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Plea of insanity, p.26
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       Plea of Insanity, p.26

           Jilliane Hoffman

  Julia took a deep breath and closed her eyes. ‘Cirto,’ she said. ‘C-I-R-T-O. Andrew Joseph. Date of birth, March fourteen, 1972.’


  ‘What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.’

  She stared at the TV screen from her spot on the living-room couch at three in the morning, watching, of all things, It’s a Wonderful Life on TBS. It had been her mother’s all-time favorite movie. She used to let Julia stay up to watch it with her on Christmas Eve after midnight Mass, when the rest of the house had gone off to sleep. They’d make popcorn and snuggle on the couch under the cotton and fleece pink blanket stolen off Julia’s bed. Momma knew every line. Every single word, in fact. Sometimes she would say them along with the actors, with the same inflection, too. She’d had Jimmy Stewart down pat.

  ‘Hey! That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.’

  They’d never had the chance to watch it that last Christmas. Christmas Eve that year was spent in her new room at Aunt Nora’s in Great Kills, far away from her living room in West Hempstead, far away from Carly and her friends and her school. Sitting on her new bed, with her new pink comforter and her new ruffled curtains, she’d watched out the window as carloads of well-dressed, smiling people pulled up in front of her new neighbors’ house, platters of food and bottles of wine in their hands, arms loaded with Christmas presents. She’d sat there for hours in the dark, her numb body trapped in place, watching the comings and goings of what was now to be her new life, reciting sad, cheesy lines from her mother’s all-time favorite movie, which now played like a bad memory in her head. Only, unlike a TV movie that you didn’t want to watch anymore, she couldn’t turn it off. Instead, it just kept running, running, running, as she sat at that window, until the entire film had played out in her mind. She’d spent the last fifteen years hating herself for taking those two hours and twelve minutes for granted every year. If she could go back and have one more moment with her mother, just one more, that would be it.

  ‘Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives,’ Clarence the Angel said to a sad and shocked George Bailey. ‘When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?’

  She mouthed the words along with Clarence and closed her eyes to stop the tears. She could still smell the damn fleece blanket – the one Aunt Nora had replaced – and the lilac-scented fabric softener her mom used to use. Since she’d moved into her own apartment, she’d tried every brand known to man in the stores, but she’d still never found it.


  Julia sat by herself at the State’s table Wednesday morning and just silently prayed he’d walk in. Farley tapped his pen impatiently against the bench, in tune with the second hand of the loud clock that hung in the back of the courtroom, above the doors. It read 9:42. Surprisingly, the jammed courtroom stayed eerily quiet.

  ‘I think that’s enough time, State,’ the judge finally said with an impatient sigh.

  ‘Your Honor, if we could just wait a little bit longer. I’m sure Mr Bellido will be here,’ she said anxiously, looking back at the courtroom doors. At that moment, they opened, but it was John Latarrino who walked through them, not Rick. He shook his head.

  ‘Ms Valenciano,’ the judge began with that all-too-familiar, I’m-going-to-yell-at-you-now look. ‘I don’t have the time to—’

  ‘Excuse me, Judge,’ interrupted Lat, as he walked up the center aisle to the State’s table. ‘Iapologize, but if Icould have a word with the prosecutor?’

  The judge sighed loudly, threw the pen on the bench and spun his chair around to face the wall, like a two-year-old having a temper-tantrum. ‘Take as long as you need, Detective. It’s not like we’re waiting to start court or anything.’

  ‘Tell me something good, Lat. Please,’ Julia whispered quickly, hoping all the cameras that packed the courtroom wouldn’t pick up her words or her desperation. She could feel them focusing in on her.

  Lat looked her in the eye and shook his head again. ‘No can do, sweet heart. Ijust got his message. He was on his way back from Orlando and he’s had some kind of accident. Nothing bad. He wants you to reset it, is all. Get a continuance.’


  ‘Are you two done chitty-chatting?’ Farley finally sniped. ‘Or do you think we can maybe resume court today?’

