Kamloops This Week
Carl Doherty knows what it’s like to look a killer in the eyes.
The mild-mannered artist had to preserve the image using just a pencil and paper.
It was the spring of 2008 and the city and region was still in shock over the murders of three young children in Merritt.
Allan Schoenborn, the man who would admit to killing his three kids, was to make an appearance in a Kamloops courtroom for the first time via video conference.
Doherty received a call from a news director at CFJC-TV.
The television station wanted a sketch of the then accused murderer.
On the recommendation of his high-school teacher, the station decided to give the Kamloops artist a try in the courtroom.
Doherty admits the first few sketches weren’t perfect. It was especially difficult because his subject was on a TV screen.
But, they were enough to impress and he would be called time and again to draw images at one of the biggest trials in Kamloops history.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Doherty told KTW from his home, holding those very sketches in his hands.
“You see a lot of courtrooms on TV, but it’s quite a process.”
He knew some of the testimony would be shocking.
Schoenborn, who was found not criminally responsible for his actions, killed his children in unimaginably gruesome ways.
Doherty tried to keep it out of his mind, even as he sat just a few steps away from Schoenborn when the trial began. Even when the killer would look right at him, the father of two would stay focused on drawing.
“He’s looking at me a lot of the time because he expects I’m going to capture some of what he’s thinking,” Doherty said. “I just try and keep it low-key and do the best I can.”
Doherty was born and raised in Barriere and credits his talent with a pencil to his mom, who was also an artist. Her specialty happened to be portraits.
But, the 31-year-old didn’t really establish his love for the arts until high school. It was during those teen years he also developed a knack for portraits; however, it was the abstract that became his true passion.
Several of Doherty’s pieces hang on the walls of his North Kamloops home.
Much of the time, he said, depicting the real world is easier than abstract, because the latter form is so hard to control.
There are also challenges to making art in the courtroom environment.
When Doherty is in court, he has to meet tight news deadlines — which can be tough for a perfectionist — but most of all, his drawings need to be accurate.
At any given time during a sitting, there is usually a judge, several lawyers and bailiffs, witnesses and, of course, the accused.
“You want to make sure they look like they’re supposed to,” he said.
Not to mention the characters in the unfolding drama don’t tend to stand still.
“It’s a tough thing to capture the moving scene,” he said, noting Schoenborn barely looked up from his seat during the trial.
But he did — and Doherty caught it.
In fact, his hands chronicled the changing face of Schoenborn through the months-long trial. By the end, the killer looked more like Charles Manson.
“It was interesting because I could draw him at different stages,” Doherty said.
Doherty went on to get his degree in fine arts from Thompson Rivers University, but decided afterward to try his hand at trades as a painter.
He has his own website and he has taken a shining to writing a blog.
But, it always comes back to the neat little sketches on Doherty’s pad — and Schoenborn.
His only professional work has come from the courtroom.
“I just kinda fell into it,” he said of his side career in legal sketching.
Eventually, some of his work from the Schoenborn trial was used by national networks and newspapers, but it didn’t lead to riches or any great discovery.
He’s not even sure how the news organizations got his sketches in the first place.
Doherty charges a day’s wage for his services and whatever happens to the images after that is out of his control.
Interestingly, he doesn’t need a special pass to be in court. He just tells officials he’s there to do the sketch art.
Doherty was also called to sketch another killer, Brian Townsend.
In 2009, a jury in Kamloops found the then-59-year-old guilty of second-degree murder in the death of 15-year-old Vivien Morzuch, whose battered body was found in 2000 near Savona.
Though Doherty is more than willing to spend his day sketching some of the worst offenders in society, he’s never upset when the phone goes quiet.
“I’m thinking if they don’t call me, then everything’s good. There are no tragedies.”