Clara Tuma, the Lesley Visser of due process, was introduced to sports-in-the-courts in 1994 while covering the preliminary hearings of the O.J. Simpson murder trial for Court TV. At the time Tuma remarked, "Can you imagine ESPN and Court TV being at the same event?"
"Today I know better," says the 39-year-old Tuma, who by now has been through several athletes' criminal proceedings. Beginning on Monday she will be in Atlanta for the duration of the Ray Lewis murder trial. (Coverage runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.) "My job is to get a feel for the courtroom," says Tuma, "and to simplify the proceedings for the viewer. For example, there are two people involved who went by the nickname Shorty. One's a codefendant [Joseph Sweeting] and the other's a victim [Jacinth Baker]. Who calls their friends Shorty, anyway?" Tuma draws parallels between Lewis's double-murder case and Simpson's. "In both, limo drivers are key witnesses," she says, "and the alleged murder weapons were knives. Trust me, though—there's no blond surfer dude here."
Lewis and companions Sweeting and Reginald Oakley are all facing first-degree murder charges. Tuma says a split verdict is likely, but she won't be any more specific. "I'm always right on the verdict," she says, "but I never say it [in advance]. There's more at stake here than the outcome of a game."