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Retribution, p.36
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       Retribution, p.36

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘After the incisions, the sternum, the bone that supports the rib cage and protects the heart and lungs, was then cracked open and spread apart.’

  ‘Do you have an opinion as to what instrument was used to crack the chest?’

  ‘No. Probably bolt cutters.’

  ‘Was Anna still alive at this point?’

  ‘Yes. Death is determined when a heart stops beating. When that occurs, other functions cease in the body, including breathing, and things remain as they were at the exact moment someone expired. That is how we can tell what someone last ate and when, what sort of toxins were in her bloodstream and liver, et cetera. When Ms Prado’s sternum was cracked, the lungs were exposed to air and outside pressure, which would, in turn, cause them to collapse. As the lungs deflated of air, oxygen would stop circulating to the heart and brain, and death from suffocation would ensue in approximately two to five minutes. However, air was still found in Ms Prado’s left lung during the autopsy, so we know that her death did not result from suffocation. And that, yes, she was still alive, when – ’

  A wail let out suddenly in the room, followed by a gasp. It was Anna’s mother. She was sobbing uncontrollably, being held up by family members. ‘Monster! Monster!’ she yelled.

  ‘Order!’ demanded a red-faced Judge Chaskel. ‘Hank, please escort Mrs Prado into the hall for this part of the testimony. I’m sorry, Mrs Prado, but such outbursts cannot be permitted in the courtroom.’

  ‘He took my baby!’ she screamed as family members led her to the doors while the jurors’ eyes followed. ‘That bastard took my little girl and cut her up! And now he sits there smiling!’ The doors closed on her screams.

  ‘The jury is hereby instructed to disregard those remarks,’ the judge warned sternly as Lourdes stood to object. The twelve members of the jury all looked in the direction of an obviously upset William Bantling, who shook his bowed head from side to side, his face buried in his hands.

  Uncomfortable silence hung in the air for a few moments, while the sounds of Mrs Prado’s wails faded as she was escorted down the hallway to the escalators.

  ‘Okay, Ms Townsend, you may continue,’ Judge Chaskel said.

  ‘What caused her heart to stop, Doctor?’

  ‘The severing of her aorta, the artery that supplies blood to the heart. Her aorta was cut and the heart muscle removed immediately after the sternum was cracked, and before the lungs could fully deflate. That caused her immediate death.’ The pointer now moved to another posterboard of a gray, nude Anna Prado, lying flat on the steel gurney at the medical examiner’s office, a black hole where her heart used to be.

  ‘Was she conscious at the time?’

  ‘That is impossible to determine, although, as I already stated, the mivacurium chloride found in her system would not cause her to lose consciousness. It would simply cause paralysis. Its relaxant effects on the skeletal muscles, however, would probably slow or prevent the body from going into shock, its natural defense when attacked. So I’d say that yes, there is a distinct possibility that she was conscious when her heart was cut out.’ A collective murmur rolled through the courtroom, like the wave at a baseball game.

  ‘Thank you, Dr Neilson. I have no further questions.’

  ‘Very well. Ms Rubio? Cross?’

  ‘Just a couple of questions. Doctor, you testified that the incisions on Ms Prado’s body were consistent with those of a number-five scalpel, is that correct?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘And that could have been any number-five scalpel. Is that correct? Not the particular scalpel allegedly found at Mr Bantling’s residence?’

  ‘Yes. Any number-five scalpel.’

  ‘And number-five scalpels are not peculiar, are they? In fact, they are rather common, particularly in the medical and taxidermy professions, correct?’

  ‘I couldn’t say about the taxidermy profession, but, yes, they are quite common in the medical profession. They can be purchased at any medical-supply store.’

  ‘Thank you, Doctor.’ Lourdes crossed the courtroom to her seat, then turned. ‘Oh,’ she said, as if the thought had just occurred to her, ‘and who was it that brought you this scalpel, this alleged murder weapon, for testing and comparison? Which detective was it?’

  ‘FDLE Agent Dom Falconetti.’

  ‘Oh,’ she said, thoughtfully, sitting down. ‘I have nothing further.’

  ‘State, do you have anything else?’ asked Judge Chaskel.

