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Plea of insanity, p.13
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       Plea of Insanity, p.13

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  To convict someone of first-degree premeditated murder in Florida you had to prove a conscious intent to kill; to put him to death you had to have more statutory aggravating factors than mitigating ones. Julia already knew the answer to her own question – thirty-seven stab wounds and a bashed-in skull pretty much spelled out the words ‘heinous, atrocious and cruel’ on a verdict form. So did hunting down your crying six-year-old with a kitchen knife in the middle of the night.

  The escalator opened up onto the courthouse’s busy, noisy lobby as it descended from the second floor. She looked down at the two long, restless lines of people that waited to pass through the metal detectors. Bored, indifferent correction officers shouted warnings that all bags would be searched and all weapons confiscated. Mixed in with the crowd below were the cops, who were waved in through a different wait-free door, and the lawyers, who stood out from everyone else with their dark suits and overloaded briefcases. In front of the courthouse directory, the dazed and confused gathered to find out where it was they needed to be in the nine-storied maze of courtrooms and administrative offices, while the more experienced casually strutted over to the right elevator or escalator, dressed in their courthouse best of wife-beater tees and baggy, underwear-showing jeans, laughing and joking with their friends, as if a day in court was just another fun day in the park.

  ‘Will the prints be a problem for the Grand Jury?’ she asked.

  He shook his head. ‘The Grand Jury won’t even hear about them. And they shouldn’t. It’s not evidence that tends to exonerate the defendant; we have no obligation to address it. Right now, smeared footprints and unidentified fingerprints are just nuisance facts that a defense attorney will try to make more out of than he should at trial. Levenson can try it then as part of a last-ditch defense that the one-armed man did it, ’cause he’s not bringing it up to the Grand Jury.’

  Rick was right. For all its pomp and circumstance, Julia knew an indictment really wasn’t all that hard to get. Especially since the facts in a first-degree murder were always brutal, and the juveniles bound-over for adult court beyond redemption. Cloaked in secrecy and masked by formality, the reality was that the Grand Jury only got to hear one side when determining whether to indict someone – the State’s side. And it was all State. There was no judge overseeing the proceedings, no defense attorney screaming objections. The legal standard of proof was still only probable cause, and hearsay was admissible, so, of course, the facts tended to be a bit more slanted in favor of the prosecution. A criminal law professor of hers at Georgetown had once bragged that as a Cook County ADA in Chicago, he could have indicted a ham sandwich if he’d wanted to. That statement was probably not too far from the truth.

  They’d reached Au Bon Pain, the courthouse sandwich shop that had replaced the old Pickle Barrel, which was slowly filling with people as the courtrooms broke for lunch. Rick ordered two coffees and walked Julia over to a quiet table in the back corner. She felt the eyes of several prosecutors and defense attorneys glance over, watching them as they passed. She felt a little self-conscious, strangely aware that her nails needed a manicure and her heels were a bit chewed. Two things she hadn’t thought to think about until this very second.

  ‘I’ve already arranged for Marisol, my secretary, to set the pre-files of the responding officers and Crime Scene techs with you. Just get with her on times,’ he said, sliding into a booth seat. Then he paused and smiled at something or some thought. ‘Have you met Marisol yet?’

  She shookher head. ‘I haven’t met many Major Crimes secretaries. They don’t get out much, I suppose.’

  Well you can’t miss Mari,’ he chuckled. ‘Trust me. Oh, and as a warning, she can be a bit testy. Not with me, but I inherited her from C.J. Townsend when she left the office. C.J. swore she was the devil incarnate.’

  ‘Wasn’t C.J. Townsend the woman who tried the Cupid murders a few years back?’

  He nodded. ‘That was her. Were you in the office then?’

  ‘No, law school. But it was all over the DC papers. I even caught a bit of the trial on Court TV. When did she leave?’

  ‘Damn, do I feel old,’ he said, shaking his head with a smile. ‘You do know who the Rolling Stones are, right?’

  ‘Very funny.’

  ‘Just checking. C.J. left the office about a year or so back. Got married, tooksome kind of sabbatical. She had a rough time with Bantling, after everything that happened. She was always a pretty tough lady, but that bastard seemed to break her in the end.’

  ‘He won a new trial, didn’t he?’

