Retribution, p.9Jilliane Hoffman
She leafed through the message pad. NBC Channel 6, WSVN Channel 7, CBS Channel 2, Today, Good Morning America, Telemundo, Miami Herald, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, even the Daily Mail in London. The list went on and on.
The news of an arrest of a suspect in the Cupid murders early that morning had spread like wildfire through the media, and the feeding frenzy had begun. From her office window, C.J. had already spotted the media refugee camps that had staked their claims on the steps of the criminal courthouse across the street, complete with direct satellite feeds to their New York and Los Angeles affiliates.
She had been assigned for the past year by the State Attorney himself to assist the Cupid task force with their investigation. She had been to the scenes, attended some of the autopsies, reviewed miscellaneous warrants, debriefed the medical examiner, scoured police and lab reports, and taken witness statements. She had also shared in the rash of criticism that was seemingly doled out on a daily basis by the press on the lack of progress in the case. But now her devotion to the boys in blue had won her the granddaddy of all prizes: prosecuting the most notorious serial killer in the history of Miami. That assignment alone apparently now made her the celebrity du jour in the eyes of the media, something she absolutely dreaded.
In her ten years with the State Attorney’s Office, she had prosecuted everything from fishermen catching spiny lobster out of season to triple homicides committed by seventeen-year-old gang members. She had asked judges for fines, community service, probation, prison, and death. Five years earlier she had been commended on a near-perfect conviction record and promoted to Major Crimes, a small, specialized unit composed of the office’s ten top prosecutors. There, she and her colleagues were assigned much smaller caseloads than the rest of the 240 attorneys in the busy office, but their cases were considered the worst type of crimes and the most complex to prove. Most were first-degree murders, all were heinous, and all were judged by the office to be newsworthy. All her defendants faced the death penalty, by electric chair or lethal injection. Most of them got it. Organized-crime hits, child killings, gangland executions, domestic murders where whole families were summarily annihilated by a despondent man angry because he’d just lost his job – every case, by its very nature, a potential media explosion, although some received front-page press, while others only a two-sentence blurb on the back page of the local section. Others never made it to the big time at all, overshadowed by another case still more atrocious, or an upcoming hurricane, or the Dolphins big loss to the Jets.
In C.J.’s five years with the unit, she had seen her share of her name in the papers. The attention always made her more than a little uncomfortable, and she still loathed giving interviews. She did her job, not for the publicity or limelight, but for the victims, the ones who could no longer speak from their graves six feet under and the innocent friends and family that were inevitably left behind wondering why when the gun smoke cleared and the cameras were turned off. She felt as though she gave the survivors a sense of vindication, a feeling of power in an otherwise powerless situation. In this case, however, the glare of the spotlight would be even more oppressive, since for the first time she’d be dealing with the national and international media, rather than just the local press. She knew when Manny Alvarez called her at home last night to tell her they had a Cupid suspect that this was going to be big. Probably the biggest case her career would ever see.
She had spent half the night reviewing the warrants for William Rupert Bantling’s house on Miami Beach and his two cars. Then she spent the other half preparing for the First Appearance Hearing Bantling would be having today, which was set for 10:00. In between the two, she visited the scene on the MacArthur and stopped by the ME’s office to get a look at the body. Then she fielded three anxious phone calls from the State Attorney, Jerry Tigler, who was quite upset that although he had been at the same fund-raiser for the governor as the City of Miami Police Chief and the FBI SAC, he apparently had not been invited with all the other bigwigs to the after-hours party down on the causeway. He wanted C.J. to find out why he had been slighted. With all that, she had forgotten to sleep.
Within twenty-four hours of his arrest, Bantling was entitled to a determination by a judge in a pro-forma hearing that there was probable cause to arrest him for the first-degree murder of Anna Prado. Was it more likely than not that he had committed the crime of which he was accused? Off the cuff, a mutilated body in the trunk probably met that criterion. And, normally speaking, a First Appearance was a nothing, two-minute hearing that was handled on closed-circuit television with the defendant on one side of a monitor across the street at the county jail and a temperamental, overworked judge with a First Appearance docket of two hundred misdemeanors and fifty felony cases in a tiny courtroom on the other.
The ornery judge would read the arrest form, read the charges aloud, declare probable cause, set the bond or deny one, and move on to the next defendant in the long line that snaked through the jailhouse. And that would be it. It was over so quickly, the defendant usually hadn’t even realized his name had been called. He would stand at the jailhouse podium, blankly looking all around until they pushed him off to the line of prisoners headed back to their cells. The prosecutor and public defender sat in the courtroom with the judge, but they were really just decorations. There were no witnesses, no testimony, just the judge reading off the arrest form. And he always found probable cause. Always. It was nothing fancy – just good ol’, swift southern justice.
But this one – this one was going to be different. Today the defendant was going to be brought over from the jailhouse across the street and paraded into the county courthouse by the Department of Corrections at a special time for a special hearing in a special courtroom just for him. It would be witnessed by his defense attorney, the prosecutor, the now not-so-ornery judge, and the entire press corps that had camped out overnight on the courthouse steps and were lucky enough to find a seat in the courtroom. A nice, intimate affair that would be viewed by millions in simultaneous live broadcasts across the country and parts of the world. Then replayed again for the five-, six-, and eleven-o’clock news broadcasts.
