Can You Erase My Double Chin?

Dana Verkouteren's rendering shows Zacarias Moussaoui, left, being questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Spencer, second from right, as David Novak, right, and Federal Judge Leonie Brinkema, second from left, listen, March 27, 2006, in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va.
AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren
By's Stephen Smith

Some see Zacarias Moussaoui as an unscrupulous terrorist responsible for thousands of deaths on Sept. 11, 2001. Others view him as a pathetic hanger-on with delusions of grandeur.

Dana Verkouteren sees him as a complex subject of art.

"All of his personalities are coming out," says Verkouteren, who has been drawing the al Qaeda conspirator's trial at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. "When he's relaxed, he strokes his beard. He has very soft lines for eyes, but he scrunches them down a lot when he's upset or when he wants to make his lawyer think he doesn't like him."

Body language is key to Verkouteren, who's been sketching trials for more than 20 years. Whether it's a wild gesture or a calm stare, she decides which "personality" the public will see. Along with a handful of other courtroom artists in federal trials where cameras are banned, Verkouteren provides the proceeding's only visual evidence.

She is among a select and dwindling group – one of just three artists who work regularly in the Washington, D.C. area. Verkouteren, who currently works for The Associated Press, says the industry has downsized as television stations and news publications began sharing courtroom artists to save money. These days, only a handful of artists make a living doing courtroom renderings.

Gallery: Sketches Of High-Profile Trials

Marilyn Church, who has sketched everyone from Son of Sam to Martha Stewart for The New York Times and ABC News, estimates the average courtroom artist pulls in $350 per day. However, that amount can grow if you sell your sketches to multiple news outlets.

Another way is to sell them to trial attorneys with deep pockets. Many of the artists' subjects — often high-powered lawyers or celebrity defendants — purchase sketches as mementos. The higher the case's profile, the higher the sketch's price tag. One of Church's 1980 sketches of John Lennon's assassin Mark David Chapman is selling for $9,500.

While some courtroom figures try to purchase the artists' final product, others aim to influence it. It is not uncommon for witnesses and lawyers to make artistic appeals. Some request more hair; others complain about double chins. Church says that during the first World Trade Center bombing trial, a defense lawyer complained that his client was being portrayed as an angry terrorist.

"He looked pretty ferocious to me," Church remembers. "But I guess the testimony doesn't make you look kindly on them either."

Vicki Behringer, a Sacramento, Calif.-based artist who has covered the Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson and Unabomber trials, maintains a more practical response to charges of biased renderings: People don't smile in the courtroom.

"If you've been crying or your life's on the line or you're an attorney and you've been working day and night," she says, "you might not look so good."

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for