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Plea of insanity, p.7
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       Plea of Insanity, p.7

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘I had another engagement. One I couldn’t get out of. I called over this morning, but Neilson wasn’t in yet. I talked to Torie. She gave me a brief rundown.’ Rick looked at Julia and explained the players. ‘Joe Neilson’s the Chief Medical Examiner. He did the autopsies late yesterday. Torie’s Neilson’s assistant.’

  ‘So you know most of it, then,’ Lat said. ‘Blunt trauma to the head probably knocked her unconscious. At least that’s what we’re hoping. Impact on the side of the skull slammed her brain against the other side, resulting in a large hematoma and massive bleeding. Counted thirty-seven stab wounds to the chest and neck. At least three went through to the mattress.’

  ‘That’s one angry sonofabitch,’ said Rick with a low whistle, running a hand through his hair.

  ‘Angry is probably an understatement. As you said, one hit the aorta, another the jugular and that was it.’ Latarrino shook his head. ‘Jennifer Marquette celebrated her thirty-second birthday just last week. Boys found a couple of old “Happy Birthday Mom!” balloons in the trash. Pretty lady, too. She was found here, face-up on the bed, wearing just a nightshirt, which was ripped open, and a pair of panties. But no other evidence of sexual assault. Neilson did do a rape kit. It’s not back yet, but the black light picked up what looked like semen.’

  ‘Oh shit,’ said Rick. ‘Torie didn’t mention that on the phone. Where?’

  ‘On the shirt. Non-motile. No way to tell how old. We’re doing DNA. Hopefully it’s hubby’s. If not …’ He didn’t bother completing the thought. ‘We think he surprised her here. There was nothing under the fingernails, no sign of a struggle in the room. No evidence the body had been moved. As you said, she was probably sleeping, he came in, hit her upside the head, made it look like a rape attempt and then went at her with a kitchen knife.’

  ‘Have you found the weapons?’ asked Julia, taking a few steps forward, physically distancing herself from the scene behind her. She didn’t want to turn around again, or look into the mirror that was directly behind Detective Latarrino, mounted above a neat marble-top dresser dotted with more family pictures. The air continued to slowly seep out of the suddenly freezing-cold room, and she struggled not to gasp for more. Keep it clinical. Stay focused on the words. Stay here, in the room. Don’t let yourself go away again.

  ‘We did find a baseball bat in a closet in the boy’s room. No blood on it that we can see, but the timeline works that he could’ve cleaned it up. The lab can check for microscopic blood, hair or fiber, if he left any behind.’

  ‘What about the knife?’ she asked.

  ‘We think that’ll be the one the docs removed from Marquette’s stomach. We also seized every knife we could find downstairs. Pattern testing can compare Mrs Marquette’s wounds to the knives we seized and see what matches. Neilson says it looks like a straight blade that attacked her and the children because he saw no tears consistent with a jagged edge, but that’s the best he can do at this point. The knife the docs recovered was a Henckels boning knife. Straight blade, seven inches.’

  ‘You guys can do the pattern testing, right?’ asked Rick. ‘Or do we have to send it out to the Feds?’

  ‘Nah, we have our own pattern guy at the crime lab. John Holt. Worst case is we use FDLE’s lab in Orlando if we have to. Keep the Fibbies out of this. Although,’ he said, looking around the bedroom, ‘no Fed’s gonna make a name for themselves in here, so it’s not something that would appeal to them, even if they did have jurisdiction. Brill’s taking the traps to see if there’s blood in the drains that Marquette maybe tried to rinse off, although we found bleach under the upstairs and downstairs sinks, so there’s a chance we might not find shit if the guy knew what he was doing with a bottle of Clorax. Rigor had not begun yet, so time of death, based on temperature, lividity and stomach contents was sometime between one and five a.m., when uniforms responded and found her.’

  ‘That’s the best Neilson can do?’ asked Rick, exasperated.

  ‘That’s it. You must have pissed him off before with that charming personality of yours, Bellido, because he says to tell you that he’s not a miracle worker, so don’t ask him for the second hand on time of death.’

  ‘Fuck him,’ Rick grumbled. It was obvious the comment was not made in jest. ‘Excuse me,’ he said to Julia.

