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Retribution, p.37
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       Retribution, p.37

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘I was there. I was at your office!’ she screamed.

  ‘Yes, Estelle said you came by last week,’ he began defensively, the look of confusion still on his face, ‘but you were gone when I came out. That’s exactly the behavior you’re exhibiting that I am concerned about –’

  She cut him off, her voice now choked with tears. Tears that she could not hold back. ‘And I saw. I saw it, right there, in your office. In your appointment book.’

  ‘You looked through my appointment book? C.J., how could you –’

  ‘You were treating him, too! Bantling, that son of a bitch. All this time and you said nothing. You knew all along that he had raped me and you played me like a fool.’

  Greg Chambers’s shocked face now grew dark at the sound of her allegation. ‘I knew nothing of the sort. Listen to me, C.J. I did treat him, Billy Bantling, that is true –’

  ‘And you said nothing! How could you do that? How could you not tell me?’

  ‘I do not owe you an apology or an explanation, but I will afford you a limited one because of our long-term relationship. Our friendship.’ The anger rose in his voice as he spoke, and although he struggled to contain it, his tone was cutting and she suddenly felt small and unsure. Weak. ‘As a prosecutor, you know full well that I cannot divulge the fact that I am treating someone. The very fact that someone is a patient of mine is confidential and privileged. And I would never disclose that information. Never. I took an oath. Not for anyone or anything, without the consent of the patient. Unless there was a known conflict, which there was not.

  ‘I never knew that there was a connection until you came to me and told me that the subject arrested in the Cupid investigation was the man who had raped you. And at that time my relationship with Bill Bantling was severed, obviously, because of his arrest. Of course, I will not share anything with you that occurred in my sessions with Bill, so please don’t even ask. Just know that I would never compromise any of my patients. Never. And while this might sound cold, C.J., to attack my professional integrity and imply such a thing without first consulting me is offensive and insulting. I was in a difficult position and I did what I ethically was required to do.

  ‘Now I came here to see how you were doing, to see if I could help. But I no longer think that that is a good idea. As your doctor, I do suggest that you continue therapy with someone else, however, because you are exhibiting signs of a breakdown.’ He rose to leave.

  A sudden, inexplicable feeling of shame overwhelmed her. Her thoughts ran together clumsily, colliding now in confusion. ‘I don’t know what to do anymore,’ she whispered. ‘I don’t know who to believe, what to believe. It’s all coming apart and I can’t control anything. Nothing is real. I don’t know what is real anymore, Dr Chambers.’ The tears flowed from her eyes, even though she thought there were none left.

  It was too late. Greg Chambers was angry, the words had been said and could not be taken back. ‘I warned you not to take this case on because you were too close, C.J. Perhaps that lack of distance has warped your perspective on things, on relationships. Perhaps you’ve made the wrong alliances, ones you now no longer trust. Decisions made under stress and confusion are often poor ones.’

  ‘Dominick? Do you mean him?’

  ‘I’m simply advising you as I did months back. Distance adds perspective, which is what you seem to need. Continue therapy and you will see that. Good evening.’

  He shut the door behind him with a dull thud, leaving her alone again in her office.

  She buried her face in her hands, sobbing, the façade fracturing under the stress, the splintering cracks threatening everything she had sought to rebuild over the past decade.

  And she never even saw the picture of twenty-one-year-old Florida Atlantic University college student Julie LaTrianca that flashed momentarily across the TV screen behind her, or heard the comments of the perky and doe-eyed news anchor who described the dark-haired beauty’s disappearance from a Fort Lauderdale bar on New Year’s Eve as ‘mysterious’.

  83

  Twenty minutes after Greg Chambers walked out of her office, the phone rang on her private line at her desk. She let it ring at first, but it kept up, and finally on the tenth ring she picked up, wiping the tears on her face with the back of her hand.

  ‘Townsend. State Attorney’s.’

  ‘C.J., it’s me. Dominick.’ She heard police sirens in the background, lots of them, mixed with loud shouts from many different voices.

  ‘Dominick, it’s not a very good time for me. Can I call you –’

  ‘No, you can’t call me back. And it is a very good time for you, trust me. We found them, and you need to get down here.’

