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Plea of insanity, p.41
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       Plea of Insanity, p.41

           Jilliane Hoffman

  That was what was so funny, Julia thought as Farley took the bench in his usual huff and Jefferson commanded the courtroom to rise. The State would risk the lives of four other men just to keep this one alive long enough so they could kill him themselves. Even Jay Leno had made a joke of it last night on The Tonight Show.

  What a laugh.


  ‘State?’ grumbled Farley, leaning back in his throne and gesturing to the witness stand, where I vonne had just sworn in Christian Barakat. The doctor looked dapper and distinguished in a tailored charcoal suit and silk tie. If this case became a toss-up between the experts, Barakat’s dark good looks just might be the deciding factor. At least for the female jurors, every one of which had instantly perked up when he walked through the gallery.

  The courtroom sat in silence for maybe thirty seconds, which was thirty seconds too long for Farley. He shot back up in his chair, his eyes narrowing. ‘Hello? Ms Valenciano, do you want to actually question this witness, or are we just supposed to look at him all day?’

  Julia stared at the notes in front of her. Her lines. She bit the inside of her lip and slowly rose, walking over to the podium without them. She felt the jury’s eyes on her, watching her every move. Alice Wade smiled at her.

  The jury really likes you … they trust you.

  ‘Good morning, Doctor. Please state your name and occupation for the record,’ she began.

  ‘Christian Barakat. I’m a board-certified forensic psychiatrist in private practice, here in Miami. I have an office over on Brickell in downtown.’

  ‘How long have you been practicing psychiatry?’

  ‘Sixteen years.’

  ‘Please tell the court about your professional qualifications and experience.’

  Barakat was a seasoned witness. He’d testified in dozens of high-profile cases and he knew exactly what information he needed to get out on the stand to establish himself as an expert. His impressive list of professional accomplishments alone, including an undergraduate degree from Yale, summa cum laude, an MD from the University of Miami Medical School and a prestigious fellowship in psychiatry at NYU, took almost ten minutes to rattle off. Even Alice was drooling.

  ‘Have you had an opportunity to examine the defendant in this case, David Marquette?’ Julia finally asked. Here we go again, Emma. But Emma wasn’t dancing in her bloody Cinderella gown today, demanding justice.

  ‘I have.’

  ‘When was that and under what circumstances?’

  She heard Rick’s voice, far-off in her head. The day he’d asked her to try this case with him, and then sealed it with a sultry kiss in his car. Now he was the new State Attorney.

  ‘I interviewed Dr David Marquette on two separate occasions,’ Barakat replied, taking out his notes and leafing through them. ‘The first time was December fifteenth, two thousand five, pursuant to a court order to determine the defendant’s competency to stand trial. I then examined him again on January sixth of this year, two thousand six, to determine whether he met the legal definition of insanity when he murdered his wife and three children.’

  ‘Objection!’ Mel said, rising. ‘The witness is drawing a legal conclusion.’

  ‘Sustained,’ said Farley. ‘Let’s let the jury decide if the defendant is a murderer, shall we?’

  Julia looked over at David Marquette, small and unsure, staring vacantly out from his spot at the defense table, oblivious yet again that people were labeling him a murderer. It was as if he were in his own little world, a million miles away from the courtroom.

  This case … It’s too close, Julia. It can only bring … despair.

  It wasn’t him. Are you listening now, Ms Prosecutor?

  I saved them.

  She shook the rambling thoughts out of her head and delivered another well-rehearsed line. ‘Please tell the court about your evaluation of the defendant on January sixth.’

  What was he thinking in that world? Was he frightened? Did he really know that he was facing death? Did he understand yet that he had done something horribly, terribly wrong? Would he be terrified when reality finally came back knocking on his door, demanding entry, like Andy said might happen? Would he be able to live with himself when he discovered the truth?

  ‘It’s like you lived this whole other life and then someone pulls the curtain back and says,“Ha, ha! No you didn’t! This is your life!” But you don’t even recognize it … And now, there you are, left with what you’ve done. All alone. You’re left with what you’ve done. And it doesn’t even make any sense. That’s when you realize you’d be better off if you’d just stayed crazy, Ju-Ju.’

