Friday, June 29, 2012

Chapters 34, 35, and 36; Eject Button, Chick Crimes

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            If convicted of first-degree rape, Mr. Fricke would get about 10 years in prison.  After my interview with Tiffany, I asked Bradley if he’d consider a plea bargain of second-degree rape.  Second degree rape would carry five years.  I knew Burt didn’t want a plea bargain, but maybe I could talk some sense into him.
I was encouraged when, rather than outright rejecting my offer, Bradley agreed to consider it.  “All right, I’ll think about it,” he said, sounding distracted and harassed.
A few days later, Bradley called me.  “OK,” he said, “we can do the second rape.  Tiffany is OK with it.  She doesn’t really want a trial.”
“Great,” I said, hoping that this would make the case go away.  I couldn’t help thinking that it was one messed-up system that would give the same sentence for selling a rock of crack as for raping a girl.

            Mr. Fricke came to my office the following day.
            “I talked to Tiffany,” I said.  “I’m not going to lie to you.   You’ve got some problems in this case.”
            “No I don’t.  I’m innocent.”
            “Even an innocent person can have problems in a criminal case.”
            “What problems?”
            “For one thing, Tiffany.  She has an air of credibility—she’s not out to hang you.  She didn’t even want to prosecute you.  When she tells the story of the alleged rape, she’s pretty convincing.”
            “You women are all alike.”
            “There will probably be some women on your jury.”
            “They never should have changed that rule.”
            “All right, second problem.  When the police interviewed you, you told them that you didn’t remember the night at all because you had too much to drink.  You also told them that you thought Tiffany was a good girl and that she wouldn’t lie about something like that.”
            “You’re not trying to help me.  Who pays you?  The prosecutors’ office?”
            “What’s your defense?”
            “I’m innocent.”
            “How are we going to show this innocence?”
            “That’s your job to figure out.”
            “Well, Tiffany is going to come in and testify that you raped her.  The police are going to come in and say that when they contacted you, you told them you had a black out that night, and that Tiffany wouldn’t lie.”
            “They don’t have any evidence.  There’s no DNA, no pubic hairs, nothing.  Just her word.”
            “Sometimes that’s enough.”
            “I never would have done that.”
            “I wish you had told the police that.  Look, they’re offering you a rape two with five years.  I think you should take it.”
            “No way.”
            I sensed that no amount of arm twisting would get him to change his mind.  “Fine,” I said, “but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

The week before Mr. Fricke’s trial, Bradley called me every day, hounding me about the trial.
“Why won’t he take the deal?  I offered him a good deal,” Bradley whined.
“I know, Bradley.  It’s not my decision, though.”
Bradley’s phone calls became persistent.  “Kate, Kate, Kate.  Why do you make things so hard on yourself?  Your client should take the deal.”
“Look, I agree that your offer is reasonable.  But I can’t force him to take it.”
“You are committing malpractice by not having him take the deal.”
“Why don’t you let me worry about that?”
Bradley was so insistent about the deal that I was starting to wonder if he had problems with his case.  Something didn’t feel right, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.


Mr. Fricke showed up for his first day of trial wearing a black western-style shirt, pressed, black jeans, and a belt with a buckle the size of a baked potato.  He definitely looked like a rapist.
“You can’t wear that,” I told him as soon as I saw him.
“Why not?  It’s my dress-up clothes.”
“Yes, but you look like you’re going to go get drunk, ride a mechanical bull, and rape someone.”
I left Mr. Fricke in my office while I went in search of non-rapist clothing.
“Matthew, give me your shirt.”
“And your belt.”
“But I have court this morning.”
“I don’t have time to argue with you, Matthew.”  Mr. Fricke’s jury trial would start in 30 minutes.  “If you don’t give me your shirt and belt now, I’m going to make you give me your pants, too.”
Matthew quickly unbuttoned his shirt and belt.  Mr. Fricke protested as he put Matthew’s clothes on, but at least did what I said.

