All the Little Pieces, p.32Jilliane Hoffman
Across from her at the defense table sat Derrick Poole and his attorney. Poole was clean-shaven today – his once long, wavy dark hair now styled in a short, classic taper, which made him look very young. He wore rimless eyeglasses and a sharp charcoal suit, white shirt and gray tie. Maybe he’d been working out, because he didn’t look as lanky as he did that night, dressed all in black, wet from the rain, a crazed look in his otherwise unremarkable chocolate eyes.
Elisabetta rose at the state’s table. She looked at Faith as if to say, ‘It’s OK. Just keep to the script. Keep to what we discussed and I’ll get you through this.’ The prosecutor had warned her last week at the pre-trial conference that she, personally, was going to tear Faith down on direct so that she could rehabilitate her reputation and reestablish her credibility in front of the jury. She had assured her that, while it would sting at first, by candidly having Faith explain her bad decisions, and the reasons why she’d made them, upfront, it would get the jump on the defense and take the effect of a crushing punch away from his assault. She likened it to the ‘Lance Armstrong’ of cancer treatments: She would have to kill her to save her. Diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic testicular cancer that had already spread to his lungs, brain and abdomen, doctors had to practically kill Armstrong with toxic chemicals to save his life. Elisabetta had noted that the man had then gone on to win seven Tours de France. It was Detective Nill who’d suggested that Lance Armstrong might not be the poster child for an inspirational analogy on rebuilding one’s reputation.
As she had promised, Elisabetta took her, first, through the easy part: name, age, occupation, schooling. How long had she been married? How old was her daughter? Tell us about Sweet Sisters.
Then she moved to the night of October 19, 2014, and the questions got more personal, the answers a little more raw. Faith felt like she was betraying Charity, discussing her volatile marriage and the reason for the fight that they’d had at her party, the nasty comment Nick had made about her weight, and the reason why Faith had rushed out in the middle of the night, in a tropical storm, and in such a hurry that she had forgotten both her cell and her purse. It was disloyal enough discussing Charity’s drama with Jarrod or Vivian, but to cut open her sister’s personal life and watch it bleed in front of all these strangers, in front of all these cameras, and ultimately in front of the millions of Court TV watchers, made her physically ill.
Then Elisabetta went deeper. She asked about the drinking: How much had she had at Charity’s? Was she drunk? Why didn’t she stop at a hotel? How had she gotten so lost?
She led her to the moment Angelina appeared at her window, asking for help. Then she took her moment-by-moment through those fateful five minutes on Main Street. It was all very clinical until Faith got to the part where she drove away and never looked in her rearview until Pahokee and Angelina Santri and the man in black and the pot-bellied Yankee fan were long behind her.
Then the fangs came out. I’ve got to kill you to save you, remember that, Faith.
‘Why didn’t you let her in? Why didn’t you call the police? Why didn’t you tell your husband? Why didn’t you initially tell your husband or detectives about the pot-bellied man?’
Everything came out: Her DUI arrests. Her four months in rehab. Maggie’s emotional problems. Jarrod’s affair with Sandra and how, even now, she still feared him leaving her. When Elisabetta was done, Faith sat on the witness stand, cut open and bleeding herself, exposed for all to see. The most intimate, most devastating information – things she had never told another living soul before – had been divulged in a room full of cameras, and were now preserved in a court transcript that would forever be considered a public record. The cut was a mortal wound – Elisabetta truly had killed her.
Now she had to try to save her.
It started where it had ended – on a dark, deserted street in a small town in the middle of nowhere. The precise moment her life had changed forever would also be the moment that Elisabetta initiated CPR to bring her reputation back.
‘The man in black that you saw pull Angelina Santri away from your window, do you see that man in the courtroom here today?’
Faith wiped the tears from her face. She didn’t think there were any more left. ‘I do,’ she said, pointing at an unflinching, unaffected Derrick Poole. ‘He’s right there.’
Elisabetta nodded at Faith and offered the hint of a smile, as if to tell her that the worst was over – she was headed to post-op. She looked at the members of the jury as she announced the obvious: ‘Let the record reflect then that the witness has identified the defendant, Derrick Alan Poole.’
‘Mrs Saunders,’ said Rich Hartwick rising. ‘You have been on the stand for a whole day, and you’ve told us all some very difficult, personal information. I’m sure today is not something you ever envisioned when you left your sister’s birthday party six months ago, was it?’
‘No,’ answered Faith. ‘It wasn’t.’
‘Well, I don’t want to rehash every detail with you – especially the more personal ones. Besides, I’m sure you’ve gone over those details and exactly what you were going to say here today with the prosecutor more than once, am I right?’
‘Yes, I have met with the prosecutor, Ms Romolo,’ Faith replied warily, looking over at the state’s table.
‘And you discussed extensively what you were going to say here today, right?’
‘We discussed what I was going to testify about, yes.’
