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Plea of insanity, p.27
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       Plea of Insanity, p.27

           Jilliane Hoffman

  … Like a chameleon, he will take on the persona he knows you want to see. He will say the words he knows you want to hear. That’s what makes him so difficult to identify. Almost impossible to catch …

  He looked over at the prosecutor. Valenciano. Julia Valen-ciano, she’d said. She was so pretty. So young, he thought. Younger than him. An apprentice, obviously. An ingénue. Was he her biggest case? Was this her biggest moment?

  He watched as she walked around the courtroom, with all those cameras trained on her. She was so sure of herself, but so … not. He caught her quick, awkward glances over at him, studying him with her suspicious but, yet, curious green eyes, as if he were a specimen in a science lab. She looked at him with contempt, but also with maybe … compassion? Even through the fog of the drugs that made his tongue heavy and sometimes carried off his thoughts, he could tell she somehow doubted the confidence of her own questions. He had a thing with reading people. He always had. And he was never wrong. He could tell right then just by watching her that she was the one who would listen. Of all the people in the courtroom, he knew she wanted to understand.

  ‘Why?’ she demanded, narrowing those fiery green eyes and looking right at him. ‘Why would he do this, Dr Barakat?’

  Never ask a question you don’t know the answer to. Even he knew that.

  In not-so-clinical terms, Ms Valenciano, he’s a monster.

  He needed to show her the real him. It was time to tell her what he knew she wanted to hear.


  Farley leaned back in his chair, a wrinkled talon wrapped around his chin. ‘I’ve read the reports of both doctors. I’ve listened to their testimony here today from both Dr Barakat and Dr Koletis. I’ve had the opportunity to observe the defendant in court, not just today, but on several occasions. Let the record reflect that this hearing is approaching its third hour now.

  ‘The defendant hasn’t been a disruption in court. He’s able to conduct himself in front of a jury. Both psychiatrists have testified that he knows he’s been charged with murder and knows the penalty he’s facing. The defendant himself is a doctor. He’s not mentally deficient. He’s highly educated, and until the week before his arrest, he was performing surgery down the block. While this court recognizes that intelligent people can be mentally ill, too, his intellect has to be considered as a factor when determining his competency. And even though it might be sad that his twin suffers from schizophrenia, that’s all it is – a sad fact.

  ‘I’m not going to get into whether the defendant is malingering. That’s something for a jury to decide. The standard for competency is whether a defendant has the present ability to consult with counsel, and whether he has a rational, as well as factual, understanding of the proceedings. Now let me say this – no one and nobody is going to escape justice in my courtroom by faking a mental illness. Just by refusing to answer questions, even when it’s your own attorney or psychiatrist asking them, doesn’t mean you’re going to evade the long arm of the law. The defendant has a lot at stake in going forward to trial, and a strong motivation to fabricate or exaggerate the symptoms of mental illness. The law allows me to make sure Dr Marquette is properly medicated when he is in my courtroom so that he can proceed to trial. And so, based on the testimony presented here today—’

  Hushed, heated whispers erupted at the defense table. Mel and Stan leaned across the defense table toward each other, their backs to the court, obscuring their client from view. It sounded, at first, as if the two of them were having an angry exchange.

  ‘Is there a problem, Mr Levenson?’ grumbled the judge. ‘We’re not disturbing you and Mr Grossbach now, are we?’

  ‘Don’t,’ Mel whispered one final time. Then he reluctantly pulled back from the conversation to face the judge. He shook his big head, making his jowls wobble. ‘No, Your Honor.’

  ‘No, no, no,’ said a small voice. It was one Julia didn’t recognize, because she’d never heard it before. The courtroom fell completely silent as David Marquette stood in his red jumpsuit. His waist irons jangled.

  ‘David,’ said Stan forcefully. ‘Sit down.’

  ‘No, no, no …’ the voice continued. Marquette shook his head violently from side to side.

  The judge waved off Stan. ‘Dr Marquette, do you have something you’d like to say to this court? Something you think Ishould know? Although Ishould warn you that anything you do say can, and most likely will, be used against you.’