C.J. suspected that it would take longer than two minutes.
The First Appearance judge was the Honorable Irving J. Katz, a press hound dog. Cranky and old, he had been a judge in Miami long before they had even built a courthouse to put him in. Much to Judge Katz’s dismay, the chief judge no longer let him handle trial work, but instead had made him King of the First Appearance, normally an uneventful, tedious job. A case like this one, though, was enough to make Judge Katz salivate. C.J. could expect him to use the first five minutes of the hearing up just in the silent, furious stare of contempt that he would land on Bantling. And the cameras. Then he would ask his bailiff to present him with the arrest form, and he would proceed to slowly read the charges, making sure to enunciate clearly in a voice dripping with disdain. He would pretend to read the arrest form that laid out the facts of Bantling’s arrest the night before, which, of course, he had already done in chambers at least ten times, and a feigned look of shock and disgust would creep across his wrinkly, ancient brow. He would demand to know how Bantling pleaded to the charges, even though that really wasn’t necessary until the arraignment three weeks later. Then he would wrap up the performance with a stern, dramatic speech that C.J. suspected would sound something like ‘I pray that these heinous charges, these barbaric, vile acts were not committed by the likes of you, William Rupert Bantling. May God have mercy on your soul if they were, as you will surely burn in hell!’ Or something close to that. A real headline grabber for the morning edition of the Miami Herald: JUDGE TELLS CUPID TO BURN IN HELL!Of course he would find probable cause. Chances were that C.J. would not need to speak at all. But still, she had made sure she was prepared on the facts in case she was faced with an argument from Bantling’s attorney.
Judge Rodriguez was the search warrant judge on duty last night, and in his bathrobe at
This was definitely troubling. Troubling because Bantling had invoked both his right to remain silent and his right to counsel last night and then had completely clammed up. C.J. was going to need more evidence than just Anna Prado’s dead body to link him with the other nine dead girls.
Troubling because it was entirely possible that this William Bantling was nothing but a copycat killer and the real Cupid was home reading the paper this morning, laughing his head off at all of them over a cup of hot coffee and a croissant.
C.J. leafed through the police reports and the pink arrest form one final time and checked her watch. It was past 9:30. She jotted down a few last-minute notes, grabbed her West’s Florida Criminal Procedure paperback, packed up her briefcase again, and headed over to the courthouse. She took the back stairs and the side entrance to avoid the media circus that she knew would be waiting for her, both outside her office building and across the street on the courthouse steps. Then she sneaked in through the underground courthouse garage, waving halfheartedly at the bored security guard as she entered the elevator.
The elevator doors opened on to the fourth floor, and C.J. could tell this whole affair was going to be even bigger than she had originally thought. As she suspected, a mob of cameramen and their chipper reporters waited anxiously in the hallway outside of Courtroom 4-1. Lighting was being set, microphones checked, and lipstick freshened up in hasty anticipation.
C.J. walked straight ahead, focused on the huge mahogany doors ahead of her, her head cast slightly down, the swag of her blunt dark blond bob covering her face. Oblivious to the rush of madness around her.
Frantic whispers erupted from the inexperienced reporters who had not yet done their homework: ‘Is that her?’ ‘Is that the prosecutor?’ ‘Is that Townsend?’ Those more prepared confidently nudged their way past, before the others had a chance to even flip their microphones on.
‘Ms Townsend, what evidence has been found at William Bantling’s home?’
‘Was Mr Bantling on the list of suspects that your office had looked at before?’
‘Will you be filing charges in the other nine murders?’
‘Will your office be seeking the death penalty?’
For that one, she shot the perky doe-eyed reporter a look. Stupid question. The doors closed with a heavy thud behind her.
She walked to the front of the walnut-paneled courtroom and took her seat to the right at the prosecution table. Judge Katz had, of course, picked the most majestic courtroom in the courthouse for his hearing. The ceilings soared twenty feet high, with His Honor’s mahogany wooden throne towering at least a lofty five feet above the gallery, and three feet above the witness box. Metal domed chandeliers that screamed the year 1972 hung suspended in a diagonal pattern all over the room.
The courtroom was already packed with spectators, most of whom were reporters, and cameras were set up at every conceivable angle on tripods. All around the courtroom were uniformed Miami-Dade officers, and four green-and-white-clad corrections officers guarded the entrance. Another four guarded a back entrance to the small hallway where prisoners were to be escorted in from the bridge over from the jailhouse. Yet another four held positions by the entrance to the other hallway that led to the judge’s chambers. In the front row of spectators, C.J. spotted several prosecutors from the office. She nodded in their direction.
She opened her briefcase and glanced over to her left. Ten feet across from her at the defense table sat prominent defense attorney Lourdes Rubio. Seated next to her, wearing a black tailored suit, gray silk tie, and silver handcuffs sat her client, William Rupert Bantling.
