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Retribution, p.25
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       Retribution, p.25

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘Yes, Judge. C. J. Townsend on behalf of the State of Florida. We are ready to proceed.’

  ‘Counsel for the defendant?’

  Lourdes Rubio, dressed in a conservative black suit, hair pulled back in a tight bun, made her way from the back of the courtroom to the defense podium.

  ‘Lourdes Rubio for the defendant, Bill Bantling. We, too, are ready Your Honor.’

  ‘Very well. How many witnesses, State?’

  ‘Just one, Your Honor.’

  ‘Good. Let’s get started. State, you may begin.’ Judge Hilfaro was a no-nonsense judge. He did not like the spotlight, and so he did not care much for media cases. That was one of the reasons the Chief Judge had sent him from a trial division to the land of Arthur Hearings. It wasn’t that he was not competent, because, in fact, just the opposite was true. It was really that Arthurs did not attract much attention normally. Usually just the First Appearance of a bloodthirsty defendant caught the eyes of the press, and then, if they were still interested, maybe the trial itself. But, then again, it was not every day that a serial killer who had made international headlines landed in Judge Hilfaro’s quiet courtroom.

  ‘The state calls Special Agent Dominick Falconetti to the stand.’

  Dominick strode to the witness box, all eyes in the courtroom upon him, and was sworn in.

  After a few preliminary questions establishing his credentials, C.J. brought Dominick to the night of September 19, when he’d been called to the causeway. He was an easy witness – he knew what legal elements she needed to make her case, and he knew what facts would enable her to establish those elements. Other than a What happened next?’ question, he needed no further direction. He took the courtroom through the stop of Bantling’s car, the discovery of Anna Prado’s body, and the search of Bantling’s house, where human blood matching Anna’s blood type was found on the walls and flooring of the shed, as well as trace amounts of blood on the probable murder weapon, a scalpel.

  No mention was made of any drugs found in Anna Prado’s system, or the porn tapes found in Bantling’s bedroom. To hold Bantling without a bond until his trial, all that was necessary for the state to prove at this stage of the proceedings was that a murder had been committed and that proof was evident and presumption great that Bantling had committed it. All other aggravating, extraneous facts could be used later at his trial, when motive and opportunity became issues to a twelve-member jury, and when the standard of proof was raised to reasonable doubt and the penalty became death.

  The press eagerly gobbled up every word that Dominick spoke, and the sound of dozens of pens could be heard scribbling furiously together, almost in sync. Most of the details that were being testified about today were new to them, and their excitement was almost palpable.

  She felt Bantling’s cold eyes upon her, moving slowly, deliberately up and down her body, probably undressing her in his mind, right there in court. Inmates did not sit next to their attorneys for Arthur Hearings, and from where he sat in the box, he had a perfect view of the whole courtroom and of her as she questioned Dominick on direct. She could see him from the side of her eye, watching her. She wondered for a moment if he might recognize her, and then, what she would do if he did, but then just as quickly dismissed that thought. She looked nothing like she did once upon a lifetime ago, and she was sure his interest in her at that moment was simply a manifestation of his sick curiosity for any female in the room. For a split second she thought she could actually hear the sound of him breathing, the same labored hissing sound his breath had made when it escaped the clown’s rubber mouth, and the air smelled faintly of coconut. She pushed the thoughts out of her head and tried to keep her back to the box, forcing her mind to listen to Dominick. Don’t look too closely, now. Don’t go too crazy.

  ‘Thank you, Agent Falconetti,’ said Judge Hilfaro when he had finished testifying. ‘Defense, any questions?’

  Lourdes Rubio stood up and faced Dominick. ‘Just a few, Agent Falconetti. You were not the arresting officer, were you?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘In fact, the initial stop of Mr Bantling’s vehicle and the subsequent search of the trunk and discovery of Ms Prado’s body had been conducted by officers with the Miami Beach Police Department before you even were called to the scene, correct?’

  Yes.’

  ‘And the stop of Mr Bantling’s vehicle and discovery of Ms Prado’s body actually occurred much by chance, did it not?’

  ‘No.’

