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Irene Cornell

irene Irene CornellIrene Cornell has been a reporter at WCBS for 40 years, and she still comes to work with a smile.

Irene covers crime and the courts — name an interesting local case and she’s probably covered it — and she says what keeps the job so fascinating is the trials. She loves them. Ask her, and Irene will explain how trials “condense all of human emotion.”

“Going to court everyday,” she says, “is better than Broadway — it’s like having a front-row seat on human drama. You cannot make this stuff up.”

There’s never been a shortage of good material. Irene has covered all the big New York mob cases of the last generation, including the trials of John Gotti, and many of the big police stories, including the Knapp Commission, the infamous Dirty 30, and more recently, the torture of Abner Louima and the shooting of Amadou Diallo.

She was there in the courtroom when John Lennon’s killer was tried — she remembers Mark David Chapman entering court each day carrying his copy of “Catcher in the Rye.” In the 70’s Irene sat next to Martha Mitchell — both were knitting — as Mitchell’s husband, John, and several other Watergate figures were tried here in New York.

Irene covered the Murder at the Met case — when a violinist was killed by a stagehand during intermission of a performance by Mikhail Baryshnikov. She’s gone to Virginia twice — first for the trial of Lorena Bobbit, then for the trial of Marv Albert. She traveled to West Palm Beach for the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith; and of course, she covered the big one — the OJ Simpson case, from start to finish.

The Cornell family has been in the news business for many years. Her father, Cameron Cornell, worked in newspapers, radio and TV in Oklahoma, Savannah, Los Angeles and New York. Her uncle, George Cornell, was the religion editor at the Associated Press for more than 40 years. She often sits nex to her sister in court. Christine Cornell is a well-known courtroom sketch artist.

She worked her way through Hunter College as a copy girl at WMCA in New York where her father was the News Director. His successor, Barry Beere, was “the first to shove me out the door and say ‘go cover a story,'” Irene says. She must have done a good job, because after that, she was on the air every day.

During that time, Irene met her late husband, Danny Meenan, who was a reporter at WMCA for 25 years. She also discovered her love for courtroom drama. The first trial she covered was that of Alice Crimmins. All these years later, Irene still describes her in reporters’ shorthand as “the attractive red-haired cocktail waitress convicted of murdering her two children.” In 1970, when Irene made the move to WCBS after eight years at ‘MCA, she arrived just in time for the second Crimmins trial. It, too, ended in conviction, and Irene has been on New York’s crime and court beat ever since.

She is a producer’s favorite kind of reporter. She can spot a promising story a mile away, she’s an absolutely wonderful storyteller, and she’s never more excited than when she’s calling the desk to relate the latest tale she’s dug up from New York’s darkside — soon to be delivered to listeners in her own inimitable way.

Two of Irene’s children have been in the news business. Daughter Kati Cornell covered federal courts in New York for the New York Post and is now communications director for NYC’s special narcotics prosecutor – Bridget Brennan. Her stepson, Danny Meenan, Jr., is a television news producer in Australia. Her influence does not end with her own children. At least one young reporter has been heard to wonder aloud: How would Irene cover this story?

Police officer Ken Moreno, left, exits the courtroom at State Supreme court with his attorney Joe Tacopina, Monday, May 9, 2011, in New York. (credit: AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)

Kenneth Moreno, NYPD Officer Accused Of Rape, Breaks Down On Stand

New York City police officer Kenneth Moreno, accused of raping an intoxicated woman in her Village apartment after helping her to get home, will return to the stand to face cross-examination. He claims he was just comforting a drunk, troubled woman.

05/10/2011

Anthony Palumbo (file / credit: AP)

Convicted Genovese Mobster Anthony Palumbo Sentenced For Murder Plot

There will be no Mother’s Day celebration for Genovese crime family capo Anthony Palumbo, whose dear old mom turns 91 next week.

05/05/2011

(credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

NYC Jurors Acquit Titans’ Chris Simms

New York City jurors have acquitted Tennessee Titans backup quarterback Chris Simms in his driving-while-high case.

