25 December 2014

Ambush in Bartlette: Chapter 35

What is wrong with these people? 

Gil sat in his motel room eating dinner as he thought over the verdicts. Everyone in the courtroom knew his client was either guilty of all the murders or not guilty of all the murders. There was no middle ground. After all, they were all killed in the same place, at the same time, by the same people. Everyone who sat through the trial understood it was an all or nothing proposition - except the jury.

The manner in which the judge set up the reading of the verdicts was cruel.  He arranged them so that when they were read the defense would think that it had won until the last verdict was read.  As soon as Gil heard that first not guilty he had been exultant and that exhalation had grown with the reading of each not guilty that followed. Then came the first finding of guilt and, just as it began to sink in that the first conviction did not carry the death penalty, the second followed. That one did.  The thrill of victory was quickly and thoroughly crushed by the agony of defeat.

Gil was too much of a professional to let any of this affect his demeanor in the courtroom. While his emotions roiled inside he maintained a calm expression. When those emotions clarified into ire and indignation he maintained a calm expression. When he told the reporters outside the courthouse that he had no comment he maintained a calm expression. Even now, back at the motel, he was forcing himself to appear calm.

The client, of course, had imploded. Gil let the local attorney coddle the man as he gasped and sobbed in his chair, protesting his innocence. It was the most useful she had been throughout the entire trial. The man cried on her shoulder for five minutes even after the judge sent the jurors back to the jury room.

After things calmed down, Gil sent Josh up to do the “inconsistent verdicts” motion for a mistrial. It was a standard motion that was argued every time the jury returned some not guilty verdicts mixed in with the guilty. Gil always assigned it to whomever was filling the slot as his senior associate attorney.  As usual, Josh did a passable job. His due process argument was spot on, although it was weakened by that ridiculous cruel and unusual punishment argument he insisted on inserting every time. Of course, this time the motion had more punch to it because it was right. Still, no trial judge who wanted to get reappointed would have the intestinal fortitude to overturn a jury verdict in cases as important as those Gil tried. This judge was no different. He listened dutifully to the arguments and then refused to “overturn the will of the jurors in their role as representatives of the people.”  As a legal reason for upholding the guilty verdicts it was fatuous and yet, Gil knew the cravens in the appellate courts would find some equally fatuous reason to uphold it.

Now, Gil had to concentrate on the sentencing. Usually that would drag on for at least a week or two as the prosecutor filled the witness chair with witness after witness telling the jurors how terrible life was now that the dead man was gone followed by Gil filling the chair with witnesses telling the story of the psychologically crippling life events beyond the client’s control which inevitably drove him to the crime.

However, this time would be different, if for no other reason than that Gil wanted the jurors to deliberate before Christmas.  The judge had already said that court would be in session the nineteenth, twenty-second, twenty-third, and half of the twenty-fourth. If Gil could get the jury into deliberations on the twenty-second they might come back with their verdict before they went home for their high holy day. None of them would want to order the killing of a man right before they went home for that.


I am so tired of dealing with these hypocrites.

Brad had been dealing with this type of stupidity his entire time as Commonwealth Attorney for Bartlette. People constantly complained about how violent their community was and at least every couple months the Mountain Democrat printed a letter to the editor complaining that nothing was being done to stop violent crime.  Then, whenever the same people who complained were put on a jury they refused to convict anyone. If Brad prosecuted a domestic fight he was likely to lose because the government ought not stick its nose into family business. If he prosecuted a guy for stabbing another in a bar fight he was likely to lose because it was just two drunks acting stupid. If he prosecuted a murder he had to worry that the jury would decide the victim deserved it. 

It was a truism in the Appalachian mountains that there was only one real defense to murder: the sonuvabitch needed to get kilt. Rather than doing their jobs and simply deciding the facts, the jury had weighed the lives of the dead men and found that the Pahl brothers and the corrupt deputies got what they deserved. Then they weighed the life of Squire Tolliver and decided he was a lawyer who hung around thugs for a living so he knew he was taking the chance this sort of thing could happen. On the other hand, he was not a criminal himself so his murder merited some punishment - just not death.  Finally, they decided that there was no excuse for killing a man of the cloth. Luckily for Brad's case there had been no sensational stories about pedophile priests lately or they might not have been certain on that point.

Sitting in his office, Brad was trying to figure out what he was going to do in the sentencing hearing.  The jury's verdict wiped out eighty percent of the witnesses and evidence he had intended introduce.  All he was really left with was Squire's wife and daughters and he could not use their victim impact testimony to argue for the death penalty because the jury had only convicted Sanger of second degree murder for killing Squire.  And, of course, the Catholic Church had been less than thrilled to provide any aid at all for the prosecution of a capital murder case based on the killing of one of its priests. Consequently, he had no real evidence to present that pertained to the priest. He tried calling Martin Pahl to see if he would take the stand to testify for his dead brother, but Pahl absolutely refused and spent ten minutes yelling at Brad because it was Brad’s fault the jury refused to convict Sanger for the murder of Pahl’s rapist sons.

