Quick Draw

November 10, 2003 

They're the only ones in the courtroom with booster seats, binoculars and brushes.

Fast and furious, they ride the same adrenaline that reporters do. And when their work is done, the world knows what the Scott Peterson preliminary hearing looked like that day.

In full color.

They are the sketch artists, women who sprinkle spice in a stew that has become a national media obsession.

Peterson, 31, is accused in the murders of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner. Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Al Girolami is conducting the preliminary hearing to decide if there is sufficient evidence to put Peterson on trial.

The hearing is scheduled to resume Wednesday. Television and newspaper cameras are banned, by order of Girolami, who decided that the images might poison the pool of potential jurors.

Because of Girolami's ban, people are seeing the quickly crafted work of artists Joan Lynch, Vicki Ellen Behringer and Laurie McAdam.

"If the cameras come in, it's zero for us," said Lynch, the senior member of the trio.

She and Behringer traveled to Modesto from their homes in Alameda and Carmichael, respectively, without pay to practice at about 10 proceedings before the Peterson hearing got under way Oct. 29.

Various television networks and other news outlets pay for Behrin-ger's and Lynch's work. McAdam is a full-time member of The Bee's editorial graphic arts department.

"I'm a very fast and impatient artist," Behringer said. "I don't want to sit and work on a painting forever, like most artists."

A runner periodically snatches Behringer's images from the courtroom, sprinting to the sidewalk and putting them on an easel in front of TV cameras.

The three artists collectively produce about 20 images a day. Hands flying almost noiselessly over paper, necks craning for better views, the trio is hard to miss in the courtroom.

During lunch and recesses, people walking through the media encampment outside the courthouse can see Behringer's and Lynch's work displayed along the sidewalk. Often, the artists are seated nearby, putting finishing touches on courtroom scenes that took place moments before.

Lynch, a grandmother of three, got her start at a San Francisco proceeding stemming from the mass suicide in Jones-town, Guyana, in 1978. She had spent the previous two decades painting nudes at Laney College in Oakland, a perennial student with no intent to graduate.

After her first court encounter, "I couldn't sleep for three months because of the adrenaline," Lynch said. "It's a total drive of something I love."

She ordered minibinoculars from a New York jeweler. These she straps to her head for watching the witness stand, while glancing downward for sketching.

Behringer was studying art at Sacramento City College when a fellow student, an intern at a TV station, told her that a courtroom artist had been killed in a motorcycle accident.

Soon after, Behringer was capturing action in the trial of Sacramento boardinghouse killer Dorothea Puente in 1993, and, eventually, in the case of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

Both women painted proceedings involving Yosemite killer Cary Stayner; Ellie Nesler, a Jamestown woman who killed the man accused of molesting her son; and Richard Allen Davis, who murdered Polly Klaas.

McAdam's caricatures appear regularly on The Bee's feature pages, and she has illustrated three children's books. She relies on a computer mouse for most of her drawings -- but not in the courtroom, of course.

When Girolami banned cameras from the Peterson hearing, The Bee called on McAdam's skills. She borrowed minibinoculars, spent two months practicing in the courtroom, and drew and redrew images of principal characters from photographs.

While Lynch and Behringer produce watercolor paintings on artist pads, McAdam specializes in colored chalk on squares of common brown butcher paper. Bee readers, including people across the globe who go to The Bee's Web site, are familiar with her bright images.

The veteran artists credited McAdam with a minor breakthrough -- booster seats. When McAdam had trouble seeing from the fourth of five rows in the audience, she started sitting on a plastic shoebox-sized container holding some of her art supplies. Now, all three do.

"People want to see what's going on in the courtroom, but it's very tricky if I can't see," Behringer said. Girolami will not let the artists sit in the jury box, which is empty because no jurors are needed for preliminary hearings.

Of the widely watched proceeding, McAdam said: "It's exciting, but it's such a tragic story. You realize why you're doing it, and that part is hard."

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or gstapley@modbee.com.

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