and other natural disasters, war zones, and I’ve even stepped over and around bodies in the street on numerous occasions as shockingas that all might be. I’ve seen and covered a lot of truly bad people at criminal trials, perp walks, stakeouts outside police precincts – particularly in New York City, and probably more police activity on the street and at crime scenes than I care to remember just now. But today’s assignment called for the sentencing of two known gang members who were convicted of killing an individual who’d turned state’s evidence and previously testified as a prosecution witness in a prior shooting in Kingston, NY approximately two years ago. The victim, an individual that put the finger on the brother of one of our defendants today was eventually shot in the back of the head execution style by one Mr. Trevor Mattis, all of 23 years old. (top photo) Mattis, known as “Little – T” was the trigger man in a retaliatory killing for his brother, and his accomplice and the facilitator for the killing was one Mr. Gary “G – Money” Griffin, a known leader of a sect of the Bloods gang in the Kingston, NY area. Griffin provided the handgun used by Mattis to kill the victim on a Kingston street in broad daylight. I’d also met with the victim’s family a day after the shooting back then, as our work schedule paired me with a senior reporter and now section editor who handled those interviews with the victim’s family like a polishedTV crime sleuth. When this trial started, I’d also photographed these two defendants in the hallway as they were brought into court dressed in civilian clothes during the jury selection phase of the case. Long story short, they were both found guilty of Murder in the First Degree three weeks ago, during a jury trial presided over by the same county judge. 

The words above highlighted in red that Mattis shouted toward the judge as he was hustled out of the courtroom (still cuffed and shackled no less) rang out almost like gunfire over the hushed courtroom. (I am not hesitant or ashamed to include them here – although I did just recently alter the spellings of the profanities – as they’re included in the court’s record and were heard by approximately 100 people in the courtroom. They are in the public record.) My instincts took over as this defendant’s arrogance was evident throughout the morning’s proceedings, but no more than when the judge was about to impose the first sentence on this young man. When he sat down, as if to show, ‘I don’t want to hear this anymore’, I kind of sensed there might be a reaction or altercation of some sort on his part...

*(Updating this post now on Sunday evening, May 8th.): As I’ve had a few days now and thought back on the whole day’s court proceedings, it still kind
of makes my head spin. I realized that I hadn’t sat down in the courtroom for more than 3 hours, standing quietly and respectfully in a corner off the empty jury box, with a local cable TV reporter.I’d made nearly 300 images on two cameras; beginning first in the hallway outside the courtroom when both defendants were escorted off the elevator (left) and into a holding room just off the courtroom, both wearing the county issued orange jumpsuits, and in handcuffs, and leg irons. Then from my secure spot adjacent to the prosecution and defense tables, I tried to wait for key moments during the proceedings, concentrating on making images of them throughout the morning. Both of their defense attorneys made lengthy statements, followed by the DA, and eventually two family members of the victim read handwritten, prepared statements to the judge. It is those kinds of tense moments when the whole room is emotionallycharged, observers and immediate family in the gallery are sniffling, and I’m standing there 30 feet away and still have to make good images. Changing lenses a few times to insure that I’d have a few decent image files on the Canon 5D – MKII also was a big concern of mine. I remember only minutes before Mr. Mattis’ outburst and lunge toward the judge, I’d actually switched back to the older 1D body with the 70mm – 200mm attached. Again opting for the faster motor drive and smoother auto-focus, instead of the richer file of the newer 5D – MKII, I’d reminded myself. It’s a good thing I’d gone with that camera as the judge began to admonish the first defendant, Mr. Mattis. When he belligerently continued to mouth off to the judge, sat down, and then had to be restrained by a slew of court officers and sheriff’s deputies, I was “on him” like a big sports play, or as they say in baseball terminology, describing a fast paced, assisted putout or “bang – bang” play at a particular base.Occasionally locking eyes with Mattis (left) wasn’t easy either. How do you look a 23 year-old killer in the face and not be effected? I found myself closely observing them both during the whole proceeding and remember thinking that these two young men are of age to be my children. Certainly they are someone’s sons. The whole racial aspect of case gnawed at me too; here were two more hard core Black gang-bangers going away to state prison for life, and Griffin (right) even quoted a Malcolm X speech as he was led away, decrying, “I’ve been railroaded! I’ve been bamboozled…!”

The final word came from the judge though, whose authoritarian words were delivered so calmly, it was almost frightening, as they too also hung in the air of the silenced courtroom, “Mr. Mattis (and subsequently Mr. Griffin) “…you shall be remanded to the state penitentiary for the remainder of your natural lives…” ~cg.

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