The Icy Clues
The crime scene lay before them like a ghastly nightmare etched into reality. The snow-covered clearing held no trace of the innocence that once graced it, now tainted by a scene of unspeakable horror. The victim's body was sprawled amidst the purity of the snow, a gruesome masterpiece that defied reason and humanity.
Blood had congealed on the ground, a sinister stain that seemed to seep into the very earth itself. It was as though the land had absorbed the agony, bearing witness to the brutality that had transpired. The body lay contorted, limbs twisted in unnatural angles, an artful arrangement of suffering that invoked a visceral sense of dread.
Detective Ethan Hart's eyes were drawn to the victim's expression, frozen in a rictus of terror. It was a gaze that seemed to pierce the veil between life and death, an unending scream frozen in time. A shiver passed through him, a tremor that was not just a response to the cold air but to the malevolence that lingered, tangible yet intangible, in the clearing.
Hart's gloved fingers brushed the snow-covered ground, feeling the icy bite of winter against his skin. He forced himself to focus, to distance his mind from the raw brutality that lay before him. This was the darkness he had confronted countless times before, each time stealing a piece of his own humanity. But this time, it was different – the bleakness seemed to seep into his very soul, an omen of something far more sinister lurking beneath the surface.
Beside him, Julia Carter stood, her youthful features marred by a mix of morbid curiosity and rising nausea. She had imagined what the scene might look like, but the reality was far more visceral than she had prepared for. Her stomach churned as she took in the twisted tableau, her heart heavy with the weight of humanity's capacity for cruelty.
The clearing seemed to hold its breath, the stillness broken only by the rustling of leaves in the wind. It was a silence that seemed to mock the chaos that had transpired, as though even nature itself was repelled by the savagery. A gust of wind swept through the trees, carrying with it the whispered echoes of those who had perished in this forsaken place.
With a deep breath, Hart turned away from the victim, his attention shifting to the surrounding area. Footprints, both those of the victim and the perpetrator, marred the otherwise pristine snow. He observed the trail they had left, each indentation a marker of a macabre dance that had played out under the gaze of the icy stars.
As he crouched to examine the scene, his gloved fingers brushed against an object half-buried in the snow. He carefully unearthed it, revealing a piece of fabric stained with blood. The material was torn and frayed, evidence of a struggle that had unfolded in this desolate realm. It was a clue – a small fragment that would be added to a growing puzzle, one that held the key to unraveling the darkness that had descended upon Solstice Bluff.
Julia watched as Hart meticulously collected the evidence, her admiration for his methodical approach tempered by the grim realization of what it meant. This was a battleground, a place where a war of shadows had been waged, and each piece of evidence was a testament to the horrors that had unfolded.
With the initial evidence secured, Hart turned his attention to the task at hand – interviews. The woods seemed to whisper secrets, secrets that only the townspeople held. The detective knew that to uncover the truth, he would need to delve into the hearts and minds of those who called Solstice Bluff home.
The interviews were a tapestry of fear and suspicion, each person bearing the weight of their own secrets. Faces were etched with worry, voices laden with uncertainty. As Hart questioned witnesses, he began to piece together a web of relationships – connections that hinted at motives and alliances.
One of the first interviews was with Eliza Morgan, a woman whose haunted eyes revealed a pain that transcended the scene before them. She was a friend of the victim, her grief palpable as she spoke of their shared history. But beneath the sorrow, Hart sensed a flicker of something more, a hidden truth that she guarded with a fragile determination.
Next was Jacob Thornton, a reclusive man with a reputation for eccentricity. He spoke in riddles and cryptic phrases, his words painting a portrait of a mind that danced at the edge of sanity. Jacob's ramblings were like whispers from another world, and though his words seemed nonsensical, Hart's instincts told him that there was a method to the madness.
As the day wore on, Hart and Julia moved from interview to interview, each conversation revealing another layer of Solstice Bluff's intricacies. Sarah Turner, a local artist, shared stories of the victim's kindness, their bond forged through shared struggles. Samuel Bennett, a bartender at the town's lone tavern, hinted at simmering tensions and unspoken grievances within the tight-knit community.