  ‘Um,’ Julia began hesitantly, slowly turning back to face the judge. ‘Detective Latarrino has just received word about Mr Bellido, Your Honor. There’s been an accident. It’s nothing serious, but he is going to be delayed for a while. He’s requesting – the State is requesting – a continuance.’

  The judge looked around the courtroom. ‘No,’ he said finally. An excited murmur ran through the crowd.

  ‘No?’ asked Julia. Her hands began to sweat.

  ‘Not that Imean to sound uncaring, but he’s not dead, is he, Detective? He’s not in the hospital? And even if he was,’ Farley explained, motioning to Julia for all the cameras to see, ‘he has a second seat handling this very important case for him. A hand-picked second seat, Imight add. And that means that my time should not be compromised because of some fender-bender or morning traffic on 195. I have the reports of doctors Barakat and Koletis in front of me, and from what Ican tell, the experts are split on whether the defendant is competent. So I’m thinking that we’re all here for a full hearing this morning. The defense is present, and ready to go, Ipresume. Everyone’s valuable time is ticking away while Mr Bellido waits for a tow-truck. I’m sure, Ms Valenciano, you’re ready to proceed, lest only the defense present evidence here today.’

  So much for the Good Ol’ Boys Network and all the sporting courtroom banter exchanged just a few weeks ago. Julia looked at a knot in the wood table. This was bad. This was really bad. She might officially be second seat, but even she knew the title was really only a warm-body position. She remembered Rick’s use of pronouns with Dr Barakat and Charley Rifkin. As Dayanara had cautioned and everyone higher up in the office already knew, the most he was probably going to let her do during this trial – besides all the grunt work – was pass him his file, and maybe do the direct examination of a few insignificant players. If she was really lucky, he’d let her do the opening statement. She knew her participation would be limited and she accepted that as part of climbing the ladder of experience. Now Judge Leonard Farley was going to demand she handle a competency hearing in a first-degree murder by herself with the news cameras all rolling and the international press closely watching.

  Day was seated in the front row next to a couple of other ASAs who’d come to watch. She leaned over the railing and whispered calmly, ‘I’ll call Legal, Julia. Don’t do anything till they get here!’ Julia nodded and Day dashed out of the courtroom.

  ‘Mr Levenson, are you ready to proceed?’ asked Farley.

  ‘Yes,’ said Mel, rising. He was no fool. He smelled the chum that the judge had just tossed into the water. ‘We’re ready to proceed. And due to my client’s delicate mental condition and need for immediate treatment, I’d say that time is definitely of the essence and that we conduct the hearing this morning without hesitation,’ he said, making sure he hit all the right appellate buzz words. Mel motioned to his client, who sat flanked between him and Stan Grossbach, in the same red jumpsuit and in pretty much the same condition Julia had seen him in at the arraignment, except more overgrown. His hair had not been cut and his carpet of facial hair was now a full-fledged wiry beard. Julia knew that most defense attorneys would do anything to make their clients appear more sympathetic in court – dressing them up in expensive suits and covering them up in modest dresses when the case called for it, hiding tattoos, changing hair color, removing body piercings. In big-name cases, some had even gone so far as to hire stylists and body-language consultants to help mold their clients into the defendants they ultimately wanted a jury to see. Image was everything in the courtroom. The scraggly caveman look, s
he figured, just might be Mel Levenson’s idea to make sure his client fit the role he was here to play today. Once again, Marquette stared blankly out in front of him at nothing and no one. The thousand-yard stare, Dr Koletis had called it in his report. If the eyes truly were the ‘windows to the soul’, Julia thought with a sudden shudder, recalling Dr Barakat’s chilling words to her only days before, then David Marquette just might not have one.

  … there is a different breed of malingerer. A different breed of human being, actually … He will convince those that want to be convinced of his illness, including professionals, and he will adapt to the tests they put upon him because he is a survivor.

  ‘Wonderful,’ said the judge. ‘State? Are you ready to proceed? Or are you willing to stipulate to Dr Koletis’ report that the defendant is incompetent?’

  ‘No, Judge, the State is not willing to stipulate. Dr Barakat’s report clearly states that the defendant is competent.’

