The Trial: Ken Ellis v. R.J. Reynolds
The Attorney: Laura Shamp (Laura M. Shamp, LLC)
Great opening statements, like great novels, usually begin with powerful leads that grab their audience's attention and paint a vivid mental picture of what is to come. In this Engle progeny trial, Laura Shamp, representing plaintiff Ken Ellis, leads off her opening statement by describing the final days of Betty Owens, Ellis's mother:
Betty Owens died in a nursing home at the age of 57. Her lung cancer had spread to her bones and to her brain. She was wheelchair-bound, a shriveled form of her former self.
And while she was in the nursing home, she called her son and daughter and pleaded with them for her cigarettes. At first they refused, until the nursing home staff told them to go ahead.
And they brought her cigarettes to her, wheeled her out into the garden and watched her pull from those cigarettes until her dying breath.
Ladies and gentlemen, Betty Owens was the picture of addiction. And it wasn't pretty.
In her first few lines, Shamp aims to grab jurors' attention with a powerful narrative of Owens, while laying the foundation to establish Owens's addiction to cigarettes, an essential element to the case.
Opening statements also provide one of the best opportunities for an attorney to connect with a jury, and Shamp delivers her opening statement as if she's speaking with jurors rather than to them. After telling jurors they'll hear from Owens's brother Bernice Birdwell, Shamp pauses and says, "Yes, she has a brother named Bernice," anticipating jurors' probable surprise over the unusual name. Small touches like that make an opening statement's delivery seem more natural and can help connect with a jury.