With each interview, Hart felt the weight of responsibility grow heavier. The victim's life was a tapestry woven from the threads of these individuals' stories – stories that held the potential to lead him closer to the truth. But the truth was elusive, a phantom that seemed to dance just out of reach, a specter that promised to shatter the fragile facade of Solstice Bluff.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting long shadows across the clearing, Hart and Julia concluded their initial round of interviews. The woods seemed to grow darker, the trees whispering secrets that danced just beyond their perception. The town's secrets had been stirred, the first tendrils of truth clawing their way to the surface.
And so, as the day transitioned into night, Detective Ethan Hart and Julia Carter found themselves standing at the precipice of a mystery that went deeper than the woods that surrounded them. With each passing moment, the darkness that had settled over Solstice Bluff seemed to tighten its grip, promising revelations that would test the very boundaries of their understanding and challenge their notions of reality.
Within The Confines Of My Mind
Pale ghosts haunt the glass...
Containment of their precious lives
put on display
for those who prey
like dogs in heat
for red flags raised
in crazed or nonplussed defiance
that cast a glare in ancient books of law...
We have them to thank for the fear
that keeps the wolves at bay,
but either way,
I am here and subject to their perusal...
...Here thinking of you...
What else can I ever do,
but think of you,
and pray you think of me
across this distance,
this immense expanse...
My love, I conjure you
in my jail cell,
this ponderous place where we have only
the contant bright bulb glaring down,
and the ominous hum,
and whirr of the building bellowing
from the rear
of where we sleep and defecate...
Even here, I have a private place
below my white blanket,
and below the surface,
where I can summon your
and for once in my many stints in the clink
I have a flesh and blood angel,
not just an abstract ideal...
You being so real
that you light up each and every hollow place
in the caverns of my being...
No depression here,
just worry that subsides
when I recall the depth of your smile,
and the deep trench of our sentiments,
the way we touch, kiss, and hold each
raw second in our hands like dough
when we make love and roll together,
as you eagerly accept me and evenly match
each passionate embrace
as the waves rise and crash
in the lush outback of our
Our new child's eyes light up my
blanket tent now,
as I recall his beautiful high baby voice
as he smiles a smile
that could charm the pants off of any
New York Stock Exchange shark...
I've never seen a babe with a brighter spark,
and to think he came from our combined union
makes any length of time in the shade
not as dreary,
but still I yearn for freedom
so I can share in the joy of rearing this cherub
with my true love who waits for me
outside in the real world.
I pop my head out, and
from across the hall I see a pregnant blonde
throw a smile my way,
a rare exception in this nest of despair,
and time freeze...
Her orange jump suit barely covering
her swelling protuberance
that she continually strokes with pride,
reminding me of my own pregnant bride
before our son filled our lives with such light...
I have been gifted to share her happiness
for whatever length of time we share,
and I appreciate her
uplifting state of mind...
She hovers behind her exhibit screen,
and then wanders back into the throat
of the unseen,
offstage, and only where the officers
in the dark can observe,
though they all seem pre-occupied
with their computers as the prisoners
have been reduced to numbers on a screen.
I return to my white sac of a blanket,
a self-created womb,
pulling my black face mask,
I brought to protect me from Corona
before I was incarcerated,
over my eyes
so I may dive ever deeper into my
reminiscing of my wife and baby on
my right side
where I can hug and kiss them,
and dwell in every detail of their beings...
I say inside my mind...
I will return and we will be reunite...
The skies will glow,
and the free birds will sing the joy
of our returning union from the trees!...
...Until then I call you up
from behind fastened eyes
within the confines
of my mind.
We all walk into the back of the courtroom into a chamber where every juror must state what they think of the case. It is a large room, made out of beautiful dark oak, ornately carved into intricate patterns which captures the eyes and imagination of everyone. Whenever people enter this room for the first time, it mesmerises them. Now I see why. It is truly amazing.
