Trial Outcome Different Than Media Expectations

Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2012 11:03 am
O. J. Simpson
Casey Anthony
Amanda Knox

Is "trial by media" only an expression? Is it fair to blame media for public misjudgements about individuals on trial? In the above three cases, the trial outcomes were different than what media led us to believe.
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Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2012 11:13 am
It's a true chicken vs egg dilemma. Which (in each case) came first? Public sentiment or media driven frenzy? Don't let most of the media channels off too easy. Their equally as culpable in trying to persuade how the trial turns out as the eager public is to say condemn a particular target of any high profile criminal trial.

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Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2012 01:21 pm
Nancy Grace says 'the devil is dancing' at Casey Anthony verdict
(T. L. Stanley, Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2011)

Nancy Grace has never hidden her feelings about the Caylee Anthony murder case, and the HLN host didn't hold back Tuesday when the 2-year-old's mother was acquitted of her murder.

Grace, a trained lawyer who'd derisively dubbed the defendant, Casey Anthony, "tot mom," said Caylee's "death has gone unavenged" and that "tot mom's lies seem to have worked."

Grace, via her prime-time talk show, has been covering the case extensively for the past three years, since the toddler was initially reported missing in summer 2008. Her attention helped take it from a local case to a national spectacle, and Grace became somewhat of an expert on the investigation, appearing on other HLN shows, sister network CNN and sparring with legal analysts like Dan Abrams on ABC News.

The network, with Grace leading the charge, kept expanding its coverage of the murder investigation, the arrest of Casey Anthony and the trial, which just ended its five-week run. It was practically all-Casey-all-the-time for the last month, with record-breaking ratings as a result.

Grace said Tuesday that "there's no way this is a verdict that speaks the truth," appearing stunned moments after the jury decision. "But this is our jury system."

As she's done all along, Grace tugged at heartstrings by reminding viewers that an angelic child had been murdered, with her body found "15 houses from where tot mom put her head on a pillow each night... Little Caylee, thrown away like she was trash."

She criticized the defense celebrations and said "the devil is dancing" at the case's conclusion.

In televised comments shortly after the verdict, one of the defense attorneys slammed what he called the media's rush to judgment, not naming Grace but pointedly saying some anchors and talking heads crossed a line and convicted Casey Anthony long before trial. He said he hoped they learned a lesson from the acquittal. (Casey Anthony was convicted of four misdemeanors for lying to police during the investigation.)

Bryce Nelson, journalism professor at USC's Annenberg School, said there is a difference between talk show hosts and news professionals, though viewers may not always make the distinction.

TV personalities like Grace, who clearly pick sides, have "a lot to answer for" when the verdict goes the opposite way, he said. Will they learn from it, as Casey Anthony's defense lawyer said?

"It might cause more people to think about how they report the news, or we can at least hope so," Nelson said. "But unfortunately it won't last for long. The rewards for sensationalism are all too great."
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Reply Thu 12 Apr, 2012 09:49 am
Online 'lynch mob' led Casey Anthony's defense team to adapt, jury consultant says
(By Jane Musgrave, Palm Beach Post, July 14, 2011)

Amy Singer calls the Casey Anthony trial "the social media trial of the century."

As jury consultant for Anthony's defense team, she should know.

As part of her duties, she oversaw an army of people who monitored social media around the clock, gauging how the sordid case of an Orlando woman accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter was playing in the digital world.

The vast majority, glued to cable TV's gavel-to-gavel coverage of the six-week trial, hated the 25-year-old Orlando woman and was convinced she killed her daughter.

"It was a lynch mob," Singer said.

At one point, a million people were blogging about the trial, not including the thousands more who were either tweeting, texting or discussing the case in online chat rooms, she said.

The venom not only helped her assist Anthony's attorneys in altering their trial strategy to respond to online critics, but also helps explain why people were inflamed Tuesday when a jury acquitted Anthony of killing her daughter, Caylee, Singer said.