  In the hushed courtroom, his voice was nothing more than a broken whisper. He looked at Julia, who was sitting at the State’s table watching the scene unfold. His dead light-gray eyes stared right at her, right through her once again. ‘I saved them,’ he said softly, as though answering her last question to Dr Barakat.

  And with those words, the world as she knew it came suddenly and irreversibly crashing down around her as the protective firewalls in her mind slowly toppled, one by one by one, like dominoes, until, finally, only the frightening truth was left standing before her.

  Like frenzied bats freed from a dark and musty attic, the horrifying memories swarmed her. The ghosts had finally found their way back in.


  The car door opened and Detective Potter leaned in the back seat. His round face looked puffier in the yellow overhead dome light than it had at Carly’s; his small eyes even squintier. ‘Julie,’ he began with a sigh and Julia smelled the cigarette smoke on his breath.

  She swallowed the blood that filled her mouth and breathed in the blast of cold air. Don’t say it. Whatever you’re going to say, please don’t say it. Let me have more time before you say something bad. More time before everything changes …

  ‘Sorry to keep you waiting, honey,’ he started with a gentle, sad smile, ‘but we needed to make sure that—’

  She stopped listening.

  Her eyes suddenly caught on the two police officers in bulky dark-blue nylon coats that had stepped out her front door. They sandwiched a man dressed only in a T-shirt and jeans. She suddenly pushed past Detective Potter and out of the car, at first walking, then running full speed across the lawn. She heard the shouts behind her calling her to stop, but they didn’t make any sense.

  ‘Andrew?’ she shouted while running, the cold wind stinging her cheeks. ‘Andy? Andy!’

  He turned to face her then, and she saw the bright red splatters on his white undershirt, the smears on his face, the dark stains that soaked his jeans.

  At first she thought he was hurt, then her eyes fell on the handcuffs on his wrists and she knew. Both of his hands were wrapped in white kitchen towels, like a boxer’s, but blood had begun to seep through in spots. Her legs suddenly collapsed, refusing to hold her up any longer and she fell to her knees next to the Santa.

  ‘Oh my God, what did you do? Andy! What did you do?’ she screamed at him. ‘What did you do?’

  The handsome young man who still had the face of a boy smiled. Tears spilled from his eyes. They met the smears of blood, running down his cheeks in watery red streaks. ‘I saved them, Ju-Ju. I saved them. I had to. It had to be done.’ He thrust his hands up to the sky, creating a reactionary panic among the blue coats, who rushed to regain control of his arms. The kitchen towels fell away and ribbons of bright red blood streamed from his mangled hands. ‘Alleluia!’

  She stayed on her knees, screaming, her fists clutching at the frozen ground, the cold, melting snow seeping into her jeans. Detective Potter and the other officers who had rushed to catch her on the lawn stopped and backed up slightly, awkwardly looking at each other, watching her as she rocked back and forth.

  The blue coats escorted the young man to the back of a waiting cruiser, forcefully ducking his head and placing him inside with a hard shove. He smiled softly at her once more out the window. Then he hung his head as the car drove off down the block.

  She never saw her big brother again.


  The courtroom stayed strangely quiet for a few seconds, like the eerie lull right before the scream o
f a child who’s just skinned his knee – mouths hung open and contorted, but no sound escaped. Then the excited chatter started up, fast and furious, rising to an almost deafening crescendo before Farley silenced the crowd once again. ‘I’m ready to rule,’ he barked into the microphone on his bench – the one that had always been there but had never before needed to be used. He looked around for something to slam on the bench and shot an angry look over at his bailiff.

  ‘Be seated and be quiet!’ Jefferson nervously proclaimed, as if reading from bailiff cue cards. ‘No cellphones, no talking!’

  The courtroom quickly settled back down to whispers, as the reporters ignored Jefferson’s warning and finished sending off the last of their text messages to their editors. When there was complete silence Farley began to speak again. ‘I find the defendant competent to stand trial. Now we need to know if he was sane. I’m extending the trial date by two weeks for you all to find out. Mr Levenson, clear your calendar.’

  ‘Yes, Your Honor,’ Mel replied, rising.

  ‘State, I’m accommodating you in so far as to make sure this matter is set down in a C week. You will have no other trials set down that week.’

  There was no response.

  ‘Ms Valenciano? Hello?’

  How could it all be so clear now? So clear, like physically stepping back in time and into a memory. A memory she had shuttered away for so long. She could suddenly smell the cold air, heavy with the snow that was expected by morning, the burning leaves, the pine trees and evergreens, the cigarette smoke, the hint of Tsar cologne – strangely enough, her father’s favorite – in the back seat of the police car. She could hear the squawking of the police radios, the crackle of the operator’s voice, erupting over a dozen handhelds at the same time, the frantic, excited, hushed whispers of her neighbors who stood on the sidewalk behind her, held back by garish yellow crime-scene tape. She could taste the blood, thick and warm and coppery in her mouth. And Andrew …

  ‘Julia? Julia?’

  She felt a hand on her shoulder again. It was Lat. ‘The judge,’ he said with a whisper, nodding over at Farley. The courtroom sat in strange, excited silence, as if everyone in the room had collectively held their breath as they watched her. She looked around, dumbfounded. Lost.

  ‘Not a problem, Your Honor,’ the Chief of Legal said, rising from the front row and stepping purposely into the gallery and up to the podium. ‘Penny Levine on behalf of the State. We appreciate your working to accommodate Ms Valenciano’s trial schedule. Mr Bellido has asked that I assure the court that the State will be ready for trial on whatever date Your Honor sets.’

  The judge frowned at Julia, but decided to move on. ‘Trial is reset for Monday, March sixth, then. Report date is Thursday the second. That’s two extra weeks to get your case together, everyone. Short of one of the attorneys in this case actually dying next time around, we’re going on the sixth. I’m not letting this drag on for a year or so while we go back and forth squabbling with the experts. I’m appointing both Drs Barakat and Koletis again under 3.216. If you’re planning on using anyone else, let the other side know within thirty days. No surprise witnesses and no last-minute additions or substitutions, so get your acts together and plan every move carefully. Iwill not tolerate delays. I hope you all heard me on that,’ he finished with one final, annoyed glance over at the State’s table.

  Then the judge sailed past Jefferson and off the bench as the courtroom erupted in chaos once again.


  It no longer really mattered whose semen was on Jennifer Marquette’s pajama top, whose distorted footprints had walked the halls the night she and her children died, whose fingers might have slid open the windows of the lavish house on Sorolla Avenue, did it? David Marquette was a confessed murderer now.

  A mob of well-wishers from the State’s side spilled into the gallery. The very same prosecutors who had gossiped just hours before about her uncertain career move all wanted to shake her hand now, including the Chief of Legal herself. It was, perhaps, a moment every trial lawyer dreamed of, but one only a rare few would ever experience – winning the case or the argument in a crowded courtroom jammed with colleagues and cameras from around the world. A moment others would surely bask in and cherish, as they watched their careers soar to a new stratosphere on NBC Nightly News. But not Julia. For her, the moment felt frightening, pressing, claustrophobic, sickening, exploitative. The old courtroom looked the same as when she’d walked in just hours before, but everything and everyone in it was completely different now, like the final scenes in It’s a Wonderful Life when George stumbles upon his brother Harry’s tombstone in the town cemetery and finally grasps the terrifying truth that Clarence the Angel has been trying to tell him: George Bailey was never born. The town, the homes, the buildings – even the faces – might physically look the same as George remembered them, but they weren’t. One fact had forever changed everything and everyone. One fact had changed history.

  ‘Clarence! Clarence! Help me, Clarence,’ she heard her mother whisper along with Jimmy Stewart. ‘Get me back. Get me back. I don’t care what happens to me. Get me back to my wife and kids. Help me, Clarence, please. Please! I want to live again! I want to live again. I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again.’

  Of course, in the movies, George Bailey gets his wish. He gets to go back to the life he knew, with all its ‘warts and pickles’ as Momma might have said. But Julia knew that no movie magic would happen here today. No matter how much she prayed, she could not undo the truth that, despite repeated warnings, she herself had gone searching for. There would be no Hollywood ending for her.