We sit in a circle. Going around the room, we all have to vote on what we think of the case. “All in favor of the defendant being guilty, say “Aye,” says Jackson. He is plump, with tomatoes for cheeks and a huge circular nose, and as the senior juror, he shows the newer jurors what to do and how everything is run. As if a perfectly synchronized routine, all the other jurors say “Aye,” except for me.
There is a pause before a crisp shrill voice cuts through the air, like she is pointing a dagger at me. “Miranda, why don’t you tell us why the defendant isn’t guilty.” She has a smile on her face that says, “Go mess up in front of everyone. I want to see you try to prove yourself.”
“Well, Barbra,” I say, my hands getting clammy and starting to sweat. It's my first jury duty and I have already been put on the chopping block. “The defendant said he was leaving the party when the shots were fired, for one, which means that he was on the other side of the yard. Not only that, but a gun was never found in his car, in his house, anywhere that he had been except for the party.”
Frederick cuts me off. He is a science teacher and always looks at the logical side of things. “Not to interrupt, but if you were the shooter, wouldn't you leave the gun at the party? That would make it harder to track.”
“Exactly. That argument doesn’t have enough evidence to back it up,” says Cathy, our mayor.
“Well,” I say, cutting everyone off before something catastrophic happens. “The other thing is, the finger prints on the gun were inconclusive. Not only that, but I did some research and there were two other Jonathan’s at the party. So it could have been one of them that the witnesses were talking about.”
“Very well done, Miranda,” Jackson says. “Does this change anyone’s opinion?”
Everyone shakes their heads. Defeat is imminent and I know it. No one will agree with the crazy theories that prove Jonathan innocent.
“Let’s get back to the courtroom then.” Jackson says. Ushering us back in, I linger behind. Someone else also lingers, probably to say something.
Tall, skinny, shy. I don’t know his name, but I know he believes me. He is sitting in his chair, visibly thinking and wondering about everything that I had said to him and everyone else. “I agree with you, Miranda,” he says.
It was very sudden and quick. Like it slipped out of his mouth without him realizing it, and before anyone could say anything to him, his phone starts to ring. Everyone else is standing there, shook that he agreed, while he fumbles with his phone.
I know I need to say something, and fast. But what?
As if the missing piece of the puzzle was found, everything starts to make sense. “Wait a second,” I say to everyone. “Someone called 911, and it must have been Jonathan. No one else was far enough away to not be too distracted by running away from the shooter, but still at the party to know that the shooting happened.”
There's a silence that collectively falls over the room when I say this. Everyone, thinking it over, turning it in circles in their brain. I need to fortify my evidence, “Think about it. He was in his car when the shooting happened in the backyard. He could have been at the perfect angle to see the shooting and also be far enough away to be safe to make the call. It makes sense.” My arms are flying around the room wildly now. I don’t know how they will respond. But I just know that I am right. There is no other way for that to have worked out.
“Very valid point,” Frederick says slowly, testing the water before jumping in head first. “But how can we prove that he was in his car during the shooting?”
“It has already been proven that he was in his car the minute before the shooting happened. Everyone just thought that he was going to get his gun.” I say, coming up with all of this evidence on the fly. Half of my theory doesn’t seem fortified, yet all the evidence that we already know about can support it if said in a different way.
“She may be right.” Jackson says. That stops everything. Everybody listens to Jackson when he speaks.
“So, what now?” I ask. “Never really done this whole thing before.” I chuckle nervously.
“Let's go back out and tell the judge.” He says. And we do. Everyone files back out into the courtroom and takes their seat. The room quiets down and the Judge asks, “Well, what is your ruling?”
“Miranda has something to say.” Jackson says, ushering me to stand up.
Everyone in the courtroom looks at me. Butterflies swarm into a tornado in my stomach as I realize the insane parts of my theory. “Yes, we need to see Jonathan’s phone. We need to know if he made the call to 911 the night of the party.”
When we open his phone, and look at the call list, we find the 911 call there within a minute of when the shots were fired. He couldn’t have been the shooter, he saved people, and now I have saved him.
After the trial, I try to leave but everyone comes up to me. The family, the judge, the whole jury. I am offered a special program for attorneys.
Personal justice detective.
