17 October 2013

Ambush in Bartlette: Chapter 30

When Jerome left Bartlette County thirteen months earlier he had hoped not to return. That hope was dashed when he was contacted by Jeff Sanger's private investigator and a week later served a subpoena. Now he was back at Saint Berlinda's rectory spending another sleepless night in the tiny guest bedroom.

He was the key witness for the defense in a pretrial hearing and then he would have to stay to testify if there was an actual trial. The investigator who came all the way out to Accomack County to interview him got excited when Jerome told him that he had a written agreement from the government not to pursue the death penalty. When Gil Pinsky, the attorney for Mister Sanger, called Jerome at Saint Margaret Ward two days later he was more guarded, but also very interested. The next thing Jerome knew an Accomack County deputy was handing him a subpoena requiring him to be in Bartlette County. Tomorrow, the defense attorney would call him to the stand to introduce the letter to the Commonwealth Attorney and judge. Once the case was reduced from a capital case to a life in prison case Jerome hoped a plea agreement would be reached so that his involvement in these murders would finally end.


Brad looked over the piece of paper Gil Pinsky had just given him. It was two days before the actual jury trial began and the priest was back in town on the witness stand. The defense subpoenaed Tolton to court a couple weeks back and filed a “Motion to Quash Indictment and Dismiss Case.” It was one of about fifty motions the defense filed in a two week period, the majority of which asked the judge to throw the charge out for one reason or another. Wading through that muck made it harder for Brad to see which of the motions were dangerous. Nevertheless, it eventually became clear that only two of them had any teeth.

Earlier this morning, Judge Isom rejected the “Motion to Recuse or Continue” in which the defense tried to remove Brad from the case or set the case for after Habib took office. The judge ruled that the date of the trial had been set for the first of December well before the election and that election results were not a valid reason to remove a prosecutor from a case prior to the date the office switched hands. The judge even stated that if the case were moved to a date after Brad was no longer the commonwealth attorney he “would most likely have to appoint Mister Dollerby as special prosecutor because of the large amount of preparation already done by him. The Court is not be willing to wait another six months while a new commonwealth attorney tries to get up to speed.”

The current motion was trickier. Father Tolton had negotiated in good faith with a federal prosecutor to get a promise that the death penalty would not be pursued. The federal prosecutor, in bad faith, had made the promise. She knew full well - as did anyone who had gone to law school - that the “separate sovereignties” constitutional doctrine kept a federal prosecutor from being able to bind a state prosecutor. Brad understood why she had done it. The information the priest gave the feds helped break open the drug conspiracy and probably saved lives - most likely even the priest’s. Still, it made the current motion inevitable and he could already see the headlines proclaiming him as the person stabbing the priest in the back - not that it mattered much since he has already lost the election.

He handed the paper back to the defense attorney who gave it to the judge. Then Pinsky returned to the podium and resumed questioning Tolton.

"Now, Jerome, when you entered into the contract I just handed the judge - the contract with the federal prosecutor - what was your intent?"

"To keep the government from killing anyone."

Brad watched the priest's body language. Pinsky calling him by his name, without any honorific clearly bothered Father Tolton and the defense attorney didn’t even notice - or at least he didn’t care. No surprise there. Gil Pinsky had deigned to come down from D.C. with his Yale law degree and he had been an ironclad son of bitch from day one. Brad wasn't sure that lawyer had the capacity to respect anyone - priest, prosecutor, or judge. Not for the first time he wondered if there would be some sort of magical transformation once the jury came into the room. No one could be that clueless and full of himself in front of a jury without getting eaten alive.

Pinsky finished questioning the priest and sat down. He didn’t do any of the usual courtesies like telling the witness to answer the questions of the other attorney or even telling the judge he was done. He just sat down. After about a minute of silence, Judge Isom finally asked if he had any further questions. The defense attorney didn’t look up from the papers he was reading as he waved his hand and allowed that the prosecution could ask any questions it had.

Brad didn’t push Father Tolton too much. Basically, he got the priest to confirm that no one representing the Commonwealth of Virginia had been present when the deal was negotiated or had agreed to its terms. It took all of four questions to get that information and when Brad sat back down the priest look puzzled.