Bradley called Tiffany to testify the second day of trial.  She was dressed in every-day clothes, rather than the long dress and opaque stockings suggested to witnesses by the prosecutors’ office.  She walked stiffly to the witness stand, looked at Judge Stewart with her hard eyes, and promised to tell the truth.
Tiffany answered most of Bradley’s questions matter-of-factly.  When he turned her attention to the night of the rape, however, her demeanor changed—she started breathing faster, her voice became high-pitched, and she struggled to keep control.
            I had seen a lot of witnesses feign emotion on the witness stand.  This was the real thing.
            By the time Bradley got to the actual rape, Tiffany was on the verge of crying, but fighting to maintain her composure.
            “Tell me, Miss Greene,” Bradley said, “at some point did Mr. Fricke ask you to change locations?”
            “Could you please describe that?”
            “He asked me to go with him to the back bedroom.  He said there was something he wanted to talk about.”
            “Did you go with him?”
            “Did you worry about going to a bedroom with a married man?”
            “No.  Burt was like a friend.  We talked about everything.”
            “What happened when you got into the bedroom?”
            “He asked me to sit on the bed.”
            “Then what happened?”
            “He pushed me onto my back.”
            “What did you do?”
            “Tried to get up.”
            “What did he do?”
            “Pushed me back down.”
“What happened next?”
            “I asked him to please stop.”
            “Did he stop?”
            “No.  He forced me down.”
            “Then what happened?”
            “He reached up my skirt and pulled down my panties.”
            “Did you see his penis?”
            “I can’t remember.”
            “Do you remember telling Officer Meyers that Burt unzipped his pants and you saw his penis?
            “What do you remember happening next?”
            “I can’t remember.  It’s all blank now.”
            “Could you please try to remember?”
            At that moment, Tiffany let go of her barely-maintained control.  Loudly, she sobbed, “I don’t want to remember!”  Her cry filled the courtroom, reaching every corner, demanding attention.
            I looked down at my yellow notepad, unable to look at her.  I wished for all the world that I could find an “eject” button that would jettison my body from the courtroom.
            Bradley tried several more times to get Tiffany to testify that Burt raped her.  She continued to sob.  The judge offered to take a recess to allow her to regain her composure.  Tiffany refused this, as well.
“I don’t remember anything, OK?  That’s my final testimony.”
After instructing her bailiff to supply Tiffany with tissue, the judge turned to Bradley.  “Mr. Boldham, do you have any additional witnesses?”
“No, your honor, the state rests.”
I stood up.  “Ms. Hamilton?” the judge asked.
I moved the court to dismiss the charge based on the fact that the state had failed to establish a prima facie case of rape.  I knew that Bradley would move to amend the charge to attempted rape, but at least attempted rape carried less prison time.
“Your response, Mr Boldham?” the judge asked.
I looked over at Bradley, who was standing rigidly with a blank look on his face.  The judge was waiting for his motion to amend the charge to attempted rape.
            “Mr. Boldham,” Judge Stewart finally said.  “Do you have a motion?”
            “Yes, your honor,” he said, looking down.  “I move to dismiss.”
            Tiffany sat very still in the witness stand, unsure what was happening.
            Finally, the judge said, “Miss Greene, you may step down from the stand.  The case has been dismissed.”
Tiffany gasped and began crying again.  She slowly stepped down from the witness stand and walked toward the courtroom doors.  As she passed by me, she whispered, “I hate you.”


Mr. Fricke’s trial had a strange calming effect on me.  After his case, I knew I would be able to handle any type of charge.  Despite my bravado, I had worried whether I would have the guts to handle a horrible case.  Now I knew.  I might not like it, but I could do it.
            I was sitting by myself at Moezy’s, the first of our group to arrive that day.  I was blankly staring into space when Matthew and José slid in on either side of me.  Their simultaneous arrival made me jump out of my reverie.
            “What were you thinking about?” José asked.  “The killing and torture of Gordon?  Or maybe Penny?”
            “No, I was thinking that I’m going to be OK to handle the grosser cases.  After Fricke’s case, I think I can do anything.”
“I just got another murder case today,” Matthew said.  “That’s the third one this year.  I don’t know how I’m going to keep up.”
            “Yeah, me too,” José said.  “I’ve got three homicides going right now.”
            “That’s funny,” I said, “I don’t have any murder cases.”
            José and Matthew exchanged glances.
“What?” I asked.
            Matthew looked down at his coaster.
“We wondered when you were going to notice,” José said.
            “Notice what?”
            “We didn’t want to tell you, because we were afraid it would send you over the edge.”  José was stalling.
            “Tell me what.”
            “Gordon doesn’t think women should handle serious cases.  Especially violent ones.”
            “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said.  “That sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore.”
“I swear, Kate, sometimes it’s not Matthew who is the naïve one.  Look at who has all the murder cases in the office.  All men.  And since Maxine left, you’re the only chick in felonies.  Gordon thinks women are better suited to juvenile court and termination of parental rights.”
            “But I am in felonies.”
“Yes, but you’re just handling property, drugs, and sex—chick crimes.”
“That’s not right.”
            “No kidding.”
            José and Matthew tried to talk me out of it, but the next morning, I went directly to Gordon’s office.  Without even first checking my appearance, I walked in, unannounced.
            “I want to have a homicide case,” I said.
            “Well, good morning, Kate, come in.  How nice to see you,” Gordon said, leaning back in his chair.  “How can I help you?”
            “I want to have a homicide case.”
            “Kate, homicide cases involve complicated legal issues and require a considerable amount of skill.”
            I put my hands on my hips.  “I’m not saying I’m any more qualified than anyone else around here, but if José and Matthew can do homicides, then so can I.”
            “I’m afraid I just don’t believe you are ready to handle a homicide.”
            “Then I guess we’re going to have to talk about Harrell,” I said quietly.  Over a decade earlier, Gordon had represented Phineas Harrell, who had been charged with a capitol offense, and was eventually sentenced to death.  Death-penalty cases were rare in Olympic County; most people, or most attorneys at least, were aware that Harrell was on death row; few, however, remembered that Gordon Elliott had been Harrell’s attorney.  

     I only knew that Gordon had been Harrell’s lawyer because Bill had been sitting in my office when the news came out.  “Hey, Bill, something awesome has happened!”  I had decided that I liked having Bill in my office—he was quiet most of the time, but it was also nice to have someone to talk to.  “Look at this.” I turned my computer screen toward him, “Harrell’s death sentence has been reversed!  We should have a party and celebrate!”
            Bill skimmed the news article about the reversal.  “Oh, I don’t think there’s going to be any parties for this one—not officially, anyway.”
“But why not?  Someone got off of death row!  We’ve stopped the state from making murderers out of all of us!”
“Why was the death sentence overturned?”
“Hmmm … well, here it says something about not having a mental health evaluation for the penalty phase.  But who cares why it was reversed?  No death penalty is no death penalty, right?”
“Just keep reading.”
“OK, so let’s see, his lawyer should have had an expert evaluate the defendant, and the lawyer didn’t do that.  So it was ineffective assistance of counsel?  That seems like a crazy way to save your client’s life—by doing such a bad job, that the courts won’t let the state kill your guy.  But still—no death is no death, right?”
“Right.  But you might want to ask who Harrell’s lawyer was.”
“Just tell me, Bill.”
“Holy fuck.”
“It will be interesting to see what happens with that information,” Bill said, and then closed his eyes to resume his nap.