Dinner with Gregory?
Juror Number Twelve
I rub my hands together. It's freakin' cold even though the room is set to a comfortable temperature. The stupid pearls around my neck feel icy, and my naked ankles are chilly. Should've worn hose today. But they didn't go with this pencil skirt.
Being cold has nothing to do with my ability, despite what some so-called psychics claim about drops in temperature. I wish it did. Instead, I get cold when I'm nervous. So I shake because my nerves are doing the hokey pokey, and I shake because my body won't stay warm. It's hard to take me seriously when I look so unconfident. I know that. Thankfully, I don't have to make them believe, because I can make them see.
"You want the court to reread the defendant's testimony?" Four asks. "We'll have to write a formal request and send it in. But I'm happy to do that." He's handsome, accomodating, and courteous, the natural choice for Jury Foreman, but not only for those reasons. He's also Dick Butler, NBC 4 L.A.'s ten o'clock news anchor. So, we're all comfortable with him and look up to him, because, in a way, we've all let him into our homes many times.
"No," I say, shaking my head. I never explain my abilities well because...well, I never explain them. I've been hiding them my whole life. They aren't a party trick, and they certainly aren't something you build a resume around. If people knew you were looking into their minds, what you had access to, they'd stay far, far away from you. But I had no choice now but to reveal what I can do, because it could save an innocent man's life.
"I want to play back a part of his testimony for you—it doesn't matter," I say. "We don't have a lot of time. The less sharp the memory is in my mind, the weaker the psychic connection."
"Have mercy," One says, rolling her eyes, "I thought I misheard when she said she was 'psychic' the first time." The wrinkled old lady, probably in her eighties, elbows Five at her left, a blond with round glasses, like a cross between Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. She speaks to him out of the corner of her mouth, over-loudly, because she is hard of hearing. "Next, she'll be selling us palm readins and tarrot cards." She says tarrot like carrot.
Harry Malfoy chuckles.
"I'm not a professional psychic," I say, my voice wavering. The cold pushes right through my wool jacket even though Ten, a portly woman with squished eyes and a pinched nose and mouth, has sweat permanently clinging to two deep creases in her forehead. "I'm a park ranger at Angeles National Forest."
"A psychic park ranger?" says Three with a wry smile. "Tell me, which bear am I thinking of?" He glances around the table and collects a few laughs. A comedian.
"Yogi!" shouts Seven. Her auburn shoulder-length curls dance as she laughs at her own joke. Comedian number two. Great.
"Hey, Seven! You must be a bear psychic too!" Three said, mimicking suprise. "It could have been Smokey or Baloo!"
"That's not how it works," I say, calmly but firmly. "We don't have a lot of time. Please, just let me show you what I saw during the defendant's testimony. Give me permission to enter your mind and show you."
I don't need consent to enter another person's mind. But I ask for it for a couple of reasons. One, when I'm in there, there's no telling what secrets you'll share with me on the mind plane. You are not in control of your subconscious. At all. It does what it wants to do. And usually, the real you doesn't know what subconscious you tells me when I'm in there. But sometimes, it does, depending on how close your conscious is to your subconscious. The closer the two are in agreement with each other, the more likely you can perceive what inner you is up to on the mind plane. So if I go in there and you reveal something you didn't mean to, but you know you do, I can cover my butt by saying, I asked and you gave me permission to see.
The second reason I ask consent—this is really important—is because when you choose to enter the mind plane, you are more likely to interpret what you see there as your discovery, even if I put it there. Think of it like this: the two of us in a desert, excavating. I could just rip the canvas off the hole and say, Ta da! An alien monolith! Or, I can hand you a shovel, point to where to dig, and let you remove the last scoop of sand, revealing the obsidian, smooth surface of the top of the monolith beneath. You see the difference? I knew you would.
"Look," I say. "If in five seconds, nothing psychic happens, then I'm a fraud, and you've lost nothing, right?"
"We'll have lost time," Two says, arms folded tightly across her narrow chest. She looks expensive, like her time is worth more than everyone else's at this table. Probably is too.