Jerome sat in the front row of the courtroom watching the lawyers argue. The argument was well past the ninety minute mark and not at all congenial. Gil Pinsky was rude, condescending, and very, very smart. He kept citing all sorts of court decisions from all over the country. Each decision presented a different reason that the prosecution could not pursue the death penalty because of the agreement between Jerome and the federal prosecutor. Most of them were based on legal ethics, the rules of evidence, or constitutional law.

In comparison, Brad Dollerby seemed to plod along. His arguments weren’t complex or particularly nuanced and he only referred the judge to five or six previous Supreme Court decisions. Of course, he had no reason to cite any other decisions because the ones he referred to were all bedrock solid. They all stated that under the separate sovereignties rule all fifty states were sovereign unto themselves and the federal government was a separate sovereignty as well. None of them could bind each other in criminal matters and the federal government could not forbid a state from pursuing the death penalty.

When he first heard the argument Jerome had been shocked. As the argument went on, he racked his brain and finally remembered separate sovereignty being discussed in his constitutional law class back at Boston College, but it had been presented as something of an oddity relating to civil rights. Back when the Klan was running amok, local prosecutors were trying white men for killing black men and, with a wink at the jury, getting them acquitted. The federal government stepped in and started prosecuting these murderers for violating the civil rights of the people they killed. Unsurprisingly, the murderers took the position that they had a constitutional right not to be tried twice. However, the federal courts decided that the states and the federal governments were different and separate governments - separate sovereigns - and while any particular government was forbidden from trying the same man twice, each and every separate government could try the man once.

Professor Benfry had lectured for most of an hour about how this made no sense. He pointed out that the Constitution just said a person could not be prosecuted twice for the same offense and there was nothing in it at all which said “unless a state gets a result the federal government disagrees with.” Jerome and his classmates had rolled their collective eyes and waited for the professor to move on to something relevant. The man was a dinosaur who prattled on and on about original intent and textual interpretation; everyone had to take his constitutional law class, but nobody took him seriously. Besides, even if the courts did bend the law it was to allow the federal government to punish murderers whom the state government could not or would not punish. Full of the smug certitude of youth, they knew that getting the right result was a good thing.

Now, Jerome was watching that good thing be turned to an evil purpose.


What a bunch of clowns.

Gil fought to keep from smiling as he walked out of the courthouse. Any judge from a real court would have cut that argument off after fifteen minutes. The judge here was too scared to stop it at all. Gil knew he was going to lose the argument when he walked in this morning, but made sure that he spent as much time as he could pointing out that the prosecutor was exploiting a loophole and mistreating a clergyman in order to try to kill the defendant. By the time the argument ended they had spent well over two hours arguing back and forth. As soon as the prosecutor stopped speaking Gil would spring up and start arguing again - another thing he would never be allowed to do in a real court. They just kept going round and round until the prosecutor finally waved his hand without rising to argue any further.

Judge Isom went back in his chambers for over an hour while the attorneys waited outside. When he came back out he made noises about how well argued the point had been. It wasn’t true. Gil’s argument had been magnificent. The local-yokel prosecutor had barely argued anything more than a couple Supreme Court cases. All the hack did was repeat the same points and quotes over and over again. In any event, after the meaningless niceties, the judge ruled against Gil. Gil then stood and spent another half hour objecting to the ruling and stating his arguments one last time. Between the two arguments, by the time he finally left the courtroom he had been beating on the locals for over five hours.

After he got in his A8 for the drive back to the motel, Gil finally allowed himself to smile. This was just a skirmish. These hillbillies had no idea what he was going to do to them in the actual trial.

15 October 2013

Ambush in Bartlette: Chapter 29

Gil Pinsky drove his A8 into the parking lot of the Mountain Proud Motel. It took him seven hours to drive from the District to the place which was going to be his home for the next couple weeks at the intersection of 23E and State Route 67. The single story motel was located on a flat spot next to the road with its back to a mountain and a steep downward slope about five feet past the end of the parking lot. A well worn sign out front promised “HBO & Internet.”