Home viewers were convinced of Anthony's guilt before the first witness was called. The TV coverage seemed to confirm their beliefs.

"I call them camera victims," she said.

Watching the trial through the narrow eye of a television lens, home viewers convinced themselves they knew every twist and turn of the case. But, the renowned Fort Lauderdale consultant said, they didn't.

While the television camera focused home viewers' attention on whoever was sitting in the witness box, whom were jurors watching?

"They were looking at George," Singer said, referring to Anthony's father. And, she said, what they saw confirmed suspicions that were planted when he testified. He fidgeted. He gulped. He didn't seem trustworthy.

Further, home viewers saw an inexplicably blank-faced Anthony listening to hours of testimony about her dead daughter. What home viewers saw as creepily unemotional underscored her defense team's suggestion that she is mentally ill. TV cameras, Singer said, also didn't capture Anthony's reaction when photos of Caylee were shown to the jury. She cried.

Defense attorneys agreed that much is lost in translation. "The jurors can watch the body language of all the people in the courtroom," said West Palm Beach attorney Michelle Suskauer.

The nonverbal clues, facial expressions and comments that aren't picked up on audio feeds all figure into a jury's decision. But the biggest difference is that home viewers, unlike real jurors, didn't hold Anthony's life in their hands.

"Being an armchair quarterback is a much different situation than when you're actually in the hot seat and you're going to be held responsible for the decision for the rest of your life," said Terence Lenamon, a Miami defense attorney who was part of Anthony's pretrial defense team.

But he and other attorneys dismissed claims that jurors were afraid to make a decision that could send Anthony to Death Row or simply wanted to get the job over with.

"Come on, a little girl died," said former Palm Beach County prosecutor Craig Williams, who is now a defense attorney. "If they had any evidence she did it, they would have come back in two minutes with a guilty verdict."

Instead, the jury came back after 11 hours and found her guilty of only four counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer. She is to be sentenced today.

A guilty verdict was an easy call for home viewers, Singer said. Unlike jurors, who swear they will be impartial, they were convinced of Anthony's guilt. None would have been picked for the jury.

The insight she gained by monitoring social media will likely change the way major trials are conducted, she said. But, she and others agreed, the Anthony trial was one for the ages.

Having served as a jury consultant for Michael Jackson's child molestation trial and when Dr. Jack Kevorkian was tried for helping people kill themselves, she said she knows courtroom drama. "This was unbelievable," she said.

"The Anthonys made the Addams family look like the Cleavers," she said. "And Casey Anthony looked like the most mentally stable of the bunch."

Defense attorneys said the near-total absence of physical evidence is exceedingly rare.

"There wasn't even a cause of death," said West Palm Beach attorney Marc Shiner. "There wasn't even evidence if (Caylee's death) was accidental or intentional. It was a very unusual case."

And, Singer said, the acquittal wasn't completely unforeseen. Before the trial, the case was presented to two mock juries - one by another jury consultant and one by the TV newsmagazine 48 Hours.

The verdict both times?

Not guilty.
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Reply Thu 12 Apr, 2012 09:59 am
When I think of "trial by media" it's a little different.

I think O.J. Simpson was actually guilty. I don't think the media coverage made a difference to the outcome really -- I think his prior celebrity and the weaknesses in the prosecution's case made the difference.

I also don't think that the media "led us to believe" anything in particular -- I think it was just that people thought he was guilty, and were mad when he was not convicted.

In the Tyler Clementi case, though, I think there was a lot of coverage of what happened that built up a picture of Dharun Ravi as a homophobe who hounded a poor kid to his death, and that he must pay for that. The reality seems to have been different.

I'm sure that an inadequate legal defense of Ravi had something to do with it. But I also think that the media coverage presented a story that was compelling but not accurate, and I think that Ravi is suffering a stronger penalty than the facts actually indicate as a direct result.

