Big Trial in a Small Town... Scarcely a Ripple

By Trish Mehaffey

Members of the media set up for their live shots Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010 outside of the the Butler County Courthouse in Allison. The first degree murder trial of Mark Becker has attracted media from around the state to the small town where the trial is being held. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

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By Becky Ogann

ALLISON - The Butler County seat was abuzz when it heard the Mark Becker murder trial would be held in Allison, population 1,000, but the impact has been less than some thought and the strangers in town aren’t so noticeable two weeks later.

Two local men eating lunch Tuesday at the County Seat Cafe, the only restaurant in town, said they were aware of the trial going on down the street at the courthouse but didn’t feel affected by it, didn’t know anyone involved in the case.

Sherrie Dreesman, the cafe’s manager, said the lunch and dinner crowds have been about average, with no significant increase.

The only other place in town for a bite is the Casey’s convenience store, but a clerk there, too, said the store had seen only a small increase in business over the last two weeks.

Many of the jurors brought their lunches with them or, if they lived close by, went home for lunch. The media, attorneys and witnesses in the case seemed to be the only strangers eating at the cafe or at Casey’s.

The most noticeable change in town these last two weeks has been the media trucks as they roll down Main Street every morning to the courthouse, Allison City Clerk Sandy Harms said.

Besides coverage from media out of Des Moines, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and surrounding areas, Court TV, now Tru TV, is taping the trial to air at a later date.

“I think we expected more people than there was,” Harms said. “Maybe people didn’t come because they thought the courtroom wouldn’t have enough space. People were talking about it after (the shooting) and when the trial was set to be here.”

The courtroom has mostly been filled with family members and friends of Becker and coach Ed Thomas. About 50 people a day filled the gallery, with up to 70 or so when the medical experts testified on Tuesday.

Harms said most of the talk has been about how the families are coping with the trial.

“How they have been examples of how to deal with something like this,” Harms said. “The opinions (on the trial) are closed. People talk about the sadness of this situation. How hard it is for the families and how hard it is for the community. It was so hard to believe. You just think that can’t be.

“I think everybody knows each other in Butler County. Everybody has family in Parkersburg and Allison. I knew Ed (Thomas) all my life. Anyone that has kids in athletics knew him.”

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