"Then, all the better to let me demonstrate. It'll only take a moment. Cross examining me has already taken up precious minutes. Besides, if nothing psychic happens, I'll vote guilty too."
"I say we try it," Dick Butler says.
Murmurs of agreement around the table.
I smile at him. Number Four of NBC 4. His juror number is perfect, just like him. If I hadn't sworn off relationships a year ago, I'd see if I could get his other number. Maybe I will anyway. I don't have to call.
"Thank you," I say, and I can't help but flip my hair over my shoulder with a hand. Old habits die hard.
"Fine by me," says the male comedian.
"This should be good," says his counterpart. She's smiling. That won't last for long.
"Do we have to hold hands—" says the first, but before he can finish his thought, the deliberation room warps and stretches around us like it's made of Spandex being pulled away from us.
"Whoa," says someone.
"Earthquake?!" says the old lady. "Big one!" She reaches out for Malfoy and puts a wrinkled, veiny, brown hand on his chest. His eyes roll back in his head.
"I can't see!" cries the male comedian.
It's true. The room is being pulled and stretched so far that it loses it's color and brightness. It grows dark until we swim in a pitch blackness. The walls go, the floor goes, the chair you're sitting on goes. It looks like you're falling into a void. Even the people go. The jurors are there one moment, and then blip; they are gone. A hair of a second later, there's a pop, and the world rushes back at you like a rubberband being snapped. You want to fall over to avoid being hit by it, but you can't and you won't be hit. Because, now, you're on the mind plane.
There are no walls here. No chairs. Just miles and miles of desert until dunes and plateaus in the distance. I've never been there. I'm too afraid to go. I don't like coming to this place at all. It's part of the reason I avoid meaningful relationships. I don't always mean to slip into the mind plane with people, but it's hard not to when the stakes get high. Do you really love me? Can I really trust you? (I realize the irony of that last question.) So I avoid them.
Once, when I was two, I accidentally took my parents to the mind plane. Just before the trip, Mom was giving me a bath. Dad walked in and spotted mom in her swimsuit (she wore it because I was a splasher), and the look in his eye was so curious, so much like burning fire, that I accidentally took us all to the mind plane. I saw what Dad wanted to do to Mom here, and she saw it, and wanted him to do that to her too. The fire spread to her eyes and scared me. I pulled us all out, and I wanted nothing to do with either of them, not for a while after. And, on some level, they felt the same way about me. That's hard on a two year old.
Pop! The jurors rush back into view around me. We stand in a circle, even though we were sitting around a table just a moment before. In the middle of the circle is someone else, not from the jury—the defendant.
He looks so real, even though he's just a memory.
His lawyer just asked him a question, "Mr. Camry, what were you doing on July 17, 2020, at 7:09PM, the time of your wife's murder?"
There were no tears in Mr. Camry's eyes. His irises almost looked black, darker than the spiderweb tatoo on his neck and the graying hair on his buzzed head. He stared down at his hands.
"I-I—" he began. "I was in the home office."
"And where is the office?" the disembodied voice continued.
"It's down the hall, by the bathroom."
The voice continued, "What were you doing in the office that made it so you couldn't hear the intruder come into the house, couldn't hear your wife's screams and cries for help—cries the neighbors heard two houses away?"
Now the tears came. "I-I was playing video games."
"You were playing video games. Did you have headphones on?"
"Sony active-noise cancelling headphones."
"Sony active-noise cancelling headphones, which we've proven earlier are effective enough to cancel out the noise of a combustion engine train three houses away. Now, Mr. Camry, where were you at 10:14PM, three hours after your wife's murder?"
"Playing video games."
"You were still playing video games. Had you taken a break from gaming anytime between seven o'clock that and 10:14 that night?"
"And when the police arrived at 10:15PM, where did they find you?"
"Playing video games."
"Could you be specific about how you discovered the police were in your house?"
"I felt a hand grab me by the shoulder right here." The defendant grabbed his own collar bone. "It yanked me backward and I fell back and then there were three of them on top of me."
"You didn't hear their sirens? You didn't hear them knock the door down? You didn't hear them come up the stairs or enter the room behind you?"