  ‘Yeah. Now she’s supposed to come backhome and try him all over again. It keeps getting put off, though. Judge Chaskel died in a nasty motorcycle accident on the 195 flyover and his docket was reassigned, which backed everything up. Then Bantling changed lawyers a couple of times. There were more appeals. I think Judge Stalder is supposed to hear it this spring. Anyway, to say Mari and C.J. didn’t get along would be …’ His voice trailed off. ‘Well, just don’t take Marisol’s shit, if she tries to give you any. I’ve already told her you’ll be calling. And I told her to be nice. I hope you don’t feel dumped on, but that is why I have a second seat. Latarrino and Brill’s pre-files are set for next week, after they get backfrom Philly. We’ll try and do those together if my trial doesn’t go.’

  ‘Philly?’

  ‘Jennifer was from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a suburb outside of Philadelphia. The ME is finally releasing the bodies. They’re being flown backtomorrow. Lat and Brill will interview the family up there.’

  ‘Alright. I’d better get with Marisol, then,’ she said, finishing the last of her coffee. ‘Wish me luck.’ She reached for her files.

  ‘How was your weekend?’ he finally asked.

  ‘Great,’ she said with a smile. She hoped she didn’t sound too enthusiastic. That would be a telltale sign she was lying. ‘Busy running around. You know before you realize it, it’s Monday and you’re nursing a hangover.’

  ‘Ouch. Sorry to hear that. I was going to call you Saturday, but I got caught up.’

  ‘No problem. I told you, I was crazy all weekend. And this, you know, this,’ she said, looking right at him but not actually saying the word most men didn’t want to hear anyway, ‘it is what it is. I’m not expecting anything, is what I’m saying, so you don’t have to explain anything.’

  It had been more than a weeksince that Friday-night wine-soaked lapse in judgment, and Julia was still no closer to figuring out what they were or where they were headed, either as a couple or even as trial partners. Any other man, and she would definitely have written him off by now. She didn’t believe in one-night stands, she didn’t want a friend-with-benefits. Or a trial partner-with-benefits, for that matter. She hated mind games and she hated herself even more for playing them just now with that stupid, juvenile hangover comment. But Rick Bellido was not most men, and this case … well, it had changed everything. There was no way she could just write him off as a bad experience and never see him again. So her ‘crazy weekend’ had her and Moose hitting the vet and then the Bark Park. Then there were the trips to Publix, the gym and the dry-cleaner’s, wrapped up by an exciting trekto the Galleria Mall Saturday night for an anniversary present for Aunt Nora and Uncle Jimmy. By Sunday she’d polished off the rest of the Halloween candy she’d bought three weeks too early, and spent the final remaining two hours of the day pedaling all over Hollywood trying to burn it off. Although she’d punched Rick’s cell number into her phone a dozen times, she’d never actually hit send. It was pretty obvious to her by now, that hot and heavy one night didn’t guarantee a steady Saturday-night date. Maybe the rules changed when you hit forty. Maybe it was a casual screw and then it’s everybody backto workin the morning.

  ‘I’ve got to find a home for my dad,’ he said, looking into his coffee. ‘That was my weekend.’

  ‘Oh,’ she said hesitantly.

  ‘Alzheimer’s. That’s life, I guess.’ He shrugged.

  The guilt
slammed her like a silent tsunami. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know,’ she stammered. ‘Did you find one?’

  ‘Not yet. It’s a long process, one not made easier by my mother, who insists on taking care of him herself. Even if that means strapping her body to the front door to prevent him from going for long, unaccompanied midnight strolls. But never mind that. Listen,’ he said, lowering his voice. A finger found the backof her hand across the table and stroked it softly. ‘I’d like to do dinner again.’ He paused. ‘That was nice. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but, damn, I’ve missed you.’

  She felt her face grow hot. She wished she could say something witty and mature. Maybe, ‘You have my number. Use it.’ A line straight out of a Bette Davis movie. A line that wouldn’t show him that she cared and that she’d missed him, too. But, of course, she didn’t. She just nodded and smiled like a dolt. A smile that she knew gave away everything she’d hoped to hide. ‘Any word on who the trial judge is gonna be yet?’ she asked, standing up with her files.