That's what I worry about when I say "trial by media" -- journalists are not held to the same standards as lawyers, witnesses etc. in a courtroom. It's easy for a narrative to take hold and for people to think that they know what the judgement should be, without actually knowing all of the pertinent information.
Reply Thu 12 Apr, 2012 10:01 am
sozobe wrote:
I think O.J. Simpson was actually guilty. I don't think the media coverage made a difference to the outcome really -- I think his prior celebrity and the weaknesses in the prosecution's case made the difference.

I think the biggest mistake in that prosecution was having him try on the glove. Why give the defendant access to a key piece of evidence?

That and the fact that he had a great defensive team.
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Reply Thu 12 Apr, 2012 11:08 am
Dharun Ravi is a good example of trial by media. I hadn't thought of that.

In the Casey Anthony case, however, I think it is wrong that a lynch mob still exists after she has been acquitted. There is a Facebook page called "Casey Anthony Lynch Mob." http://www.facebook.com/pages/Casey-Anthony-Lynch-Mob/247645651912514
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Reply Fri 13 Apr, 2012 09:21 am
Pursuing the truth
(Editorial, Panama City News-Herald, April 12, 2012)

The inquiry into why George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin will take place where it belongs — in the court system, not in the media or on the streets.

Special Prosecutor Angela B. Corey made the right decision Wednesday to charge Zimmerman in Martin’s death. The Sanford community has a dead, unarmed teenager and numerous unanswered questions about how it happened. There is probable cause to suspect the shooter acted in an unlawful manner. It’s best to let the judicial process sort through the evidence to try to find the truth.

Whether Corey was correct to charge Zimmerman with second-degree murder instead of a lesser charge, such as manslaughter, remains to be seen. To persuade a jury to convict, she will have to prove that Zimmerman had a “depraved mind” and shot Martin out of “ill-will, spite, malice or hatred.” That might be difficult given the murky circumstances of the confrontation.

Perhaps Corey levied the murder charge because it allows the state to keep the defendant behind bars longer (he can’t post bail unless a judge holds a hearing and sets a bond). Or perhaps she’s hoping Zimmerman will plead to a lesser charge rather than risk going to trial. A conviction for second-degree murder with a firearm can carry a minimum mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison (and a maximum of life); manslaughter carries no minimum sentence.

Then there’s the possibility that Zimmerman will go free without a trial — because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

Under that statute, a person is immune from being prosecuted for using deadly force if he “reasonably believes” he is in life-threatening danger. The defense can request a pretrial hearing and ask a judge to dismiss the charges if the defendant can prove he was acting in self-defense covered by “Stand Your Ground.”

That, of course, has been a central theme of the Martin story. Critics say the law gives Floridians far too much leeway to use deadly force, essentially letting private citizens be judge, jury and executioner in a confrontation. Supporters of the law argue it contains sufficient limits, and many believe that, based on what is publicly known about the Feb. 26 encounter in Sanford, Zimmerman did not commit a justifiable homicide under “Stand Your Ground.”

But then, what is publicly known may very well be incomplete. Certainly, some of the reporting has been shoddy, to say the least. In addition, the case has been superheated by inflammatory racial rhetoric. The criminal justice system is needed to fill in the gaps and clarify what happened, dispassionately and fairly — for both sides — before passing judgment. The pursuit of justice should be a pursuit of the truth.
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Reply Fri 13 Apr, 2012 02:41 pm
Experts: Rush to Judgment on George Zimmerman Is Human
(Jeanette Torres, ABC News, April 13, 2012)

George Zimmerman faces charges of second-degree murder for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26. And though Zimmerman has yet to appear before a jury, many people, with little firsthand knowledge of the case, have already judged him guilty or not guilty.

Psychologists say this rush to judgment is part of being human, and we do it all the time. Think of Amanda Knox, former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi or even former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, arrested on charges -- later dismissed -- of sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid.

"Judgments help us make sense of things. We tend to be uncomfortable if we don't know what to think," said Nadine Kaslow, a professor and chief psychologist at Emory University's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. "On the other hand, sometimes we quit seeing the whole picture, quit seeing the complexity of the story and rely on our biases."