  She suddenly saw her brother, Andrew, in that same chair. Fifteen years ago, in a courtroom filled with photographers and prosecutors and judges pointing at him. Condemning him. A frightened boy with a mop of black curls and pale skin whose mind was trapped in a very different, terrifying world, all alone in a courtroom full of people who hated him. A courtroom full of strangers who didn’t understand, who didn’t want to understand. At least David Marquette still had his parents sitting in the row behind him. Family that had stuck by his side. Family that recognized what this disease could do. She tried in vain to blink back the tears. There had been no one sitting there for Andrew.

  I’m sorry, Ju-Ju. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry … I didn’t mean for you to hate me. I know what I’ve done and I wish I didn’t do it. I wish I could go back. I wish I wasn’t born.

  ‘State? Hello? Is there another question you want to ask the nice doctor or are we done here?’ asked Farley, irritated.

  She looked around the courtroom. All eyes were on her. Waiting for her next question. She had no idea what Barakat had just said. Or for how long he’d been talking. Or for how long the court had been waiting on her. But it didn’t matter anymore, anyway.

  She took in a deep breath. ‘Doctor, psychiatry isn’t an exact science, is it?’

  Barakat looked surprised by the question. ‘No, it’s not,’ he answered.

  ‘I mean, there’s no test, no physical test that can determine if someone is actually suffering from a mental illness, is there?’ she asked. ‘Like there is for cancer or heart disease?’

  ‘No, there’s no blood test or X-ray or MRI used to diagnose mental illness, if that’s what you’re asking. By its very name, Ms Valenciano, mental illness refers to a sickness in the mind – disturbances in one’s thought processes or feelings or emotions, which are not measurable in a blood or urine sample.’

  ‘So how is mental illness diagnosed, then? More particularly, Doctor, how is schizophrenia diagnosed?’

  ‘By listening to the patient’s complaints, observing their symptoms and their behavior.’

  ‘But basically, by listening to what the patient tells you is happening inside their head, correct?’

  ‘Basically, yes.’

  She could feel Rick trying to catch her attention behind her at the State’s table, but she ignored him. ‘Schizophrenia presents with different symptoms in different patients, right, Dr Barakat? I mean, no two people will ever experience the same exact paranoid delusion?’

  ‘That is correct.’

  ‘And no two people will experience the disease in the same way? For instance, some might have visual hallucinations, others might hear voices, and others might even smell weird smells or have other sensory distortions. Some might withdraw into catatonia. Some might demonstrate a combination of these symptoms. Correct?’

  Barakat looked over at Rick. These were leading questions, with the confrontational undertone of a cross-examination. Technically, Mel could object because leading questions were not allowed on direct, but he certainly wasn’t going to do that. The courtroom sat in tense, excited silence. ‘Yes. It can be a difficult disease to correctly diagnose and treat, but there are hallmark symptoms that a psychiatrist looks for.’

  ‘Did David Marquette have any of those hallmark symptoms?’

  ‘Yes,’ Barakat replied slowly. ‘Again, he said he di
d. He claimed to be hearing voices, and having visual hallucinations as part of the elaborate paranoid delusion that his family was demonically possessed.’

  ‘But you don’t believe he’s telling the truth about his experiences?’

  ‘That is correct. I believe he is malingering. As I testified, I believe he’s manufacturing the symptoms of schizophrenia to avoid criminal responsibility.’

  ‘But his case, this was a tough call for you, wasn’t it?’

  Dr Barakat stared at her for a long moment, but Julia didn’t even blink. He’d suddenly figured out what she was doing and where she was going. ‘Pardon me?’ he asked, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.

  ‘Even though David Marquette presented with all of the hallmark symptoms of schizophrenia, symptoms that you admit are not readily faked or manufactured by most malingerers – blunted affect, flattening of emotions, catatonia, severe withdrawal – in the end, it was simply your gut that told you he must be malingering, correct?’

  There was no way to escape his own words and Barakat knew it. ‘Yes, sometimes as a psychiatrist I must rely on my instincts.’

  ‘And if those instincts are wrong?’

