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He's sketched some of Charlotte's biggest trials
Plus: Mark your calendar for big CMS boundary meetings this week; charity helps kids who have experienced abuse; 2 people shot at Romare Bearden Park on Sunday afternoon
Good morning! Today is Monday, April 17, 2023. You’re reading The Charlotte Ledger, an e-newsletter with local business-y news and insights for Charlotte, N.C.
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Charlotte artist Jerry McJunkins has sketched more than three decades of famous court cases, from PTL to Carruth to John Edwards; he’s now ready to sell his vast collection of sketches
Longtime Charlotte courtroom sketch artist Jerry McJunkins has brought famous court cases to life for more than three decades. One of his favorite cases was one in which the company behind Barney the dinosaur sued Charlotte-based costume business Morris Costumes for copyright infringement. (Barney lost the suit.)
by Cristina Bolling
Jerry McJunkins flips through the stacks of technicolor sketches in his Plaza Midwood home art studio, and the stories of some of the Carolinas’ most famous court trials come spilling out.
There was the time he was sketching the 1989 trial of disgraced PTL preacher Jim Bakker and a witness collapsed on the stand. (“Jim Bakker got up and prayed over him,” McJunkins recalls.)
And the day a judge let him sit in the jury box for a hearing where former CIA director and four-star general David Petraeus pled guilty to giving classified information to his love interest, Charlottean Paula Broadwell. (Petraeus “came in here like he was running for office, smiling and waving — the nerve!” McJunkins laughs.)
He sketched media bigwigs as they petitioned for cameras in the courtroom of the 2000 murder trial of former Carolina Panther Rae Carruth, and he traveled to Charleston for the 2016 murder trial of church shooter Dylan Roof.
McJunkins captured former presidential candidate John Edwards at the defense table as he sat accused of trying to cover up an affair with campaign money in 2012, and even got Edwards to sign the sketches after the trial. (“I think the ones he liked, he signed,” McJunkins says.)
Just this past January, McJunkins sat in Charlotte’s federal court for a case in which a former Myers Park High School student sued Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the city of Charlotte, claiming they failed to properly respond to sexual assault allegations she made against a fellow student in 2015.
The list goes on.
It’s a safe bet to say that nobody in Charlotte has borne witness to as many high-profile court cases as Jerry McJunkins.
And his body of work — which he says he’s now ready to sell — proves it.
A life turned around: Now 73, McJunkins says there was once a time in his life when it seemed far more likely that his courtroom appearances would be at the defense table — not in the gallery as a professional artist.
After graduating from West Charlotte High School in 1968, McJunkins played percussion in a band called Fungus Blues. One night while in Lakeland, Fla., with the band, he says he got high and was arrested for stealing a bicycle.
He spent a few weeks in jail — “enough for me to decide I needed to make a change,” he recalls.
He returned to Charlotte, and soon after got a knock on his apartment door from a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “That’s when my life changed,” he said.
He became a Jehovah’s Witness, a faith he still practices, and he decided to follow a “straight and honest” path.
Since childhood, McJunkins had been in love with art and sketching, even making drawings while touring with Fungus Blues. After high school graduation, he and his band buddies enrolled in Central Piedmont Community College under a federal program designed to help minorities and disadvantaged residents earn an education.
While in the band, McJunkins worked toward an associates degree in commercial art, and then forged a career as a professional artist. He still credits his Central Piedmont instructors with teaching him the principles of color and sketching that he uses to this day in his work.
Fast courtroom learning curve: McJunkins never set out to sketch court cases.
He’d worked as an artist doing portraits and sketches in places like Carowinds and at Midtown Square Mall, and one day he got a call from Channel 6: Could he come in the next day to interview as a courtroom sketch artist?
He tried to research how to do courtroom sketches, but couldn’t find anything besides examples of other artists’ work. He knew that the 9 years he’d spent as a sketch artist at Carowinds had made him adept at quickly drawing what he saw in front of him.
“I took my pad into Channel 6, and sat at the producer’s desk, and he said, ‘Sketch that guy over there.’ And I did. He said, ‘We’ll pick you up in the morning,’” McJunkins recalls. “That’s how it started.”
The very next day, McJunkins found himself in a Columbia, S.C., courtroom for a hearing in the lawsuit evangelical ministry PTL had filed against its founder, Jim Bakker.
Instead of being intimidated by having his first courtroom job be a high-profile case, McJunkins says he found it exciting.
“As an illustrator, the best way to learn is like a doctor — being an intern. You can read the books all day, but it’s not going to work until you start cutting people,” he said. “We took a class, drew the models, but really doing it was the hands-on education. I always wanted to sketch what I see.”
Learning the business: And see, he did.