  ‘From what we found out so far, looks like the husband was supposed to be at some American Medical Association conference in Orlando. We have verbal confirmation that Dr David Marquette was booked at the Marriott World Center through today. The front-desk manager got a bit nervous when I said the words “homicide investigation”, so Theresa’s readying subpoenas for the records.’

  ‘Don’t let them touch that room, Lat!’ barked Rick.

  John Latarrino was the same height as Rick Bellido, but somehow looked a lot bigger. He held his hand up. ‘I’ve already done the warrant. You can look it over before Orlando PD takes it to the judge for a signature this afternoon. See, unlike all those other hotshot veteran cops you’ve had to show the ropes to, Bellido, I know when I need to go to the bathroom and when I need a warrant.’ He smiled at Rick and cracked his gum.

  An uncomfortable moment passed. ‘That wasn’t directed at you,’ Rick replied.

  ‘Of course not.’

  The tension broke with the ring of a phone. ‘I gotta take this,’ Rick said, unhooking his cell from his belt and moving into the master bathroom.

  ‘Alright, then,’ Latarrino said with a sigh of impatience, looking at his watch. Julia could tell there was a strained history between the two men, but it was too early to say just whose fault that history was. After waiting about thirty seconds, the detective turned and headed out of the bedroom and back out into the hall. ‘Bellido’s already had his tour, so follow me, Ms Prosecutor, and let’s get this over with,’ he called out behind him. ‘It only gets worse from here on out, so prepare yourself.’

  11

  ‘Did you listen to the nine-eleven tape yet?’ Latarrino asked once they were out in the hall.

  ‘No,’ said Julia, shaking her head as she caught up with him. ‘I only know that units responded to a nine-one-one, but I don’t know the contents of the call.’

  ‘Okay, then, let me fill you in. Coral Gables PD received a call on their emergency line at 4:47 a.m. from what sounded like a child. We assume it was six-year-old Emma, although she never gave a name. She asked for help, told the operator that someone was coming. The line went dead before the conversation ended. But there was some muffling on the final seconds of tape. Digital enhancement of that audio and we can hear a man’s voice calling out the name Emma, followed by our crying caller saying, “No, Daddy!” Based on the timing of that call, we believe that the father had already killed the wife, left the master bedroom, and then walked down this hall here, probably making some of the prints we took up on the way. We’ll know more about whose blood is whose and whose blood is where when the DNA’s back. Right now the sequence of events is pretty much just theory. Then we figure he entered either the infant’s room or the little boy’s room. At some point Emma was awakened, probably saw what happened or what was happening to her brother or sister, took the cordless from the charger in the hall and went back into her own room, where she hid and placed the call to nine-eleven. That’s when the dad came in and found her, calling out her name because she wasn’t in bed like she was supposed to be. When he finds her, she calls out, “No, Daddy!” and he hangs up the line.’

  Latarrino stopped at the first closed door off the main hallway. He frowned and rubbed his eyes. ‘Like Jennifer, Danny was found in his bed. God willing, the little guy never knew what hit him. Just went to sleep with a kiss from Mommy and never woke up,’ he said as he pushed open the door.

  Julia held her breath again. Racecars zoomed across blue and red striped wallpaper; tiny Matchbox cars lined white shelves. Set up off to the side of the room on the wood floor was a loop-de-loop Hot Wheels racetrack with a long line of cars and trucks backed up on plastic yellow con
necting tracks. A toddler bed in the shape of a red racecar was pushed up against a far wall. The bedding was gone – long since stripped and bagged.

  ‘This looks clean,’ she said right away, her eyes fixated on the tiny bed. ‘Cleaner than the other bedroom.’

  ‘We had spatter, but because of the red wallpaper and the fact that Crime Scene actually did clean up in here, it’s definitely nowhere near the scene we had in the master. Cause of death was blunt trauma to the head. Several stab wounds to the torso, but not much bleeding into surrounding tissue, so Neilson says they were made post-mortem, which is another reason it wasn’t as bloody. No spurting or gushing because the heart wasn’t pumping anymore. My take? This guy wasn’t as angry with junior as he was with his wife. He showed restraint, if that makes any sense.’

  ‘It does,’ she said softly.