  ‘I don’t believe they are.’

  ‘You don’t believe they are, but there’s no medical test to confirm that, now is there? Let me ask you, Doctor, if David Marquette is a paranoid schizophrenic, if he did suffer the persecutory delusion exactly as he claims to have suffered it, if he did actually believe his family was already dead when he stabbed them and bludgeoned them, if your gut instinct was wrong, would he be criminally responsible for the murders of his wife and children?’

  ‘Objection!’ Rick finally sprang to his feet.

  Farley looked at him, his brow furrowed. ‘You can’t object to your own witness, Mr Bellido. This is direct examination.’ He raised his eyebrows, and with the hint of a smile, added, ‘Maybe you forgot, but Ms Valenciano is your co-counsel. She’s on your side.’

  Julia pressed on, her back to Rick. ‘Yes or no, Dr Barakat. If David Marquette suffered this delusion, if it was all real in his head, would you say he was insane under the definition of Florida law?’

  Barakat looked at Rick and then over at the judge, as if he didn’t want to say what Julia was about to make him say.

  Farley shrugged his shoulders. ‘Answer the question, please.’

  ‘Yes. I would have to say that if Dr Marquette did in fact act under the delusion he reported, that he would have been unable to discern right from wrong at the time. He would be legally insane.’

  A frenzied murmur swelled in the crowd, threatening to explode. Julia finally looked over at Rick and met his icy stare with one of her own.

  ‘I have nothing further,’ she said flatly and walked back to her seat.


  She held her hand up before her and moved quickly past the press that tried to block her exit with their microphones and cameras. Their lights blinded her; their questions made her head spin. She just wanted her fifteen minutes to finally be over.

  ‘Do you believe that Dr Marquette is being wrongly prosecuted?’

  ‘Is David insane? Do you believe he really is insane?’

  ‘Do you think the State Attorney is harboring a hidden agenda here? What about Rick Bellido?’

  ‘Is this a political persecution?’

  ‘Murderer!’ someone shouted out, but Julia didn’t turn to see who it was. ‘He’s a murderer! A butcher! You’re the one responsible! You’re letting him get away with murder!’

  ‘How could you do this?’ another cackled. ‘He’s the devil!’

  ‘Off to hell you’ll go!’

  ‘Order! I want order in this court!’ Farley bellowed.

  She pushed open the heavy mahogany courtroom doors and hurried into the hallway. The doors slammed shut behind her with a dull thud, silencing the questions and the shouts and the screams, but only for a moment. Panicked, her eyes darted about for a quick escape, but the hallway suddenly looked completely unfamiliar. Like in Wonderland, the many doors that sprouted off were all the same now, and she couldn’t remember which one led to where.

  Liaison had moved the crazy morning crowd back outside, but people still milled about in front of the courtrooms, rocking baby strollers and waiting for their lawyers or their family on the graffiti-carved wooden benches. They eyed her strangely as she ran to the escalator on shaking legs. At the far end of the hall, she spotted a couple of cameramen, who threw down their coffee cups and reached for their cameras, quickly figuring out that they must have missed something.

  She felt physically ill. She would probably lose her job today. No she would lose her job. That was a given. She probably would never get another job as a lawyer in this city – Rick and Karyn and Charley Rifkin and Jerry Tigler would make sure of that. She ran her hands through her hair. Or any other city, for that matter. Any evaluation of her job performance over the past three years had just been sabotaged by the last thirty minutes she’d spent in court.

  Even with the impending crash and burn of her career, it was a strange sense of calm that began to settle over her as soon as she reached the escalator. ‘I didn’t raise you to go along with the crowd,’ her mother had said to her sternly once, after she skipped class in junior high with a girlfriend. ‘I raised you to do what’s right. Listen hard enough to the voice inside your head and you’ll know just what that is.’ I did it, Momma. I did it. Although it might not make a difference in the end, even if a jury chose to ignore all that they’d just heard – she’d done what she knew was right today.

  ‘Julia! Wait up!’