  ‘What? What are you talking about?’

  ‘I’m at a mobile home in Key Largo, just off of U.S. 1. It belonged to Bantling’s dead aunt, Viola Traun. We found the hearts. All of them. Stored in a freezer in her kitchen. We also found pictures, C.J. Tons of pictures of each victim, taken on some black background while they were being tortured on this metal gurney. Some even while they were being killed. Snuff pictures. Looks like maybe his shed. He had everything here.’

  ‘How did you find – ?’ Her heart was pounding in her chest, a mixture of relief, excitement, fear, panic. Too many emotions overloading the circuits.

  ‘I found a bench warrant issued by a judge out of Monroe County for Bantling. Just issued a few weeks ago; that’s why we never saw it. It’s a civil contempt warrant. Bantling was the guardian of his aunt’s property when she was alive, and he failed to file some sort of bullshit accounting within sixty days of her death, so the judge issued a warrant, not realizing, I suppose, that Bill Bantling was the very same William Bantling on trial for murder in Miami. I found out about the house and came down with Manny, and the owner of the trailer park let us in. What a place. The pictures were in the freezer with the hearts. Don’t worry, it’s all kosher, because the trailer was going into foreclosure for nonpayment of back rent on the land. The landowner had right-of-possession papers and all. I made sure. But we need a warrant before we go any further. I don’t want to fuck this up.’

  ‘Oh my God.’ She struggled to catch her breath. ‘Okay. I’m on my way.’

  ‘We got him, C.J.,’ Dominick said, his voice a whisper of excitement. ‘He’s all ours now.’

  84

  Juror Number Five stopped smiling and Bill Bantling stopped laughing when C.J. announced on Wednesday morning that she was reopening her case. And by noon, after Special Agent Dominick Falconetti had retaken the stand for two hours, none of the jury members would even glance in Bantling’s direction, and an emotional chill could be felt taking over the courtroom. By the end of testimony that afternoon, two male jurors had broken down in tears, and three female jurors had vomited after viewing the actual heart of Anna Prado, now preserved in a see-through evidence bag, followed by the horrific pictures found in Viola Traun’s freezer. That included a pale-faced Juror Number Five, who perhaps saw herself a few months down the road caught on film in one of Bantling’s trophy photos. Anna Prado’s mother was again escorted sobbing and screaming hysterically out of the courtroom, but this time around Judge Chaskel somberly decided to break for lunch. The tide had definitely turned.

  During the lunch break, Dominick charged William Rupert Bantling with ten additional counts of first-degree murder, and dropped ten more pink arrest forms on the Dade County Jail as a hold, in the what now seemed unlikely event that this jury let him walk. Lourdes waived her client’s right to a First Appearance Hearing, and by late afternoon announced to Judge Chaskel that her client would not be testifying on his own behalf. Bantling’s cocky smirk was now replaced with a nervous, defiant twitch, and his face had grown pasty and pale-looking. Violent, hushed squabbles could be heard erupting between Lourdes and him at the defense table.

  Closing arguments concluded on Friday afternoon, although Lourdes’s lacked the conviction she had mustered for Bantling in her opening. After the charging conferenc
e, the two alternate jurors were dismissed from service and their opinions devoured in the hall by dueling MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News correspondents, and the remaining twelve jurors instructed on the law. Finally, at 4:27 P.M., the jury was sent out to deliberate the fate of the defendant.

  Less than an hour later, at 5:19 P.M., a knock was heard on the jury door and Hank delivered a note to the judge in his chambers.

  They had a verdict.

  85

  ‘Is this your verdict, so say you all?’ asked Judge Chaskel over his reading glasses to the jury foreman as everyone in the courtroom quickly scrambled to their seats. No one had expected a verdict this quick in a capital case. Particularly C.J., who had barely made it to the first-floor coin-operated coffee machine for a cup of joe on her way back to wait for the verdict in her office. That’s when Eddie Bowman had jumped on the escalator, yelling to her that the jury was back.

  The judge’s face showed no emotion as his furrowed eyes perused the verdict form. The courtroom was standing-room-only – jammed with prosecutors, defense lawyers, press members, spectators, and family. An electric buzz of excitement ran through the room.