  The stop of Mr Bantling’s car was based on excessive speed and faulty equipment as observed by a Miami Beach police officer.’

  ‘What I meant was, prior to September nineteenth, your task force of police agencies did not have Mr Bantling’s name on one of its lists of Cupid suspects, did it?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘In fact, prior to that day, not one task force member had even heard the name William Bantling before, had they?’

  ‘That is correct.’

  ‘So the stop of Mr Bantling’s vehicle on the MacArthur Causeway was pure chance? A random, routine, run-of-the mill vehicle stop by our esteemed, above-reproach boys in blue at the Miami Beach Police Department?’ That comment drew a snicker from the crowd. Everyone in the room knew the reputation enjoyed by the MBPD, and it was not always glorious.

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘And, of course, they would never just pull someone over for no reason, or search someone’s trunk without obtaining the proper consent?’

  ‘Objection, argumentative,’ C.J. interrupted. She did not like where Lourdes was going with this, and she felt more than uneasy. Had she spoken with Chavez or Ribero? Did she know about the anonymous tip? Or was she bluffing?

  ‘Sustained. Move on, Counselor. I got your point. If you want to make a motion to suppress, then write out a motion and set it down before the trial judge, but I’m not going to let you argue it here. Anything further, Ms Rubio?’

  ‘No, Judge, no further questions. But I would like to offer an argument as to bond.’

  ‘That won’t be necessary, Ms Rubio. I have heard all I need to hear. Based on the evidence presented here today, I find that proof is evident and presumption great that the crime of murder was committed by the defendant. The defendant is considered by this court to be a danger to society and a risk of flight, and as such, he is remanded without bail until his trial.’

  ‘Your Honor,’ began Lourdes, her voice raised. ‘I believe the stop of Mr Bantling’s vehicle was unlawful, as was the search of his trunk. I would like to make an argument on that point.’

  ‘Fine. As I said, make it as a motion to suppress before Judge Chaskel. You won’t make it here. Not without proper testimony. I’ve made my ruling.’

  ‘May I at least be heard on forms of alternate release?’

  ‘Sure. Go ahead. Tell me some forms of release you would propose to keep society safe from a man accused of ten murders.’

  ‘He has not been charged in any other murder, Judge, and that is the point I am trying to make. In the eyes of this court and the court of public opinion, my client is being tried and convicted as a serial killer of ten women, when he has, in fact, only been charged in the death of one woman.’

  ‘That’s more than enough for me, Ms Rubio.’ Judge Hilfaro looked over at Dominick. ‘Is Mr Bantling considered a suspect in the other nine Cupid murders, Agent Falconetti?’

  Yes, sir,’ replied Dominick.

  Judge Hilfaro scowled at Lourdes Rubio, but let her argue pointlessly for ten more minutes for an alternate form of release for her client. When she asked for house arrest, he actually laughed out loud.

  At the state’s table, with Dominick at her side, C.J. quietly sighed a breath of relief. Bantling would definitely be held behind bars until trial. She had gotten him that far.

  The next step was to get him all the way into the death chamber.

  45

  Bill Bantling knew he wasn’t going to get a bond. He knew that his lawyer was not good enough to get him
one, but the hell if that was going to stop him from trying. From going all the way. He was going to make that bitch work for her $300 an hour one way or another.

  So he had to say that he really was not very surprised when the Honorable Nelson Hilfaro denied him a bond. He was not surprised, but he was pissed. Pissed at the ignoramus judge who looked at him like he was some sort of communal leper; pissed at the tight-assed haughty prosecutor who traipsed around the courtroom like her shit did not stink asking questions from that sneaky FDLE agent on the stand. Who, he might add, was the only one of the lot he had any respect for, as minimal as it might be. He was even pissed off at his own bitch lawyer who would not let him say anything in his own defense, not a single word. That he did not like. Not one bit, being ordered around by some overpriced female. Damn it, if he was going to be fucked by a woman it better be in bed.

