01 November 2012

November Novel Month: CrimLaw Novel: Chapter 1

November is supposed to be national novel month. There's even a website, so you know it must be important.  I am going to try my hand at this.  As I finish chapters I will post them here.  Enjoy Chapter 1:

Brad Dollerby looked up at the jurors sitting in front of him. It had taken two and one half days to select the people who would sit on it, which was an unusually long time in Virginia.  In Virginia most jury trials were finished in the first day and jury selection was an hour of that day.  Selecting this jury had been a nightmare because the defendants were the sons of Martin Pahl, one of the five or six richest guys in Bartlette County.  He owned at least twenty eZee Stops, the BartMart (the biggest store this side of the Wal*Mart in Norton), and he was probably the biggest local donor to the Republican Party.  Everyone did business with Martin or owed him a favor.

The defense attorney tried to get the trial moved to another county because the local paper, the Weekly Mountain Democrat, published six front page stories about the Pahl brothers.  Brad also urged the judge to move the case because he was worried about Martin Pahl's influence in Bartlette.  Judge Isom would not have any of it.  He made it very clear that there was no way the trial would be moved to another county unless they absolutely could not seat a jury in Bartlette.  Then he ordered the circuit court clerk to assign two hundred people to jury duty for the term of court from January through March and to summon all two hundred of them to jury selection.  One hundred and forty two actually showed and it had been a close question as to whether the jury would be seated.  By the time all the jurors who had some sort of bias from the paper or who knew the Pahl family were removed and both sides did their peremptory strikes, one hundred and seventeen jurors had been dismissed.  However, there were now nine women and five men sitting in the jury box. If nobody got sick or disappeared, two of the jurors were alternates, but no one would know which two until they were randomly selected at the end of the trial. He glanced one last time at his notes and began.

"'Ah Hell, they ain't nothing but money hungry pill whores.'  That's what Justin Pahl said when the deputies arrested him and his brother Kyle chimed in, 'Yeah, them bitches didn't get nothin' they didn't want.'"

"On the twentieth of June last year, the Pahl brothers went to Finch's Pub and Grill in Saint Minas.  They picked up four women - Kayla Mullins, Maggie Forwith, Kate Young, and Marla Tate.  They all went back to the Pahl brothers' house and spent the night drinking, snorting pills, playing around in the hot tub, and having sex.  We're not prosecuting them for any of that today."

"The reason we're here is what started the next day and went through the following week.  When the women woke up the next day they were in a couple bedrooms on the third floor with a bathroom shared between them.  The doors to the bedrooms were locked from the outside with deadbolt locks that could only be opened by key.  The only windows were a couple skylights which were through the roof and out of reach. For the next eleven days Kayla, Maggie, Kate, and Marla were held against their will.  They were only let out of the bedroom one or two at a time and only to have sex.  When the they refused to come out, those two," he pointed at the defendants, "refused to give them any food.  When a day of that didn't work, they cut off the water, electricity, and air conditioning to the third floor.  The temperature outside was in the eighties; inside the temperature got much hotter.  By mid-afternoon on the third day the women gave in."

"For the remainder of the eleven days the two of them would choose whichever woman they wanted and order her to come out of the rooms.  They'd do whatever they wanted to that woman and then lock her back up.  Finally, on the eleventh day, a day before their father got home from his vacation in Gatlinburg, they let the women out of the rooms, gave them a bottle of oxycodone pills and five thousand dollars. Then they dumped them all back in front of Finch's. Kayla and Maggie wanted to forget it all, but Kate and Marla refused to let them get away with it.  They went to the Sheriff's Office in Mount View the next day and reported it all."

"Justin and Kyle Pahl are charged with abducting these women and various charges of rape, sodomy and object sexual penetration.  At the end of this trial you'll see what those men did and we trust you'll hold them responsible for their actions."

As Brad returned to his seat, Grant Lasley, the defense attorney for Kyle Pahl stood up and started his opening statement with the traditional formula.

"May it please the Court, Learned Counsel for the Prosecution, Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, this is the story of four prostitutes who got upset because they didn't get the money they expected . . ."

Brad half listened to Lasley's opening.  He knew what Lasley was going to do in this case.  He was going to do what he did every time - blame the victims.  The evidence was overwhelming about what the Pahl brothers had done, so the women must have actually wanted it done. Furthermore, the victims were terrible persons who deserved what happened to them, and the defendant was the actual victim because these women were persecuting him. There were rape shield laws in Virginia which were supposed to stop that sort of thing and Brad argued before the trial that these arguments should be barred, but Judge Isom overruled him. Now Lasley would spend the next three days of trial slandering these women.