  ‘Then let’s go. Call your first witness.’

  ‘Your Honor, someone from the State’s Legal Unit is on their way over—’ she tried.

  ‘Oh no, Ms Valenciano. You want to play with the big boys, then you’re the one who’s gonna play. Call your first witness.’

  ‘Judge, Ibelieve the defendant is presumed competent under Florida law. The burden is with the defense, then, to prove he’s incompetent by a preponderance of the evidence,’ Julia protested, hoping that if Levenson was forced to put on his case first, that would buy some time for Rick or someone from Legal to show up. Lat could go pick him up, wherever he was, and bring him back. And everything would be okay.

  ‘Nice try, Counselor. But the Federal Courts have interpreted the United States Constitution as requiring the government to only bring competent individuals to trial. Particularly those they are trying to execute. So Ibelieve the burden of proving the defendant actually knows what’s going on in a courtroom falls on you, State.’ He smiled a devious smile. ‘Welcome to the big league, Ms Valenciano. As I was saying, call your first witness.’


  She had no choice. There was no way she could just let David Marquette be found incompetent and sent off to Chattahoochee for the next few months, or even years, while the case here against him went to shit. She heard Rick’s dire warning in her head: Time doesn’t help a prosecutor, Julia. Remember that.

  Ultimately, the determination of a defendant’s competency was within the sole discretion of the trial judge. And that meant Julia had to do whatever she could to prove to Farley that Marquette was competent, and she had to do it now. God knows he was vindictive enough to send the guy for treatment he didn’t need just to burn her for not trying. Prove to the world that she was not good enough to be here.

  She exhaled a low breath. ‘The State then calls Dr Christian Barakat to the stand,’ she said, without even knowing if Dr Barakat was actually present. She heard the prosecutors behind her start to whisper among themselves, like siblings who know that their little sister is sooo gonna get it when their dad gets home.

  Jefferson stepped out into the hall and, less than ten seconds later, Dr Barakat, in a tailored charcoal suit and powder-blue dress shirt, strode to the witness stand to be sworn in by a swooning, blushing Ivonne. He settled into his seat, acknowledging Julia with a nod, but it was clear he was more than a little puzzled to see her sitting at the State’s table instead of Rick.

  Julia had never put a psychiatrist on the stand before. Or any doctor, for that matter. As far as experts went, she’d only qualified a records custodian, a fingerprint tech, and a Breathalyzer maintenance tech. Before a witness was allowed to give expert testimony on a subject, counsel first had to establish to the court that he or she was, in fact, an expert on that subject. Important passages about qualifying medical experts from the Rules of Evidence flashed in her head, not staying long enough, unfortunately, for her to actually remember what they said. She opened her statute book and stared at the criteria for competence under rule 3.211. Words that suddenly made no sense stared back at her, and she felt the room begin to spin, the shrink-wrap tighten around her lungs.

  ‘Look at me, Daddy! Look at me!’ screamed little Emma suddenly as she danced across the courtroom in her blood-soaked Cinderella ball gown, her French braid matted black with dried blood. Her little face looked like it did in her autopsy pictures – swollen to almost double its size, her lips blue, the whites of her eyes red where the blood vessels had burst. A twisted ringlet of thick black thread spooled from the neckline of her gown where the ME had neglected to cut the autopsy thread. ‘Look at me now, Daddy!’ she demanded with a distorted pout as she spun around. ‘Look at what you’ve done to me!’

  Julia closed her eyes tight. She was it. She was the only person who could make justice happen today. Who could make sure little Emma’s father was held responsible for what he’d done. She was the only one who could make sure David Marquette didn’t slip through the cracks of an unsympathetic system that was more than willing to forget its victims and move on to the next tragedy. She had to look past the mess at the defense table and do her job.

  ‘Look at me now, Daddy!’ Emma screamed again.

  Lat leaned over the rail and touched her shoulder. ‘You can do this, Julia,’ he said softly. ‘You’re better than Bellido. Trust me.’

  She nodded and took in a deep breath. Here goes, Emma. Let’s put this bastard away where he belongs. Then she stood up, and for the next three hours, to the surprise of every single person in that courtroom, including herself, she proved John Latarrino right.


