NET Journal
Episode Number
Trial: The City and County of Denver vs. Lauren R. Watson. Part 2
Producing Organization
Educational Broadcasting Corporation. NET Division
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/512-h41jh3f08x).
Episode Description
For the first time on American television, a documentary examines the judicial system through a detailed presentation of a single trial. The case is set in Denver (only Colorado and Texas allow cameras inside a courtroom). It pits The City and County of Denver vs. Lauren R. Watson. The charges: resisting a police officer (Officer Robert C. Cantwell) in the discharge of his duty,' and interfering with a police officer in the discharge of his duty." The larger implications of the case involve the conflict between police and Black Panthers (Watson, a member of the Black Panniers at the time of the trial, has recently been purged from the Party), and the system of legal justice as it applies to blacks and other traditionally underprivileged groups. The other "principals" are Judge Zita Weinshienk, an attractive and sympathetic young woman; Defense Attorney Leonard Davies, a 28-year-old local lawyer; Wright Morgan, assistant city attorney, who offers a sharp contrast to Davies in both age and style; and police Officer Robert C. Cantwell, Watson's antagonist. Each of these principals comments on the trial and on critical factors involved in it during a series of interviews, which are interspersed into the trial. The charge against Watson stems from an incident that occurred on November 6, 1968 - the day after President Nixon's election. Cantwell contends that he attempted to stop Watson for speeding, but was repeatedly thwarted after twice entering his car and notifying him that he was under arrest. Finally, at a service station, Cantwell says he was able to subdue Watson with assistance from three other policemen. Watson's story conflicts in almost every detail with that of Cantwell. He states that the policeman had driven past his house early in the day, gloating about Nixon's victory, waving a fist at him and shouting "White Power." He also swears that Cantwell never formally arrested him and that he submitted in the service station without a struggle. The four ninety-minute parts correspond with the trial's four days which took place in March 1969. The trial involves a charge of resisting a police officer in the discharge of his duty and interfering with a police officer in the discharge of his duty. Watson, the defendant - at the time of his arrest a member of the Black Panther Party - counters with charges that he is a victim of police harassment. On the day of Watson's arrest - November 6, 1968 - he testifies that Patrolman Robert Cantwell shook his fist at him and shouted "white power" - a reference to Richard Nixon's election victory. The antagonism between Watson and the Denver police forms an undercurrent within the trial and is a basis of attorney Leonard Davies' defense of Watson. "The issue has national implications, involving police and Panthers, the American system and the black man," says Don Dixon, NET's director of public affairs programming. "The case is really a microcosm, reflecting one of our country's most critical concerns." Each of the four programs will contain legal analysis by James Vorenberg, professor of law, Harvard Law School. Vorenberg is also director of the Center for Criminal Justice at Harvard Law School. He was executive director of President Johnson's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice (1964-67) and director, Office of Criminal Justice (1964-65). From 1954 to 1962 he was a member of the firm of Ropes and Gray, after clerking under Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter from 1953 to 1954. He received his LL.B. from Harvard in 1951, after graduating from the same school in 1948. During each program, Vorenberg will comment on legal subtleties and legal protocol, as defined within the trial. "Trial: The City and County of Denver vs. Lauren R. Watson" is a production of NET Division, Educational Broadcasting corporation. A film by Robert H. Fresco and Denis Sanders. Additional Information from NET Press Release on Judge Zita Weinshienk: Zita Weinshienk is Denver's first - and only - woman judge. She is also the only judge - male or female - to preside over a case filmed in its entirety for national television. The documentary, "Trial: The City and County, of Denver vs. Lauren R. Watson," will be presented on NET Journal each night - an unprecedented use of prime time for a single program. Recalling the case, which occurred March 1969, Judge Weinshienk reaffirms the value of allowing it to be filmed. She felt that it would be an excellent way to show viewers - many of whom have never been inside a real courtroom -- how an actual trial is conducted. At the time of the trial, her only scruple was that a more experienced judge should have had the honor of presiding for this television first. She also recognized that "The City and County of Denver vs. Lauren R. Watson" would be a difficult trial. One key factor was the defendant's membership in the Black Panther Party -- a detail that was irrelevant to the case but potentially prejudicial. Since a jury's verdict could be influenced by this information, she reveals that she would have declared a mistrial if it had been divulged during proceedings. She feels that the trial of Watson brought out deep feelings about the way blacks feel toward the police. The mutual fear and distrust of blacks and police was evident throughout, she observes. Judge Weinshienk dismisses the importance of sex in her job. The robes divest her of sexuality and make her simply "judge." She was appointed to the municipal bench by Mayor Tom Currigan on June 15, 1964, and became a county judge the following January. Her prior experience includes five years with the juvenile court as probation counselor, legal adviser, researcher, and finally referee. Her involvement with this court stemmed from a paper on juvenile correction in Denmark, which she had submitted, in an effort to spread her knowledge of such procedures in foreign countries. She had, at that time, just returned from a year's graduate study as a Fulbright Scholar, receiving her diploma in law from the University of Copenhagen. In 1958, she received her LL.B, cum laude, from Harvard