  Not in a million years would he ever have trusted a woman to even represent him on line at the local grocery store, much less as his attorney in a court of law, particularly with a matter as delicate as his own life or death. But Billy Bantling was no fool. No, siree. He knew what the papers wrote about him. He knew that people thought him a monster – the devil himself incarnate. He had already been tried and convicted in the simple, zoned-out minds of millions of TV viewers everywhere. And knowing all this, he also knew that Lourdes Rubio, a straitlaced and serious-minded schoolmarm in a conservative but slightly short skirt and jacket was the smart choice as his attorney. He had done his homework on her long before her services were ever needed. Okay-looking, but nothing to write home about, she was well respected in both the Latin community and the legal community in Miami and just pretty enough to make a jury stop and think. Think and wonder how this nice, pretty, educated, conservative little Cuban girl from Hialeah could represent such a heinous monster like himself. How she could stand up next to him, whisper in his ear, share the same table, and drink from the same water pitcher and yet still confidently proclaim his innocence to the world knowing full well the crimes he stood accused of committing. Well, if the nice Cuban girl didn’t think him guilty of rape and torture and murder, then maybe it’s just not so. After all, a woman wouldn’t just let a sociopathic serial rapist go free, now would she?

  He knew deep inside that his thinking on this point had been correct all along, and that he had been right in his choice of counsel, when and if the time ever came that he needed one. He was just frustrated at the gloomy prospect of remaining locked up in the piss-smelling, vermin-infested hole across the street for even one more day, and it took every fiber of strength in him to stop himself from screaming at the fat judge on the cheap mahogany bench or the tight-assed bitchy prosecutor, or his own okay-looking attorney. But he sat silent, just as his nice attorney had asked, handcuffed hands patiently folded together in a feigned look of prayer, and he chewed away the inside wall of his cheek to prevent the sneer of contempt that threatened to escape his otherwise-pious-looking poker face.

  He watched as they all hacked at his freedom before the judge, his own attorney asking for electronic monitoring, house arrest, weekend release, suicide watches. Then the mousy blond Madame Prosecutor, arguing for solitary confinement, a suspension of phone privileges, no more visits from the press. She was definitely a hard-ass. C.J. Townsend. He had read her name in the papers, but now he took a good long look at her. He watched as she chatted back and forth with Agent Falconetti at the prosecution’s table. And something bothered him about the scene, something else that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

  There was something very familiar about her.

  46

  ‘So what’s this about the feds taking Cupid?’

  C.J. and Dominick were outside the courtroom now, hiding out in the judge’s hallway just waiting for the press to finally go home. Besides the two of them, the hallway was deserted. Judge Hilfaro had managed to kick everyone out of his courtroom after the Bantling hearing to finish up the rest of his Arthurs, and even though the representatives of most of the major news agencies had left, some less reputable members of the press were still sniffing around downstairs for crumbs.

  ‘De la Flors served me with a court order and a warrant from Judge Kingsley, a federal district judge,’ said C.J. ‘They want everything. Labs, evidence, documents. Everything we have.’

  ‘You have got to be kidding me!’ In anger, Dominick slapped the wall with his palm, and the flat sound resonated down the empty hallway. ‘Well, we’re not going to give it to them, are we?’ From the look on her face, he knew the answer. ‘Damn. Can we fight it?’

  ‘Here’s the thing. The U.S. Attorney’s Office wants to prosecute Cupid on the murders, but other than Siban’s, whose body was actually found on federal land, they have no federal jurisdiction. That means yes, we can fight it. And I can assure you, de la Flors was none too happy to hear me tell him that.’

  ‘Okay. So if they legally can’t get the other nine murders, why do we have to hand everything over to them? All this just for Siban?’

  ‘Well, yes and no. They want what we have to go after Bantling on Siban, but they also want to go after him on the – get this – robberies.’

  ‘Robberies? What the hell? What robberies?’

  ‘De la Flors wants glory and fame. He wants his name in the papers is what he wants. And he wants Cupid. So if he can’t get him on murder, he’s gonna drag him over to federal court to get him for robbing women of their clothing and their hearts. Although I’m not sure in what order that will read in the indictment. He intends to tie him up with the Hobbs Act in federal court for a few years to make Tigler look like a buffoon, which is not that difficult a task. After Tigler loses his reelection bid and de la Flors gets nominated as a federal judge, maybe he’ll cut Bantling loose to pay his hometown a visit and we can finish what we started.’