After the PTL hearings and trial, McJunkins’ work became known in media and legal circles. For a while, he was on contract with Channel 9, paid for four jobs a month plus mileage and expenses whether he worked or not. He worked up rates for media outlets that wanted exclusive access to his work, and rates for national and local media. All the while, he continued to work outside the courtroom making commissioned portraits and sketching special events.
Many of his jobs have been in federal court, where no cameras are allowed, and courtroom sketches are the only way to visually show the public the day’s events. Sometimes judges in district court ban cameras, too, making sketches imperative for media outlets who want their readers or viewers to be able to see what happened.
McJunkins’ favorite court case is probably one of the least well-known cases in his portfolio. One day in 1999, after a trial he’d been hired to sketch had been canceled, he found himself wandering around the courthouse, peeking into courtrooms to see what was going on.
To his surprise, in one courtroom he saw large purple Barney-looking dinosaur models in the center of the proceedings. It was a lawsuit that the company that owned property rights to the Barney character had filed against Charlotte costume company Morris Costumes, for copyright and trademark infringement.
McJunkins ducked in and got up to speed. As he recalls, the lawsuit had germinated from a most unusual set of circumstances: the San Diego Padres baseball team had obtained a Morris Costumes Barney-lookalike costume to use in a field entertainment bit, during which the Padres mascot jumped on the Barney lookalike and beat him up.
In the end, U.S. District Court Judge Graham Mullen decided that the Morris Costumes “Duffy the Dinosaur” didn’t infringe on Barney’s copyright, but two of the company’s other dinosaur costumes did, although not willfully in a way that would require Morris Costumes to pay damages. (Interestingly, one of the Morris Costumes attorneys was Jay Bilas, who is now a big-time college basketball broadcaster.)
A key revenue stream: Not long after McJunkins started courtroom sketching, he realized he could tap into another revenue stream: selling the paper sketches, mainly to attorneys and judges who wanted to hang them on their office walls. Good days in court could mean thousands of extra dollars in sales.
McJunkins says he considers himself a better artist than businessman, but early on he realized that one simple change made all the difference in how much money he was able to bring home from every trial — dressing up.
“I would be sketching, and the attorneys would come by, and I’d be looking like an artist, with the jeans and the ‘artist look.’ And they (the attorneys) would say, ‘What are you going to do with that after you’re finished?’ as if I’m going to throw it away,” he recalls.
“It struck me, and it let me know I needed to change my appearance. So from then on, I started dressing better than the attorneys. And they would ask, ‘How much?’”
Quieter times: Courtroom sketching happens less frequently these days, McJunkins says, but he keeps busy in his Plaza Midwood studio working on commissioned portraits.
McJunkins and his wife, Ann Louise, who is also a professional artist as well as a musician, have been married for 47 years. They raised two daughters who are now in their 30s and have gone on to have big artistic careers in music.
Daughter Jessica, who is a professional violinist who goes by the stage name Lady Jess, is now playing in the pit orchestra for the Broadway musical “Sweeney Todd,” which just opened to acclaim with star Josh Groban. She’s been on tour with Beyonce and other A-list acts, played for movie soundtracks and more.
Daughter Kelsey is classically trained cellist and singer whose contemporary work has won acclaim, including being the subject of articles in the arts section of the New York Times.
When the girls were little, McJunkins and his wife were determined not to put them in daycare, so they brought them along wherever they went. Young Jessica especially enjoyed going to court with her dad, sometimes sketching right along next to him.
Time has marched on, but McJunkins’ courtroom equipment hasn’t changed. A leather case that is his portable art studio sits propped on the floor of his studio, ready for the next trial. A special cushion is tucked in the case to offer comfort from hard courtroom benches. The same Prismacolor colored pencils he brings to trial are the ones he uses every day in his studio.
Many of his courtroom sketches hang in the jury rooms in Charlotte’s federal courthouse. But he’s eager to get more of them out into the community by selling them to whoever wishes to buy.
McJunkins figures he’s in the last quarter of his life. What better time, he reasons, to get pieces of his life’s work in places where people can admire them and remember pivotal moments in local — and national — history?
Want to know more? For information about purchasing Jerry McJunkins’ sketches, email him: firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out this time-lapse video of McJunkins creating a large (non-courtroom) piece called “Famous People of Clay.”
Editor’s note: Did you miss our “Trials of the Century” series last week? Paying Ledger members received a special series of articles examining spectacular trials that captured Charlotte’s attention throughout the last century:
“Razor Girl,’ a frail flapper, melted Charlotte’s heart” (🔒, Monday)
“In Myers Park, the butler said he did it” (🔒, Tuesday)
“Charlotte’s court of public opinion issued a harsh verdict” (🔒, Wednesday)
“The man behind Rae Carruth’s trigger: ‘It’s not over yet’” (🔒, Thursday)
If you want to read the series but are not a Ledger member, now’s the time to join!
Today’s supporting sponsors are SouthernEEZ Landscaping, the year-round choice of HOA & multi-family communities, commercial & warehouse properties, and municipalities across the Charlotte-Fort Mill-Rock Hill metro. Upfront pricing. Locally owned & operated. Licensed, bonded and insured.
… and Charlotte Museum of History, which is hosting the Charlotte Gem Preservation Awards on May 11, honoring the people and organizations that are saving Charlotte’s history.
CMS to unveil new south Charlotte boundary draft map at meetings this week; possible decision delay ahead?
Four meetings are on the calendar this week that you’ll want to be aware of if you live in south Charlotte and have kids in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system.
CMS is reworking its school boundaries across south Charlotte as it prepares to open a new high school near Ballantyne to relieve overcrowding at Ardrey Kell, South Mecklenburg and Myers Park high schools. The district is also seeking funding for a new relief middle school near Ballantyne in a proposed school bond this November.
As a result, boundaries could shift at dozens of elementary, middle and high schools.
CMS officials will release the newest draft map for the boundary changes on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Ardrey Kell High School. The district is expected to post the map on its webpage devoted to the boundary changes soon after the meeting. The district will hold two other meetings on Thursday and one on Friday to discuss the proposed map and get feedback.
Hundreds of residents turned out at meetings held late last month to explain and get feedback on the first draft of the new maps. Turnout is likely to be big at this week’s meetings, too.
Here are the meetings coming up this week:
April 19, 6:30 p.m. at Ardrey Kell High School cafeteria
April 20, 12 p.m. on Zoom
April 20, 6:30 p.m. at Providence High School cafeteria
April 21, 12 p.m. on Zoom
Possible delay? The current CMS schedule calls for a public hearing on proposed boundaries during the school board meeting May 9 and a board vote on May 23. However, there have been some rumblings that the vote could be postponed until summer. We’ll be following the news as it happens this week. —CB
Charity Spotlight: Child advocacy center protects children experiencing abuse
Every year, more than 700 children in Mecklenburg County are helped by Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center after experiencing abuse.
“We’re doing the most important work that people don’t want to think about,” said CEO Andrew Oliver. “We want to pretend that child abuse doesn’t happen; it doesn't happen in our neighborhoods or in our churches or in our community. But it happens in every single pocket of this town every single day.”
Pat’s Place is the only child advocacy center in Mecklenburg County. Since its founding in 2005, the center has served over 5,000 children who have experienced abuse. The center’s average client is an 8.5-year-old girl, and in over 90% of cases, the abuser is someone the child knows and trusts.
Pat’s Place first opened as an assessment center for cases of child sexual abuse, but in recent years, it has expanded its services. It offers forensic interviews, medical evaluations, family advocacy, therapy, prevention and education training and human trafficking outreach.
“There’s a safe place where children can speak with a trained professional — these are our employees who received the best training in the world — to conduct a developmentally sensitive interview,” Oliver said. “They’re also able to receive medical care and long-term counseling so that they can heal emotionally from everything that they’ve experienced.”
North Carolina is one of 12 states that has not passed statewide legislation known as “Erin’s Law,” which requires public schools to implement a child sexual abuse prevention program, Oliver said.
“There’s no requirement that children receive education on sexual abuse for body safety and what to do if that happens to them,” Oliver said. “That’s a real focus of ours in the next year, is to really talk and to bring our community together around this issue of implementing [a program] schoolwide.”
Every year, Oliver says Pat’s Place trains 2,000 adults locally on how to recognize and respond to abuse and prevent it from happening.
Child abuse cases require criminal investigation, so families are often referred to Pat’s Place by social workers and law enforcement. Last year, Pat’s Place served over 850 children and nearly 700 caregivers. The center has 32 staff members and is assisted by about 50 to 75 volunteers yearly.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month across the United States. Pat’s Place plans to raise awareness through a pinwheel planting that happened on March 31, the annual philanthropy luncheon on April 25 and prevention trainings all month long.
“It’s really a time for communities to kind of come together and promote prevention efforts and support programs that impact children or help children when they’ve experienced abuse or neglect,” Oliver said.
In the past few years, Oliver says Pat’s Place has been successful in seeking government funding. The center received support from the Victims of Crime Act fund and through the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. But roughly half of Pat’s Place’s $3M yearly budget comes from donations by individuals, businesses, community and faith groups and private foundations.
Pat’s Place provides children and caregivers support and protection at no cost, regardless of insurance.
“When you’re a mom or a dad, and you’re faced with the unimaginable, you want to know that there’s an organization that specializes in that,” Oliver said. “So that’s what we do.” —LB
Don’t miss out on the fun: Buy your ticket to the Ledger’s 40 Over 40 party today!
One of our favorite days of the year is coming up quick: The Ledger’s totally radical 40 Over 40 Awards celebration, presented by U.S. Bank, is April 27 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Charlotte Museum of History.
We’re celebrating this year’s crop of 40 Over 40 winners with a fun 1980s movie-themed celebration, with food, drinks, entertainment, a costume contest and more. We’d be thrilled to see you there, dressed as your favorite 80s movie character — or as yourself! Details here.
You might be interested in these Charlotte events
Events submitted by readers to The Ledger’s events board:
TUESDAY, APRIL 18: Charlotte Area Chamber Public Policy Meeting, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Envision Charlotte’s Innovation Barn, 932 Seigle Ave., Charlotte. City Council member Ed Driggs will give a Charlotte Transportation Update. Free.
SATURDAY, APRIL 22: History Hike at Reedy Creek Nature Preserve, 9:30-11:30 a.m., Reedy Creek Nature Center. Join the Charlotte Museum of History on Earth Day for a hike with museum historians and environmental educators. The hike will examine Charlotte’s early settlement and land use through the present day. Pre-registration required. Free.
TUESDAY, APRIL 25: Spring into Summer, 6-7:30 p.m., The Barrel Room at Triple C Brewing, 2900 Griffith St. Mark your calendars for Freedom School Partners’ annual community summer kick-off event Spring into Summer. Join us, our neighbors and friends to learn about the great work of Freedom School and how you can get involved. Free.
FRIDAY, APRIL 28: Concert for the Human Family, 7:30-9:30 p.m. Holy Comforter Episcopal Church. Extraordinary music — hip-hop, classical, jazz — performed by a team led by Kory Caudill, Nashville-based pianist and producer, and Wordsmith, Baltimore-based hip-hop artist and poet, joined by Carolina Social Music Club. Power of music for the sake of love. $15-$30.
In brief — news from the last week:
Uptown shooting: Two people were shot Sunday afternoon in Romare Bearden Park, as the Charlotte Knights baseball game was ending nearby and uptown was crowded with people attending the Charlotte SHOUT festival. Police said two people were being treated for life-threatening injuries and that they made an arrest. (WSOC)
Gus’ Sir Beef closes: Gus’ Sir Beef, Charlotte’s first farm-to-table restaurant, is closing after 54 years of operation. Owner Thrace Bacogeorge posted on Facebook on April 10 with the announcement, saying, “This is one of the hardest moments of my life, and I am sorry it took so long to post.” The restaurant had temporarily closed in January as Bacogeorge healed from a knee injury. (Observer)
Tax hikes needed for CMS bonds: Mecklenburg County staff say Charlotte residents could see several tax hikes by 2031 if county commissioners approve Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools’ nearly $3B bond request. Mecklenburg County CFO David Boyd projects that increasing the property tax by a penny will allow the county to borrow roughly $1B. CMS has plans for 30 projects with the requested bonds, including new school buildings on existing properties, three new middle schools and a west regional athletic complex. (Observer)
Wells Fargo CEO retires: Mary Mack, who has served as CEO of Wells Fargo’s consumer and small business banking division since 2016, announced her retirement last week. The current head of technology, Saul Van Beurden, will take her place. (WCNC)
Providence Road townhomes? The City Council is expected to vote tonight on a rezoning that would allow 17 townhomes on Providence Road, across from Shalom Park, on 1.8 acres. Neighbors have expressed concerns about traffic and stormwater runoff.
Ted Budd endorses Trump: North Carolina Sen. Ted Budd announced Thursday his endorsement of former President Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign. Earlier this month, Trump became the first president in history to be arrested on felony charges. (Observer)
Slower response to 911 calls: MEDIC, the emergency medical services agency partially funded by the county, will start responding slower to calls that are not life-threatening to preserve its resources for the sickest patients. Agency data reveals that only 5% of received calls are deemed life-threatening once medics arrive on the scene. The new policy also includes using lights and sirens less frequently due to the increased risk of accidents. (Axios Charlotte)
Miles Bridges receives 30-game suspension: Ex-Charlotte Hornets star Miles Bridges has been suspended for 30 games without pay following domestic violence charges involving the mother of his children. Bridges did not compete in the 2022-23 season and missed 82 games, so the NBA has deemed 20 games of his suspension to have been already served. It is unclear if the Hornets will engage in contract negotiations with Bridges for next season. (Observer)
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