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Retribution, p.26
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       Retribution, p.26

           Jilliane Hoffman


  It seemed like forever since C.J. had actually slept eight hours through the night. After spending Friday night at the grisly scene in the Everglades where Morgan Weber’s remains were found, she had then accompanied Dominick and Manny over to the medical examiner’s office to watch Dr Joe Neilson perform the early-morning Saturday autopsy. After that she had spent the afternoon at her office trying to figure out if the fishing shack stood on federal land in the Everglades, or county property in Miami-Dade. Finally satisfied that the answer was the latter, she spent Saturday night on the phone getting yelled at by that prick de la Flors and his entourage of prick attorneys in the Justice Department. It was only when she broke out the actual land survey and threatened him with both trespassing and obstruction-of-justice charges did he call the FBI hounds off of her murder scene, all the while vowing revenge against her and her office for all eternity. That left the boys in blue on the task force cheering her name, but by Sunday night, she was both so emotionally and physically exhausted that when she actually fell into her bed, even her nightmares could not wake her.

  Morgan Weber. Nineteen. Blond. Vibrant. Beautiful. Dead. As C.J. headed to court for Bantling’s arraignment on the murder of Anna Prado, on Monday morning, visions of the smart wannabe model from Kentucky filled her head. Having seen the horror in the fishing shack, she could not dismiss its image from her brain. Strung out on fishing line and hanging from the rickety wooden rafters of the small shack’s ceiling, Morgan Weber’s petite body dangled like a bat’s, her arms and legs spread far apart, like an acrobat or contortionist, her neck tied back so it curved upward toward the ceiling, like a swan, held in place with wire and tied back to a beam. She had been dead for so long, her body was all but a skeleton, with just a few black chunks of meat clinging to her tiny bones in a few spots. They had managed a quick, tentative ID because her driver’s license had been found underneath the body, splattered with her blood. The identification was later confirmed through dental records.

  They knew it was Cupid. From the huge amount of bloodstains on the floor underneath the body and the blood spatter at the scene, it was clear that Morgan had been killed where she hung. The savagery and viciousness of the murder, the precise staging of the remote crime scene were in keeping with his style. But ironically, it was this preciseness, this attention to detail, this staging of his victims that might just prove to be Bantling’s downfall on this murder. Because from where Morgan Weber’s body hung in the dark shack from invisible fishing line, she looked like a bird in flight. A vision hauntingly similar to that of the stuffed birds caught on film by Crime Scene technicians in Bantling’s own shed.

  An indictment for capital murder was never before so warranted. Even the staunchest death penalty opponents would be able to say little in defense of William Rupert Bantling when the time came for him to hold out his arm.

  C.J. held her copy of the indictment in her hands and walked into the crowded courtroom, full of Monday-morning motions, arraignments, and trial calendar calls, not to mention, of course, the antsy members of the press, who were all waiting with bated breath for the big official announcement from the state. The crowd let out a low whisper of excitement when she walked to the left-hand side of the gallery where the prosecutors waited for their cases to be called from the calendar.

  The defendants in custody had been brought over from the jail already, and from the corner of her eye she could see the bright red jumpsuit and blond hair in the back of the box, again separated from the other inmates, and flanked by corrections officers. She made sure to avoid eye contact with him, and instead looked down at the paper in her sweaty hands.

  Judge Leopold Chaskel III looked up from his Monday-morning calendar and spotted the cause of excited commotion. Ignoring the speech then currently being made by a whiny defense attorney begging for drug court for his client, the judge addressed her from the bench.

  ‘Miss Townsend. Good morning. I believe you have something on my calendar this morning.’

  ‘Yes, Judge, I do,’ said C.J., moving toward the state’s podium.

  ‘It seems that I have been the lucky judge selected to hear the case of The State of Florida v. William Bantling, have I not?’

  ‘Yes, Judge, you are the winner – he’s all yours from here on out.’

  ‘Good. Is the defense present for your case this morning?’

  ‘Yes, Judge. Lourdes Rubio for the defendant, and he is also present, Your Honor,’ said Lourdes. She rose like a shadow next to her client in the box.