It's a tendency we can't help, said psychologist Daniel Khaneman, Nobel laureate and professor emeritus at Princeton University.

In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman describes the brain's innate tendency to function in two ways: There's fast thinking, the intuitive, emotional gut reactions formed seemingly without effort, and slow thinking, the deliberate, rational musings that try to take all facts and perspectives into account.

It is the fast thinking side of the brain that works from emotions and preconceptions to form our own story for a particular event.

"We couldn't get by without fast thinking. We can't always analyze evidence over time. We have no choice but to operate mostly in fast thinking," Kahneman said. "It does occasionally get us into trouble."

Kahneman said fast thinking probably played a role not only in how people see Zimmerman's defense, but also in how they interpret Zimmerman's actions that February day when he shot Martin dead.

The shooting was likely "emotional, very fast and not based on careful consideration of the costs and benefits and risks," Kahneman said.
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Reply Fri 13 Apr, 2012 04:59 pm
My prior personal outbursts aside, what seemed most outrageous about the handling of the Zimmerman case was the fact they made it appear he would not even have to face a judge. Naturally people are going to get upset that a kid walking home from the store was killed and no blame was to be assigned to either he or Zimmerman. To us, the justice system seemed to be on hiatus. Now that the case is in the system, I will abide by the system, even if I disagree with its conclusions. I will support any legitimate efforts to amend the stand and deliver law, to make it more difficult to invoke.
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Reply Mon 16 Apr, 2012 02:11 pm
Trial in Martin Case, Filled With High Emotion, Would Draw a News Swarm
(Brian Shelter, The New York Times, April 15, 2012)

The Orlando Sentinel’s Twitter account for the Trayvon Martin case is up and running. So, too, is its topics page, with links to all the newspaper’s articles about Mr. Martin and the man who shot and killed him, George Zimmerman, as well as video clips of its reporters talking about the case on television. A Facebook page will go online on Monday. And a Web video series might be next.

For The Sentinel, the story is local; the shooting of Mr. Martin happened in Sanford, a suburb of Orlando. But the newspaper senses an opportunity to reach a national and even international audience with online coverage. It is competing with all manner of national media, which have seized on the story with a ferocity that has already drawn comparisons to the Casey Anthony trial and, years before it, that of O.J. Simpson.

While a trial of Mr. Zimmerman, who was charged last week with second degree murder in Mr. Martin’s death, will most likely not start for months, if ever — The Sentinel over the weekend reported that most such charges in Florida are settled with a pretrial plea — some in the news media are already predicting blanket coverage by television networks and Web sites.

If the case goes to trial, “it has the potential to be as big as the O. J. Simpson trial — and just as divisive,” said Piers Morgan, the CNN interviewer.

Already, the fallout from the killing has become a prolonged and politically controversial news story. Along with giving Americans a shared national conversation, “it has filled the void left by a political process that lacks excitement or suspense,” said Jonathan Wald, the executive producer of Mr. Morgan’s program.

In explaining the intense interest in the case, Mr. Morgan, Mr. Wald and other reporters, editors and executives cited the potent issues involved: self-defense, gun violence, police competency and, of course, race, because Mr. Martin was black and Mr. Zimmerman is Hispanic.

There is a dispute about whether Mr. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, uttered a racial slur while on the telephone with a 911 dispatcher as he followed Mr. Martin on the night of the shooting, Feb. 26.

It was access to the 911 calls that helped galvanize national media attention for the case in mid-March. Suddenly, new evidence had entered the public domain — a boon for television networks since viewers these days are accustomed to what Tom Cibrowski, the senior executive producer of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” called “CSI-style investigations.”

“People want to hear for themselves, see for themselves, analyze for themselves,” he said.

There are also video clips of Mr. Zimmerman’s arrival at the police station after the shooting and media interviews with eyewitnesses.

But Mr. Cibrowski and others said that an enormous amount about the night of Feb. 26 remained unknown.