  ‘The Hobbs Act? He really thinks he can make that stretch that Cupid is affecting interstate commerce?’

  ‘He’s certainly going to give it the old college try.’

  ‘And what’s Gracker’s role in all this? That tubby little shit.’

  ‘He’s de la Flors’s cheerleader, I suppose. He sat in the back of the room singing “I can investigate better than you can.” But when it comes down to it, he’s nothing without de la Flors.’

  ‘What did Tigler do?’

  ‘What do you think? After asking the vampires in for coffee and doughnuts and a pint of A negative, nothing.’

  ‘So we’re gonna give them what they want?’

  ‘Not all of it. Copies of documents, copies of lab reports. I’m going to stuff them so full of paper, they’ll need magnifying lenses for glasses when they’re done, their eyes will be so bad. I told de la Flors to get ready for a fight if he even thinks I’m giving him actual evidence. That’s when he decided to go home.’

  Dominick smiled and leaned in close to C.J.’s face, his arm above her, palm resting on the wall. ‘I like you. Not only are you pretty, but you’re pretty tough.’

  She felt her face flush. ‘Thank you. I’ll take that as a compliment.’

  ‘You should. That’s how I meant it.’

  The door to Judge Hilfaro’s courtroom opened just then, and in walked Manny. Dominick dropped his arm and quickly looked over at the detective, who looked unhappy. C.J. felt her heart return to a normal beat.

  ‘Where have you been, Bear? Don’t tell me giving interviews to Channel Seven,’ said Dominick.

  ‘Are you shitting me? While both make me laugh, Cartoon Network has a better cast of characters. What are you two doing back here? Lying low?’

  For some reason, C.J. felt her face flush again with embarrassment. Dominick answered quickly. ‘C.J. was telling me all about the visit the feds paid her Wednesday. It seems Gracker found himself a pigeon – Tom de la Flors. The U.S. Attorney’s Office wants to lay claim to Cupid. They served C.J. with a warrant.’

  ‘As if my day wasn’t going crappy enough. Fuck them. Pardon my French, Counselor.’

&nbs
p; ‘You don’t have to worry about C.J.’s virgin ears. She told de la Flors and his stoolie just that. Now let’s hope they go away.’

  ‘Something tells me that won’t happen, Dom. Especially now.’

  ‘Why? What happened?’

  ‘They just found Cupid’s latest work of art. Looks like Morgan Weber’s body, or what’s left of it anyway, was discovered about an hour or so ago. Duty calls, my friend.’

  ‘Where was she found?’ asked Dominick.

  ‘In a fishing shack in the middle of the Everglades. Some drunk fisherman went to crash there and burn off his hangover and found her strung up from the ceiling. It’s pretty bad, I’m told. ME’s heading out now. Miami-Dade and the Florida Marine Patrol have the scene secured. The buzzards have gotten wind, though, and the choppers are hovering overhead.’

  ‘Alright. We’re out of here,’ said Dominick. Damn; even the slightest hope he had held out for finding Morgan Weber alive had now been snuffed out.

  ‘Let me follow you out there. I’ll need to see the scene,’ said C.J.

  ‘Ride with me. I’ll take you back later, or I’ll get a uniform to take you back.’

  ‘Alright.’ She nodded.

  ‘Hey, Counselor, nice job in court today,’ said Manny as all three headed toward the security doors that led to the main hallway and the elevator bay.

  ‘Thanks, but I think Dominick was the star of the show. He didn’t even need me.’

  ‘Don’t be so modest. Trust me, Counselor, you have your share of fans, too.’

  ‘What are you talking about?’ she asked as the doors swung open. Clustered around the elevators and Courtroom 4-8 was a mass of reporters. They had obviously heard the news about Morgan Weber. When the security doors opened, the crowd ran toward all three of them, their camera lights burning brightly before them. They smelled blood.

  ‘Well, Mr Psycho sure seems to like you,’ Manny said under his breath as he composed his face for the cameras. ‘In fact, he just couldn’t keep his eyes off you the whole hearing.’

 
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