The suit looked like Armani and the tie Versace. Bantling wore his salty blond hair slicked back, and on his tan face sat expensive-looking Italian eyeglasses, behind which, C.J. noted, he sported a nice shiner. Probably compliments of the Miami Beach P.D. Although C.J. could only make out his profile from where she sat, she could tell that he was a handsome man. High cheekbones, good chin. Great A well-dressed, good-looking serial killer. The love notes from the lonely and demented should start to arrive at the Dade County Jail by tomorrow afternoon.
C.J. noticed that his handcuffs rested on a Rolex watch and in his left ear he had a large diamond stud. That explained why he sat next to Lourdes Rubio. She was good, and she didn’t come cheap. The handcuffs were affixed to a metal chain that connected to ankle shackles. Obviously, the boys over at the jail had really decked him out in the finest in restraint wear just for the cameras – she was surprised they hadn’t fitted him with a mask similar to the one Hannibal Lecter wore in The Silence of the Lambs. Bantling turned his face then and leaned toward Lourdes, smiling. C.J. noticed perfect teeth. Without the black eye, he was definitely handsome. He certainly didn’t look like a serial killer, but then again, neither did Ted Bundy. And pedophiles were almost always nice grandpas who served as presidents of their local Kiwanis Clubs, and the worst wife beaters sometimes were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Things were never what they seemed. That was probably how Bantling conned those girls out of those nightclubs. They were expecting a greasy, creepy, three-eyed monster with a knife and bad body odor who they could immediately tell was Cupid. A bad guy all the way. Not Suave Bola, dressed in Armani, full of charm, with perfect teeth, a Rolex, and a new Jag.
‘All rise!’ The bailiff opened the back courtroom door, and in walked a determined-looking Judge Katz. The first thing he did was scowl in the general direction of William Bantling.
He climbed up the stairs to the bench and sat down. Then he pulled out his glasses and put them on his head to where they just rested on the tip of his nose. The scowl continued.
‘Court is now in session!’ barked the bailiff. ‘The Honorable Irving J. Katz presiding! Be seated and be quiet!’
Judge Katz silently surveyed his kingdom with a look of contempt. For several minutes, nervous silence filled the air, and only the occasional rustle of papers or a muffled cough could be heard. This went on for a while. Finally, Judge Katz cleared his throat and said, ‘We are here on the matter of The State of Florida v. William Rupert Bantling, case number F2000-17429. Counselors, please identify yourselves for the record.’ Very formal. C.J. and Lourdes both stood.
‘C.J. Townsend for the state.’
‘Lourdes Rubio for the defendant.’
The judge continued. ‘The charge is murder in the first degree. You have been brought here, Mr Bantling, for your First Appearance Hearing, as is required by Florida law, to determine if there is probable cause contained in the arrest form to support the charge against you. If probable cause is found, you will be remanded without bond to the Dade County Jail to stand trial. That all having been said, Madame Clerk, please pass me the arrest form in this cause so that I may read it.’
He was crisp, he was clear, and he enunciated throughout the whole speech. Judge Katz would look great on the news. Normally, he would have handled at least ten defendants in the same amount of time on any other day. The courtroom buzzed in hushed whispers as the judge pretended to read through the arrest form. Cameras whirred and sketch artists sketched.
‘Quiet all!’ snapped the bailiff, and the room fell silent.
After almost five minutes of intense frowning, Judge Katz looked up from the three-page arrest form. In a voice dripping with disdain, he declared loudly, ‘I have read the arrest form. And I find that probable cause does indeed exist in this case to hold the defendant, William Rupert Bantling, for trial
Lourdes Rubio stood up. ‘Your Honor, if I might address the court. I hate to interrupt, but I am afraid the court is about to conclude this matter on its own before the defendant has had a chance to be heard.
‘Judge, my client is a prominent member of the community. He has no prior criminal history. He has lived in Miami for six years and has laid long-term roots here, including a job and a home. He is willing to surrender his passport to the court until this matter is resolved, and to submit to an ankle bracelet with electronic monitoring and house arrest, so that he may assist counsel in the preparation of his defense. We therefore respectfully request that the court take these factors into consideration and that bond be set in this matter.’
C.J. rose to respond, but quickly saw there was no need. Judge Katz’s bald head turned red, and he glared at Lourdes Rubio. She had thrown off his otherwise-perfect performance. ‘Your client is a suspect in a string of violent, horrific murders. He was driving his car around Miami with the dead, mutilated body of a woman in his trunk. He’s not a tourist who has enjoyed too much of the South Beach nightlife, Ms Rubio. I am not worried about him fleeing I am worried about him killing. He clearly is a danger to society. There will be no bond; he can assist you from his jail cell.’
Judge Katz’s eyes ran up and down Lourdes Rubio, as if he had just realized that she was a woman. In a low voice he added, ‘You might very well thank me for that one day, Counselor.’ Then he leaned forward and again set up his closer. ‘Now, Mr Bantling, I can only hope for your sake that you are not guilty of the horrible crime with which you have been charged. Because if you are –’
Retribution by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on50 votes