"So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury," the invisible voice turned toward us and grew closer. "What's more likely: an angry husband rapes his wife for interrupting his gaming session, kills her, and then goes back to playing video games, leaving her body in bed to be found by cops hours later; or, an intruder breaks in, rapes and kills Mrs. Camry while her husband is just down the hall, but he can't hear her cries because he is wearing noise cancelling headphones that do what they were made to do?"
At that moment, Mr. Camry put his head in his hands and showed us his graying hair. It looked much grayer than two days before when the trial began. He seemed to be giving up, and his body was leading the way.
So I dove into his mind.
Since this is a memory, there's no nightmarish stretching and pulling this time. Instead, Mr. Camry lifts his face from his hands and looks directly at each of us, really looks at us, for the first time since the trial began.
The fat lady gasps. I don't blame her. I did earlier that morning when I saw this memory. But I didn't know he was innocent then either. Plus, it's extremely uncomfortable when someone locks eyes with you on the mind plane. People are much more emotional than they let on in real life. On the mind plane, their masks come off. It's like looking into a skeleton's eye sockets and knowing something inside is looking back.
Mr. Camry's eyes are blood shot and streaming tears. His nose slobbers. He looks like a very sick alien, because of his wide-set eyes and heart-shaped face. Worse, we hear his voice loud and clear even though his mouth doesn't move.
"I know you think I'm guilty," he says. "I don't deserve to live. Not after what I let happen to Mindy. Not after how I treated her." (They fought a lot, that very night about video games, according to the neighbors.)
"But I hope you find her killer, cuz he doesn't deserve to be free. Condemn me, but get him too."
He lowers his head again. The memory of what I saw in the courtroom ends.
I look around at the jurors standing in the circle. Most of them stare at the defendant. Some of them stare at me. But my work is done so I look to our friendly, neighborhood anchorman and foreman.
His eyes are trained on the defendant. There's fire in them. He looks hungry—no—he looks ravenous. His mask is gone and he's revealing a secret to me, to all of us.
"I want you to die, Mr. Camry," he says in a voice much quieter and more intimate than the one he uses on T.V., like he's telling Mr. Camry a lover's secret. "I want to convict you so badly, I want to scream 'guilty!' But I can't look overeager to all these people around me. I have to be cool. I'll have to be cool when I ask my boss to let me cover your execution. It's research, I'll tell him, part of a story about the hubris of the death penalty. About how our liberal state decries the killing of citizens by the police in the streets, but then votes to let them do it legally in prison. Then, I'll get a press pass and I'll get to watch you die by injection. It'll be like watching someone overdose on heroin. What a rush! And then, I'll get to watch many more die in the name of the story. Just thinking about it feels amazing and powerful. But, first, I'll get to see your face when we announce your guilty verdict. And that—that's going to be delicious."
I pull us out of the vision. The deliberation room snaps back into place around us.
I stare at Dick Butler. He stares back at me. I hyperventilate, and my coat rubs at my neck, which is hot now, not cold.
"He's a murderer," the old lady says. She stabs a bony finger at Dick. "He's the one we should be convicting."
Dick looks at her. "What are you talking about? Are you okay, ma'am?" he says in his customary calm baritone.
Malfoy shrinks in his chair and scoots backward.
"Yeah," the male comedian says. "That guy confessed it all! He wanted to see all those people die!"
"I saw that too!" the fat lady says. "He looked like...like he wanted to eat the poor man!"
Dick looks around the room, blinking innocently. And then he looks at me, and I don't have to dive into his mind to know what he's thinking. His mask is good, but his eyes betray him. He wants my life. He wants to wring his fingers around it until it oozes out. He's afraid. He's no longer the smooth talking, calculating version version of himself. And now, his subtle comments earlier made so much sense. He had tried earlier to seem like a reasonable, unbiased party, even disagreeing with someone who thought Mr. Camry was guilty if their opinion was based on a feeling or prejudice. At the same time, he never failed to agree to someone who presented evidence that pointed to Mr. Camry's guilt. This whole time, he'd been steering us all carefully, gently toward that guilty verdict, like a captain of a sailboat on a glass sea. He'd even given up the wheel for a moment to the last holdout—me—the one juror unconvinced of Mr. Camry's guilt. It was all part of a ruse to appear fairminded and just. But didn't he only hand it over when I said I'd vote guilty if the rest of the room didn't experience anything psychic? Of course. He didn't believe in the mind plane. If he had, he'd never have allowed us to go there, because he has a very dark secret to hide.