  ‘Good. Let’s get this taken care of, then.’ Judge Chaskel turned to the defense attorney who was still in midwhine and said in a stern voice, ‘I’ll deal with you and your client in a moment, Mr Madonna. Don’t mope, now, please. It is, after all, only Monday and you’re on my calendar three more times this week. Hank, bring me the Bantling case.’

  Judge Leopold Chaskel III was a state’s dream-come-true for a trial judge. He was a former state prosecutor who didn’t put up with a lot of shit that other mousy judges might, particularly those worried about the defense bar. He gave a fair hearing to both sides, but with minimal whining and no stunts, and he had a very low reversal rate.

  ‘Okay now. Counsel, make your appearances for the record, please.’

  ‘C.J. Townsend for the State.’

  ‘Lourdes Rubio for the defense,’ said Lourdes, coming to the defense podium.

  ‘We are here on the matter of The State of Florida v. William Rupert Bantling. Today is the twenty-first day. State, do you have an announcement?’

  ‘Yes, Judge. The grand jury has handed down an indictment against William Rupert Bantling in case number F2000-17429 for first-degree capital murder in the death of Anna Prado.’ C.J. handed the clerk the indictment.

  ‘Very well,’ said Judge Chaskel, taking the indictment from the clerk. ‘Mr Bantling, the state has charged you with first-degree murder. How do you plead to these charges?’

  ‘Not guilty, Your Honor,’ said Lourdes. Bantling remained silent in his seat in the box. ‘We waive formal reading of the charges, enter a plea of not guilty, and demand trial by jury.’

  ‘Discovery within ten days, State.’

  ‘No, Judge. I have spoken with my client, and he has decided that he does not want discovery in this matter. Just a quick date,’ said Lourdes.

  Judge Chaskel frowned. ‘Ms Rubio, in case you didn’t know, this is a first-degree-murder trial, and a lot is at stake. What do you mean your client doesn’t want discovery?’

  ‘Just that, Judge. I’ve explained to him that he has a right to discovery, but he has declined.’

  Judge Chaskel looked past Lourdes now and stared quizzically at Bantling. ‘Mr Bantling, you have just been indicted on first-degree-murder charges. You have a right to know the evidence that the state has against you, the right to speak with the witnesses they intend to call to the stand to prove their case. That is called discovery, and in the State of Florida, you have a right to this, if you so choose.’

  ‘I understand,’ said Bantling, his eyes never leaving the judge’s.

  ‘And if you choose not to participate in discovery, you cannot come back later if you are convicted and complain. Do you understand that? You will be waiving your right to appeal on that issue?’

  ‘I do understand that, Judge.’

  ‘And with that in mind, do you still decline to participate in discovery and depose the state’s witnesses?’

  ‘That is correct, Judge. I have spoken with my attorney and I am aware of my options and I do not wish to engage in discovery.’

  The judge shook his head. ‘Very well. Let’s set a trial date. What do we have, Janine?’

  Janine, the clerk, looked up. ‘February twelfth, two thousand one, for trial. Report date, Wednesday, February seventh.’

  Lourdes cleared her throat. ‘Judge, Mr Bantling wishes to expedite this matter as quickly as possible and clear his name. Can we get a quicker date?’

  ‘You do
understand that this is a first-degree-murder case, Ms Rubio?’

  ‘Yes, Judge. That is my client’s decision.’

  The judge shook his head in amazement. ‘Okay. We aim to please. Janine, give me a closer date. One in December, please.’

  ‘December eighteenth, two thousand. Report date, Wednesday, December thirteenth.’

  ‘Okay, all. We are set for December. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Joyful Kwanza. Now I hope you won’t come whining to me in two months that you’re not ready, Ms Rubio. You’re the one who wanted a quick date.’

  ‘No. I don’t expect I will, Judge.’

  ‘Very well. I’ll see you all then in December. Motions within thirty days, please. And no surprises. I hate surprises.’

  ‘Judge,’ said C.J. ‘I do have one further announcement for this court.’

  ‘I suspected you would, Ms Townsend.’

  She cleared her throat and handed a piece of paper to the clerk.

