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Monday, August 16, 1999 Published at 23:59 GMT 00:59 UK

World: Americas

Web first for Florida shooting trial

Officials say the courtroom represents the future for American trials

A Florida court is breaking new ground by broadcasting the trial of an elderly Florida woman for the fatal shooting of her daughter over the Internet.

Although media organisations have provided live webcasts before, this is thought to be the first time that a local court - in this case, the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida - has provided live coverage on the Web.

Court officials say they have been overwhelmed by the amount of interest from Internet users with the site registering over 1,000 hits an hour.

Shirley Egan, 68, who is blind in one eye and confined to a wheelchair, is accused of shooting her daughter Georgette Smith in March this year after overhearing plans to place her in a nursing home.

[ image: Defence lawyers say Mrs Egan was not responsible for her actions]
Defence lawyers say Mrs Egan was not responsible for her actions
Mrs Smith was shot in the neck, the bullet severed her spinal cord leaving her paralysed from the neck down and unable to control bodily functions.

She died in May, with her family at her bedside, hours after winning a court order to have her own life support system turned off.

Shortly beforehand she gave a video-taped deposition in which she is reported to have said the shooting was an accident and her mother fired the gun to gain her attention.

Web debut

[ image: The case is the first time a US court has taken proceedings onto the web]
The case is the first time a US court has taken proceedings onto the web
Court 32 in Orange County Courthouse has been wired with the latest webcams and fibre-optic cables in what court officials say brings the judicial process into the 21st century.

They say the "webcast" is a way of making public proceedings accessible to the widest possible public wherever they are.

Interest in the case has been so high that on Monday, the opening day of the trial, users had difficulty accessing the live stream.

The Internet system was tested during a recent hearing on Florida's electric chair which was being challenged as a cruel and unusual form of punishment.

'Devoted daughter'

[ image: Georgette Smith video-taped her own deposition before her life support was switched off]
Georgette Smith video-taped her own deposition before her life support was switched off
Opening proceedings on Monday, prosecutor Pam Smith told jurors that Mrs Smith was such a devoted daughter she denied up until her death that her mother had ever intended to do her harm.

Prosecutors had threatened to upgrade the attempted murder charge against Mrs Egan to full murder after her daughter died, but decided against doing so after taking into account her age, failing health and relationship to the victim.

However, defence lawyers are arguing that Mrs Egan cannot be held responsible for her actions.

They say that a combination of injuries caused by a traffic accident two years ago and a cocktail of prescription drugs including Xanax, Prozac and prednisone had left her confused and a virtual "time bomb" waiting to go off.

Mrs Egan faces life in prison if she is convicted of attempted murder.

Her trial is expected to last about a week.

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20 May 99 | Americas
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