Law School. Her undergraduate study was divided between Colorado University and the University of Arizona, from which she graduated magna cum laude in 1955. It was during her undergraduate years that she switched her interest from journalism, after having served as editor of her high school literary magazine. An aptitude test indicated that she had the potential to justify her in becoming a pre-law student. Since 1960, she has given a series of lectures on legal ethics to students at Denver University Law School. In 1969, she was selected as Woman of the Year by Denver Business and Professional Women. She is member of the Denver, Colorado, and American Bar Association, Harvard Law School Association, North American Judges Association, Colorado Association of County Judges, American Judicature Society, Denver League of Women Voters, and Soroptimist Club of Denver; also, she sits on the board of directors of the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Denver, and executive committee, National Conference of Special Court Judges. Born in St. Paul, Minn., she was raised in Tucson, Ariz. She presently lives in Denver with her husband, attorney Hubert T. Weinshienk, and their three daughters. Additional Information from NET Press Release on Wright J. Morgan: For prosecutor Wright J. Morgan, the case of "The City and County of Denver vs. Lauren R. Watson" was an ordinary assignment - one of the heavy case load that confronts a city attorney. But the case - first to be filmed in its entirety for national television - sharpened his faculties by pitting him against a dynamic young defense attorney, Leonard Davies. The legal confrontation between Davies and Morgan highlights NET Journal - "Trial: The City and County of Denver vs. Lauren R.Watson." "I enjoy being pitted against lawyers like Davies," says Morgan. "For one thing, it keeps you on your toes and sharpens you. It's a pity there aren't more like him. With Davies, you know you've got a fight on your hands right down to the wire." In terms of the general audience for the television trial, Morgan says: "There was a lot of law practiced in the Watson case, and it's an excellent example for people to see. I think it will bring home to many viewers just how important and dear our system of justice is." However, he disputes Davies' argument that the jury for the Watson case was unrepresentative. Racial composition is unimportant no matter who is being tried, according to Morgan. (Watson is a Negro; however, no blacks were among the panel from which the jury or six was chosen.) More importantly, says Morgan, the economic and educational backgrounds of the jurors insured a fair trial for Watson. "It's interesting. Most people selected to a jury will bend over backwards to be fair. Someone who doesn't necessarily like blacks will want to prove to himself and his friends that he is not prejudiced. He may even look for a reason not to convict, though he won't admit it to himself or to either attorney." Morgan was born in Trinidad, Colorado. He received his BA in 1951 and his LL.B. in 1957 from Denver University. After being admitted to the bar in 1958, he practiced law for a year, then became a city attorney - though he returned to private practice during portions of the next four years. He was also employed as a legislative referee, taught intelligence as a civilian at Lowry Air Force Base, and was assistant attorney general for the State of Colorado. Since October 1963, he has been assistant city attorney - one of seven assigned to the Denver district court. He is also deputy district attorney, with authority to act as prosecutor in cases involving the district. Additional Information from NET Press Release on Leonard Davies "The defense of the unpopular client is the highest service a lawyer can perform. There cannot be a system of class justice." Leonard Davies, a dynamic young attorney, found that his credo was put to the test when he undertook the defense of Denver Black Panther Lauren R. Watson. For four evenings viewers of NET Journal follow this trial - and with it an unparalleled TV exploration of the American judicial system. In "Trial: The City and County of Denver vs. Lauren R. Watson" attorney Davies demonstrates how in the relatively short time he has been practicing law - three and a half years - he has built an amazing reputation for himself as the defender of the underdog. Davies believes that any trial lawyer worth the title should want to handle those cases and individuals who are unpopular with the public, not because the victory is so much sweeter when you win but because defending the unpopular cause or individual proves the fact that our system does work. "I abhor violence, I abhor violent people, but I would represent anyone - even a member of the KKK - because he deserves a fair and honest trial just as much as a respected community leader who has been accused of improper handling of funds. I don't pursue or practice any political or social philosophy that would set me against any group or individual." The young attorney first met Lauren Watson when he was asked to handle a few legal matters for a small black community theatre group known as Points East (now defunct). And when Watson first had trouble with the law he asked Davies to represent him. He has been his legal advisor and attorney ever since. Davies is a firm believer in our system of justice. He admits that there are many things wrong with it and that changes should be made -- especially in the area of jury selection. In the particular case represented by the NET film, jurors were selected from the city directory, and in that, instance none of them could be considered to be anywhere near Watson's peers. They did not live in his part of town, nor did they know anything about black people. Davies felt sincerely that Watson could not get a fair trial. Still, he maintains that it is important for men and women to serve as jurors, because if nothing else, it makes them think. Born in England and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Durango, Colorado, a small town in the southwest corner of the state, Davies received his undergraduate degree from San Francisco State in August 1962, and graduated Denver University Law School in December 1965. He began practicing law in May 1966. He is an equal partner in the firm of Davies and