But he did let us go there. And now, I need to make sure he doesn't take back the wheel.
"Focus!" I say, clearing my throat. "We are hear for one purpose: to determine if Mr. Camry is innocent or guilty."
All eyes find me.
"But what about Dick?" says the male comedian. "He wanted to—"
"Mr. Camry is on trial," I say. "No one else, no matter what you think you saw."
"She's right," says Malfoy. He rubs his neck, which has pinkened like his cheeks and forehead as if he's sprouted a fever. "We aren't here to accuse anyone else of anything, so let's just get this done and go home so we can forget the whole thing."
Dick's eyes soften, they are no longer glinting, black blades. He glances around the room and rolls back his shoulders. He rests his hands on the table, and the veins stick out like ropes under his skin. Everyone else, as if afraid to touch the same surface, removes their hands from the table, but he doesn't seem to notice.
"Well, Mr. Butler," I say to Dick. "What do you say? Shall we vote on the verdict for Mr. Camry?"
Dick scans the room, reading. He takes his time, and suddenly I'm cold again.
"That's what we are here for," he finally says. A shiver shakes out of me as his eyes crawl over me. "Since you have enlightened us all with your...gift, number Twelve, I can no longer in good conscience vote...guilty." He spits the word out like horrible-tasting medicine. "We must not judge Mr. Camry for sins he has not actually committed."
I nod my head. "We all clearly saw the desires of his heart. I also vote not guilty."
Dick smiles and nods at me. Then, he turns to quietest juror of all at his right, Eight.
"Not guilty," the tiny woman croaks.
"Not guilty," says the fat woman.
All around the circle, everyone declares their vote. It's unanimous.
Dick says, "Great job, people!" and leads us out of the room.
The male comedian pulls me aside just outside the deliberation room. The old lady stands with him.
"We can't just let him get away!" the comedian whispers. "Dick's more a murderer than O.J. Simpson."
I watch Dick walks down the linoleum-tiled hall ahead, to be sure he doesn't turn around to see us whispering. I'm about to open my mouth to speak when the old lady butts in.
"Dick didn't see what we saw," she said. "Shoot, I'm not quite sure what I saw myself, except it's hard to deny."
"So?" the comedian said. "We saw what we saw."
The old lady ringed her gnarled hands in front of her and stared down the hall. "We all made it sound like we knew Dick was a murderer in there. Maybe he thinks we saw something in the future, or, heaven forbid, the past." The old lady shivered. "Maybe he thinks we saw him commit a murder. And maybe that's enough to stop him from doing something horrible from here on, because everytime he'll think of us and wonder if we'll turn him in."
I hadn't thought of that at all. The old woman, whose eyes are so light gray I wonder how well she can actually see, had seen something in Dick's fear I hadn't. She might even be right about it. Dick's mask was so different to what was underneath that there was a good chance he didn't see what we saw in the mind plane.
"She's right," I say, motioning for us to get moving down the hall so we didn't lag suspiciously far behind. "I think he's too afraid of us now to do anything really bad."
"You saw how evil he is. We can't just do nothing!" says the comedian.
"We won't," I say. "I see more than desire in the mind plane. I can see the future." I put a hand on the comedian's shoulder. "I'll keep tabs on Mr. Butler."
The comedian exhales and nods. Color returns to his pale face. "Thank you," he says.
"Yes, thank you," says the old woman, touching my elbow affectionately. "You're an angel."
I smile at her. Then, we walk the rest of the hall to the courtroom in silence. The comedian even takes the old woman's arm in his and escorts her there. They are calm again, more at ease, probably because I promised, to keep them safe.