  ‘Pursuant to the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, the state is filing a written notice of its intent to seek the death penalty in this case. The death of William Rupert Bantling.’


  He’d just had it. Had it with this show that everyone was putting on before him. The flavorless judge stopping his calendar in the middle of that poor schlep’s speech, to make an all-important speech of his own. To fix the cameras on to his own bland face. Now here was the bitch again, Miss Madame Tight Ass Prosecutor waltzing into court in her plain black pantsuit and glasses and making a big announcement. As if all eyes were on her. Bullshit It was him they wanted to see; she was just some decoration. Eye candy on the cake. Ooh, do take my breath away with your announcement, Miss Tight Ass. I’d love to loosen up your tight ass. Just give me five minutes to get it nice and loose.

  How was he supposed to get a fair trial with any of them? Mugging the cameras for attention, when it was he who had handed them their notoriety? They cared not for the fucking truth. They didn’t even listen when it was screamed in their faces.

  He sat back in his seat and grumbled, watching the show, the farce, play out in front of his eyes. He wanted to turn his head and smile his best right at those fucking cameras. Maybe crack a lens or two. Maybe get one of those cute blond reporters to send him a love note in jail or, better yet, visit him for a live interview. Step up to the mike, my dear. That’s it, put your mouth on the mike and take it all the way in. That would be sweet. And she could bring her own camera, too. His mind started to wander away from the hearing and his cock rose in his bright red jumpsuit.

  Then Miss Tight Ass made her haughty proclamation.

  And the state would like to announce… blah blah blah… its intent to seek the death penalty in this case.

  It wasn’t that he hadn’t expected the announcement, as it was being called; it was just that he hadn’t expected it today, in this circus. Today was just to be his arraignment. Just sit there and say nothing. Today is the day we enter your plea to the charges; that’s it. At least that was what his useless lawyer had said. So they wanted to put him to death? They were going to need some heavy-duty rope then to haul his kicking, screaming ass in, that was for sure. There would be a fight, yes, siree. Count on it.

  He heard the cameras click and whir and focus on his face and he watched as Tight Ass teetered her haughty little self back out of the courtroom right past him. So close he could spit on her. So close he could smell her perfume as she passed. Chanel No. 5 it was. He could see her cute little upturned nose and fair skin and full, pouty mouth.

  Then the Grinch got an idea. A wonderful, awful idea.

  Bill Bantling smiled a sheepish, calculated smile for the cameras. For just then, he’d finally remembered exactly why Miss Madame Prosecutor looked so familiar.


  ‘It took the lab a couple of weeks, but they’ve finally ID’d it. The fishing line that he used on Morgan Weber is identical to the line found in the shed,’ said Dominick.

  It was Monday, October 16 – exactly two weeks since Bantling had been arraigned. Manny, Eddie Bowman, Chris Masterson, Jimmy Fulton, and three other task force members sat at the cherry conference table in task force headquarters at the FDLE’s Miami office. C.J. sat next to Dominick at the head of the table. It was a case strategy meeting. A powwow.

  ‘That’s great. Now tell me the bad news. How many spools of that fishing line were manufactured and sold within the past ten years to bait and tackle shops all over Florida?’ asked Manny.

  ‘A lot. We’re working on getting a number,’ replied Dominick. ‘Another bit of good news just in: Jimmy and Chris finished up with Tommy Tan’s crazy-ass business records. Even though our love-seat salesman of the year was out of the country six months out of each year, he was nice enough to stay home in cozy South Florida on every day a girl vanished.’

  ‘Have we gotten anyone to ID him with a victim?’ asked C.J.

  ‘No. A few Jerry Springer wannabes, but no one credible,’ said Dominick.

  ‘Well, he hasn’t filed an alibi notice and he isn’t participating in discovery, which worries me a bit. So I don’t know what defense he plans to spring on us. Maybe we’re in for a big surprise at trial,’ said C.J.

  ‘Like an evil identical twin brother?’ piped up Chris.

  ‘Sit down, Matlock, before you hurt yourself,’ yelled Manny. Everyone laughed.