Dikeou. Davies is married; the couple has two children; they moved to Denver in November 1962. Additional Information from NET Press Release on Robert C. Cantwell: "... No one - no matter who he is - is above the law." For police officer Robert C. Cantwell this strongly held belief became one that involved him personally when he arrested Black Panther Lauren Watson. The legal aftermath of what followed is recounted for four evenings on NET Journal when Channel "Trial: The City and County of Denver vs. Lauren R. Watson." In these four evenings the course of the trial - and the entire American system of jurisprudence - are illuminated for a television audience. Officer Cantwell also believes that "no group has a special privilege when it comes to the law. Then a law is broken the police are going to arrest that individual or group and prosecute." Cantwell is a "spit and polish" police officer and a 100% believer in upholding law and order. Born in Fort Lupton, Colorado, and raised in Breckenridge, Texas, Cantwell came to the Denver area in 1958, and was graduated from Thornton High School in 1960. He wanted to be a police officer as far back as he can remember, "Because it's a very important job and it should be done by someone who firmly believes in what he's doing." After finishing high school young Cantwell went to work for the Denver Water Department and dug ditches for a period of four years. In 1964 the police department lowered the age limit and height requirements from 24 years and 5'9" to 21 years and 5'8". Cantwell stands right at 5'8". He enrolled in the first class for 21-year-olds and upon completion of his training was assigned as walking patrolman. He remained a patrolman for three years and then was assigned to the intelligence and vice squad. When a new police chief took over and the department was reorganised in 1968 Cantwell was reassigned to a patrol car where he remained for approximately 11 months. It was during this period that he made the Watson arrest, (prior to the Watson trial Cantwell was promoted to detective and assigned to narcotics). The young officer sees his duty as a limited one. To him the jury must decide guilt or innocence. "I've done my job when I arrest the person. We don't go around arresting people just because we don't have anything else to do. We arrest him because he broke a law." But Robert Cantwell is not disinterested in the fate of those around him. During an NET reporter's interview with him the phone rang. It was a narcotics user asking for help. The young man was on parole from the state prison and he was due to see his parole officer the next day. He had been sent up as a user and was out just a little over a month and didn't want to go back on the hard stuff. So called Cantwell because he knew he could trust him. He needed a fix, but he knew his parole officer would have him sent back to prison if he found signs of drugs in the urine sample. (Urine samples are taken from drug users whenever they report to their parole officer.) Cantwell told the young man he would make arrangements for him to go into the city hospital where they would give him something to quiet him down and help him get over the hump. "I'll see you in about 20 minutes," he said, "and we'll go over together. You meet me in my office." Asked why he did this he answered, "We're not out to make trouble for these guys. This kid is out less than a month. He's trying to stay off the stuff. If we can help keep him clean maybe he'll stay off for good. One thing he doesn't need now is to be sent back." Concerning Denver's black community: "In all honesty I really couldn't say that the Denver police have any more trouble with the blacks than the whites. There aren't too many people who go around looking for trouble blacks or whites." Random comments: "One thing I would like to say, and that is that every time a policeman has to go and testify about a case he's involved with, he's on trial just as much as the defendant. His emotions are strained because he knows that both his reputation as a good officer and his competency in making decisions are being weighed. Every time you lose a case it hurts you in your work." Cantwell is married and has two children. He is currently attending Regis College and hopes to get a degree in Social Science. This set of 4 episodes aired as NET Journal episode 269A-269D in 1970. PBS later rebroadcast them in 1971. (Description adapted from documents in the NET Microfiche)
Episode Description
Trial: The City and County of Denver vs. Lauren R. Watson consists of four 90 minute episodes produced for NET Journal and broadcast in 1970. Originally produced in black and white on videotape.
Episode Description
The second day - Officer Cantwell on the stand. The prosecution's case rests on the testimony of two witnesses - Officer Cantwell and Frizzini. Davies, therefore, attempts to stress the discrepancies in their testimony and in an arrest report filed by Cantwell at the time of the incident. His "grilling" of Cantwell is relentless and highly dramatic. (Description adapted from documents in the NET Microfiche)
Broadcast Date
Broadcast Date
Asset type
Social Issues
Race and Ethnicity
Public Affairs
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Camera Operator: Fresco, Robert M.
Camera Operator: Sanders, Denis
Director: Sanders, Denis, 1929-1987
Editor: Silver, Harold
Interviewee: Davies, Leonard
Interviewee: Cantwell, Robert C.
Interviewee: Morgan, Wright
Interviewee: Weinshienk, Zita
Interviewee: Watson, Lauren R.
Producer: Sanders, Denis, 1929-1987
Producer: Fresco, Robert M.
Producing Organization: Educational Broadcasting Corporation. NET Division
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive
Identifier: [request film based on title] (Indiana University)
Format: 16mm film
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “NET Journal; 269b; Trial: The City and County of Denver vs. Lauren R. Watson. Part 2,” 1971-04-28, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 20, 2023,
MLA: “NET Journal; 269b; Trial: The City and County of Denver vs. Lauren R. Watson. Part 2.” 1971-04-28. American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 20, 2023. <>.
APA: NET Journal; 269b; Trial: The City and County of Denver vs. Lauren R. Watson. Part 2. Boston, MA: American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from