Of course, technically Grant Lasley represented only Justin Pahl.  Squire Tolliver represented Kyle.  However, Squire was not going to be the attack dog, slandering the woman and trying to get improper evidence admitted.  Instead, he would do the "not in anger, but in sorrow" part of the show.  Indeed, as soon as Lasley finished Squire stood up to start his part of the double team.

He looked for all the world like a country squire from a BBC show about 1940's England standing there in his tweed suit and sorrowful face.  "Ladies and Gentleman, I am Keith Tolliver, but everyone's called me 'Squire' for the last twenty years. Not sure why." He smiled at the jurors as though sharing an inside joke. "We're not here because we hate these girls. However, because we believe that our clients are falsely accused, we are going to have to tell you some bad things . . ."

As Squire droned on, Brad thought about the evidence he would present today. He would probably only have time to call Deputy Mullins and if he had to he would call Investigator Powell. He would put off calling any of the victims until tomorrow or Friday. He looked at the time on his computer. Four-seventeen. If opening statements went much longer Judge Isom might not let him call any witnesses at all today and the last impression the jurors would have would be the defense attorneys' openings. However, Squire was already at least five minutes beyond the fifteen minutes Judge Isom allowed for an opening statement. As if on queue, Squire wrapped up and walked back to his seat.

Judge Isom looked at Brad.  "Commonwealth, call your first witness."

Brad stood. "Your Honor, Commonwealth calls Deputy Sergeant Tom Mullins."


It was six-forty seven when Brad got back to his office.  The questioning and cross examination of Deputy Mullins took about an hour and then the judge let the jury go.  As soon as the jurors left the courtroom, Lasley made a motion for a mistrial on the grounds that Brad had irreparably prejudiced the jurors because he repeatedly referred to the four women as "victims" rather than "complaining witnesses." They argued for another forty-five minutes about that before the judge shut it down, ruling that the defense was not entitled to choose the words the prosecution could use and was not entitled to sanitize the trial by removing words a normal person would use. Then the judge adjourned for the day.  The deputies had not yet started putting the shackles on the Pahl brothers, so they could be transported back to jail, when Brad grabbed his files and left the courtroom; in fact, the brothers were saying a prayer with their uncle when he left.  The uncle was a Catholic priest who had driven down from New Jersey and sat in the front row, behind the brothers, for every minute of jury selection and the trial so far.  Brad disliked that bit of staging, but he could not think of a viable way to stop it.

The lights were still on in the office when he got there.  His office was up the stairs in the old balcony of the courtroom, which had been converted into two rooms.  The first room had two desks in it. One was for Paula, who filled the role of secretary, receptionist, and paralegal.  The other was for Jeanna, the victim-witness advocate.  If you walked between the desks through the door behind them you were in his office. It was not an opulent office. There was barely enough room for two bookshelves, his desk, and a couple chairs in front of it for visitors.  In fact, his deputy's office was three times the size of Brad's, but it was also in the bell tower even further up the stairs and was basically an converted attic.

Brad walked through the empty office and sat at his desk. There were at least twenty phone messages stacked neatly on his computer keyboard.  Paula did not trust that he would find them anywhere else amidst the piles of papers on his desk.  He picked them up and looked through them.  There were three that required an immediate phone call; one from Delegate Pierce, one from the Governor's office, and one from the Bristol newspaper. There were about six from salesmen trying to get him to buy law books or computer programs - those could be ignored.  The rest were from various people who did not have emergencies and probably would not appreciate him calling them in the evening anyway; he would leave a message for his deputy to call them tomorrow. He picked up the phone and dialed the Delegate's number.  It went right to voice mail and the message had just beeped . . . 

Pop. Pop. Pop. . . . Pop Pop Pop Pop

He had not heard that noise since Iraq.  He dropped the phone and reached for his pistol. Then he realized he did not have it; during a jury trial, Judge Isom forbade anyone to be armed in his courtroom other than the bailiff.  His pistol was locked in the desk. He grabbed for his keys and fumbled to get the right one.

A massive blast hit him from the left side. He was thrown to the right and he tumbled to the floor still in his chair. He saw the wooden bookshelves which were next to the the wall bounce against it and rebound, falling over top of him.  Then everything suddenly went black.


Windypundit said...

Heh, nice local color. Judge Isom? He's probably a distant relative. My grandmother was an Isom. But wait...no references to coal mining or muscle cars...guess you've still got work to do. Have fun.

Ken Lammers said...

Lot's of Isoms in Kentucky. Not sure, but there'll probably be coal mining in future chapters.

Anonymous said...

Nice opening chapters. Makes me want to read more, keep it up

Anonymous said...

Growing a mustache for Movember would be easier.