            “I expect to see the next murder case that comes through the office on my desk,” I said to Gordon as he remained dumb.  I turned and walked out of his office.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Chapters 32 and 33: Beer and Other Tests; Old Eyes

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On Saturday, I drove to a bar in the university district in Seattle to see The Traction Goats, an acoustic grunge band I had read about in an alternative newspaper.  I liked to go out by myself on the weekends because I could pretend that I was still in college, that I wasn’t a lawyer with a million worries.
I walked into the dark bar and let my eyes adjust.  The bar had some of my favorite features—it was small, crowded, and had a dance floor tucked on the side of the stage.  I saw a pool room through a door in the back.  I grabbed a small table by the wall, and squeezed into one of the chairs, happy to find a place to sit in the bustling room.  I was just beginning to relax when one of the chairs at my table scraped back.
I looked up.  Standing with one hand on the chair was Doug, looking more like a band member than a prosecutor.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I came to listen to the band.  Like everyone else here?”  He was wearing low-rise faded jeans that were tattered at the bottom, flip flops, and a vintage Jetson T-shirt.  I noticed that despite his lankiness, his muscles were defined.  I surprised myself by thinking he was good looking, not in the traditional way, but, without his suit, in a nerdy-hip kind of way.
I found myself grinning at him.  “I didn’t know you liked music.”
“Yeah, I just put on my prosecutor suit in the morning, send people to jail all day, go home and enter the sleeping pod that sucks all of the human goodness out of my soul.”
“That’s what I thought,” I said, recovering from the surprise of seeing him.  I reminded myself that I was mad at him from a case we had together last week.  “Well, you can pretend to be a person all you want with the other ladies here, but I know better.”  I noticed that I was sounding a little bitchy.  I told myself to be nice.  “Have you been working out?  You look sort of, you know, muscle-y.”  I blushed.  This was not what I had planned on saying.
He flexed his bicep for my benefit.  “Are you going to make me arm-wrestle you for this chair?”
“You heard that story?”
“Everybody heard that story.  Bradley can’t walk into the office without a secretary challenging him to a test of strength.”
“I almost feel bad for Bradley.  He’s a boob, though.”
Doug sat crammed himself in the chair beside me.  “I’ve always thought of Bradley as a Black Lab.”
“A Black Lab, as in the dog?”
“You know, Black Labs are such regal looking animals, but when you come down to it, they’re just not that smart.”
“What kind of dog are you, then?”
“Australian Shepard.”
“Australian Shepard?”
“You know, lovable and mangy, but very loyal.  And I can also herd sheep.”
“Are you allowed to say mean things about Bradley?”
“I was just talking about dogs.”  He smiled, then sighed.  “Sometimes the Bradleys get to me.  I wonder if I’d fit in better at your office.”
I didn’t know how to answer.  He had made his choice about where to work.  But had I really made a choice?  I debated whether to say, “I don’t know if I can really be friends with someone who works at the prosecutor’s office” or “Why don’t you just go work somewhere else?”  I said, “Can I get you a beer?”
            “Are you going to get me drunk?”
I noticed that he had a dimple on his left cheek.  “What kind?”
            “Shiner Bock.”
            “You want a Shiner Bock,” I repeated.
            “Yeah—don’t they have it?”
            I hadn’t had a Shiner Bock since I left Austin.  “I thought it was just a Texas beer.”
“They just got it in—I tried some the other week.  I really like it.”
I stood nonplussed in line at the bar.  Doug had passed the Beer Test.  Because I had blonde hair and an approachable demeanor, I was hit on a lot in bars.  During my years at the University of Texas, I had developed a few easy tests to eliminate undesirable dates.  The first test was the Beer Test.  If a guy was drinking Coors Light, for example, he was out.  Coors Light was the choice of most fraternity boys and eliminated them quickly and efficiently.  Next, I offered to pay for a guy’s beer.  If the guy insisted on paying himself, despite my offer, he was out.  I figured this eliminated the macho I-can’t-let-a-woman-pay-for-me type.  (Unfortunately, this test did not eliminate the moocher type, which I seemed to date a lot.)
The third and most nebulous standard:  you had to order something cool.  The beer had to be something I liked, or, at least have a name I liked.  Shiner Bock always passed the Beer Test.  When I lived in Austin, my friends and I made an annual pilgrimage to the brewery in Shiner, Texas, to show respect and consume free beer.  How had Doug known about Shiner Bock?  He wasn’t from Texas.
            I paid for our beers and brought them back to our tiny table.  As soon as I sat the beers on the table, he switched the bottles.
“What—did you think I poisoned it?”
“Yes,” he said flatly.  I raised one eyebrow, a special talent I had, brought the brown bottle to my mouth, and drank.  The music became too loud for conversation, and I sat, trying to ignore his leg pushing against mine.  I tried to act natural and enjoy the music.  When the set was over, Doug went to the bar for more beer.