  It was 6:10 P.M. on Friday, December 29. The last working day of the calendar year 2000. C.J. had headed into the courthouse this morning, with reality crumbling and cracking and threatening to collapse around her, another sleepless night swallowing her eyes in deep circles and cutting lines of damage further into her brow. She did so because there was nothing else she could do at this point, and forfeiting to the other team was just not an option.

  Just like Lourdes’s cross, everything was innuendo and everyone was now suspect. Answers led to more questions. Absolutes were now equivocal. And nothing was real anymore; nothing was certain. She had no control over anyone, over anything in either her personal or her professional life. Witnesses who were supposed to be hers gave answers for the other side. Doctors who were supposed to help her also aided the enemy. Confidantes may now be spies. And the cracks in the façade ran deep, fanning out in a million directions. Just like before.

  ‘No, Judge. I have nothing further,’ she said, rising. Joe Neilson had been her last witness, finishing her case with a painful and telling description of the final tortured moments of Anna Prado’s life. ‘The state rests.’

  ‘Very well. That’s a perfect place to end this for the holiday weekend,’ began Judge Chaskel. Then he turned to give his standard list of admonishments to the jury before discharging them.

  C.J. turned and looked down at Bantling in his seat next to Lourdes. He still had his face buried somberly in his hands for the jury, his head shaking softly back and forth. But only now she saw why.

  It was because he was laughing.

  80

  ‘Have you tried calling her, Dom?’ Manny asked, the New Year’s party hat dipped in gold glitter tipping precariously off the side of his head. He was already three sheets to the wind, as was almost everyone else in the room.

  ‘Yeah. I keep getting her voice mail. I’m a little worried, Manny.’

  ‘I know you are, amigo. Have another beer. Mari!’ he shouted across Eddie Bowman’s crowded living room, packed with cops and analysts and agents and detectives, all adorned with glitter party hats and drinking shots from plastic champagne glasses. ‘Bring Dommy Boy another beer!’

  Marisol looked up from her conversation with six other women. She was dressed in purple sequins from head to toe, with a large swath of material missing conspicuously from her midriff. She shot Manny an annoyed look and a silent tsk.

  ‘Okay, Okay. Please bring Dom another beer.’ Manny turned to Dominick. ‘Jesus Christ, one roll in the sack and now I’ve gotta use fucking manners. I’m thinking back to my single days again, Dom. Maybe you should stay put, too.’

  ‘No more drinks for me anyway, Manny. I’m headed home soon.’

  ‘Hey, it’s almost midnight. You can’t leave before the ball drops. Maybe she’s not in. Maybe she went away for the weekend.’

  ‘Maybe. But her car’s still there at her apartment.’

  ‘Now don’t turn stalker on me, buddy. Driving by her apartment and shit.’

  ‘I’m worried, Bear. She looks like crap. She’s lost weight. She’s not eating, she’s obviously not sleeping. She won’t call any of us back. Even you. This guy Bantling is fucking with her head. And he’s winning. He’s got something on her. You’ve known her for years. Have you ever seen her like this before?’

  ‘No, I haven’t. And it worries me, too. Maybe this case just has her burning too many candles at both ends. Maybe she’s taking it easy this weekend.’ He paused and slugged down a guzzle of beer before finishing his thought. ‘Or, may
be she has someone else, Dom.’

  ‘You know, if that was it, I’d back off. But I don’t think it’s someone else. I think she’s taken on something by herself, something that’s too big for her to handle alone, and she won’t let anyone share it. She won’t let anyone in, and it’s pulling her apart, breaking her down. I see it in her eyes. When she lets me look, that is.’

  ‘Well, the state just rested. So what more is left? A few more days?’

  ‘Just the defense.’

  ‘That’s a problem. No one knows what Psycho is going to say, or for that matter if he’s even taking the stand. No luck on that garage, huh?’

  ‘Nope. We checked everything. Eddie even followed up a lead this morning. Nothing. We just have to wait and see what Bantling does. Take it from there.’