  ‘It also makes him out to be more of a monster in my mind. Bastard pulled the covers back up and tucked the kid in again before he tiptoed out to find his daughter,’ Latarrino said as he walked back toward the doorway.

  ‘Why isn’t the mattress stained, like the mother’s?’ she asked, following him out into the hall.

  ‘You’re pretty observant. For a lawyer,’ he said with a smile that was hard to read as he closed the door quietly behind them. ‘Rubber sheets. The little guy was still in training.’

  God, she needed to get the hell out of here. Even for just a few minutes, even just to step outside and suck in some fresh air, instead of this stale, heavy, cold substance that now filled every room. There’s even a taste peculiar to each crime scene. And she could taste it – heavy and acidic and bitter on her tongue. A taste your throat never forgets; a smell you simply file away into some dark alcove of your brain until something makes you remember it all over again. But Julia knew that even a request for a quickbathroom break at this point would be interpreted as a sign of weakness, especially by this detective and definitely by the crew downstairs, so she said nothing as she followed Latarrino to the door at the far end of the hall – the one with all the crayon scribbles. He stood there with his hand on the knob, long enough for her to realize he really didn’t want to open it.

  ‘This is Emma’s room,’ he said, finally, pushing open the door. ‘We found her in the corner, behind a storage box of Barbie dolls and a Hello Kitty chair.’

  Even though her Barbies had been seized and the Hello Kitty chair impounded, Julia immediately knew what corner it was little Emma had run and hid from her daddy in. Her blood matted the pink carpet and splattered the lilac walls, painting an eerie final picture. The story she had so desperately begun to tell to a stranger on the telephone, its ending now left to be translated into words by a specialist in bloodstain pattern analysis.

  Julia could no longer maintain the cool, distant persona of a prosecutor. She sucked in a breath as her imagination took over, placing the tiny, frightened figure in the scene. The dead were screaming once more in her head, and she could feel the jolt of adrenaline in her own body, the terror that seized Emma’s heart when her father finally found her hiding spot. And then, the sinking, shocking feeling of betrayal when she saw the knife in his hand, knowing exactly what he was going to do with it before it came down on her, but still not believing it as it did. Still loving him even then. She covered her ears with her latex-gloved hands and turned away from the sight.

  Latarrino looked taken aback by her reaction. ‘God, this job sucks,’ he said quietly. He drifted over to the bare picture window that looked out upon the backyard. Glassy-eyed stuffed doggies and bears sat on a custom-made pink checkered window cushion. ‘It really does, ya know? Nothing ever preps you for this. No matter how many scenes you’ve been to or stories you’ve heard.’ He paused. Outside, uniforms chatted and laughed in the sunshine out by the pool. The soft sound of their voices drifted up and into the room, filling the void of strained, reflective silence. ‘You never want to get this call,’ he said finally, exhaling a deep breath. Then he turned back to face her, immediately frowning. ‘Enough, let’s get you out of here. You don’t look so good.’

  The truth was, she didn’t feel so good either. She fought down a wave of nausea. ‘There’s still the baby’s room,’ she said weakly, wiping away the sweat that had gathered on her upper lip with the back of her hand. The latex from the glove pulled on her skin, and she could taste its chalky bitterness on her lips. She felt incredibly lightheaded, and could only hope that if she did go down, she’d at least stay unconscious long enough for the ambulance to pull out of the driveway.

  ‘Ain’t nothing you need to see in there, Ms Prosecutor. Just a pretty nursery,’ Latarrino said softly, taking her gently by the elbow and leading her back to the hallway. ‘He only suffocated that one.’

  12

  She sat on the edge of the toilet-bowl lid, her forehead pressed up against the cool marble window sill, a warm breeze from the open window blowing on the wet wad of toilet paper she had packed on the back of her neck.

  ‘Is it passing?’ Latarrino asked, looking awkwardly around the bathroom.

  ‘Yes,’ she said into the wall, swallowing one last good gulp of air. ‘I’m fine now, thankyou. I think may be I’m coming down with something.’

  ‘Oh. Okay.’

  She hoped her legs wouldn’t twitch when she stood. Or at least that he wouldn’t see them twitch. ‘I can see the rest of the house now,’ she said, looking up.