  He laughed and shookhis head. He had the best smile, bright white, perfect teeth against deep Mediterranean skin. A toned-down Erik Estrada grin. ‘Oh boy. I thinkyou may need to sit backdown, sweetheart.’

  Julia felt her stomach drop and her palms instinctively began to tingle. From the lookon his face, she knew exactly who it was. ‘Please tell me you’re not gonna tell me what I thinkit is you’re gonna tell me,’ she said, sliding backinto her seat. ‘Tell me it’s Henghold. Or Gibbons. Or anyone else you wouldn’t want to get.’

  He just kept shaking his head. ‘No can do.’

  She sighed and slumped backin her chair, defeated. ‘It’s Farley, isn’t it?’

  He simply smiled.

  23

  ‘Lookat me!’ demanded Emma with a high-pitched squeal as she spun around the kitchen in her sparkly blue and white Cinderella gown, the one Jennifer had bought on a family trip to Disney World just a few months before. She’d kept the receipt, tucked into an envelope scribbled with the words Miscellaneous Credit Card Receipts and neatly filed away in the top drawer of her desk, where detectives had found it. Emma had worn the costume over her pajamas on the night she was murdered. The detectives theorized that she’d probably snuckit on after her mom had put her to bed. ‘Mommy! Look! Look at me!’ she continued to shout.

  ‘Oh my, don’t you lookpretty,’ Jennifer purred off-camera. The shot jumped across the cluttered kitchen to the pretty, slight blonde behind the island, a chocolate layer cake before her on a plate, a spatula full of frosting in hand. ‘Don’t get it dirty, Em. We still have the parade at school and Halloween to get through. Oh, please, David,’ she said with an annoyed shake of her head when she spotted the camera. ‘Point that thing at Emma.’

  Obligingly, the camera jumped backacross the room.

  ‘I can make it spin!’ Emma shouted as she twirled about, singing some pop song Julia had heard before but couldn’t place who sang it. Maybe Hilary Duff or Christina Aguilera. The little girl’s long, light-blonde hair was done in a French braid, and it whipped about behind her. Julia could tell she was trying to get it to wrap around her neckand touch her other shoulder. She’d done the very same thing when she was a kid and her hair was down past her waist.

  The baby cried a cranky newborn cry in her scoop on the counter. ‘Hush, now, Sophie. I’m getting it ready. Give Mommy a minute,’ said Jennifer, fatigue straining her voice.

  A barefoot little boy suddenly streaked across the kitchen in a cherry-stained Superman T-shirt and a droopy-looking Pull-Up. ‘I’m hungggrryyyy.’

  ‘You just ate supper, young man. Maybe you should have some more carrots, you’re so hungry.’

  Danny shookhis head violently. He stood on his tiptoes at the island, straining to see what his mom was doing. ‘Can I lick the bowl?’

  ‘Danny! I’m dancing! Go away,’ declared Emma with a pout, her hands on her hips.

  ‘I want cake,’ said Danny, rubbing his nose and pulling on his mother’s pant leg. His tousled, brown hair stuckto his sweaty forehead.

  ‘It’s coming, it’s coming everybody. The witching hour is here. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, is it here,’ Jennifer mumbled, mainly to herself. ‘Okay. We’re going to sing now. Dave, are you ready? David?’

  The camera focused backon Jennifer, and the picture bobbed up and down as the cameraman presumably nodded. The crowd in the kitchen sang Happy Birthday, Mommy as Jennifer carried the chocolate frosted cake with the single lit candle over to the kitchen table, navigating her way through a bobbing pool of colorful balloons on the floor. She blew out the candle and everyone clapped. Danny screamed, ‘Yipee! I want some! I want a big piece!’ The baby cried again. Jennifer picked up Sophie and began to feed her a bottle as she tried to eat a slice of cake with her free hand.

  Watch me,’ Emma demanded into the camera, twirling and spinning once again, ignoring the slice of cake Jennifer had cut for her. ‘Lookat me, Daddy! Lookat me! Daddy!’

  The camera watched Emma dance for maybe thirty seconds more before it suddenly just cut out. Blackand white fuzz filled Julia’s television, like two armies of fighting ants.