Not even a moocher, I thought.  I scanned the room, trying to see if anyone I knew was there.
“What’s the matter, Kate?  You seem a little jumpy,” he said, putting the beers on the table.  He let me choose which beer to take.
“I’m just worried that someone might see us together.”  His injured look surprised me.  I didn’t let myself apologize.  He might pretend that our jobs didn’t matter, but I couldn’t.
“Maybe we would be less visible if we went out on the dance floor?” he suggested.
Dancing would not be a good idea.  “I don’t really like to dance.”
“Really.  That’s not the impression that I had.”  He clinked his beer bottle against mine and winked.  “How about a game of pool?  There’s a room in the back.”
I almost said no, but then realized that Doug would never pass the Pool Test.  I had learned how to play pool from my grandfather.  Back in the ’30s, my grandfather and his brother had owned a pool hall in Amarillo, a fact that my respectable parents did not advertise.  I loved the idea, though.  And my grandfather had taught me to play, starting at age 5.  He thought I was a natural, and I was pretty good, although not great.  I was better than most amateurs, however.
The test was this:  Most men, no matter how bad they were at pool, felt compelled to tell a woman how to play.  If a guy played pool with another guy, he would never tell his opponent which shot to make, or how to bank the ball, or suggest a possible run.  If the same guy, however, played with a girl, it was all advice all the time.  I didn’t show off or anything—any pool player who acts like a hot shot is a fool—but even casual observation would reveal that I knew how to play.  So when a guy told me how to play—and most of them did—it spoke to an inability to accept a woman as an equal.  “Here little girl,” the guy seemed to say, “Let me show you how to make that big, bad shot.”  Meanwhile, the guy was missing the fact that I was kicking his ass.
Doug led me through the crowd to the back room.  Because the band was still playing, the pool room was deserted.
“You want to break?” he asked, surprising me.  Most guys wanted to impress a girl with a rough if inaccurate break.
“Sure,” I said.  He racked the balls with a few easy movements.
I broke, sinking the nine ball, and made two shots after that.
“Nice run,” was all that Doug had to say.  Doug made four solids—all easy shots, I told myself.  He missed a tricky bank shot at the end.  Now he would tell me what to do.  I hit the 12 ball in the corner pocket, setting myself up for the 14 on the side.  I hesitated, giving Doug a chance to say something.  He just watched me, grinning.
I made the 14.  My next shot was obviously the 15 in the far corner.  I looked over at Doug, who was taking a drink of his Shiner Bock.  Instead of aiming for the 15, I lined up a foolish bank shot on the 13.  I lingered as I aimed the shot, making sure that Doug noticed what I was doing.  Finally, with no comment from him, I took the shot and missed.
“Guess I shouldn’t have tried that,” I said, handing him the chalk.
“I kinda wondered what you were doing—that was a tough shot.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“You seem to know what you’re doing.”
“Are you sure about that?”
He took the cue ball out of my hand, but kept his hand on mine.  “You have this way of making difficult things seem easy or even accidental.”
“I do?  I don’t do it on purpose.  I’m just trying to be myself.”
“That’s why you drive a lot of people crazy—You prance around doing everything better than them, and then you act like you’re not even trying.”
“I just try not to take myself too seriously.”
“I know.  That’s why you aggravate all of the people who do take themselves too seriously.  Which is a problem with a lot of prosecutors.”
“What about you?”
“You make me crazy, but that’s not why.”
When I wasn’t tall enough to reach my next shot across the table, he offered to get me a step stool.  Clowning around, he got on his hands and knees on the floor and offered to be my human step stool.  As a joke, I tried to step on him, and then fell over on top of him.  Giggling, we both ended up sitting on the floor with our backs against the pool table.
“I dare you to lick the floor,” I said, pointing at a spot with a horrifying stain.
“I’ll do anything for you, Kate,” he said, his eyes suddenly earnest.
I bolted to a standing position, freaking out about the sudden change in the conversation.
“Whose shot was it?” I asked quickly.  “Where’s my beer?”
He pushed himself off the floor.  “Ah, the two most common questions asked in pool.”  He made his next shots, seeming more focused than before.  He won, making us tied, each winning two games.
“Wanna play a tie breaker?” I asked.
“I think I’d like to keep it where it is.  Even.  Maintain the balance of power.”
“We have a balance?”  I lit a cigarette I had bummed from a guy at the bar.
“You shouldn’t do that Kate, it’s bad for you.”
“I know.”
“And no one will want to kiss you.”
“Who would want to kiss me?”
“Only a fool.”
I took a long drag off of the cigarette, just to be safe.  Doug was fun, but his job made him off limits.  There was no way we were going to get to the Kissing Test.