  ‘His lawyer is so full of shit.’ Manny raised his voice to a high-pitched whine: ‘“We’ll prove it’s animal blood. We’ll prove he didn’t know what was in his own fucking trunk. Even though we are under no obligation to prove anything.” Bullshit. Luminol won’t let us type the blood that was splashed all over that shed. It only lets us see it. She knows that, but she’s gotta twist it. Same goes for Bantling’s fucked-up tale that it’s bird blood. She can’t prove that. What fucking bird do you know that spurts blood on a ceiling like Ol’ Faithful? But that don’t matter to Rubio. She’s leading that jury by their dicks to her bullshit’

  ‘Or by something else.’

  Manny shook his head in disgust. ‘Did you hear that shit? Chaskel’s clerk told me that juror in the front row is still making goo-goo eyes at Bantling. Even after Neilson gave his slice-and-dice testimony. What kind of woman is that desperate?’

  As if on cue, Marisol appeared suddenly from the kitchen with two beers. ‘Here, Bear,’ she cooed, handing him the beers, ‘because you said “please.”’

  ‘Alright, Manny, I’m out of here. I have a few things I want to get done tomorrow. A couple of people I need to reinterview. Maybe get some answers before Bantling puts on his show this week.’

  ‘On New Year’s?’

  ‘No rest for the weary. Keeps my mind free.’

  ‘Call her again, tomorrow, Buddy. Hang in there. This is almost all over.’

  ‘Call who?’ Marisol asked Manny in a hushed whisper.

  Dominick made his good-byes as he headed through the crowd to the door.

  ‘Five, four, three, two, one… Happy New Year!’ Dick Clark yelled behind him from the TV, and the room erupted in cheers and whistles and honks and noise. ‘And what a great year 2001 looks like it’s gonna be!’ ‘Auld Lang Syne’ blared on the speakers.

  ‘I don’t think so, Dick,’ murmured Dominick to no one but himself as he closed the door and headed down the path out of the house. ‘I just don’t think so.’

  81

  Lourdes Rubio began her case Tuesday morning at nine. First up was the owner of Louie’s House of Tinting in North Miami Beach, then the head of the American Taxidermy Association, then the head of Pathology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In one day C.J. watched as her case was chiseled to a mountain of reasonable doubt.

  Bantling’s Jaguar was getting tinted all day Monday the eighteenth and Tuesday the nineteenth. It was picked up at approximately 7:15 P.M. that Tuesday. Louie testified that it had sat overnight in an unsecured parking lot, and that more than ten different employees had had access to the Jag during the day. He also testified that no one had looked in the trunk since Bantling had dropped it off on the eighteenth. There would have been no need to.

  William Bantling was a renowned taxidermist, recognized many times over for his talents by the Southeast Chapter of the American Taxidermy Association. A number-five scalpel is often used as a tool in the craft. Normally, the animal is dead before the procedure is done; however, in certain instances, a live animal may be used to achieve a more ‘realistic look’, particularly in the animal’s eyes. That, of course, would explain the luminol-illuminated blood smears.

  The blood smears on the number-five scalpel found in Bantling’s shed were too small to achieve an accurate sample for DNA testing. Tests did indicate the presence of animal blood, though, most probably from a bird. The red blood cells discovered on the blade had nuclei, something that human red blood cells do not have. The swirls left on the blade that initially matched Anna’s blood type also appeared to be ‘manufactured’, as were the three drops of her blood found on the floor in the shed. So said the Chief of Pathology from Albert Einstein.

  C.J. knew that you could find an expert somewhere who would say almost anything, refute even the most airtight evidence with conviction, if paid enough. Psychologists who would blame pro wrestling for a teenager’s act of cold-blooded murder; doctors who would blame death on a heart attack rather than on a drunk driver. For the right price, there were witnesses for any defense, any legal theory. And sometimes it worked. But to actually watch her case crumble, come apart at the seams… to see Bantling’s smile grow more and more confident as the jury nodded involuntarily at the testimony of his parade of witnesses, the coquettish glances in Bantling’s direction of Juror Number Five occur more frequently, the fear that once appeared in her eyes replaced now by an inquisitive lust… it was all too much. C.J. knew that her cross-examinations were not up to par, her tone of voice sounding more and more desperate with each witness. It was obvious that she had not prepared questions on these witnesses, that she had been taken by surprise, ambushed, and she felt the jury’s trust in her wane.