When three men in a county as small as Bartlette were accused of capital murder a judge had to spread his net rather wide in order to provide competent counsel for each man. In this case, each man was appointed counsel from a local town - Norton, Bristol, and Abingdon - and each was then appointed a competent attorney to do the real work. Kelly Preston-Stiles out of the Virginia Capital Defense Office was appointed to represent the first man. Michael Whitaker out of Richmond accepted appointment on the second and suggested Gil to the judge. When called, Gil accepted without hesitation.

He took the case for three reasons. First, the publicity out of this case would be great for business. Second, no one deserved to die because he had bad representation and half the hicks out in these podunk counties who claimed to be lawyers “read” law. Of the rest, not a single one had ever set foot in a decent law school. Third, he did not look at a map before he accepted the case. When the judge told him Bartlette County was in Southwest Virginia, Gil thought he meant Roanoke. Before he came to Bartlette the first time he never realized you could drive three hours west of Roanoke and still be in Virginia.

He parked his car next to the blue SUV’s his team had driven up two days earlier. When he got out of the car Josh Schul, the young attorney sent ahead to set everything up, was waiting on the sidewalk.

“Good afternoon, Mister Pinsky.”

“That’s a matter of opinion, Josh. Do you have everything set up?”

“Yes, sir. Your room is the one at the end of the lot. The room next to it is where we have stored all the files and set up computers. The next four rooms are mine, Sal’s, Ms. Blake’s, and Mister Clarkson’s.”

“You got the food?”

“Yes, sir. The refrigerators in my room and Sal’s are full and we have the extra one set up in the room we are using as storage. I even checked the grocery over in Mount View and they knew what kosher food is. They weren’t sure they had any, but they knew what it is.”

The younger lawyer grinned and Gil smiled back at him. “Careful, Josh. I’m the arrogant, condescending snob. You and Sal are supposed to be the reasonable, friendly ones whom the locals can talk to and trust.”

Josh nodded his head at the mild rebuke and Gil went on. “Have Sal move my suitcases from the car to the room. Then gather the investigators and we will meet in the room next to mine. We need to talk about this black priest. It's far too good to be true. We need to do this fairly quickly as you, I, and Sal start Shabbat in about an hour.”

Josh frowned as he turned to his tasks, but Gil had not one jot of sympathy for him. If he did not want to keep Shabbat he should not have sought a job with Gil. He made no bones about the fact that he was a Conservative and expected any of his junior lawyers to be as observant as he was - at least while they were traveling together. Besides, it would do the kid’s Reformist heart some good to actually be held to a standard once in his life.

09 October 2013

Ambush in Bartlette: Chapter 28

On election night, the Republican Party of Bartlette County met at the Oak Mountain Inn. A somber crowd filled the resteraunt to capacity. One wall had two giant televisions on it. The first had Mountain 7 News and the a second was hooked to a computer showing official election results out of Richmond.

It had been a terrible idea to substitute Greg Harvey as candidate for sheriff after Riker Minton died. No one liked Harvey and the man spent every waking moment of the last week and a half screaming at the top of his lungs that Bo Ross killed Sheriff Minton. By election day people were starting to remember that the Sheriff had suffered two or three heart attacks before and really should not have been running for another term. To no one's surprise, it became clear almost immediately that Bo Ross had the election in hand.

The election for commonwealth attorney was much closer. Brad carried Saint Minas by a wide majority, but lost Yared by an even wider gap. The votes from the precincts outside the towns had balanced everything out and given Brad a fifteen vote lead. Then everyone waited for the votes out of Mount View.

Two hours later, they were still waiting. At eleven-thirteen Brad was talking to Karen Layle, who had been unopposed in her re-election as County Treasurer, when he heard a commotion. Turning, he saw people congregating in front of the television with the computer results. He walked a little closer so that he could see. Then one of the people standing in his way moved aside and Brad saw the screen.

Mount View's results were posted. Brad Dollerby - 286 / Yusif "Joe" Habib - 313.

