William J. Hennessy Jr. is one of the preeminent artists to have ever worked in the field of courtroom artistry. A graduate of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, Mr. Hennessy was trained as a fine artist. His classic training is apparent in his sophisticated style, method of execution and attention to detail.
All of Mr. Hennessy's work was produced and aired on network news programs, their affiliates or national newspapers or magazines. Hennessy’s work graces the walls of many private collections, law firms, and judicial chambers and is part of the permanent installation at DC’s celebrated Spy Museum.
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Age:50 / Born: Virginia Beach, VA / Marital status: Married / Children: Seven / Residence: Ashburn, VA
Sketch artists have found themselves on the bad side of at least one judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The artists play a critical role in federal court proceedings because cameras and video recorders are prohibited. Their illustrations are the only visual images that emerge from federal courtrooms.
Artist William J. Hennessy Jr. has never been banned from a courtroom in his 30 years on the job, unless proceedings were closed to all media. So he was shocked Monday to be told he would not be allowed to sketch oral arguments in an appeal involving 17 Chinese Muslims held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, our colleague Del Quentin Wilber reports.
Marilyn R. Sargent, chief deputy clerk of the appeals court, told Hennessy that the three-judge panel was not going to allow sketching, he said. Another sketch artist, after being told he would not be allowed to work, decided not to attend.
Thinking the ban was probably directed at his cumbersome sketch pad in a packed courtroom, Hennessy returned with a small notebook and pen (like the reporters). He sketched and took notes -- it's important to remember the color of a judge's hair, for example, if you don't have your colored pencils. When he got back to the press room, Hennessy, using his notes and memory, sketched an illustration of the hearing, which apparently aired on the Fox News channel.
That mightily displeased at least one of the judges on the panel, which was made up of Judith W. Rogers, Karen LeCraft Henderson and A. Raymond Randolph. Sargent called Hennessy yesterday morning and told the artist that "the court is very upset" about the illustration, said Hennessy, who noted that artists routinely sketch events at military proceedings at Guantanamo Bay. In this instance, the detainees were not even present at Monday's hearing.
Sargent declined to say which of the judges was offended or why the panel attempted to ban sketching in the courtroom.
One reason they were "upset," of course, may be that Hennessy was seated on the left side of the courtroom, to the judges' right, and maybe that's their bad side. Or perhaps they hadn't had time to be appropriately coiffed that morning. Or it could be that they've got nothing better to do than issue odd orders about sketching in the courtroom.
Ask The Post Dennis Brack
Deputy Assistant Managing Editor, News Art
Wednesday, September 14, 2005; 12:00 PM
Dennis Brack: Greetings. Bill Hennessy is the czar of local courtroom artists, and he does the majority of our sketches. I'm not exactly sure how long the average sketch takes him. As for the transmission to us, increasingly Hennessy is emailing them. Until recently, we received them as a hard copy and scanned them, converting them to digital form
ABC News interview Illustrator to the Biggest Trials
Courtroom sketch artist talks about the blockbuster cases he's witnessed 04/26/2006
WTOP's Neal Augenstein talks with Bill Hennessy Jr.
ROCKVILLE, Md. - Bill Hennessy Jr. sees his work as "the camera that can't be there."
He was there when Benjamin Sifrit told Montgomery County jurors how he dismembered the bodies of Fairfax, Va. residents, Martha Crutchley and Joshua Ford, to help his wife, Erika, cover up the Ocean City murders.
He was there when Monica Lewinsky walked in to testify before Kenneth Starr's grand jury.
He was there during U.S. vs. Microsoft, during Oliver North's Iran-Contra trial, during testimony in the National Zoo shootings trial and the case of John and Lorena Bobbit.
'There' is the courtroom.
While Court TV brings you the action live, Hennessy is the courtroom artist - the guy who turns the single courtroom moment into history. His sketches are the ones you see in newspapers, on TV news and hanging in lawyers' offices. "I think of myself as much a journalist as an artist," Hennessy says.
From his front row seat in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Hennessy juggles hundreds of colored pencils and works on a number of drawings at once as the prosecutor presents evidence against Sifrit and as Sifrit's attorney defends his client.
Jurors Wednesday convicted Sifrit, a former Navy SEAL of killing Crutchley last year after she and Ford, her boyfriend, disappeared during a Memorial Day trip to the beach. Sifrit was acquitted of assaulting and murdering Ford. Erika Sifrit is to be tried in June in Frederick County. "The aspects that are most pertinent to telling the story - that's what I try to capture," Hennessy says.
Hennessy sketches at a fast pace. He remembers the most minute details as they are presented. What was the victim's family wearing? What was the expression of the defendant? Was there an outburst from a courtroom spectator?
Courtroom action isn't always high drama. Trials can take weeks, with testimony detailing every aspect of a case. "Even if there's no action, I still gotta record what's there," says Hennessy, who's been working in courtrooms across the Washington area for nearly 25 years.
He describes what he sees as a "fading photograph." "I need to get it quickly as I can, while it's fresh in my mind. Something that happens in one or two seconds - a gesture or an expression - I get it down as quickly as I can. It's much easier to get it while it's fresh than to work from memory," he says.