  He ran a finger slowly over the deep red dents that cut across his wrists, where the steel handcuffs had dug into his flesh and pressed against the bone. A razor-sharp pain radiated up through his right arm into his shoulder, but he resisted the urge to acknowledge it. He imagined that the lines were on someone else’s wrist, the pain was not in his body. He knew that the correction officers made the cuffs extra tight on purpose because of who he was. Because of what he’d done. He’d watched them smile and heard them chuckle when they snapped the cuffs on behind his back, clicking them until they reached almost the very last notch.

  But he’d never complained. Not even once.

  … he did present with some negative symptoms of schizophrenia, but, as I explained in my report, Your Honor, there were also no peculiar behavioral manifestations such as echopraxia …

  He heard what they shouted at him in his cell and in the hallways as they shuffled him past the other inmates on the way to court. Baby Killer. Daddy Death. Doctor Death. Psycho. Norman. He knew they spit in his food and tried to trip him in the hallways. He knew if they could, some of the animals in here would shank him or fuck him, or both, if they could just get close enough. That was probably the only good thing about the floor he was on. The crazies each had their own cell.

  … Some of those symptoms can possibly be attributed to the medication that Dr Marquette is taking however, yes, to answer your question, Ms Valenciano, I’d have to say it’s my opinion he’s malingering …

  He wondered what they would be like if he weren’t in his chains. If it were just the two of them, alone in a room. No asps. No radio. No cuffs. No laughing buddies. He wondered how long it would be before Mr Correction Officer pissed himself when he looked into the eyes of madness. There was always safety in numbers. Take away the numbers …

  … again, it is possible that Dr Marquette has what’s known as a psychopathic personality disorder. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders it’s referred to as an antisocial personality disorder …

  Or any of the animals, really. Any of the caged zoo animals on the other floors. So big and tough with their gang colors and their tattoos. Again, take away their brothers, and they were nothing. And they underestimated him, which would be their downfall.

  … probably the most dangerous of all mental disorders. In varying degrees, the psychopath is unable to actually feel emotion. He’s like an empty she
ll. A machine. He doesn’t know empathy, he doesn’t feel love, he doesn’t experience guilt. No one will change him, and nothing will affect him. He has learned, though, through watching society, what the appropriate emotional responses are, and he has learned to mimic those responses. So he’s learned to cry at funerals, even though he doesn’t actually feel the emotion of sadness, no matter who it is in the casket, and he’s learned to say ‘I love you’ after sex, even though he really cannot actually feel the emotion of love …

  He had caught a couple of the big bad ones looking at him in the box or in the halls, when the buddies weren’t watching them. A quick glance over in his direction. He knew they wondered what the hell went on in his head. It was one thing, after all, to kill a man because he owed you money. Or maybe take out a girlfriend because she cheated on you. But even the big and the bad had a code of conduct, a set of rules to live by. And when someone operated outside those rules, it frightened even the worst of them. As it should.

  … take Ted Bundy, for instance. Good-looking, by all accounts. Educated. A law student at a top-ranked law school. Some speculate the number of women who fell prey to Bundy may be close to one hundred. See, it’s a common misconception people have, you know, that psychopaths somehow look different. That they sound different. That they’re all drug dealers or bouncers or unemployed roofers. Everyone thinks they’ll spot the Charles Mansons right off, when the truth is, we encounter psychopaths in everyday life and never know it, Ms Valenciano. It was Scott Peterson’s charm and good looks that were perhaps his most disarming weapon. They can be bankers and CEOs and basketball coaches. Of course, not all psychopaths are murderers, and not all murderers are psychopaths. But the one textbook warning that does ring true is, especially, I believe, in this case, the smarter the psychopath, the more dangerous and destructive he will be …

  It was strange to sit in a room surrounded by people talking about him in the third person. Attempting to define him with tricky medical terminology. The cameras were a bit distracting. It was so important to listen right now, but so hard to focus. The medicine still clouded his brain. The waves still washed out their words sometimes. He swallowed a yawn.

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