  Coral Gables PD had seized nineteen home videos from the Marquette residence. Julia had had Investigations make a copy for her of each one, and over the course of the past few days had watched them all from her living-room couch. Watched as the beautiful Marquette babies came home from the hospital, one by one, bundled safely in their proud mother’s arms. Watched as Danny and Emma learned to sit and crawl and walkand swim. Watched Emma learn to read and write and ride a bike. Watched birthday parties and Christmas morning free-for-alls under a tremendous, tinselladen, fake fir. Watched as the dead breathed and giggled and smiled once more. The tapes were her only linkto a family she’d never get to meet. A family she felt a desperate, almost compulsive need to know. A family that reminded her too much of her own …

  Like Danny, her big brother, Andrew, had loved cars as a little kid, too. Especially fire trucks. He’d carried a metal Matchbox fire engine around in his pocket wherever he went. In a department store one time, he’d gotten in trouble for something. Playing with a mannequin? Running off? Hiding? Momma had sent him to stand in a corner by the fitting rooms. And there he was, forever embedded deep in her memory, all of seven or eight, red truckin hand, not a tear or so much as a defiant pout on his freckle-smattered, milky-smooth face, a mop of soft black curls spilling past his forehead over his darkeyes. When Momma had finally turned her attention backto the sales girl, he’d waved mischievously over at Julia, turned around to peekhis head into the ladies’ fitting room behind him, and with a hand over his mouth to stifle the giggle, he’d sent the truck careening underneath the row of stalls.

  Julia closed her eyes tight, hoping to shut off the memories. It had been a long time since she’d allowed herself to thinkof Andy. Even though he was five years older than her, when they got along, they’d been the best of friends. Her brother could make her do the goofiest things with just the flash of his lopsided grin and a double dare: walkon the train tracks; ring Mrs Crick’s doorbell on Halloween when everyone knew she was a witch and her creepy house with the caved-in roof was haunted; eat the red squishy berries off the unknown bush by the garage. It was Andy she’d go running to when a thunderstorm would wake her in the middle of the night, and he would let her come into his bed and under the covers, counting off the seconds for her between the thunder and the lightning until he could assure her the storm had moved far away. She could still smell his breath, sweet with mouthwash and the chocolate he’d snuck after he’d brushed his teeth, as he whispered words in the darkto distract her.

  ‘I hit a home run today at practice, Ju-Ju. Coach said I was good, but I should work harder on my pitching, ’cause that’s what I do best. Says I’m the only one on the team he’s seen that can throw a damn curve ball. No one can hit it. And no one can touch my split finger, neither. He thinks I could even play JV next year. Imagine that – me pitching JV my first year in junior hig
h. That would be so cool …’

  Planning for a future that would never be.

  The rain pattered softly against her living-room windows, as it had all night, blurring the streetlights outside into twinkling streaks of soft yellow. Moose, maybe sensing things were not right, jumped up and joined her on the couch, curling himself into a little brown and white ball by her side and immediately falling into a deep sleep. She watched his warm chest rise and fall under her fingers. They’d found each other six years ago, when he was just a pup and she was a first-year law student. He was wandering around in snow that was deeper than his body one night and she was on her way to a boring torts class. He’d had a deep cut on one paw and his short fur was a bit mangy, but he had the most soulful brown eyes. Lost and completely alone in a big, intimidating city, he was a survivor, just like her. At first he was skittish, but she wouldn’t leave and he didn’t run off, and eventually, with a lot of coaxing, he’d let her pet him. When she reached to scoop him up, he’d actually kind of jumped into her arms, snuggling into her scarf. The rest was history – she’d missed her class, brought him home to a chicken dinner and a warm bath and there he’d stayed, never straying further than a stone’s throw away from her ankles ever again if he could help it. She’d given him his name from the Archie comic-bookcharacter. Moose was so completely trusting, so vulnerable, she thought, looking at him now, especially when he was sleeping. Like a child. A shudder ran through her as the tape finally clicked off and the screen went to blue.

  She slid Moose gently off her lap and went over to the DVD/VCR player. She hit the eject button and the last video ever shot of the Marquette family slowly popped out. With the backof her hand, she wiped away the tears that streamed down her face, and slipped the video into the sleeve marked Mommy’s Birthday 4/10/05. Then she put it backin the cardboard evidence box, along with the others.

 
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