He felt some grab his arm and looked over. Maggie was leading him to a chair. For the next few minutes Brad listened to person after person offer him condolences. When the commiserants were gone, Maggie handed him his cell phone and whispered into his ear that he needed to call Habib and congratulate him. All Brad did - all he could do - was hand the phone back and say "Not happening." Judas may have gotten his thirty pieces of silver, but Brad would go to Hell himself before he'd congratulate the bastard for it.


Everyone was cheering and congratulating Yusif. The Democrats had all gathered at Clyde Mullins' house to await election results. Early in the evening everyone had cheered when Bo Ross' victory was confirmed. Now they were almost delirious with joy. For the first time in anyone's memory, the Democratic Party won two of the constitutional offices in Bartlette County.

For most of the evening the prospects seemed gloomy. Dollerby had a slight lead over Yusif and the only precinct left to report was Mount View. Mount View was a Republican bastion and in the last election the closest any of the Democratic candidates had come to victory was more than a hundred votes behind the Republican. Yet, there had been some reason to hope. At least half the Sheriff's deputies lived in Mount View and they were not happy that Dollerby was prosecuting deputies. As well, Greg Harvey was unliked by the deputies because he was the person who did all the Sheriff’s dirty work, including punishment and firing.

Then the results came in and Yusif carried the town by twenty-seven votes.

The beer was flowing freely from the kegs in the kitchen and everyone was walking around with blue solo cups. The music was turned up, the lights in the main room dimmed, and it seemed like everyone under the age of fifty was dancing in the main room.

Yusif was outside with some of the older men, most of whom were smoking cigars. He could see the giant “Elect Bo & Joe” sign down by the road. His feelings were mixed. He was flush with victory, but also recognized the price. His relationship with his two best friends had been sacrificed for principle and a political job.

Brad did not call to concede or offer his congratulations. Maggie called. She was terse and cold, giving a formal congratulations and hanging up even as he thanked her.

As he stood there studying his ambivalence, the music in the house stopped and a chant of “joe, joe, Joe, JOE . . .” broke through his thoughts. He turned toward the house just as Maddy opened the door. “You better get in here, “Joe”, before this gang rips Daddy’s house apart looking for you. I think they want a speech from the conquering hero.”

Yusif put his arm around Maddy and they walked back into the house together.


It was late and Jerome sat alone, reading Interior Castle, in a little chapel attached to Saint Mary of Serenity church in Fairfax. It was separated from the church proper by a small glass wall and had just enough room in it for the tabernacle and four small pews which might seat sixteen people. It was a place for prayer and reverence. Jerome hoped it would serve as a sanctuary as well.

He knew he was asleep when a voice came from behind him.

“Really? Jerome, has He ever stopped me from talking to you before?”

“I don't think it's the Lord's fault that I cannot rid myself of you.” Jerome replied. “It's my lack of faith. Were I able to embrace the Holy Trinity more fully there would be no room for you.”

“That's a mighty convenient excuse. If they don't act it's because you failed them. Your Trinitarian God never seems to take responsibility for its own failures.”

“Speaking of failures,” the voice continued, “have you seen the result of your own failure yet?”

“That was no failure. It was merely an election result.”

"Sure about that, are you? Even after I told you of all the good Dollerby could have done without your interference?"

"All you told me was that he would become powerful. And all of that power would have been founded in the blood of a man Brad caused to be killed."

"You are good at rationalizing things, Priest. You can't see the trouble you've caused yet."

Jerome's anger flared. "Free will. It is given by God to everyone and everyone in Bartlette was exercising their free will. You cannot lay this at my feet!"

"I don't have to, Priest. You'll do that all by yourself. You know you are responsible for the things that are going to go wrong, whether you will admit it to me or not."

When Jerome woke, he spent a long time with his head bowed in prayer.

07 October 2013

Ambush in Bartlette: Chapter 27

The Democratic Party meeting was being held in the Bartlette County courthouse and Yusif was amazed at the sheer amount of hatefulness in the room.