‘And you were very forthcoming with Ms Romolo on direct about your two DUI convictions, one of which stemmed from an arrest on November twenty-fifth, 2014, only a couple of weeks after you had first gone to the police with your husband and daughter, right?’
‘You also testified that you recently completed a one hundred and twenty day alcohol rehabilitation program at The Meadows in Wickenburg, Arizona, correct?’
‘That’s a substantial time in rehab. So you admit you are an alcoholic?’
‘I had a drinking problem. Had, sir.’
Hartwick nodded. ‘You were very honest with the prosecutor that you had been drinking on the night in question before you left your sister’s house. And that you were afraid you might have been over the legal limit to drive, correct?’
‘Yes. I didn’t feel intoxicated, but I was worried that, if tested with a breathalyzer, I might blow higher than the legal limit. I was worried about getting arrested in front of my daughter.’
‘The one you admit you might have been driving around legally considered drunk with in the car?’
She looked down at her lap. ‘Yes.’
‘You’ve been very honest here today, even though it has been difficult revealing embarrassing information, right?’
‘Of course, your two arrests and your two convictions are public record, correct? Meaning, a records check with the Department of Law Enforcement would reveal your criminal history, correct? It’s not like you could hide that if you wanted to, correct?’
‘No. It’s a public record. I was honest because it was the truth.’
‘Same with your recent stint in rehab, you couldn’t really hide that, either? I mean you’ve been gone for four months.’
‘It’s not public record; I chose to disclose that.’
‘At the prosecutor’s suggestion?’
‘Thank you for being honest with me right there, Mrs Saunders. Like I said, you seem like a nice lady who kind of got caught up in things the night of October nineteenth, 2014. Wrong place at the wrong time. And now you’re here. Like I said, I bet it’s someplace you never envisioned being after that birthday party. And you were honest on direct when you admitted to Ms Romolo that you had been drinking at your sister’s house before you got behind the wheel with your four-year-old and attempted to drive in a treacherous tropical storm two hundred miles back to your home in Parkland. Super honest. Raw honesty.’
‘Objection. Is there a question pending or is Mr Hartwick simply musing?’ asked Elisabetta.
‘Mr Hartwick, don’t muse,’ ordered the judge.
‘Of course, you haven’t always been honest, have you, Mrs Saunders?’ Hartwick walked closer to the witness stand. ‘When detectives asked you initially if you had been drinking that night, you denied it, didn’t you?’
‘Yes. I was worried about what my husband would think if he knew.’
‘Wow. You seem like a nice lady, but you weren’t always so nice, either, were you?’
Elisabetta stood ‘Objection!’
‘Overruled. Get to the point Mr Hartwick. Let’s not mudsling unless there’s a point,’ warned Judge Guckert.
‘After Angelina Santri came and banged on your window and begged you for help and you didn’t open the door and let her in—’
‘I was scared. I will forever regret that decision, but my daughter was in the car!’
‘The one you admittedly had driven drunk with?’
‘Yes,’ she replied with some difficulty.
‘So after you turned away Angelina Santri, and after you had successfully driven away from these two “bad men” and you and your daughter were no longer in danger, you didn’t call the police, did you?’
‘I didn’t have a cell phone, sir.’
‘But you admit you passed establishments that were open and that presumably had pay phones, or a phone on the premises that you could use to call the police if you wanted to?’
‘Yes. I apologized for that.’
‘Yes, you did. We heard that apology as well. And you admitted that you did not call the police when you arrived safely home at three a.m.?’
‘I regret that, too.’
‘I bet. And you didn’t call the next day, or the day after that, or the week after that, even. In fact, it was when your four-year-old finally spoke up and told your husband what she had seen, that you finally went to the police, correct?’
‘Yes. That is true.’
‘That’s a lot of excuses, a lot of regrets.’
‘Yes. I have a lot of regrets.’
Hartwick paused for a long moment. ‘So when it’s convenient for you to be honest or nice, Mrs Saunders, you are?’
‘I made a mistake, Mr Hartwick. I had been drinking at my sister’s and I was worried I would get arrested in front of my daughter if I called the police and they thought I was over the limit. I made a bad decision. It is one that will haunt me forever. But I can’t take it back. I wish I could.’ She twisted the tissue in her hand over and over again.
‘OK, Mrs Saunders. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has regrets. But you weren’t very honest with the detectives when you were first interviewed, were you?’
‘You told Detective Nill that you had only seen Mr Poole with Angelina Santri. You specifically denied seeing any other person out there that night, isn’t that right?’
‘So that wasn’t a mistake, that was a lie, correct?’
‘Yes. I lied.’ She held back an exasperated sigh. The prosecutor had warned her the defense would ask the same damning questions over and over again with slight variations just so the jury could continue to hear her admit she’d lied. Just temper your frustrations and answer the questions, Faith. The jury will tire of him asking the same question over and over and over again. They will appreciate your candor and patience.