  It’s too close, Julia. Too close. Please, I’m beg ging you to stay away. It can only bring … despair.

  She quickly moved to gather her files, watching as Corrections fit David Marquette – this shell of a man in his oversized jumpsuit – back into his frightening get-up of iron shackles and steel handcuffs.

  He’s a monster. A psychopath. Like a chameleon, he will take on the persona he knows you want to see. He will say the words he knows you want to hear. That’s what makes him so difficult to catch.

  She looked away, not trusting her eyes anymore, and finished packing up her briefcase. The noisy, restless crowd of reporters and onlookers seemed to have surreptitiously moved closer to the gallery while she had her back turned. She heard her name being called, mentioned, discussed in a dozen different conversations, but all she wanted was to get the hell out of the courtroom. Right now. Before she fell apart in front of everyone.

  A warm hand gently tapped her back. ‘Iknew you were better than him,’ said a familiar voice in her ear, as she threw Ehrhardt’s Evidence into her briefcase. She turned to see Lat standing beside her. ‘Although, you do know there’s no guarantee Bellido’s gonna let you take any of the credit,’ he added with a soft grin.

  She tried to smile back. She tried to make everything look normal, but she wondered if that was even possible anymore. The mask she wore surely had cracks. Behind Lat, Corrections worked to clear the courtroom and move the reporters out into the crowded hallway, where she knew they would wait for her to come out. Hold on. Hang in there. Just a minute more and then you can run. Run to … where? Anywhere but here. ‘Any word on how he is?’ she managed.

  ‘Except for the blown ego, I’m sure he’ll be just fine. Don’t worry about him.’

  She blew out a measured breath. ‘What a day. Thanks for before. I, I really …’

  ‘You were great. Quite the shark. I was surprised. You always look so nice. And him …’ he said, his voice trailing off as he looked over at Marquette. He shook his head, but didn’t finish his thought. ‘You know, Julia, nothing surprises me anymore. And that’s not a good thing. Try not to take it home with you.’ He placed a thin manila folder on top of her statute book. ‘For you. Your NCIC. I also ran an Autotrack, which is in there, too.’

  ‘Thanks,’ she said quietly, looking down at the folder. She tried to swallow the hard l
ump that had formed in her throat. ‘I’ve got to go,’ she finally managed.

  ‘Alright, then. Well, let me know if you need anything else,’ he said as he turned to walk away.

  She saw Steve Brill standing in the back of the courtroom, talking with Charley Rifkin and Penny Levine and her DC. All four of them were looking over at her. Brill was laughing, but the others weren’t. Why was it, that in a crowd full of people cheering your name, you could always hear the one or two small voices that weren’t? Why were they always the loudest? She looked away, back down at the State’s table, before they could see what she was thinking, and grabbed her briefcase, swinging it across her shoulder as she headed for the judge’s back hallway and a quick escape down the back staircase.

  ‘Oh yeah, Julia,’ Lat called out behind her. ‘Ialmost forgot.’ She stopped at the door Jefferson was, for some reason, still standing guard at and turned to look back at him. ‘Merry Christmas!’ he said with an easy smile when she did. ‘Have a good one.’


  The air was so cold and dry, it felt as though she swallowed a dozen knives every time she breathed, and an intense pain ripped through her chest. She knew that everyone was watching her while she cried on the lawn, her world spinning like the red and blue police lights that lit the night sky – around and around and around and out of control. Blue coats and detectives, paramedics and neighbors had all begun to gather on the sidewalk, and she felt their eyes upon her, watching her as she writhed in pain on the frozen ground. Awkwardly fidgeting with the change in their pockets, or adjusting the scarves around their mouths, they watched and waited for someone to do something to stop the scene in front of them, even though a part of them secretly hoped to see it play out to its natural conclusion. There was something fascinating, titillating, about watching bad things happen to other people live. Those who surrounded her now were able to participate – view the most excruciating emotional pain someone could experience – but not have to actually feel it for themselves. They were macabre voyeurs, and they crawled over her lawn and sidewalk and driveway, edging closer, ever closer, to get a better look.

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