WFAN–05/04/2011

Chris Simms is seen in his official 2010 Tennessee Titans headshot (credit: NFL via Getty Images)

Pal Says NFL’s Chris Simms Didn’t Smoke Marijuana Before Driving

A childhood friend of Tennessee Titans backup quarterback Chris Simms has told a jury the player wasn’t smoking marijuana before being pulled over in New York City.

05/03/2011

The site of an alleged heroin packaging mill - Fort Lee, NJ (credit: specnarc.org)

Narcotics Investigators Raid Heroin Packaging Mill In Fort Lee

Officials said over $1.5 million in heroin was seized and 10 members of an alleged narcotics trafficking ring were arrested yesterday in Fort Lee.

04/29/2011

Raj Rajaratnam arrives at federal court - New York, NY - Apr 29, 2011 (credit: AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Jury Goes Home For Weekend In Hedge Fund Insider Trading Case Against Raj Rajaratnam

The judge let jurors leave early on Friday. It was their fifth day of weighing the fate of the hedge fund manager.

04/29/2011

Raj Rajaratnam enters Federal Court - New York, NY - Apr 12, 2011 (credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Still No Verdict In Insider Trading Trial Of Raj Rajaratnam

Jurors spent part of Tuesday listening again to secretly recorded phone calls of Rajaratnam and other Wall Street insiders talking about the financial prospects for publicly traded companies.

04/26/2011

NYPD Logo (file / credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

New York City Police Officer Emmanuel Tavarez Pleads Guilty To Helping Rob Cocaine Dealers

Federal prosecutors alleged that the eight-year veteran was part of crew that pulled more than 100 holdups.

04/25/2011

Billionaire co-founder of Galleon Group Raj Rajaratnam enters federal court - New York - Apr 25, 2011 (credit: AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)

Jury Begins Deliberating In Raj Rajaratnam Hedge Fund Insider Trading Case

A jury has begun deliberating at the trial of a hedge fund founder accused of making tens of millions of dollars through insider trading.

04/25/2011

Billionaire Galleon Group hedge fund cofounder Raj Rajaratnam departs Manhattan Federal Court - New York, NY - Mar 8, 2011 - Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Both Sides Present Closing Arguments In Hedge Fund Insider Trading Trial

One-time billionaire Raj Rajaratnam listened quietly as prosecutors have labeled him a Wall Street cheater. His own lawyers insist he acted honorably. A jury will be left to decide who’s right.

04/20/2011

Courtroom sketch. (credit: Christine Cornell)

Accuser In NYPD Rape Trial Leaves Witness Stand

The woman insisted she has no doubt police officers were with her that night. Her testimony may cause the officers to take the stand.

04/19/2011

Vincent Basciano (file / credit: AP)

Ex-Mob Boss Turns On Accused Mafia Captain Vincent ‘Vinny Gorgeous’ Basciano

There was mob history in Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday. For the first time, the boss of one of New York’s five families testified for the government.

04/12/2011

Accused NYPD Officers Kenneth Moreno (L), Franklin Mata (R) (credit: CBS2)

Accuser In Rape Trial Of NYPD Officers Moreno, Mata Expected To Testify

The alleged victim accusing two New York City police officers of sexual assault is expected to take the stand as early as this afternoon.

04/12/2011

Accused NYPD Officers Kenneth Moreno (L), Franklin Mata (R) (credit: CBS2)

Jurors Hear 911 Calls Of Moreno, Mata Reportedly Impersonating Citizens In NYPD Rape Case

Two police officers on trial for rape called 911 and pretended to be citizens and reported phony situations that required police attention, prosecutors said Monday.

04/11/2011

Raul Barrera, 34, was arrested and charged with the stabbing murder of girlfriend Sarah Coit. (file/credit: CBS 2)

Man Arraigned In Girlfriend’s Lower East Side Stabbing Death

A 23-year-old woman was attacked so viciously during an argument with her boyfriend that her side was slashed open and her skull was fractured, prosecutors said Monday.

04/11/2011

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