  ‘Yes, Your Honor, it is,’ anxiously replied the foreman, a garbageman in his forties from Miami Beach. He was trying hard to ignore the cameras and microphones that were hanging on his every breath, recording his every nervous tic. Small beads of sweat appeared on his upper lip, and he brushed them away with the back of his hand.

  ‘Very well, then, you may be seated, sir. The defendant will please rise.’ Judge Chaskel folded up the verdict form and handed it back over the bench to Janine, the clerk. The foreman, obviously relieved to be out of the spotlight, sat back down with the other eleven members of the jury, all of whom then stared at the bench uneasily, purposely avoiding even a glance in the direction of Bill Bantling. ‘Madame Clerk, please read the verdict.’ Then Judge Chaskel sat forward in his high-backed leather chair, his hand firmly resting on the wooden gavel on the bench.

  ‘We the jury, in the county of Miami-Dade, Florida, on this the fifth day of January, two thousand and one, find the defendant, William Rupert Bantling, guilty of murder in the first degree.’

  Guilty. Guilty of murder in the first degree. A choked sob sounded in the courtroom, which C.J. suspected came from Mrs Prado.

  ‘This courtroom will remain in order and everyone will remain seated,’ said the judge sternly, his deep voice still commanding attention over the now-overanxious, excited, fidgeting crowd. ‘Ms Rubio, would you like the jury polled?’

  ‘I would, Your Honor,’ Lourdes said blankly after hesitating a moment, her hands resting on the edge of the defense table for support. Bantling stared at the judge, as though he had not yet heard the news.

  ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I will now individually poll you to see if the verdict rendered was, in fact, your own. Juror Number One, what was your verdict?’

  ‘Guilty,’ said the retired secretary from Kendall, crying.

  ‘Juror Number Two?’

  ‘Guilty.’

  And so it went down the line. Some of the jurors’ eyes were red with tears, others looked relieved, and still others shared looks of disgust and anger when their turn to speak came.

  After Juror Number Twelve reiterated the defendant’s guilt, the courtroom erupted in complete chaos. Mrs Prado began to wail, family members of Cupid’s other victims who had attended the trial shouted and cheered, reporters rushed out to the hall to call their news agencies, and C.J. hung her head in a silent prayer of thanks to a God she had thought no longer existed.

  It was over. It was finally over.

  86

  That was when William Rupert Bantling began to scream.

  It was the same bloodcurdling, angry screech that she had heard before when she was locked in with him and Lourdes in DCJ. The excited courtroom chatter quickly drifted into stunned silence as everyone’s eyes and cameras turned to Bantling.

  He had his hands on his head, pulling at his hair, and was shaking his head furiously from side to side. His face was beet red, his eyes wide and furious, and from his mouth came that awful screeching sound. He turned in C.J.’s direction and pointed at her.

  ‘You fucking cunt!’ he hissed. ‘I should have fucking killed you then, you little bitch! I should have fucking killed you! You’re not gonna get away with this!’

  ‘Order, I want order in this courtroom! And I want it now!’ Judge Chaskel bellowed, his face red, matching Bantling’s. ‘Mr Bantling, are you listening to this court? I want you to be quiet!’

  Lourdes put her hand on Bantling’s arm to quiet him, but he violently threw it off, almost sending her into the chair railing. ‘Don’t you fucking touch me, either, you two-timing bitch! You’re in on this with her – I know it!’

  ‘Mr Bantling, I will no longer tolerate this outburst in my courtroom. I will have you gagged, if that’s what it takes to shut you up!’ He looked at Hank. ‘Remove the jury now, Hank! Now!’ Hank hustled to push the jury members, who all stood with their mouths open watching Bantling’s breakdown, through the door leading to the soundproofed jury room.

  Bantling turned and faced the bench. ‘Your Honor, I want another lawyer. I want another one right now.’

  ‘Mr Bantling, you have just been convicted of capital murder. You can have any lawyer you want to represent you during the appeals process, as long as you can afford it. And if you can’t, the court will appoint one for you. But you can’t have another one right now.’

  ‘Judge, you don’t understand! I didn’t do this, and they both know it!’

  ‘You need to calm down, sir, and control yourself.’