  ‘You’re still a little pale. I think you should stay down for another minute or two. You know, this happens all the time,’ Latarrino said with a shrug. ‘It’s a tough scene, even with the bodies gone.’

  She decided not to say anything. And she didn’t get up.

  ‘If you don’t mind me asking, how’d you get on this case?’ he asked, leaning up against the sink, hands in his pockets. ‘I mean, I haven’t seen you before at the State Attorney’s, and I know that Bellido’s definitely keeping this one in Major Crimes. Plus, he’s not the type to share the glory. So are you a lateral hire from a different SAO, or have they been hiding you up in Legal?’ Legal was the specialized division of brains at the SAO that assisted trial attorneys with the more complex legal questions and appeal issues.

  Julia sat up stiffly, feeling the prickly hairs rise defiantly on the back of her neck. ‘I’m in Judge Farley’s division. Rick Bellido and Charley Rifkin asked me to be second seat on this case this morning.’ Not entirely true, but Rifkin was there when the decision was made.

  He nodded. ‘I’ve had a few cases go in front of Farley. He’s so friggin’ old, I think everyone has. Is he still an asshole?’

  She caught herself smiling. The pricklies died down just a little. ‘Yes. And like a bottle of cheap wine, rest assured he’s only gotten worse with age.’

  ‘I thought wine got better with age.’

  ‘The cheap ones turn to vinegar.’

  Latarrino shrugged. ‘I’m a beer drinker myself. I thought Karyn Seminara was the DC in Farley’s.’

  ‘She is.’

  ‘Oh. Then who are you? The A?’

  Her back arched once again. ‘I’m the B.’

  ‘The B? Wow,’ he said with a low whistle, ‘you must really be something special, then. I’ve worked with Bellido. He’s got high standards for everyone, and like I said, I don’t remember him sharing the limelight.’ He looked at her, but differently for a second, as if he had just figured something out. Call her cynical, but that something, Julia figured, was probably that she was a woman, and ergo must have used her feminine wares to climb the company ladder.

  The rush of defiance and pride eradicated the nausea and rejuvenated her. She rose from the toilet seat, took the soggy, bunched-up paper wad off her neck, flushed it down the toilet, and closed the window. ‘Why does everyone think it’s him?’ she asked, smoothing her skirt and quickly changing the subject. ‘The dad, David Marquette. Why is everyone so sure it’s him?’

  ‘Well, for one, units arrived within about six minutes of the call and gained entry within ano
ther twenty. The alarm was still set. No one else was found in the house, and there was no evidence of a break-in.’

  ‘Why did it take them so long to enter?’

  ‘Good question. One I’m sure the boys will be asking themselves for a long time to come. They thought it was a prank, there were no previous domestics at the residence, no sign of trouble outside. Hindsight’s always twenty-twenty, Counselor.’

  ‘Oh,’ she said, pausing. She didn’t want to sound like an idiot again and say the wrong thing, yet she couldn’t help but think of the case of JonBenét Ramsey, the six-year-old from Boulder, Colorado who was taken from her bed and murdered in her home Christmas night, 1996, with her parents and brother sleeping just down the hall. The police and district attorney had instantly focused on the parents, but the murder was never solved. The Ramsey detectives were criticized for having tunnel vision, theorizing that while police focused solely on Mom and Dad, critical evidence was destroyed, other leads ignored, and the real killer long gone and on the loose. ‘Could a killer have gotten in some other way, without setting off the alarm?’ she asked. ‘Through an open window, perhaps? Maybe the screens weren’t wired …’

  ‘Now you’re playing defense attorney.’

  ‘Someone’s going to.’

  ‘There were no other signs of forced entry. The father was supposed to be speaking at some medical conference three hundred miles away, and he shows up here. He’s the sole survivor in a scene out of a horror movie. He’s got a knife stuck in his gut, but even though that sounds really bad, he surprisingly has relatively minor injuries when the rest of his family went through a bloodbath. We’re pretty sure that when we dig, we’ll find out some other interesting info. We always do.’

  ‘Like a girlfriend?’

  ‘Or girlfriends. Domestic strife. Money problems.’

  ‘Insurance policies …’

  ‘Now you’re thinking on the right side of the law, Ms Prosecutor.’

 
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