On Monday, I resolved to focus on work rather than extraneous matters.  I also decided to try to distance myself from my clients.  The empathy I felt for my clients and their terrible predicaments was exhausting.  I was their lawyer, not their friend, after all.  My job was to give legal advice and to help defend cases in trial.  It wasn’t my job to care about what happened to them.  I reasoned that if I didn’t care about what happened to them, maybe I could start sleeping at night.
Burt Fricke was the first client who I resolved not to care about.  He was charged with rape, which I thought might be interesting since I hadn’t had a sex case other than Ryan’s.  He came into my office early on a Monday morning.  He looked in his mid-60s, but was actually 45.  He had a large beer belly and a handlebar mustache.  He thought he was very smart.
In our initial meeting, he sat sprawled on one of my client chairs, his legs wide apart.  He leaned far back in the chair, casually, with one arm over the back of the chair.  It seemed like he was pointing his crotch at me.
“I just wish I had the money to hire a lawyer,” he said.
“I actually am a lawyer,” I said.
“I mean a real one.”
“Oh sorry, I didn’t understand that.”  This not-caring thing might be easier than I thought.
“I know you’re just going to try to sell me down the river.”
“Which river would you like to be sold down?”
He crossed his arms across his chest.  “I want a trial.”
“You can certainly have a trial.”
“Are you going to even try to help me?”
“Yes,” I said, realizing that not only did I not care for this man; I didn’t like him at all.
Burt was accused of raping Tiffany Greene, a friend of Burt’s 17-year-old son, Shawn.  According to the police report, Burt, Shawn, and Tiffany had all been at the Fricke residence on a Saturday evening.  Burt’s wife, Olivia, was having a night out with her girlfriends.  Burt had been drinking beer all day.  Shawn played video games in the basement while Burt and Tiffany talked at a picnic table in the back yard.  At some point, Burt asked Tiffany to join him in the guest bedroom.  Once in the bedroom, Burt raped Tiffany.  After the rape, Burt passed out, and Tiffany left the house.  A week later, Tiffany told Shawn what had happened.  After agonizing for a day or two, Shawn called the police.  When questioned by police, Burt said that he had no memory of what happened that night, but that he didn’t think Tiffany would tell a lie.
The strength of the state’s case would probably largely depend on Tiffany’s credibility.  Since she hadn’t reported the rape the night it supposedly happened, no physical evidence—semen, public hairs, etc.—had been preserved.  Lack of physical evidence would usually give me a strong argument that the state had failed to meet its burden of proof.  On the other hand, jurors would sometimes believe a compelling witness, whether there was physical evidence or not.  The police report mentioned that Tiffany was a student at Wilson High School.  I called the school and found out her schedule.
While I usually scheduled witness interviews through the prosecutors’ office, there was no requirement for this arrangement.  I could conduct an independent investigation by contacting witnesses on my own.  I thought it was always a better idea to talk to the witness outside the prosecutors’ office—the witnesses were more likely to be candid.  Practically, however, I interviewed most witnesses at the prosecutors’ office because it was easier.  In this case, though, I wanted to get a feeling for the girl in her own environment.  I needed to know what she was really like.
The next day, I drove to Wilson and waited outside Tiffany’s last class prior to lunch.  The bell rang, and a stream of students came out the door.  I didn’t know what she looked like, but thought I could pick her out.  “Tiffany Greene?” I asked a girl who had to be her—hair bleached blonde, a couple of eyebrow piercings, and heavy black eyeliner all around her eyes.
“She’s back there,” the girl said, pointing to a girl in the back of the line, walking with her head down.  The girl she indicated was more wholesome than I expected.  Her jeans were faded, but not too tight, and she wore a short sleeved T-shirt that actually covered her stomach.  Her hair was a pretty chestnut brunette, thick and straight, tucked behind her ears.
“Tiffany?” I said as she got closer to me.  She looked up.  I almost took a step back.  Her eyes were not teenager eyes, but older.  Older than mine, certainly, and tougher.
“I’m Kate Hamilton, from the public defenders’ office,” I said, handing her my business card.  “Do you have a couple of minutes to talk to me?”
“Can’t this all just go away?  Why do you guys keep bugging me?” she asked, but moved away from the stream of students.
“Can we go outside and talk for a minute?  I’d like to ask you a few questions about what happened.”
“Haven’t I been over that enough?  How many times are you guys going to ask me about this?”
“I’ll try to make it quick.”
She led me outside to a small courtyard where dangerous-looking kids congregated.  The courtyard floor was an ashtray of cigarette butts.  Tiffany offered me a cigarette and I accepted, hoping to bond.  She led me to a low cement wall, away from the others, and we sat.
“What do you want to know?” she asked.
“If you could just tell me what happened.  Like, how did you know Mr. Fricke?”
“I was friends with Shawn, his son.  I’ve already told you all of this before.”
I hesitated.  I had a feeling she thought I was from the prosecutors’ office, even though I hadn’t said anything to make her think that.  I also had a feeling that she might be more forthcoming if she thought I was a prosecutor, rather than Mr. Fricke’s attorney.
“What kind of dad was Burt Fricke?”
“That’s the worst part.  My parents are pretty out there, so I spent a lot of time at Shawn’s house.  Burt was pretty much always there, and he would talk to everybody.  He would really listen, you know?  He was like a father figure, or even a friend.”
Tiffany stopped for a minute to take a drag on her cigarette.  “The night this happened was like any other night, except Olivia, his wife, was having a girls’ night out.  Burt was drinking beer and sitting at the picnic table in the back yard.  Shawn went downstairs to play video games, but I stayed in the back yard, talking with Burt.”
            Tiffany described how Burt had asked her to come with him into a back room.  She figured he wanted to talk about his wife or his son, so she followed him.  When they got back into the room, he patted the bed next to him.  She sat down, but instead of talking, he pushed her down on the bed.  She told him to stop, thinking he was drunk and just goofing around.
“Then he got on top of me, and I started to realize that it wasn’t a joke.  I told him to get off of me again and again and he wouldn’t.  He pulled up my skirt and raped me.”
“And by raped, you mean …?”
            “He put his penis inside of me.  Is that clear enough?”
            I should have probably asked her more details about whose arm was where, etc., but I decided her description was clear enough for now.
            I left the school, thinking Mr. Fricke’s case was terrible, and not just because he annoyed me personally.  I had interviewed a lot of witnesses, and Tiffany was one of the most credible yet.  Partly because she didn’t seem to care whether the case was prosecuted.  But more importantly, I could feel that she’d been hurt, hurt by the complete betrayal of trust.  I could see it in her old eyes.