‘You had, in fact been so close to the second man out there, that you could provide enough information so that a sketch artist was able to draw a composite of that man?’
‘And you were close enough to that second man to subsequently be able to identify him for detectives from a ten-year-old photograph, even though some of his physical features detectives admitted had changed?’
‘Yes. But like I explained, my husband and I were having marital problems at the time and I was worried he’d … I was worried he would leave me if he knew there was another man out there and I did nothing to help that girl. I was already stunned that she had died, Mr Hartwick, possibly because I had done nothing, and I thought if he knew I saw two men out there and did nothing, he would leave the marriage. He would leave me. It sounds illogical now, but that’s how I was thinking. And I thought I’d have an opportunity to tell Detective Nill later.’
‘When it was more convenient for you?’
‘When my husband wasn’t around. But that didn’t happen. My husband was always around. He went out to the scene with myself and the detectives.’
‘So it wasn’t until you were actually confronted with physical evidence by Detective Nill that there was another person out there that night who had taken Angelina that you finally fessed up and became honest?’
‘I thought he would find out about the second person on his own. I thought your client would plea – I … I never wanted to be involved in this. It just kept spiraling out of control. And it had my whole life wrapped up in it.’
Hartwick leaned on the witness stand ledge. ‘So let’s get this straight: when your daughter saw Angelina Santri’s face on the news and told your husband what she had seen and that Angelina had begged you for help, and he confronted you, you came forward and were honest – but not completely. And then, when you were confronted by Detective Nill with evidence of an unknown second suspect, you come forward and were honest. So the first lie was to save your daughter the embarrassment of your being arrested for your second DUI, and the second lie was to save your marriage because you were too cowardly to come forward and tell the truth the first time. And then you went through alcohol rehab – because underneath all that has happened is alcohol and while you don’t admit to being an alcoholic, you do admit to having had a drinking problem that surely clouded your judgment and caused you to lie, but you’re a better person now and we should believe you. Isn’t that what you said to the prosecutor?’
‘Not exactly that way.’
‘So are we done with the lies? There are no more lies?’
‘I’m telling the truth, Mr Hartwick. I’m ashamed of what I did and what I didn’t do in the past. Like I said, I’ll always have regrets. There are no more lies.’
Hartwick shook his head. ‘Wrong answer, Mrs Saunders.’ He walked back to the defense table and held up a piece of paper. ‘Did you strike anything with your car that night? The night you were driving back from your sister’s? October nineteenth and into the early morning hours of Monday, October twentieth?’
Faith felt her blood run cold.
Elisabetta and Gareth Williams huddled together. ‘Objection,’ shouted Elisabetta.
‘We have not been presented with the evidence Mr Hartwick is holding in his hand.’
‘That’s because I haven’t introduced it yet, Counsel,’ said Hartwick with a dry smile. ‘But I will.’
‘Being caught unawares is not a legal objection,’ said Judge Guckert. ‘Overruled.’
Hartwick returned to Faith. ‘Mrs Saunders, did you have an accident that night with your 2009 Ford Explorer?’
She hung her head.
‘The witness will answer the question,’ instructed the judge.
‘There was nothing there. I looked,’ Faith replied in a soft voice.
‘Excuse me?’ said Hartwick. ‘That’s not an answer. Did you strike anyone with your car on the night of October 19, 2014?’
Faith looked at the jurors. ‘I hit something. I checked and got out of the car, but I didn’t see anything. There was nothing there.’
Hartwick walked back over to the defense table and picked up another piece of paper. ‘Angelina Santri suffered a fracture of her femur and a bone contusion, a dislocated shoulder and a spiral fracture in her left wrist. Those injuries are documented in the medical examiner’s report and are consistent with a person bracing herself for impact against a motor vehicle
‘Objection! Counsel is testifying and offering his own medical opinion!’
‘It won’t be mine alone for long, Judge. I am prepared to call the medical examiner.’
‘Call who you want when it’s your turn, Counsel,’ ruled Guckert. ‘Right now, don’t offer a medical opinion, because you are not a doctor and you are not a witness. Next question.’
‘Mrs Saunders, did you call the police after you had an accident?’ asked Hartwick.
‘There was nothing there,’ Faith repeated, tears running down her face.
‘Mrs Saunders, did you tell your husband that you’d had an accident?’
‘There was nothing there.’
‘Mrs Saunders, did you ever tell Detectives Nill or Maldonado that you hit someone? That you’d had an accident that night?’
‘There was nothing there,’ she insisted.
‘Mrs Saunders, if there was nothing there,’ Hartwick demanded, bellying up to the witness stand and sliding a piece of paper in front of her, ‘then why don’t you tell us why you replaced the damaged grille, popped a dent from the fender and two from the hood, and had two deep scratches compounded out of the hood on your 2009 Explorer at Lou’s Automotive the very next day?’
All the Little Pieces by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes