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Plea of insanity, p.38
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       Plea of Insanity, p.38

           Jilliane Hoffman

  ‘Can I help?’ Julia asked.

  Andy looked up at her from his trench in the sand, his eyes squinting against the sun.

  ‘Mom said to tell you I can help.’

  He shrugged, but only because he had no choice and he knew it. ‘If you want.’

  ‘Whatcha making? A hotel?’ she asked.

  ‘The Colosseum.’

  ‘The what?’

  ‘The Colosseum. It’s in Italy. It’s like a stadium, like a really old baseball stadium.’

  Wow. She could see it now. A stadium. That was so cool. ‘Can I make the concession stands, like they have at the softball fields in Eisenhower Park?’

  ‘No,’ he sighed. He thought for a moment while she stood there. Then he motioned for her to come into the trench with him. He took her hands in his and carefully guided her to where he was carving the seats. ‘You have little fingers. That’s good, Ju-Ju. Real good. You can make the tunnels …’

  Julia closed her eyes. Why had she denied him?

  They said nothing along the ride, even at the lights. But the awkwardness was gone now, replaced by this silent, scary, electric energy between them. She didn’t let go of his waist, even when she could have, and he didn’t move away. She could feel his heart beat under her fingers. When he suddenly turned off AIA onto Stirling, she knew where he was going, even before he pulled into the parking lot of the Conquistador Apartments.

  He shut off the engine and stepped off the bike. She stared at him. ‘My car—’ she began to say.

  ‘I’ll take you in the morning. I don’t want you to have to drive tonight. It’s real late and it’s a long way to Miami, Toto, so don’t even think of putting on your running shoes. It’s my bad that you ended up all the way up here, anyway.’ He held his hand out to help her off.

  There was no point in arguing with him. And the truth was, she didn’t want to. She nodded and took his hand, climbing off the bike.

  They walked in silence up the stairs of her building to the second floor, their fingertips still lightly locked. ‘Do you want to come in?’ she asked quietly, looking down at the doorknob after she’d slid the key in. This was how it had started with Rick. The ill-thought-out invitation. But she’d never felt like this when Rick touched her.

  ‘I’d love to,’ he said.

  She turned and looked back at him in surprise. Her heart pounded furiously.

  ‘But I’d better not.’

  ‘Oh,’ she said, hoping she didn’t sound disappointed. Hoping he couldn’t read her thoughts, but knowing he probably already had. She felt so exposed with him. He was standing close to her, just a few inches away. She could smell the faint scent of his cologne.

  ‘Look, I’m sorry about before—’ he started to say.

  She shook her head, not wanting to go there again. ‘Don’t be. Thanks again for dinner.’ She slipped off his jacket and reached over to kiss him goodbye on the cheek, but hesitated, her mouth lingering for a moment against his skin, and neither of them moved. His five-o’clock shadow felt like a fine sandpaper under her lips. She stepped closer, her body touching his, as her lips softly brushed his face, finding his mouth. She felt his warm hands on her shoulders, pulling her even closer, his fingers pressing into her back. His lips were very soft; his tongue tasted like beer. She remembered how her fingers had felt against his chest, how it felt to touch his heartbeat. The kiss lasted just a few seconds before he pulled away.

  ‘Whoa,’ he said, backing up slightly. He shook his head. ‘I don’t do rebounds, Julia. They never work out in my favor.’

  She didn’t know exactly how to feel right then, but if she could use one word, it would probably be empty. She watched him walk off down the stairs and she wished once again that she could do the impossible: that she could undo time. She listened to his motorcycle start up across the parking lot and then fade away as he drove off. Then she went inside her apartment and cried. But it wasn’t over Rick Bellido.

  When she woke up the next morning, her car was parked in the lot downstairs and John Latarrino was nowhere to be found.


  In a criminal case, the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt beyond, and to the exclusion of, every reasonable doubt fell on the State. As defense attorneys loved to endlessly remind juries, a defendant was under no obligation to prove anything at trial, and in fact, was under no obligation to even present a case, make an argument, or call a single witness to the stand. And on rare occasions they didn’t – choosing to gamble their client’s freedom on the argument that the government simply hadn’t done its job.

  But insanity cases were different. The law in Florida presumed that every man was sane when he committed a criminal act. As such, a plea of insanity was an affirmative defense to the crime of murder. Unlike the ‘no one saw me do it’ defense, the burden of raising the defense of insanity and then proving it was on the defendant, although the standard of proof was considerably less. Rather than reasonable doubt, the defendant only needed to present ‘clear and convincing evidence’ that he was insane. So while the State had to prove that the crime of murder was committed and the defendant was the one who’d committed it, the defendant then had to prove that he wasn’t responsible because he was legally insane at the time of the crime. Then the burden fell back on the State to prove that he was – again, beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. A confusing game of legal semantics, perhaps. But the end result was that the State’s psychiatric big-guns wouldn’t actually get pulled out until the second half of the ballgame, when the defense put on their show and made the defendant’s sanity an issue.

  Julia’s bone for being second seat and for successfully tackling December’s competency hearing was the opening statement, which was set for Monday morning. The opening was the first opportunity for both sides to stand up and tell the jury exactly what their case was about – what evidence was going to be presented, what witnesses would be called and, most importantly, what all that meant. With all the juicy, gory, never-before-told details thrown in. Although each side had asked the jurors questions during voir dire, opening arguments were also the first real time that the jurors got to hear from the lawyers themselves. And Julia had tried enough cases in her career to know that first impressions were lasting ones. As fundamentally unfair as it might be, it was oftentimes a personality contest in the courtroom and most cases were won or lost before one witness ever took the stand – if the jury liked you, if they felt for your story, if they trusted you, then you had them at hello. With one caveat. If you told them that you were going to prove something, then you better damn well have proved it, because back in that jury room, like a scorned girlfriend, those jurors would remember everything you didn’t do but said you would, and the all-important trust you had worked so hard to build up would be gone. Then, in their eyes, you’d be nothing but a well-dressed liar.

  Since the moment Rick had first pulled his BMW up in front of the house on quaint Sorolla Avenue, Julia had been crafting her opening. It was a prosecutorial habit. As soon as you were assigned a case, skimmed through an A-form, pre-filed a witness, you began to piece together the way you were going to tell the story – what facts and what witnesses brought it to life or moved you to tears. She’d imagined time and again, as her case got closer to trial, how she would bring a jury back to the night of October eighth with just her words; how she would walk them through bloodstained, dark hallways; how she would make them feel the unimaginable horror that had brought veteran police officers to their knees crying. She wanted the jurors to experience the same intense roller coaster of emotions that she’d first felt when she’d stepped into a home that, from the outside, looked so perfect. Disbelief, shock, sadness and, finally, incredible anger. Anger at the thought that a father could do this to his children, a husband to his wife. As the facts developed and the case came together, piece by piece, she’d continued to develop and polish her opening – both in her head and out loud for Rick and the many obnoxious videotaped dress rehe
arsals he’d had her do a few weeks back. Back when they’d been much more than trial partners and the very idea of her boss actually picking out her outfits for trial somehow hadn’t sounded as repulsive and controlling as it did that day in Miami Subs when she’d scoffed at the very notion over burgers with Dayanara.

  But now, in the final hours before her performance, before her opportunity to win over the jury, the pieces weren’t fitting as perfectly as they once did, and she’d spent the entire weekend holed up in her apartment trying to figure out just how to make them. Trying to figure out how to reassemble a puzzle that, like a Rubik’s cube, always seemed to be changing on her. When the yellow side was perfect, the red was out of alignment. When she straightened out red, green was a mess and yellow didn’t seem to fit anymore. There was no one solution she could think of to make it all work. To make the facts all easily snap back into place, like everyone else seemed to be able to do without reservation. She didn’t know what was right, who was wrong. Who to trust. And no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t dismiss the unsettling doubts that continued to nibble at her every thought. Doubts she’d never had in any other case.

  But, of course, this was not any other case, was it? Even she could recognize that. Aunt Nora had been right all along – David Marquette was too close. Too close to home. And the lines of judgment and reason were blurred beyond distinction.

  ‘It’s not about what you believe,’ her criminal law professor at GW had said once in class, ‘it’s about what you can get a jury to believe. At the end of the day, that’s the only thing that’s gonna matter, folks.’

  Maybe that was the trick, she thought finally as the sun came up Monday morning and slowly warmed the ceiling. Maybe the sides of the puzzle that were turned away from the audience didn’t need to make sense because no one was going to see them anyway. Maybe the jury didn’t need to hear the whole story.

  So hours later, in a jam-packed courtroom, she stepped up from behind the State’s table, said the well-rehearsed lines that she’d committed to memory. She took her choreographed steps in front of the jury box.

  ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to tell you now a tale of rage and brutal murder. A tale that seems to make no sense, which, of course, is what makes it all the more tragic. A tale that will, without question, shock you, horrify you, terrify you, haunt you. A story that will surely bring the strongest among you to tears …’

  She couldn’t help but wonder as she spoke if the twelve men and women could see right through her. If they could see her for the fraud she knew she was. It was almost as though she were watching an operation from the spectator seats above the operating room – she was present, but she wasn’t really there, removed somehow from the ugliness of it all while the poor guy below flatlined right in front of her. The poor guy who sat only feet from her now, wearing the same vacant expression that he’d worn when she’d first laid eyes on him. The same faraway gray eyes that had once turned to her in this very same courtroom, pleading for understanding. Her understanding. His team of attorneys had cleaned him up and cut his hair and put him into a neat new suit for trial, but he was still the same empty shell of a man, Julia thought, that he had been in his red Psych Floor jumpsuit.

  ‘“… he’s coming,” she whispered in the dark to the 911 operator, just as the last person little six-year-old Emma Louise Marquette would ever see on this earth suddenly flicked on the lights. And you will hear little Emma’s scared voice, ladies and gentlemen, the very moment her killer finally found her secret hiding spot, tucked behind a box of Barbie dolls and a Hello Kitty chair in her pretty purple bedroom. The moment he came at her, his knife in hand. The precise moment Emma knew she would die. “Oh no, no, no, no …” you will hear Emma cry out to her killer as hefell upon her.’ Julia paused deliberately and looked over at David Marquette. ‘“No, Daddy!”’

  Some jurors broke down in tears while others turned red with anger, gasping and shaking their heads in disgust.

  If her argument had lost its emotion or conviction over the past few weeks, that was apparently not what the jury saw, heard or felt. The Perfect Story was told perfectly, and she got the reaction Rick and Charley Rifkin and Jerry Tigler wanted. The reaction the cameras wanted, too. And when she finally finished, an hour and forty-five minutes later, it was no longer curiosity that they stared at David Marquette with. It was pure contempt. She had done her job well. And they hated him for it.

  ‘Great job,’ Rick whispered when she sat down next to him, with a nod of his head and a genuine smile that she hadn’t seen in a long, long while. ‘You nailed it. You really nailed it.’

  Julia hadn’t told him about the Handley murders. She hadn’t shared with him her thoughts about the possibility of another killer. She hadn’t reasoned with him about the statistical likelihood of a false confession. The time had passed for arguments and reasoning a long while back. Now the stage was set, the lights were up, the audience was out there and it was on with the show. The show that Ricardo Alejandro Bellido himself – the next State Attorney of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit – had written and casted and directed. There would not be any last-minute changes. Period. She knew that now. Julia watched him smile and nod at her with approval for having followed the script, but for the first time ever, she didn’t care that he approved. In fact, it repulsed her that he did.

  There was no point in confronting him with what she’d seen and heard on Friday night, either. Their romance was over and she didn’t want it back. Even the memories tasted off. And, sadly enough, she knew that at this point he would probably use even just the perception of her jealousy as an excuse to boot her off the case if he could, their relationship was so strained. The case that was supposed to have made her career once upon a lifetime ago, she thought bitterly, as she packed up her briefcase after Farley broke for lunch. Now that promising career teetered precariously on the brink of self-destruction as she grappled with the truth and everyone else’s perception of it.

  It was funny, though. As she went to duck out the judge’s back hallway and avoid the press, she passed her DC and Charley Rifkin, chatting quietly by the door. They were probably waiting on Rick to finish up speaking with the 911 operator, the State’s first witness, who was set to testify at one thirty. Rifkin, as usual, nodded uncomfortably and looked away. She knew he still did not care for her. But for the first time in months, Karyn smiled at her. A big, cheerful, toothy grin.

  Like they were the very best of friends.


  ‘Casamassina, Cirto, Grubb, Morales, Monteleone,’ the nurse’s disinterested voice crackled to life over the intercom system.

  Andy looked up from the picture he was drawing.

  ‘Please report to the nurse’s station.’

  Outside, the light was almost gone; the skyline of Manhattan was beginning to glow. It was six o’clock. Meds time.

  He carefully tucked both his sketchpad and his pencils in the footlocker next to his bed, under the stack of new polo shirts that Julia had given him when she’d been here to see him a couple of weeks ago. Nothing was allowed to actually be locked up at Kirby – including, ironically enough, a locker – and things were known to sometimes just ‘disappear’ if extra measures weren’t taken to hide them away. His sketchpad was his camera and he didn’t want his pictures – especially this picture – to go missing like so many others had over the years.

  Meds for his ward were dispensed from a rolling cart outside the nurse’s station – a white Formica island encased in thick, bulletproof glass that sat right outside the TV/rec room and dining area, directly across from the open dorm sleeping area, and down the hall from the semi-private two-bed dorms, where his room was. Like the center of the Pentagon, it was strategically located right in the middle of all the action, so the nurses and SHTAs could watch everyone all the time. He joined the end of a long line of men that had started to snake its way down the hall toward the semi-private rooms. Even though many of them had been in here as long as him,
he had no friends.

  ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to tell you now a tale of rage and brutal murder. A tale that seems to make no sense, which, of course, is what makes it all the more tragic. A tale that will, without question, shock you, horrify you, terrify you, haunt you. A story that will surely bring the strongest among you to tears …’

  He froze. Just down the hall on the big-screen TV in the rec room there she was. Julia. On the Channel Four news. In a nice blue suit and wearing stylish, chrome glasses, her long hair in a soft, pretty bun. What was she doing? Then it clicked. Her big case. This was it.

  ‘… Assistant State Attorney Julia Valenciano started off the State’s case this morning in a packed Miami courtroom by doing exactly as she had promised – by bringing many of the jurors to tears. Today we learned for the first time some of the more gruesome details as the prosecutor described just how the bodies of the children were first discovered in the home on …’

  ‘Isn’t that the woman who was here last Saturday? The one who came to see Andrew Cirto?’ Nurse Lonnie asked the other nurse who was filling out med sheets and putting pills in dispensing cups.

  The door to the nurse’s station was open. He could see them through the thick, scratched plastic. He could hear them as they worked.

  ‘… attorney Mel Levenson, in his opening, told the jury that his client is a paranoid schizophrenic who is not responsible for the deaths of his wife and children …’

  ‘Sure looks like her,’ replied the other nurse, whose name he didn’t know, squinting at the TV.

  ‘Yeah. That’s his sister,’ Samuel said quietly, glancing up from his chart at the screen.

  ‘No friggin’ way. I didn’t know Cirto even had family left.’ The unknown nurse let out a low, don’t-wanna-mess-with-that-none whistle. ‘Thought he whacked ’em all.’

  ‘Guess he missed one,’ Samuel replied dryly. ‘She’s been here a lot lately. Last couple of months I’d say. You just don’t work enough weekends is all, Barbara,’ he added with a grin and a teasing nudge of his clipboard.

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