Want to read more?  New chapters coming this Friday, June 29, 2012!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Chapters 30 and 31, Bumble Bee Justice; and the Luck of the Highlighter

(Haven't read the previous chapters?  Start  here.)
(Haven't read chapters 6 and 7?  Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapter 8? Find it here.)
(Haven't read chapter 9?  Find it here.)
(Haven't read chapters 10 and 11? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 12 through 14? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 15 through 16? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 17 through 19? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 20 and 21? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 22 and 23? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 24 through 26? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 28 and 29? Find them here.)

Despite no chance of winning, Kelly wanted to go to trial.  Like Emily, he was charged with three deliveries of a tiny amount of cocaine, although his drug was crack cocaine, rather than powder.  Penny’s offer was to plead guilty to one count of delivery with a prison sentence of five years.  However, in all likelihood, Kelly would get the same sentence after a trial, even if he lost, because the judge could use a sentencing provision that treated all three deliveries as one.
“Fine,” I said, to him, “if you want a trial, you can have your trial.  Just don’t wear your clown suit.”
“What should I wear then?”
“Just dress like you were going to church.”
            On the morning of trial, Kelly arrived at court, wearing not a clown suit, but rather a bumble bee suit.  He had on black jeans, a black and yellow striped turtleneck, and bobbing silver antennae.
            “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said as soon as I saw him.
            “What are you wearing?”
            “What I want to wear.”
            “Didn’t I tell you to dress like you were going to church?”
            “You didn’t say what kind of church.”
            “At least lose the antennae.”
            “I won’t,” he said, crossing his arms.
            I shook my head.  Maybe the jurors would take pity on this strange little man.
            We went in the courtroom and I set up my books on the table farthest from the jury.  Penny came in and stood for a moment while she looked at Kelly’s outfit.  “What kind of stunt do you think you’re trying to pull?” she hissed.
            “Just trying to add a little more surrealism to the situation,” I said, not willing to admit that the bumble bee outfit was not my idea. “You’re dressed like Mrs. Claus; my client is dressed like a bumble bee; we’re all going to participate in this process where the bumble bee ends up locked in a cage for five years for selling three rocks of crack.  And then we’re going to call it justice.”
            Penny raised her nose and walked to her table.  After a few minutes, Judge Black came out on the bench.  Luckily, Judge Black was irritated by few things and amused by many.
            “Ms. Hamilton, please instruct your client to remove his antennae.”
            I looked at Kelly.
            Kelly stood up.  “Your Honor, may I say something?”
            “Go ahead.”
            “This is my trial, where my freedom is at stake.  The Lord told me to wear this today, as a symbol of my religion and connection with nature.  It is my right of freedom of religion to wear this symbol during my trial.  If you do not allow this, you are violating my rights under the United States Constipation.”
            “You mean ‘Constitution,’” the judge said.
            “That’s what I said.”
            “All right, Mr. Campbell, I’ll allow you this one indulgence, but do not push me any further.”
            “Yes sir, your honor.”  Kelly looked at me as if to say, “Told you so.”
            Kelly had never really given me a straight answer about what his defense was, if anything.  Usually in this circumstance, I would not have my client testify—rather, I would focus on weaknesses in the state’s case and try to capitalize on the prosecutor’s inevitable mistakes.  However, in a criminal case, a defendant has a few decisions he alone can make, no matter what his lawyer tells him.  He can independently decide how to plead—guilty or not guilty; and he can decide whether to testify.  Thus, when Kelly told me emphatically that he wanted to testify, there was nothing I could do to stop him. 
After the undercover cops and the snitch had testified, I called Kelly to the stand.  Even though he had been adamant about wanting to testify, he now looked too petrified to speak.  He sat in the witness chair, a nervous, twitching bumble bee. 
To put him at ease, I asked, “Are you nervous, Kelly?” 
“Yes,” he squeaked. 
“Why are you nervous?” I asked, hoping to hear something like, “because I am afraid of going to prison.” 
Instead, he said, “Because I am a chronological liar.” “A what?” I asked before I could stop myself. “A chron-o-log-i-cal liar.  I’ve been diagnosed.  So I worry that I am not telling the truth, and I have to be extra careful that I am absolutely honest up here.” I thought it best to move on.  “Do you remember what you were doing on the date in question?”
            “Can I tell them about the chalice?”
            “Let’s get to that later.”
            We stumbled through the rest of his testimony, which was, to say the least, vague and amusing.  He never actually admitted or denied that he sold the crack, but mainly complained about the police, who had roughed him up when they arrested him.
            “Those Po-lice,” he said, “they subjected me to Won Ton Cruelty.”
            Once again, even though I knew better, I asked, “What?”
            “Won-Ton Cruelty.  Of the worst sort.  They violated my rights and now want to falsely imprison me.  But that’s why we have a jury system, to correct injustice.  I am asking this jury to do justice and find me not guilty,” he said, looking as dignified as a bumble bee could.
            Because I had nothing to say about the facts of Kelly’s case during closing argument, I talked about the “war on drugs” and the absurdity of this situation.  Penny objected about a hundred times, because lawyers are supposed to argue the facts of the case, not that the law is unfair or unwise.  I thought a few jurors were listening, though.  A middle-aged housewife nodded her head when I mentioned the expense of the investigation and prosecution, and a young pharmacist caught my eye when I spoke of our nation’s drug problem as a public health issue.  I didn’t fool myself about our chances, though.  I believed what I was saying, but it had nothing to do with Kelly’s guilt or innocence.
            Penny was particularly strident in her final argument, berating Kelly and myself for our obstructive techniques and tactics.  I wished I could have been as obstructionist as she portrayed me.
After our closing arguments, Judge Black instructed the jurors about the law and sent them to deliberate.  I directed Kelly to wait quietly in the hallway, and went back to the judge’s chambers to give Rodney, Judge Black’s bailiff, my telephone number.  Since Eddie Keller’s trial, I had become friendly with Rodney.  He wasn’t a friend, per se, but he was an occasional patron at Moezy’s.  He never sat at our table, but he always said hello, and we often exchanged courthouse gossip.
While I was giving Rodney my phone number, the lead detective of Kelly’s undercover investigation walked back to the judge’s chambers to get some coffee.
Rodney looked the detective up and down, disapprovingly.  “What are you doing busting people like this pathetic little guy?”  The detective stopped pouring his coffee mid-pour.  “You spent thousands of our tax dollars to bust this guy for selling a couple of crumbs of crack?  Jesus, I’ve scraped more residue off my credit card in the morning.”  I looked at Rodney, shocked.  I’d never heard anyone talk to a police officer this way before.  I wondered if he would be arrested.
“We all gotta make a living, Rodney,” the detective said with a chuckle, and left with his coffee.
“Do you always talk like that to police?” I asked in wonderment.
Rodney pointed to a clock on the wall.  Instead of telling the time, it had months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds.  “Retirement clock,” read the inscription beneath the numbers.  Rodney was apparently retiring in three months, ten days, five hours, 25 minutes, and 15 seconds.  “I guess I can say whatever is on my mind these days.”
“I guess you can,” I said, marveling at the freedom.
After three hours, the jury was still deliberating.  I hated it when jurors deliberated for more than an hour on a loser case, because it started to give me hope.  I started to think:  maybe they see the absurdity in sending this man to prison, not to mention the waste of money; maybe they’ll just find him not guilty in order to send a message to the prosecutor that they don’t want their tax dollars wasted.
After the fourth hour, the jury returned and found Kelly guilty of one of the three counts of delivery.  This verdict made absolutely no sense, because the evidence was the same on each of the three sales.  We proceeded immediately to sentencing, because Kelly, still in shock, wanted to be sent to the state prison to start serving his sentence as soon as possible.  The judge sentenced Kelly to five years, the lowest sentence he could legally impose.  As we sat at the counsel table, waiting for the jail transport officers to come, Kelly started to cry.
            “What about the kids at my camp?”  He let the tears drip down his face—a sad, crying bumble bee.
            “Maybe I can find some people to keep it going for you while you are locked up,” I said.
            “Will you go talk to the lady at the bank?”
            “Sure,” I said.
            “The one with the black hair?”
            “The one with the black hair.”
            The jail transport officers arrived and told Kelly to put his hands behind his back.
            “Do you want me to keep your antennae for you?”  I was more worried about Kelly’s personal safety at the jail than the safety of the antennae.
            “Sure,” he said, handing me the antennae.
            “I’ll keep them safe,” I said.
            “Thanks, Ms. Hamilton.”