“We still don’t know all of the details of this case, yet it seems like everyone has already kind of made up their minds,” said Rachel Delinski, the editor of The Sanford Herald, the town’s twice-a-week newspaper.

The effects of the 911 tapes on public perceptions of Mr. Zimmerman have stoked long-running conversations about whether such tapes should be released. Two years ago, Alabama banned the release of 911 calls without a court order, and legislatures in other states have considered similar actions.

For one of the major networks, NBC, the tapes of Mr. Zimmerman’s calls to 911 were fodder for embarrassment. On two separate occasions, March 22 and 27, taped reports on the “Today” show took Mr. Zimmerman’s description of Mr. Martin’s race out of context, editing out the fact that the 911 dispatcher had asked him for the description.

One producer was fired after an NBC investigation. An NBC spokeswoman said a series of disciplinary actions had been taken against others, but she would not share specifics.

The case has been treacherous for other media outlets as well. Fox News was scrutinized after one of its hosts, Sean Hannity, was said to have talked off the record to Mr. Zimmerman. ABC was accused of misleading viewers by televising footage of Mr. Zimmerman after the killing that showed no blood or bruises on him, then showing an enhanced version of the footage that did seem to show a head wound.

Opinion polls show high interest in the case, with blacks far more likely than whites and Democrats more likely than Republicans to identify it as a “top story” in their minds, according to the Pew Research Center.

Online, criticism of the coverage is hard to miss, including accusations that the media are provoking racial conflict.

“Anything that involves race always brings the people who are vociferous critics of the media,” said Mark Russell, editor of The Orlando Sentinel, who came into work Sunday morning to a voice mail message from a reader who complained that the case was getting too much attention.

“They say ‘Enough already. Move on,’ ” Mr. Russell said.

He attributes some of the complaints to the national media swarm — which looks a lot as it did last spring, when the Casey Anthony trial was taking place in Florida. The NBC satellite truck used at that trial, nicknamed “SwampBoy” and with an alligator painted on its side, is stationed in Sanford now.

“The electronic media is thankful that this took place in Florida,” said Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker staff writer and CNN legal analyst, “because Florida has the most open rules in the country about cameras in the courtroom.”

The Zimmerman trial almost certainly would be televised live on channels like HLN, a sibling of CNN that showed the Anthony trial. HLN set a new ratings record the day Ms. Anthony was judged not guilty, and it could similarly benefit if Mr. Zimmerman is tried.

“Certain stories do get a news organization all engaged,” acknowledged Scot Safon, the executive in charge of HLN. But “even behind closed doors,” he said, any excitement about the story was measured because of the tragedy that set the story in motion.

For the most part, planning for trial coverage has not started. But positioning has. “Could this be the trial of the decade?” the MSNBC host Ed Schultz asked, in a clip satirized by “The Daily Show” last Thursday. One of that show’s correspondents, John Oliver, joked, “People are already calling it the trial of the millennium.”

The next day, in an unintentional reminder of how meaningless the term can be, a writer for a legal Web site called Justia published a column headlined “The Trial of the Century?” She was writing, however, about the charges that were revived last week against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other suspects in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — a filing that received far less media attention.
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Reply Wed 18 Apr, 2012 09:08 am
George Zimmerman and Casey Anthony Trials Show the Dark Side of Social Media
(Daniel Cetina, Policymic.com, April 17, 2012)

If Boardwalk Empire’s Arnold Rothstein can state with conviction that he lives in the age of information in 1920s New York, then one wonders how he would characterize the 21st century. It is an epoch distinguished by media diffusion and the prevalence of social media, enabling rapid access to news and the equally rapid sharing of interesting stories between friends who happen to be Facebook friends or mutual followers on Twitter.

While the benefits of social media are often touted, including its importance to grassroots organizing with such diverse movements as the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, there is a dark side to social media as well, particularly when used to share stories or create movements responsive to various issues. Indeed, the viral sensationalizing of certain stories, such as Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony’s actions, the Casey Anthony case, and the Trayvon Martin killing foster both superficial understanding of the substantive issues and a guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality.