  ‘I fucked that prosecutor years ago. I fucked her bad in her apartment in New York, and now she’s framing me for these murders! I want a new trial! I want a new lawyer!’

  Judge Chaskel furrowed his brow again. ‘Mr Bantling, this is not the time or the place for these sorts of allegations, which sound rather ludicrous to me. You can take up whatever issue you want with your appeals attorney at a later date.’

  ‘Just ask her! She’ll tell you! She’ll tell you she was raped! And she knows it was me who did her! And my attorney, she knows it was me but she feels bad for Ms Townsend. She feels bad for poor Chloe. So she’s not fighting for me like she should. She should have had this case dismissed!’

  ‘Ms Townsend? Ms Rubio? Do you know what this is about?’ Judge Chaskel looked perplexed.

  This was it. The moment she had always dreaded. The moment she knew would come, but today had thought somehow she might escape. How would it feel when it all came crashing down?

  C.J. swallowed hard and stood from her seat to face the judge. ‘Your Honor,’ she said slowly, ‘I was, in fact, the victim of a violent rape some years back when I was a law student in New York.’

  One huge, enormous gasp could be heard simultaneously throughout the courtroom. A voice said, ‘Oh my God! ‘ Another, ‘Holy shit!’ Another, ‘Did you hear that?’ Tonight’s CNN Headline News, coming to you live from Miami: Shocking In-Court Revelation by Prosecutor in Cupid Murder Trial!

  She cleared her throat and continued in as strong a voice as she could muster. ‘Apparently, Your Honor, the defendant has become privy to this information through old police reports and public records searches and is aware that my rapist was never caught. In an effort to fool this court and to cloak these proceedings in accusations of impropriety and railroading, Mr Bantling has made a midnight confession that he was the man who raped me. However, Judge, I can assure this court that that is not the case. Mr Bantling is not the man who attacked and raped me, and I have advised his attorney as such in a prior meeting. I believe she also finds no merit in his accusations before this court today.’

  Judge Chaskel stared dumbfounded out from the bench. He did not like being put in this position. Not after he had just run what he thought to be a perfect, appeal-proof trial. ‘And this is the first time I am hearing of this? Now?’ He looked at Lourdes. ‘Ms
Rubio, do you wish to be heard on this matter?’

  Lourdes Rubio looked straight out before her at the judge, never once even glancing in C.J.’s direction. ‘Judge, I have spoken with my client and I have read the police reports concerning Ms Townsend’s assault. I have also spoken with Ms Townsend herself.’ She paused slightly, then continued, ‘I believe my client’s accusations against Ms Townsend are without merit and I do not support them.’

  Judge Chaskel sat in silence, contemplating his reaction and his next words. The courtroom stayed silent as well. Finally he spoke. Although sounding sincere, his words were carefully chosen for the court reporter. ‘Ms Townsend, I am sorry that you were compelled to disclose a very private matter before this court today. I should only hope that the media that is present here and now armed with this information will treat it with the privacy and tact that it so deserves.’

  ‘This is fucking bullshit!’ Bantling violently pushed the defense table with both hands, sending it toppling over and Lourdes’s files flying everywhere. ‘All of this! All of you are gonna kill me because you feel sorry for that lying bitch!’ Three corrections officers grabbed him from behind, holding his arms and legs while he struggled against them. As they handcuffed and shackled him, he snarled in C.J.’s direction, his eyes filled with pure hatred, his mouth foaming.

  Judge Chaskel raised his voice to almost a shout. ‘You can have your appeals attorney take up any issue you want. Right now, this matter is concluded. Gag him, Hank.’

  ‘You lying whore, Chloe! This isn’t over! This isn’t over!’ Bantling screamed.

  Then he fell silent as the bailiff taped his mouth shut.

  87

  She couldn’t go home. The media had somehow found her carefully guarded address and were camped out in the parking lot of Port Royale awaiting her return. They’d obviously paid the security guard to look the other way while they pulled past him in their bright blue Channel 7 News Team trucks. So she sat in her office at 10:30 that night calling hotels to try to find a room for a few nights until the media got bored and moved their trucks away from her parking spot and their boom mike away from her front door. She didn’t even notice him standing in the shadow of her door frame until he softly called her name.’

 
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