  She had not slept all weekend. Nightmares of her rape were now replaced with nightmares of Bantling’s acquittal. His twisted bloodred smile in the clown mask, turning to her in the courtroom and laughing. Laughing as Hank the bailiff unlocked the handcuffs and leg shackles and let him go free. And then him walking toward her, at her, while everyone just watched. Dominick, Manny, Lourdes, her parents, Michael, Judge Chaskel, Greg Chambers, Jerry Tigler, Tom de la Flors. All just watching while he threw her on the prosecution’s table and stuffed her panties in her mouth, a shiny new jagged knife in his hand slicing the buttons off her blouse.

  Her appearance was almost scary, she knew. The dark circles were impossible to hide now on her pale, sallow face, the chewed fingertips too gnawed for even fake nails. Her suits hung on her as if she were a mannequin at a bad dress shop.

  Just get through today, and tomorrow will surely get better, she continually told herself, although she knew otherwise. She knew from past experience that the spiral only headed one way. If Bantling walked, she was done. It was over. Now that seemed like only a matter of time.

  At a quarter to six, Judge Chaskel dismissed the jury for the day. ‘Ms Rubio, how many more witnesses do you intend to call so I can get an idea of scheduling?’

  ‘Just two or three more, Judge.’

  ‘Does your client intend to testify?’

  ‘I’m not prepared to answer that just yet, Judge. I don’t know.’

  ‘Well, if he does, do you think you will be done by tomorrow evening?’

  ‘Yes, Judge. Of course, that also depends on the prosecutor’s cross.’ She looked in C.J.’s direction.

  ‘Let’s take it as it comes, Judge. I don’t know how long my cross will be. I will probably need time to prepare if the defendant testifies,’ C.J. said wearily. I will probably be disbarred if he testifies, Judge. Then come the men in the crisp white suits.

  ‘I understand that. We are moving along nicely, though. I’d like to do closings on Thursday then, unless, of course, you need some additional time, Ms Towns-end, and a charging conference on the instructions to the jury on Friday morning. Then we’ll give it to the jury by Friday afternoon. A quick verdict and we’re done by the weekend.’

  And then we’re done by the weekend. And it will all be over. Just like that. By the weekend. In time for the Dolphins’ playoff bid, and the Coconut Grove Art Festival.

  By the weekend, fate would be forever decided.

  82

  She sat in her office, t
he blinds of course drawn, the sound of the Channel 7 news anchor barely audible on her small portable television, a mountain of paperwork lying uselessly on her desk, next to a cold bowl of soup and her fifth cup of coffee. The Cupid trial, of course, was the lead story on the six-thirty news, followed by a spin on a fraudulent investment company that had bilked South Florida seniors out of millions, and a blurb about a missing college student from Fort Lauderdale with epilepsy. She hated going home. She hated staying here. There was no escape anywhere. And that was the problem. At least until the weekend. And then we’re done by the weekend.

  A faint rap sounded at her door, and before she could answer, it slowly opened. She expected to see an irate Jerry Tigler before her, maybe even a concerned Dominick Falconetti and Manny Alvarez, whose calls she had avoided all week. She didn’t expect a smiling Gregory Chambers.

  ‘May I come in?’ he asked, entering anyway, looking about her office.

  Her back stiffened and she shook her head, but strangely enough, could not find her voice in time and he sat down before her.

  ‘How have you been?’ he asked, his brow furrowing with a look of concern. ‘I just came from the sex offender training symposium downstairs, and I thought I’d stop up. You haven’t made our last two sessions, and I am a bit worried about that. With all the stress that you are under.’

  ‘I’m fine. Just fine,’ she said, her head still shaking. ‘I think you should go,’ was all she could say.

  ‘You don’t look fine, C.J. You look sickly. I have watched you on TV and I am downright worried about you.’

  ‘Worried about me? You are worried about me?’ She couldn’t hold the anger in anymore, the hurt, the confusion. ‘I came to you for help, Greg – Dr Chambers – I trusted you as a doctor, as a friend, and you were fucking with me the whole goddamn time!’

  A look of hurt and surprise crossed Greg Chambers’s face. ‘What are you talking about, C.J.?’

 
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