Longtime court observers have seen their share of inappropriate outfits

1:01 AM, Feb 11, 2010   |    comments
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We've all heard you can't judge a book by its cover, but reporters covering court see judges and juries react to what people wear.

From a speeding ticket to serial murder, clothes in court are a subtle part of the proceedings.

After the discovery of four women's bodies back in the early 1990s, Thomas "Zoo Man" Huskey faced multiple murder charges.

"When Tom was first arrested, he had long hair; he had a beard," Defense Attorney Greg Isaacs said.

Isaacs considered it part of his job to made sure Huskey looked much different when he came to court.

"I'll never forget when Tom showed up for one of the first trials, and he's wearing a polo oxford," Isaacs recalled. "The state got pretty incensed, because they thought we had billed the taxpayers for these designer clothes, which we didn't. Basically, my wife helped me clean out my closet."

The Knox County carjacking cases focused on the abduction, rape, and murder of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom. Defendant Lemaricus Davidson wore jail jumpsuits early on.

He had a new look at his trial last fall.

"If I'm going before a judge or a jury, I want to make a good impression on them with what I wear," Knox County Sheriff's Office Lt. James Carson said.

That's one reason accused murderers come to court in a coat and tie, or even a sweater and glasses.

But these days not everyone knows how to dress for court.

"Don't show up in a wife beater t-shirt, wearing a pair of cutoff shorts and flip-flops. Believe it or not we see that routinely in Knox County and elsewhere," Isaacs said.

Lt. James Carson supervises county bailiffs.

"If you see it in the mall, you're going to see it in the courtroom," he said.

When it comes to court, federal court is most strict.

In Knoxville's city court, signs ban smoking, eating, and gum. Signs also mandate "suitable general public attire."

Headwear and hoodies there are no big deal. But in circuit court, it's up to the judge.

"There's really no set rule on what to wear and what not to wear," Lt. Carson said.

Over the years, he's seen it all.

"Shirts with marijuana leaves when you're going into court for drug charges," he said, shaking his head.

The bailiffs ask people to turn such t-shirts inside out.

Wearing shorts? Go change into pants.

And no hats allowed.

"Some people come into court, looks like they got out of bed, slept in their clothes, and that's the way they come in," Lt. Carson said.

Winter weather creates specific wardrobe issues, mainly people wearing heavy coats through security and hats in the courtroom. But summer is the real problem.

"We see some very inappropriately dressed females coming to court with way too much skin showing," Lt. Carson said.

Greg Isaacs remembered one particular woman he represented.

"My client apparently had ordered one of those Ronco diamond stud machines, and everything she had was kind of a Dolly Parton-esque piece of apparel. And I suggested, and she did, that she borrow some clothes from her mother."

In that case, the jury found in favor of Isaacs' client.

Thomas Huskey is serving time for rape, but the murder charges were eventually dismissed.

As for Lemaricus Davidson, his wardrobe did nothing to overcome the gruesome evidence that convinced a jury to sentence him to death.

So now he wears an all white jumpsuit, courtesy of the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

Jail uniforms are common at court hearings. But most attorneys want their clients to wear civilian clothes during trials.

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