In the next couple days Brad was going to have to show the jury why they should impose the death penalty against Jeff Sanger.  And the only evidence he could technically use was that relating to the dead priest. Mainly, that boiled down to pictures of the priest lying dead on the ground and those were pretty tame for murder pictures.  He was hit in the leg and bled out; there were no gaping or ghastly wounds to show the jury - nothing that would really touch them emotionally.  In the end Brad knew he would be reduced to arguing that they should impose the penalty mainly because of who they killed. 

Tomorrow would start with opening statements in the sentencing hearing and Brad planned to call the members of Squires family to testify about the affect of his murder in the afternoon.  After the weekend, the defense would start presenting its evidence on the twenty-second. As best Brad could tell from the information provided before trial, Pinsky was going to call a bunch of psychiatrists to testify that Sanger’s mother did not hug him enough when he was a kid. Therefore, he should not get the death penalty for killing a priest as part of a continuing criminal enterprise. In any event, the defense’s case would probably take several days before both sides made final arguments and the jury retired to decide punishment.

There was a good chance that this case would spill over into the new year when Brad’s own personal Judas Iscariot would take his thirty pieces of silver. Judge Isom had already indicated that he would assign Brad as a special prosecutor if the case was still going on when Yusif Habib became Commonwealth Attorney at the beginning of January and Brad had an order ready for the judge to sign confirming that. 

Screw Yusif. He took my job, but he won’t stop Sanger from getting what he deserves.


Jerome watched as the forewoman handed the verdict forms to a deputy who then handed them to the judge. Judge Isom read through them and arranged them in a certain order before handing them to the clerk sitting at the desk next to his bench. The defendant stood with his attorneys and the clerk read the verdicts.

The first four verdicts were not guilty and Jerome could see the people at the defense to table getting excited as Brad Dollerby begun to slump.  Then came the first guilty verdict. Then came the second.  Jerome watched as Brad’s shoulders squared and the man regained his poise. At the same time Pinsky stiffened and Jerome saw his expression harden to granite. 

The defendant was not nearly as contained as the two lawyers. Jerome saw the surprise on the man’s face when the first verdict was not guilty. Hope blossomed with second not guilty and was stoked by the next two. Then it was stomped on by the final two guilty verdicts. The man turned to the female lawyer to his left. His mouth moved wordlessly for a second before he stopped, licked his lips and asked her “What does that mean?” Then, more stridently “What does that mean?” The lawyer said something which Jerome could not hear and the man stared at her for a second before slumping down into his chair. He put his hand over his mouth and tears started to run down his cheeks. He gasped for air and covered his face with both hands as he began to sob. The female attorney sat next to him and put her arm around him as one of the younger attorneys Pinsky brought with him put a box of tissue paper in front of the man.

Meanwhile, Judge Isom had the bailiffs return the jury to their room. After they left the judge let everyone sit until the defendant got himself under control.  Once the defendant quieted,  the judge called the jurors back out and dismissed them until the next morning. As soon as they were gone he turned to Pinsky. "Make your motion." 

Instead of Pinsky standing to argue, one of his assistants walked to the podium. The young man argued that the convictions should be thrown out because the evidence was the same on all counts and there was no logical way the jury could convict on some, but not the others. Jerome found the reasoning compelling. The judge saw things differently.

“Mister Schul, your argument is well made. It’s also entirely wrong. The jury represents the will of the people and as such, it is allowed to show mercy.  When a jury renders verdicts which appear on their face to be inconsistent, we are instructed by the appellate courts to assume - in the absence of proof of foul play - that the jury has decided to be merciful in its not guilty findings. It appears that the jury in this case could have found guilt in each count, but that they decided to show your client mercy in many of their verdicts. None of this is a reason to overturn the jury’s verdicts in the remaining counts. This court will not overturn the will of the jurors in their role as representatives of the people. Your motion is denied. Your objection and exception is noted for the record.”

After court adjourned for the day, Jerome sat in his truck’s cab and stared into the darkness.  The Church taught that mercy was more powerful than justice. However, Jerome doubted that the church fathers had ever thought that principle would be applied in such a corrupt manner.  Justice would have required the dismissal of the remaining charges against Jeff Sanger because it was unjust to convict him of two murders while not convicting him of four others which sprang from exactly the same acts. And yet, the judge left the convictions in place under an assumption that the four not guilty verdicts were based in mercy. And yet, there was no true mercy here for the defendant still faced the same possible punishment. The government was still trying to kill him. Nothing had changed.  Thus, both mercy and justice were corrupted. Worse, the government would now try to kill the defendant based solely upon the death of Father Pahl. Jerome huffed out a breath and started the truck. This was, as all things were, in God’s hands. He would surely place the true meaning of mercy in the hearts of the jurors to counter the false mercy of the judge.

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