05 November 2016

Ambush in Bartlette: Chapter 38

­Gil Pinsky sat in the courtroom alternating between boredom and worry. There was no other place to go. His client was being held by the deputies in the room they jokingly called a law library and the prosecutor was up in his office. That left the defense table for Gil and his people.

Not that Gil was wasting the time. He was reading through files in his other capital murder case out of Newport News. However, it was a little difficult to concentrate on because he didn't really expect that one to go all the way to trial. The local African-American prosecutor had gotten himself elected a year back promising “equal justice for people of all hues and hopes.” When he charged a young African-American man with capital murder it sparked an uproar and Gil was doing everything in his power to fan the flames. The local NAACP chapter had proven easy enough to get active, but the higher ups both in the NAACP and ACLU were proving skeptical. There was nothing too unusual there. It was always easy to manipulate the dedicated and gullible members of local organizations, but their leaders in D.C. had to be at least a little perceptive to rise to the top. And they weren't proving too eager to fall in behind a guy who killed six people on a ten day armed burglary spree. Still, he'd find some leverage somewhere to force them to get involved. Within six months the prosecutor would cave and offer murder one or maybe – if Gil played got the national organizations to play the media right – murder two.

It would be good to get back to a part of the world where things made sense. There was no media here that was worth a dam. Sure, there were three television news vans out front of the courthouse, but one was from a Roanoke channel nobody even got on their cable here, one was from a Tennessee channel, and one was even from Kentucky. The situation with the local paper was even worse. The Mountain Democrat published once a week and mostly ran puff pieces on the front page with coverage of the local high school's sports on page two. Gil read it from front to back the first two weeks he was here and never picked up another copy. There was no worthwhile local media to engage with during this case.

And that was just one of the multitude of things that were wrong with this place both inside the courtroom and out. Everything he tried here fell to pieces. The latest failure had been the Christmas gambit. He'd been certain that the good Christian jurors of Bartlette would never go to Christmas dinner with the prospect of ordering someone's death hanging over their heads. The judge had even cooperated, although Gil had no illusions that it was to help his defense. The judge was obviously worried about what would happen if this case ran into the new year when the new prosecutor took over. Still, whatever his motivation, the judge held the jury in the courthouse until three in the afternoon the day before Christmas. The deputies and clerks had been beside themselves and the courthouse emptied in seconds once the judge released the jurors.

But, the judge wasn't finished. He'd ordered the jurors to return Friday the twenty-sixth and Saturday the twenty-seventh. When Gil objected to the Saturday – pointing out that he could not work on Saturdays for religious reasons – the judge had been singularly unimpressed and reminded Gil that he wasn't the only attorney appointed to the case. Gil was forced to leave Saturday in the hands of the local co-counsel and by some miracle nothing happened which required a lawyer who knew what he was doing.

Now it was eleven o'clock Monday the twenty-ninth and Gil was really starting to worry. Every day that Christmas faded into the past the chance for a sentence of death increased. These people weren't like those in other parts of the state. The grasp on civilization here was tenuous. During trial preparation, Gil found out that the first local attorney Judge Isom attempted to appoint to this case turned the judge down because he was afraid it would interfere with bear hunting season and he'd bought a bunch of dogs and spent months training them to chase bears down. If an attorney prioritized a barbarism like hunting bears with a pack of dogs over defending a human life it said all sorts of disturbing things about the community's character. And the longer those jurors were out the more Gil worried about that character.


Brad sat alone in the room which would be his office for only a couple more days. He'd given Paula vacation until the new year so no one was answering the phone and he was ignoring it. There wasn't much he could do to fill the time. Maggs came over on Saturday and they cleaned out all his personal stuff and he'd even gone into each computer and wiped them. When the traitor got the office there wouldn't be anything on the computers he could use against Brad.

So, basically all Brad could do was watch shows on his phone. He finished an episode of Justified and looked up at the clock on the wall. It was one forty-five and there was no sign that the jury was anywhere near a verdict. When Sanger's attorney refused to put on a defense Brad thought there was a good chance the jury would come in before Christmas and thinking back on it he was fairly certain that was what Pinsky was trying to make happen. That backfired because it was too obvious; if Brad could figure it out then the jurors could too. However, when the judge required them all to come back the Friday after Christmas and Saturday too he'd been sure they would come back with a quick verdict. They didn't. So, now it was Monday and everybody was sitting around on pins and needles waiting.

His thoughts wandered to his new law office. Maggs presented it to him as his Christmas present and it was directly across from the courthouse in the old Vincent Coal building. He'd been so wrapped up in this trial and all the other stuff he had to do running the office himself without a deputy prosecutor that he hadn't even looked for an office. Maggs found him one on the second floor with a big space on the building for a sign facing the courthouse. It had a room for his desk and books, a conference room, and a waiting room out front with a little desk where Maggs informed him she would be working as his secretary. When she took him there Christmas morning it had been a poignant moment that both reminded him why he loved Maggs so much and drove home the fact that he was being forced out of a job he was devoted to.

The rest of Christmas had been touchy. His mother-in-law asked if he would invite the Priest over for Christmas dinner, but Brad refused using the fact that he always went to his parents’ get-together as an excuse. Consequently, Abby cooked a meal and took it to the church while Brad and Maggie went to his Dad’s house. There the men ate and watched football. The women did whatever women do on big holidays which Brad suspected involved making fun of the neanderthals in the other room who were celebrating the birth of Jesus by yelling about how much the Cowboys suck. Then he returned home with his wife where Abigail Mahan was waiting to ignore them.

When they got back, Abby went into her room, closed the door, and turned on her television. Brad didn’t have a problem with that, but it drove his wife nuts. She tried to get her mother to come out three times and when Abby refused to come out for supper Maggie went into silent mode. Brad spent the rest of his Christmas very carefully doing absolutely nothing which could cause that tinderbox to burst into flames. The next morning he rose early and went to the courthouse before the two women started back at each other and they seemed to have solved their problems while he was gone. So now he was free to just feel the pressure of the trial without too much tension at home.

He turned back to his phone, but fired up YouTube this time and started watching whatever videos popped up.


Everyone stood as the jurors re-entered the courtroom. Jerome was on the front row trying to read the jurors as they file back in. They all looked somber and didn't make eye contact with either attorney. Jerome couldn't make anything from their demeanor. Twenty minutes earlier, the state trooper acting as one of the bailiffs came out to the courthouse's tiny hallway and told the waiting reporters that the jury was coming back in. Now, as the clock on the wall of the courtroom said it was four-thirty-seven, the jurors were taking their seats.

The judge sent the deputy bailiff over to take the verdict form from the forewoman. He gave it to the judge who read it and then asked the forewoman if this was their unanimous sentence. When she replied “Yes”, the judge handed the form to the clerk. He looked at the paper and started to read.

“In the first degree murder of Keith Tolliver, we sentence the defendant Jefferson Sanger to life in prison.”

“In the capital murder of Theodore Pahl, we sentence the defendant Jefferson Sanger to . . .”

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