  She heard Lat call out her name and she moved quicker, pushing past people and rushing down the escalator, two steps at a time. She couldn’t look at anyone right now. She couldn’t face their questions or their disappointment. Especially his. She got off on two to grab an elevator down to the basement and head off the press, who she knew had their satellite trucks just waiting outside. They were probably looking for her right now as the news spread about what she’d just done in the courtroom.

  The cellphone in her purse rang. Her heart skipped a beat. She reached down and grabbed it with trembling hands. Maybe it was Rick, calling her to fire her himself before she even cleared the building. Or maybe Lat looking to see where she’d gone. Or Friday night’s protester calling to maybe comment on what a fine job she’d just done. Or the hecklers from the court to call her a murderer and damn her to hell. But it was a 212 exchange.

  ‘Hello?’ she whispered, as she waited with the crowd, looking over her shoulder for a sign of Lat or a reporter.

  ‘Ms Valenciano? It’s Mary Zlocki at Kirby Forensic’

  ‘Hello, Mary. I’m just getting out of court.’ She moved onto the elevator and hit the basement button.

  ‘It’s about your brother,’ Mary continued.

  ‘Yes. I’m, I’m coming up on Saturday. I’ll be there for his transfer.’ The line grew thick with static as a bunch of people got off on one. Julia pressed herself up against the far side of the car, out of the direct line of sight of anyone looking for her in the lobby. ‘Look, I’m in an elevator, Mary. I may lose you.’

  The people around her shot her an annoyed look as the doors closed again. Everyone had a cellphone nowadays, but no one ever seemed to like it when you actually used yours in public.

  ‘I need to speak with you about Andrew,’ Mary repeated. Then there was silence.

  Shit. ‘Mary? Mary? Are you there?’ she asked softly. The doors opened into the dark basement garage finally and Julia stepped out alone. ‘Mary?’

  ‘Ms Valenciano?’ said a stern voice over the line that Julia immediately recognized belonged to Dr Mynks. Mary was gone. She headed for the glimpse of light and the ramp that led back up to 13th. ‘This is Dr Mynks, Ms Valenciano. I have to speak with you about Andrew.’

  ‘I just told Mary, Dr Mynks. I’ll definitely be there Saturday. My plane comes—’

  ‘Ms Valenciano,’ the doctor interrupte
d in a soft, but firm voice, ‘Andrew is dead.’

  Julia dropped the phone, watching it shatter on the garage floor. And beneath the circus that was David Marquette’s lynching, she began to scream.


  She sat on the same ripped vinyl bench, staring at the same People magazine on the chipped end table that she had almost three months before. How different life was now. She looked around the waiting room, empty once again on a Saturday morning.

  The guards in the bulletproof booth wouldn’t even look at her, once they figured out why she was here. ‘That’s Cirto’s sister,’ had quickly spread among the MH Police, like the panic of an infectious disease. And she was the leper.

  The door next to the booth opened and Dr Mynks suddenly appeared. Julia gathered her purse and rose to follow him back to his office, but he stepped into the reception area, letting the door close behind him this time. In his hand he held a large brown paper bag, like one that you might get at a supermarket. It was clear that their meeting was going to take place here.

  ‘Ms Valenciano,’ he began in that same soft, yet cold and impersonal voice he had used on the phone. ‘On behalf of the staff here at Kirby, allow me to say that we are sorry for your loss. This is a tragedy and we will, of course, be looking into all the circumstances surrounding your brother’s death.’ He handed her the bag. ‘The nurses on Andrew’s ward thought you would like to have this. These were his belongings. Most of it is just clothing, but there are some drawings he was keeping on his wall, as well as a journal he was writing, his wallet and a high-school graduation ring. All the things he came in here with.’

  Dr Mynks’s words were spoken so quickly and so matter-of-factly that Julia knew he didn’t mean them. He didn’t mean any of them. For him, Andrew Cirto’s death wasn’t a tragedy; it was simply a statistic. An unfortunate statistic that had unfortunately happened on his watch, and would now be a blemish on his record. To him, Andy was a patient number, an inmate, a murderer, and his death was otherwise insignificant. She was waiting for Mynks to look down at his watch in annoyance. Maybe tap his foot impatiently just to give her the hint to get lost.

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