            Back in my office, I mounted Kelly’s antennae on top of my computer monitor.  My phone rang, and I picked it up, too weary to bother to screen my calls.
“Is this Ms. Hamilton?” a male voice asked.
“I’m Melvin Cohen, a juror from your trial today—the pharmacist.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“I just wanted to say I’m sorry for convicting your client.”
            “That’s all right,” I said, not meaning it.
            “We felt like we had to give a guilty verdict, due to all the evidence and everything, but it all seemed pretty stupid.  Like, why did we spend all that money on the cops and the trial for someone that was so obviously at the lowest level in the drug world?  That’s why we only convicted him of one count.”
            “If you think the trial was expensive, you should see how much prison will cost.”
            “He’s going to prison?  I thought he’d just get probation.”
            “No, he had two felonies from a couple of years ago, so the lowest sentence the judge could give him was five years.”
            “Five years?  Oh my God.  We wouldn’t have found him guilty if we’d known that.”
            “Yes, but I wasn’t allowed to tell you.”
            “Is there anything I can do?  Call the judge?  I know none of us wanted that man to go to prison over this.”
            “No, it’s all done now.”
            “Well, I just wanted you to know we all thought you did a good job.”
“Are you going to be a real lawyer some day?”
            “Some day,” I said, and hung up the phone.


I found Janet, Matthew, and Jose watching a re-run of Law and Order at the bar.
“Why are you guys watching that?” I asked.
“The episode had a gal with Battered Woman’s syndrome,” Jose said.  “I’ve got one of those cases now—I thought I’d see what the TV shows were doing with it.”
“I loved all the lawyer shows in law school,” I said, “but now I can’t take them.”
“My favorite part is when the defense attorney takes his client to meet with the prosecutor,” Janice said.
“Which would never happen in real life,” I said.
“Yeah, and then the client confesses to the prosecutor while his lawyer sits there and nods,” Jose said.  “Then the prosecutor says sternly, ‘You’d better tell your client to take the deal or I’m going to hammer him!’”
“Then the wimpy defense lawyer leans over to the client and whispers sideways, ‘You’re really screwed, you’d better do what the prosecutor says,’” Janice said.
“Don’t those shows have consultants or something?” Matthew asked.
“I checked the credits one time,” Jose said.  “It listed ‘legal consultants.’”
“What kind of lawyers do they consult?” Janice asked.  “Tax?  Estate Planning?”
“I’m in favor of stretching reality for dramatic effect,” I said.  “But they’re doing the opposite.  The reality of our job is way more entertaining than any of those shows.  They’re not only making criminal law unrealistic, they’re making it more boring.”
            The episode ended without any of us really watching it.  Our jobs had ruined TV for us, too.
“Where were you yesterday, Kate?” Matthew asked.
“Another blind date.  Make that my last blind date.”
“Did he have to blow into a tube to start his car?” Janice asked.
“I never should have told you about that.  No, this one actually started out great.  The guy was taller than me, was maybe 37, but still had all of his hair.  He was funny, too.  I actually felt a little chemistry.  Until the end of the date, when he told me, ‘Now don’t get mad, but I have to tell you something.’”
“Married?” Jose said.
“Yep.  Legally separated, but still married.”
“Kids?” Janice asked.
“How old?” Matthew asked.
“Seventeen, fifteen, and twelve.”
“You could marry him and be a grandmother in a couple of years,” Jose said.
“I think I’m going to give up on love,” I said.  “Can I borrow your Gold Card, Janice?”

