05 December 2014

Ambush in Bartlette: Chapter 33

Brad watched as Father Tolton walked to the front of the courtroom and sat in the witness chair. The judge glanced down at him, speaking in a pro forma tone.

"Please stand and take the oath."

"No. "

That answer focused Judge Isom's attention. "Sir,  you are required to take the oath before you can testify."

"Your Honor,  I shall not be testifying."

The judge leaned forward, his face that mix of interest and sternness which judges get when someone starts doing something unusual in their courtroom. His  tone was bemused.

"Are you asserting your right not to incriminate yourself?"

Brad was already standing at the podium and he tried to intervene,  but Judge Isom waved him to silence.

"Father Tolton, are you asserting your Fifth Amendment right  not to incriminate yourself?"


“Then, are you claiming some sort of privilege not to testify?”

"No,  I’m not.  This court has every right to call me before it. But, I will not testify in a case that seeks punishment contrary to God’s will - the death penalty."

The judge sat back and stared into space for several seconds before he turned to face Brad.

“Counselor, we seem to be at an impasse. Your witness is refusing to even take the oath.  As I see it, we have two options. you can ask me to hold him in contempt and throw him in jail until he agrees to testify or you can ask me to declare him a hostile witness and we can all trust that as a man of the cloth he will answer questions truthfully even if not sworn. Your choice Mister Dollerby.”

Shit. The sonuvabitch is dumping the whole thing in my lap. Brad looked down at the questions he had written on his pad of paper, realizing that every bit of it was for nothing. Anything he did here was going to go wrong and the case could not afford that kind of hit. He looked up at the priest and forced a smile onto his face before turning back to the judge.

“Judge, the Commonwealth does not believe anyone is served by forcing the Father to testify. If we’d known he felt this way we would never have asked him to come to court. The Commonwealth asks that this witness be released.”


When the Judge dismissed Jerome he walked out of the courtroom and felt a huge weight lift from his shoulders. He knew that he should have been serene in his willingness to stand with God and the Church, but his base instincts never seemed to get that message and his nerves had been wound as tight as a drum.

God’s presence in the courtroom could not have been more clear. Jerome was allowed to state his objection to the trial in front of the jury and avoid testifying. He even avoided the jail sentence he had been certain was his lot when he entered the courtroom. The nervousness brought on by this certainty had been a large part of his failure to calmly place his fate in God’s hands. He had done it; honesty just compelled him to admit he had not done it with the complete trust he should have. And yet, despite his failings, God was there for him.

The only thing that confused him was the look on the defense attorney's face.  When he walked past the man he got a look that would have chilled ice water.  Jerome had seen angry men before and that attorney was the picture of barely controlled wroth. The attorney and Jerome had never been friendly. However, that look was a lot closer to hate than mere dislike.

Jerome walked right out the front doors of the courthouse. The last thing he saw while exiting the building was a bailiff going into the library to escort yet another man in prison orange into the courtroom.


Gil was driving down some road in the middle of nowhere. Of course, everywhere in these miserable mountains was nowhere. Still, this particular stretch of barely drivable road was worse than most.  As soon as court was over he left the courtroom, went straight to his car, and started driving. It was the only way he could get time by himself and he needed time by himself. When he finally came out of his fugue, he was driving on some tertiary road without a cell signal. It was dark, he had not a clue of his location, and no means to get directions. No matter, he had a little less than half a tank left and surely the road led somewhere otherwise it would never have been built. He would get back to semi-civilization eventually. With that thought he stopped paying much attention to his surroundings and let his mind wander back down the path it had been on for the last hour.

It had been one gigantic, well laid trap. When you came out to these podunk counties you expected to experience home cooking, but that was usually outbalanced by the locals’ incompetency.  Gil never let locals manipulate his case - at least not until this one. The prosecutor had known about the priest all along and led Gil down a primrose path to the destruction of his case.