Kony 2012 is the most salient application to the first element of social media’s dark side. Although Invisible Children’s goals are noble, the Kony 2012 campaign has generated significant criticism, including questions pertaining to Invisible Children’s presentation of facts and depiction of Kony. The powerful response to Kony 2012, particularly among young American students, is reflective of what Teju Cole calls the white savior industrial complex: the need to intervene not out of pure altruism but because wealthy white Westerners, driven by a subconscious superiority to disadvantaged Africans, desire to make a difference.

Social media also fosters a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach to our justice system. Two of the most recent high profile stories, the trial of Casey Anthony for the murder of her daughter, Caylee, and the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman, feature murdered infants or children allegedly at the hands of Anthony and Zimmerman. The interest generated in these and similar stories through social media contributes to viewing the accused as immediately guilty, particularly when children are involved, which of course they are in the Anthony/Zimmerman cases. Disgust with the accused is so profound that faith in the justice system effectively disappears and decisions not popular with the public at large are decried as corrupt or foolish. In the aftermath of the Anthony trial, one Oklahoma woman even took the law into her own hands and ran her car into Anthony’s vehicle. – the only problem was the other driver only looked like Anthony and was, in fact, a different person.

There is no doubt social media is powerful. It has the potential for great good, but when used to sensationalize stories and marginalize the complexity of salient issues, tools like Facebook and Twitter become destructive. Like any speech, social media must be approached and implemented with sensitivity and understanding or we all run the risk of falling to social media’s dark side.
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Reply Wed 18 Apr, 2012 01:32 pm
Fair trials and tweeting can coexist
(Ken Paulson, FirstAmendmentCenter.org, April 17, 2012)

Twitter has become a tool of the trade for America’s journalists, but judges are grappling with how to deal with the messaging in courtrooms.

According to an article by the Associated Press, “the micro-blogging site is increasingly putting reporters on a collision course with judges who fear it could threaten a defendant’s right to a free trial.”

We’ve been down this path before, most notably with television. Anxiety about cameras in the courtroom persists, particularly in the U.S. Supreme Court, which adamantly refuses to permit video recording.

At the heart of these concerns is the potential conflict between the First Amendment, which guarantees a free press, and the Sixth Amendment, which promises a fair trial. The televised coverage of the O.J. Simpson criminal trial — and its perceived excesses — continues to haunt judges, and no one wants to be criticized for letting news coverage impair a trial. Yet courts have repeatedly acknowledged the value of the press in a courtroom, providing scrutiny of the judicial process and keeping the public informed.

The judge overseeing the trial of a man charged with killing Jennifer Hudson’s family has banned the use of Twitter in the courtroom, according to the AP. His concern is that reporters feverishly tapping away on their smart phones might distract a jury.

Cook County Judge Charles Burns has a point, but the truth is that any jaw-dropping testimony that causes two dozen reporters simultaneously to put their heads down and tweet will already have drawn the attention of the jury. Without stunning developments, reporters aren’t likely to tweet in unison. Reporting isn’t synchronized swimming.

The judge is allowing reporters to send e-mail from the courtroom — an odd distinction to make. A reporter typing an e-mail is making the same physical motion, with hands on a mini-keyboard. The only differences are that the reporter has more than 140 characters to work with, and a colleague back in the newsroom would have to edit and tweet on his behalf.

To a large extent, Twitter anxiety is generational. For a younger generation, seeing someone texting is no different from seeing someone glancing at a watch. It’s not a significant — or even audible — distraction.

Judges have tools to maintain decorum, including an overflow courtroom in the Chicago case. By running an audio — or better yet video — feed to the overflow courtroom, the judge could exile tweeters from the main courtroom while giving the press full access to the proceedings. Sometimes technology can solve a perceived problem caused by other technology. The First and Sixth amendments can both be accommodated with care and common sense.
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