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19 Canadian Journal of Law and Society 93 (2004)


In the aftermath of violent crime, survivors are confronted by questions of comprehension, healing, normalcy, accountability, and restoration. These same issues are communicated to audiences via mass media coverage of the crime and ensuing legal proceedings that focuses upon survivors while they are in the public eye - and while those suspected of the crime are in the defendant's chair. Such stories bring a human face to the innocents most affected by the outcome of the proceedings, relaying their involvement in and response to legal developments from arrest to execution. This paper examines these chronicles through the lens of narrative theory, practices integral to human communication and memory. It discusses how the mass media makes use of narrative practices in covering crises, events that in effect demand narration. This paper then focuses upon the suturing potential of narrative, its ability to knit together understandings of crises into beginnings, endings, and points in between. This discussion is illustrated by a content analysis of stories covering Dennis and Judy Shepard, whose son Matthew was brutally slain in 1998, from the time of the murder to the prosecution of the killers and beyond.