Two days after the debate, Sheriff Minton had suffered a massive heart attack while asleep. Rather than calling dispatch, his wife called his chief deputy, Greg Harvey, who took the Sheriff to the hospital in his personal car. Mount View Hospital got him on a chopper as quick as they could, heading for one of the better equipped hospitals in Tennessee, but it was no use. The Sheriff was dead before the helicopter got half way there.

Major Harvey immediately fired Bo. That was Thursday morning. The Sheriff’s wake was Friday and Saturday and his burial was on Sunday. On Monday an emergency meeting of the Republican Party announced that Major Harvey was now the Republican candidate for sheriff. On Wednesday the weekly county newspaper, the Star Sentinel, published letters to the editor from Greg Harvey and three other deputies blaming Bo for Sheriff Minton’s death. No one at the paper even called Bo to get a rebuttal letter or a reaction.

Now, on Thursday the Democrats were meeting to figure out a response. Everyone in the room knew that substituting Greg Harvey this late in the race was illegal. Nevertheless, Clyde was trying to get them to leave it alone.

And the party faithful were going nuts. For an hour people spat vitriol at Clyde. Then Mansford Sifford stood. Mansford was Clyde’s friend and staunchest ally in the party, which was why it was shocking when he joined the dissenters.

“We cannot allow this to stand. This is not just about this election. If we don’t stop this now, the next time we shan’t be able to because we will have established a precedent. We need to file a cease and desist order in this matter immediately.”

Oh my God, Yusif thought to himself, How does that guy make a living as a lawyer? Everything Mansford just said sounded legalish, but none of it actually made sense if you understood anything about how the law worked.

As Mansford droned on, Yusif looked around the room. The numbers were against Clyde, but looking up at the party chairman, Yusif wasn’t sure he knew it. Clyde looked angry. It was pretty clear that as soon as Mansford yielded the floor Clyde was going to rip into him and probably lose even more of the crowd.

Yusif looked over at Bo, who was sitting in the second row with his wife. The man had become taciturn over the last week. Greg Harvey’s attempts to blame Bo for the Sheriff’s death shocked him and put a massive amount of guilt on his shoulders. Worse, word around town was that when he called the Sheriff’s wife to offer his sympathies she had cursed him and told him he was not welcome at the funeral. This was the first time Yusif had seen Bo outside his house in days and he looked unkempt and unfocused. Unfortunately, Yusif was going to have to use this man to stop all the stupidity in this room.

Mansford was winding down. “. . . and in conclusion, I must, with great sadness in my heart, oppose the Chair’s motion for inactivity and conclude that the Democratic Party of Bartlette County must immediately file an action of determent to stop this illegal candidacy.”

Yusif saw Clyde draw in a breath to spit something back at Mansford and jumped up before those words came out.

“Sorry, Mister Chairman, but as the man running for commonwealth attorney I thought I ought to address some of the legal points raised by Mister Sifford.”

Without waiting for a reply, he walked to the center of the front row of seats and drove on.

“Yes, the Republicans are cheating. And, yes, they are doing everything they can to ruin Bo’s reputation. I take it nobody in this room will disagree with me when I say that’s pretty much the normal way they do things?”

Sullen faces looked back at him.

“There are three reasons we can’t file a writ of prohibition even though we are absolutely right. First, we are better than they are. We don’t cheat. We don’t do lowlife stuff like this. And, we don’t have to. Bo’s going to win. Maybe not quite as big as before, but it’s not going to be anywhere near close. Greg Harvey won’t get a single vote for himself. Nobody likes Greg. He’s hateful. The only way he gets any votes is the way he’s trying now. He has to lie about Bo. It ain’t gonna work.”

“If we file to keep Harvey off the ballot we look as petty as him and his party. It’ll make Bo look petty too and start his time as sheriff on a sour note. He doesn’t need that.”

“Second, we can’t get the writ filed in time. We’d file the papers tomorrow and schedule a hearing on Monday. None of the local judges will agree to hear something this political, so a substitute judge will have to be appointed by the Virginia Supreme Court. I’d say the earliest that happens is Monday afternoon and there’s no way that judge can be here before Tuesday. And, Tuesday’s the election. Can’t stop that once it’s started. It’ll be too late.”