            I checked my office mail box, and saw a fax addressed to me.  It was a drug screen report.  My heart pounded as I looked for the name.  Emily Knight.  I scanned down the page to the results.  There, in columns, were listed all of the drugs the lab tested for.  Beside each drug name, was the abbreviation, “NEG.”  Thank God, I thought, almost beginning to celebrate, but then I noticed something further down the page had been highlighted in neon yellow.  The highlighted words read:  “Creatinine: 7, out-of-range.”
Creatinine?  What was that?  And why was it out-of-range?
            I called Rob at the urinalysis unit.  “Just out of curiosity, what is creatinine?”
            “Those are the solids in your urine.”
            “So what does it mean when the lab report says ‘out-of-range’?”
            “On every drug screen, the lab tests not only for drugs, but also to determine if the urine is too diluted.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Sometimes people will try to hyper-hydrate their urine in order to test negative.  That is, the more watered down the urine is, the less concentrated any evidence of drugs will be.  Also, if a person is testing daily, the concentration of solids in their urine can go up or down.  One day they may test negative for marijuana, and the next positive.  It doesn’t necessarily mean they used pot on the second day, if their urine is more concentrated that day.”
            “Are there any legitimate reasons a person’s urine might be out-of-range?”
“Sure.  Some people just drink more water than others.”
            “Like when I did this Weight Watchers thing?  I had to drink about a million glasses of water a day?”
            “Yes,” he said, “that would make your urine more diluted.”
            “OK,” I said, feeling a little better.  “What would the number ‘7’ mean next to ‘out-of-range’ on a drug test?”
            “Seven?” he asked.  “That would mean it is the most diluted urine I have ever heard of.”
            “Most ever?”
            “Most ever.”
            I put my head down on my desk.  Goddammit, now Emily was going to prison.  And all because I told her to drink a lot of water.  Well, not all because of me, but still …  When I opened my eyes, I noticed my head was on Emily’s lab report.  I held my head still, not letting my eyes focus on the test results.  The yellow, highlighted creatinine level blurred in my vision.
            I heard a noise and looked up.
“Hi, I’m Bill,” Bill said.
            “I’m Kate.  How long have you been sitting there?”
            “A while.  You seem sad.”
            “Creatinine out-of-range,” I said.
            “You know, that shade of highlighting won’t show up on a photo copy.”
            I looked at the piece of paper.  At the top of the paper was the list of drugs with “NEG” next to all of them.  My eyes had gone immediately to “Creatinine” at the bottom of the page because it had been highlighted.  The highlighted language, however, had the appearance of boilerplate.  “Creatinine—7—out of range” was in small print at the bottom of the page.  I wondered if I would have noticed the creatinine level if it hadn’t been highlighted.
            I walked purposefully down the hall to the copy room, lab results held gingerly in front of me.  I opened the machine’s cover and put the report face-down.  I pressed ‘copy,’ and watched the bright light scan the page.  Afraid to look, I retrieved the copy from the bin.  I waited a few seconds, and then looked at it.  The highlighting had disappeared—and not in that grainy way highlighting sometimes still shows on copies.  The highlighting had disappeared completely, without a trace.
            Because I didn’t know what the fax machine would do to the highlighting, I faxed the copy, rather than the original, to Penny.  Obviously, I wouldn’t give her the original in any event; I would have to make her a copy.  While I couldn’t change anything on the document, I didn’t think it was my duty to re-highlight Penny’s copy in order to bring the creatinine level to her attention.  The creatinine levels were still there, they just weren’t glowing.
            I faxed the copy, and held my breath.  A woman’s future hung in the balance, depending on whether a certain bitchy prosecutor noticed “creatinine out-of-range” at the bottom of the page.
An hour later, I saw Penny’s name on caller ID.  Taking a deep breath, I picked up the phone, trying not to sound anxious.  “Hey,” I said.
            “Hey.  Got Emily’s UA results.  Shall I set a plea?”
            “Oh, sure,” I said, casually.
            “When’s best for you?”
            “Oh, the sooner the better,” I said.
An hour later, I saw Penny’s name on caller ID.  I continued to hold my breath up to and through Emily’s guilty plea.  I was careful to tell the judge that Emily had stopped using “cocaine,” rather than “drugs.”  The judge commended her on her rehabilitation, and we all left the courtroom feeling like we had had a big group hug.  I was just glad it was over without Emily dying from drinking too much water or me being disbarred.

Want to read more?  New chapters coming this Friday, June 22, 2012!