01 December 2014

Ambush in Bartlette: Chapter 32

On Monday Brad’s first witness was Grant Lasley, the Pahl attorney who had lost his arm in the ambush. He had planned to call Lasley toward the end of the case, but after Poplin’s performance on Friday Brad needed someone to put the jurors back on track. Lasley was a money grubbing bastard, but he had a gift when it came connecting with jurors and he showed up in full theatrical mode. Since the amputation he usually wore a long sleeve shirt and jacket with their sleeves pinned up to hide his damaged arm. Today he wore no jacket and his shirt was tailored so that the left arm had a short sleeve that ended two inches above the place the doctors had cut off his arm. As Brad questioned him Lasley made sure to keep his arm in sight and he waved the stump in front of the jury whenever he was emphasizing something he said.

Brad asked a few general questions and let Lasley weave his spell. After a brief explanation of why everyone was in the alley, Lasley started by describing the horror of seeing bullets tear into the Pahl brothers. Then he recounted the chaos as everyone else in the alley came under fire. He told them how he pushed Father Pahl to the ground behind the deputies and clung to the ground himself, helpless as rounds flew over their heads, hit the ground around them, and pinged off the big tank which the deputies were hiding behind. He ended his account with the sudden shock of the explosion followed by waking in a hospital in Tennessee with his arm gone.

By the time Lasley finished he had the jurors mesmerized. Brad returned to his chair satisfied that the case was back on track. Even Pinsky seemed to recognize that having Lasley on the stand was bad for his client. The only question he asked was whether Lasley had seen his client, Jeff Sanger, at the ambush. Once Lasley said “No”, Pinsky immediately stopped questioning and sat back down.  Jeff schooled his face not to smile as he asked the judge to dismiss Lasley and called his next witness.


Gil and the prosecutor had spent the last two days skirmishing over the self-serving testimony of the scumbags who worked for his client. Gil had won across the board and he liked how this trial was shaping up. Unlike most of his death penalty cases, there was a solid chance that this time his client might actually be found not guilty. It was too close to call at the moment and Gil was enough of a realist to know that no matter what the law said a jury on a murder trial would almost always find guilt if the case was close. Jurors were unwilling to take the chance of releasing a murderer back into the world. However, juries that convicted with some residual doubt almost never voted for the death penalty.

Gil's main hope for a not guilty finding came in the person of one Father Jerome Tolton. Or, as he was known prior to his mental breakdown, Andre Trevor Banks. Sitting at the desk in his motel room Gil clicked on the ten gigabyte file folder on his computer filled with reports and recorded interviews about Andre. It was by far the largest file on any prosecution witness and it made for an extremely interesting read.

From everything the investigators found, Andre was the poster boy for affirmative action. Third child of single mother from Norfolk, Virginia, he parlayed mediocre academic performance, white guilt, and Catholic “social justice” silliness into a full scholarship at some Jesuit University in West Virginia. Then he parlayed the same package into a law degree from Boston College.

Despite finishing outside the top quarter of his class, Andre had his choice of job offers from lily-white firms and he took a position at Spears, Allenby, Austerlitz, Evans, and Metcaffe.  Once there, he got buried in Wealth Management Services, writing wills for rich people.  By every account, he did a decent job, but nothing partner worthy.  Also by every account, the firm dragged him out whenever it wanted to prove it was in compliance with the diversity shibboleth. In fact, for three years Andre’s smiling face was the one you saw when you clicked the “Diversity” link on the firm’s web page. When Andre became a junior partner in his fourth year at the firm it was a defensive move, meant to keep him from taking a position he was offered at ClineBarton, where he would have become that firm’s face of diversity.

Less than a year after becoming a partner Andre snapped.  Gil’s investigator was never able to find any psychological records, but there were plenty of people who recalled Andre having long philosophical and theological conversations with a person who was not there. One paralegal the investigator interviewed recalled sitting outside Andre’s office for over an hour while he argued with an empty chair about transubstantiation.  However, Andre’s work remained constant and his oddities were tolerated until a senior partner and some important clients walked into a conference room and found Andre arguing heatedly with thin air about “the prayed for intercession of the church triumphant into the affairs of the church militant.”  That embarrassment, combined with a hefty fear that Andre was turning militant, led to a number of frantic emails between senior partners.  The only reason they did not fire him outright was the fear the firm would be labeled racist.  Nevertheless, within a week they put him on a two year “medical leave.” The termination package was amazing. Andre was paid his salary for two years and then given a fifty thousand dollar yearly stipend for a ten year period - all contingent upon not disclosing the terms of his separation.

They seemed to have assumed that Andre would go get psychiatric help. They were wrong. The first thing Andre did was change his name to “Jerome Tolton.” Then he shopped himself around until he got Saint Benedict the Moor church in Hampton, Virginia to sponsor him to a seminary in Cincinnati. Eight years later he came back to Virginia as Father Jerome Tolton and promptly became a hitman for the bishop in Richmond.

If Jerome Tolton showed up at your church’s doors you were in trouble.  To date he had closed five churches and reorganized another nine, resulting in the removal of seven priests and the indictment of a church secretary when Tolton found kiddie porn on the sole computer in the office of Blessed Sacrament church.  Gil did not entirely believe the secretary’s confession to the police; given the Catholics’ history, there was more than a passable chance that the secretary was taking blame to protect the church. Or, at least the jury would see it that way once Gil was through.

In reality, the priest would contribute little to the prosecutor’s case. The only thing the priest could testify to was the conversation at the veteran’s hospital and that implicated the other defendants, not Gil’s client. Yet, everyone in the courthouse knew that the  prosecutor was going to call Tolton. He would be called to show that the prosecutor was bringing this case with moral authority from God. The prosecutor had obviously failed to perform due diligence in checking the background of his  witness - as they always did.

Most of the people on the jury were white, Protestant, and either working class or poor. By the time Gil was finished showing them the crazy priest, who was an affirmative action baby, who worked against God by closing churches for a living, and who probably covered up yet another Catholic priest who wanted to bugger little kids, the case would be over. Gil would take the moral ground upon which the prosecutor wanted to base his case and burn it to the ground. Then he would salt the earth so that no conviction could be grown from it.


Jerome sat in the hallway outside the courtroom. It was Thursday morning and he leaned over his Vulgate and a Latin dictionary which were both sitting open on the chair next to him. Yesterday he had worked his way through three pages of Job.  Today, he was working on the first full paragraph of the fourth page when a deputy tapped him on the shoulder and told him he was being called as a witness.

Jerome stood and squared his shoulders as he walked through the doorway.  It was time to go do his duty as a servant of God.

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