“Third, the Party can’t file for a writ of prohibition in this matter. Technically, the Party does not have standing. The only person who could file this would be the person in the election and I’m pretty sure that Bo doesn’t want this lawsuit.”

Every eye in the place turned to Bo. It was a gamble throwing this on him without speaking to him first, but Yusif had not realized beforehand how out of control things would get in the meeting.

Bo stood. “No. If I lose ‘cuz the Sheriff died, I lose. If I can’t get the job from the people, I don’t want it from the court.” With that, he turned and walked out of the meeting.

02 October 2013

Ambush in Bartlette: Chapter 26

Bo was standing at the side of the road giving a pillhead, with residue from snorting the crushed pill still on her nose, a field sobriety test. The girl was making her third attempt to say the alphabet from C to M when he heard a helicopter flying by. However, it wasn’t enough to distract him from hearing “H, I” pause “K, M, L . . . No, L, M.”

Bo pulled his handcuffs out and told the girl to turn around. Instead, she stuck her breasts in his face and tried to proposition him. It would have been more impressive if she wasn’t so messed up that only about half her words made sense. When Bo put a hand on her right shoulder a sloppy leer came across her face. When Bo spun her around and started applying the cuffs that expression quickly transitioned through shock into rage. Then she started screaming at the top of her lungs, “Queer! Faggot!” That, of course, came out clear as a bell.

About half way to the magistrate’s office the girl stopped yelling and Bo was finally able to think. A helicopter flying by at two-thirty in the morning could only mean one thing. Somebody was being air-evaced from Mount View Hospital to one of the bigger hospitals in Tennessee. That wasn’t too unusual, but Bo hadn’t heard anything over the radio and that was. Almost every air-evac was preceded by a 911 call reporting an accident, an overdose, a rape, a shooting, or something else requiring a deputy as well as an ambulance. Of course, it was always possible that someone came into the hospital thinking they had the flu and turned out to have bubonic plague or something. Not probable, but possible.

The magistrate’s office was colocated with the new dispatch center at the old Starline Bank building on the opposite side of Mount View from the hospital. Bo went straight to the building and told dispatch to call and ask if a nurse would agree to take the woman’s blood so it could be sent to the state lab for analysis of its contents. He already knew they wouldn’t, but he had to make sure the question was asked. Everyone in Virginia theoretically agreed to a blood test just by driving on the road, but after three nurses were subpoenaed to court on the same day all of the nurses were now refusing to draw the blood of intoxicated drivers.

Once the hospital refused to take a blood sample Bo contacted the magistrate. There wasn’t actually a magistrate at the Bartlette County office at night so he had to wait forty minutes before a magistrate in Bristol was able to do a video conference. Thirty minutes of explanation and faxes later, the magistrate faxed Bo a signed warrant for driving under the influence of drugs. Then he had to wait another hour for the van from the jail to arrive and take the girl, who was now almost catatonic, off his hands.

It was well after five when Bo got back in his car. He was driving back through town when he saw lights on at the Sheriff’s Department. In fact, the whole place was lit up. That didn’t usually happen until eight when the daytime staff showed up. He pulled his car into the parking lot behind the courthouse and noticed that it was half full and that the Major’s car was parked in its reserved spot. He parked in the shift leader spot and walked across the street.

Bo used his keycard to get in and past the reception area. Six deputies were sitting around the big table in the ready room; none of them were in uniform.

“What’s going on guys?”

“Is that him?” An angry voice came from down the hall and Bo turned to see Major Harvey come charging out of his office. “What the fuck are you doing here, you fucking traitor? Get the fuck out! You’re fired!”

Bo stepped back. It wasn’t that he was intimidated by the Major. Greg Harvey was a five foot seven inch skinny guy in his mid-sixties. However, the sheer wave of hate that hit him was overwhelming. He stumbled for something to say.

“Uh, Greg, you can’t fire me. Only the Sheriff can fire me.”

“I’m the Sheriff now, asshole. You killed him so now I’m Sheriff. Get. The. Fuck. Out.”