The Courtroom Sketch Artist Who Has Covered Everyone From John Gotti To Donald J. Trump

Sketch of O.J. Simpson in court
Marilyn Church / Ladie's Home Journal

Marilyn Church has been giving the public a hand-drawn glimpse into courtrooms closed to cameras for more than 45 years, as Topic detailed in an in-depth profile on the longtime courtroom sketch artist. In a wide-ranging interview, Church revealed what it’s like to be responsible for capturing the realities of the courtroom, from the dramatic to the mundane, the old-fashioned way. She discusses what it’s like to hand-draw some of the most high-profiles events of the news cycle in a world where in almost every other scenario, cameras would be omnipresent.

Church has spent decades doing sketch work in New York City, which placed her in front of some of the most notorious defendants, witnesses, and victims of the last five decades. Her talent and experience also led to commissions elsewhere in the country for big-name cases, such as when the Ladies’ Home Journal hired her to cover the O.J. Simpson murder trial in Los Angeles.

However it was her work in New York that exposed Church to a veritable parade of famous individuals having their day (or many days) in court. Her subjects have included serial killer David Berkowitz, mob boss John Gotti, and household name-turned-insider trader, Martha Stewart.

And long before he was the president of the United States, Church found herself on multiple, unrelated occasions sketching none other than Donald Trump. No stranger to the courtroom, Trump was sketched by Church in two separate instances. The first was when he appeared as a witness in an antitrust lawsuit related to the NFL and the then-emerging USFL, in which Trump, at the time, owned a team. The second was in proceedings related to one of Trump’s divorces, wherein his first wife, Ivana Trump, accused him of rape in a deposition.

For Church, it didn’t really matter who was sitting across the courtroom from her, as she was on a tight schedule to meet the expectations of the networks with which she worked.

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“It used to be about four or five sketches a day were required by the television networks — I was on contract with ABC until 1993. It was standard in that there would be an overall shot, the whole courtroom scene, and then there would be close-ups of the defendant, the witness, and the lawyers addressing the juries,” she said in the interview. “Artists sometimes compete with each other for the best scenes, although there is hardly time to think about it. The deadline is ever-pressing.”