He should have seen it at the start of the trial when the prosecutor did not call the priest as his first witness and again when the prosecutor did not call him as the first actual witness to testify about facts rather than forensics. It should have been more and more apparent as it became more and more clear that the prosecutor was holding the priest until the end of his case.

But, no, Gil had assumed stupidity rather than plan. He had been outmaneuvered so badly that he even helped build the priest up in the jurors’ eyes. The prosecutor asked any number of irrelevant questions from various witnesses with the sole purpose of putting the priest on a pedestal. None of them were the least bit relevant and yet Gil objected not a single time.  In fact, Gil wove several questions into his various cross examinations meant to elevate that pedestal. Of course, he was more subtle than some piddly little lame duck prosecutor. Nonetheless, he had worked with the prosecutor, lauding the priest until between the two of them they had elevated a relatively minor witness to a level that the jury had to see the man as the linchpin of the case. He had been so certain - so very certain - that he was playing the rubes. Instead, they were playing him.

And he never caught a whiff of it until that mummer’s play they put on in the courtroom today. Every one of them played his part perfectly. The priest made his noble stand, refusing even to swear the oath and facing down a judge who could throw him in jail. The judge asked just the right questions to make sure that the jury saw that the priest was making his stand based on his faith without a shred of self interest. Then the judge had given the prosecutor his own opportunity to appear noble. The prosecutor took up that mantle and made the beneficent gesture of asking the judge to forgive the priest his behavior because it was based on his heartfelt belief in God.

In the span of less than ten minutes Gil’s trial plan had suffered a massive blow. Weeks of investigation were rendered worthless. Worse, all the psychological spadework that Gil had put in with the priest became wasted time. Gil’s investigators and proteges had handled the priest with kid gloves, but Gil himself had been brusque with the man. He had pointedly refused to call the priest “Father” or use any title recognizing the man as anyone special. It was a technique that worked well with people who thought of themselves as superior or specially set apart and it had obviously annoyed the priest.  It had particularly irritated the priest when Gil refused to call him anything but Jerome during the pretrial hearing and Gil had planned to take full advantage of that irritation while cross examining the priest during the trial. He would have started by calling him Jerome and then switched to Andre. While the priest was flustered, annoyed, or angry Gil would have destroyed him. However, as the prosecutor never asked the priest question one Gil had nothing to cross examine him about and all the preparations were naught but a best laid plan.

And then the prosecutor delivered the coup de grace. Immediately after the priest left the courtroom he called the other man who had been in the hospital and heard what Mark Carr said, his brother Andy. In effect, the man testified for the priest. He told the jurors everything that went on while the priest was in the room and proved nearly impossible to impeach. The man had a minor felony record which the jury would almost surely ignore. He was also in jail for trying to kill one of the people he blamed for his brother’s death. However, he loudly denied that he was testifying in hopes of getting a better deal for his own crime. He was there “because it’s the only way I can get justice for Mark.” And Gil knew better than to think that the people out here would hold trying to get revenge for the death of kinfolk against a man. By the time it was all over the prosecutor got the priest’s imprimatur without actually putting the priest in a position that Gil could tarnish his moral authority and Gil’s chance at getting a not guilty verdict was gone.

Halfway around the curve of a mountain, the car’s headlights caught a flash of metal and Gil barely had time to slam on his brakes. The car stopped inches before a gate across the road. The gate had a big stop sign on it, a sign that proclaimed “Property of Hale Energy Services”, and two big no trespassing signs. There was no way around the gate and it was chained and locked in the center. Gil tried looking past it, but all he could see was the road continuing around the mountain.

He sat there for a couple minutes staring at the gate and then started to back his car down the road.  About half a mile before he almost smashed the car into this gate in the middle of the road in the middle of absolutely nowhere he had passed a spot wide enough to turn the car around without going off the side and dropping into some ravine never to be found again. It would probably take him an hour to back his car to that spot.  Then he would get back to the motel, stop moping, and do his job. The client was going to be found guilty. Now Gil had to do what he did in every capital case - fight to keep his client alive.

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