  ‘So when are we gonna move on him on the other murders?’ asked Eddie Bowman, as the laughter died down. He was scratching the back of his head impatiently. ‘It would make me sick if this pervert walks for some reason on Prado, and we ain’t got nothing to hold him on his way out the door in the middle of the night.’

  ‘He’s not walking on Prado,’ said C.J.

  ‘The case is pretty much airtight, isn’t it, C.J.?’ asked Chris.

  ‘As airtight as a case can be. The DNA’s back, and it’s a match to Anna’s. That was her blood all over his shed. We have the body in his trunk. We have the murder weapon in his shed. The mutilation of her body and dissection of her heart is cruel and heinous, not to mention the drugs he used on her to paralyze her and keep her conscious while he killed her, and we have her abduction from Level, which shows premeditation, all of which are the aggravating factors that we’ll need to get death. All I really would like to seal this case is her heart, and, of course, the hearts of the others. But at least on Prado we have enough at this point to go forward.’

  ‘Then why not file on the others?’ asked Bowman again. He looked annoyed. For all his twelve years spent in law enforcement, sometimes he just didn’t understand how the legal system worked once a perfectly good case got passed off to a lawyer. Take a mope with an armful of priors and a two-hour taped confession – and five bucks will get you ten that for some fucked-up legal reason, a jury would never hear about either of them. That’s just the way it seemed to be, and it pissed him off more and more each year. One minute he would be looking at a commendation for great police work on a case and his name on a plaque, and the next, he was sitting in a courtroom listening to a not-guilty verdict on the same fucking case. So he was not holding out any hope on Bantling, no matter how ‘airtight’ the prosecutor was calling it.

  ‘Because Bantling is a stickler on the clock. He wants a speedy trial on Anna Prado, and I don’t want to act prematurely and later lose something on speedies because all my ducks were not in a row. If I can get a conviction on Prado, I can then Williams Rule not only the conviction itself, but also the facts of her murder into the other cases and try them all together. That way, even without any physical evidence directly linking him to the other murder victims, the jury can still hear about all the murders and Bantling’s conviction for at least one of them. Of course, it’s still circumstantial and that makes me nervous, especially with Miami jurors. I want some physical evidence – and the fishing line is certainly a start – some evidence that directly connects him to those women. I want the smoking gun, Eddie. Find me the trophies he collected from each of h
is victims. Find me their hearts.’

  ‘Well, we’re looking, but he could have burned them or eaten them or buried them for all we know, C.J. I just don’t see why finding them is so necessary.’ Bowman scratched the back of his head again.

  ‘Hey, Bowman, what you got? Fleas?’ Bear yelled. ‘Maybe they’re breeding in your ears, ‘cause you ain’t fucking listening. She’s going forward even without them. Give her time.’ Not everyone shared Bowman’s gloomy pessimism.

  ‘I don’t think he did any of those things, Eddie,’ C.J. responded. ‘I think he has them preserved someplace. Someplace where he can look at them and remember. I spoke with Greg Chambers, the forensic psychiatrist who consulted on the Tamiami Strangler. All serials take trophies from their victims. Snapshots, jewelry, hair snippets, underwear, some personal artifact. He thinks Bantling’s trophies were his victims’ hearts. It fits the pattern. And he wouldn’t destroy something he went to great lengths and ceremony to take. They would need to be preserved someplace where he had access to them at his leisure so he could look at them, touch them, remember. So I think that they’re still out there, Eddie. We just need to know where to look.

  ‘In the meantime, I’ve subpoenaed Bantling’s medical records from New York. He still hasn’t filed an insanity plea, and I don’t think Judge Chaskel is going to let me look at the actual records and charts unless Bantling calls his sanity into question. But the actual diagnoses of his medical condition and what he was prescribed by his doctor is directly relevant and I’ll get that. That will show a strong link between him and all the murder victims that the ME found with haloperidol in their systems.’

  She pulled her hands through her hair and tucked it behind her ears. Then she began to pack up her briefcase. ‘But, we might not even have to try that hard. He may make it very easy for us.’

  ‘How’s that?’ asked Dominick.

  ‘I got a call yesterday from Lourdes Rubio. They want to talk. Probably on how he can plea and still avoid the death penalty.’

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