But I lied. I can't see the future. I can only see the desires of one's heart. That's just the way it works. Of course, I won't tell them that. Right now, we need to focus and save an innocent man's life, not be distracted by fear. If one of us brings up a vision, Dick's murderous intentions, or, God forbid, the mind plane, we'll lose all credibility as a jury and earn a mistrial. Then Mr. Camry is at the mercy of the next jury, and who knows what they'll decide. If they're like us, it won't be good.
Besides, Dick isn't guilty of murder. Not yet. And so, we can only hope our worst fears (and wishes, if you're Dick) never come true.
Still, after the court lets us go today, I'm not going to walk to my car in the parking lot alone. Just in case Dick's around.
Rocking the boat like Columbo.
Laquisha had quietly taken notes. She had listened and she had observed and as the other eleven members of the jury bickered boisterously, airing their puerile opinions, she had developed a silent yet strong conviction that the accused was in fact, contrary to popular opinion, innocent.
“He did it.” Juror number 5 summarized, emphasizing the period mark after his statement, the finality confirmed by the folding of his arms, the crossing of his legs and the sitting back in his stackable plastic chair.
His conclusive comment was met with nods and a wave of concurrence throughout the room. The randomly selected group of her peers, a jury of 12, a chosen cross section of society, had quickly reached a consensus.
Well, eleven out of twelve anyway.
It wasn’t in Laquisha’s nature to rock the boat. She had always been an unassuming and taciturn girl. People often talked over her or down to her and she had on many occasions overheard people talking about her ; she had become accustomed to it and was what she had come to expect. Maybe it was a symptom of middle child syndrome, or maybe her a result of having an overbearing if not slightly narcissistic mother, or maybe it was just the nature of an introvert.
Regardless, justice trumps emotion. A man’s life was on the line, so now was the time to put any reticence aside and speak up .
She cleared her throat and shuffled in her chair.
The timorous raising of her hand to get the room’s attention had absolutely no effect but the lowering of her hand, simultaneously knocking over her glass of water, ensured all heads turned in her direction.
After apologising profusely she mustered the confidence to offer her insights.
“I think there may be a few things we’ve overlooked. ” She stuttered, reminiscent of Peter Falk’s iconic detective Columbo (sans dusty trench coat.)
“Like what ?“The obstinate and self- appointed spokesman, that was juror number 5, probed. “Look at the evidence. Fingerprints. DNA. Gun analysis.” He bullet pointed by counting his meaty fingers as he spoke. “He did it! The evidence speaks for itself. ”
Laquisha cleared her throat again, adjusted her glasses and straightened her spine as she spoke.
It was now or never.
“Did you know, that street lights in this area are sodium based lights not LED ?” She asked, posing the seemingly arbitrary question to the room.
The non-sequitur was greeted with puzzled looks and condescending smirks.
″ So what?” Juror 8 , another loud and opinionated woman, asked tersely.
“Sodium based lights give off a yellow glow which distorts colour, so a blue car for example would seem grey.” Laquisha expanded politely.
“The eyewitness said she saw a grey car , which is the car colour of the accused. But under this street lighting, the police should have looked for a blue one.”
She noticed a few shifting in their seat. She observed some questioning frowns. One of the jurors picked up a CCTV photograph provided in an evidence pack and studied it.
It emboldened her to continue. She took out her well-used notebook and flipped a page.
“The make and model of the car are standard- issue company cars in the organization he works for, so this points us to someone who works there, a work colleague, the accused’s best friend for example.”
She pulled out her phone as a visual aid and enlarged a picture on the screen.
“If you look at this Facebook picture, the best friend is with his company car , same make and model but it’s blue. Even the partial number plate , presented as evidence, matches too.”
She passed the phone to a few seated around the table and she could sense an infinitesimal shift in the atmosphere. A thawing of their previously rock-solid mental posturing.
When her phone returned from the round- the-room pass along, she opened a second picture and enlarged it for the group.
“This is another picture from the best friend’s Facebook page, taken last year. He was in Colombia. Does anyone recognize this tree in the background ?” She enquired as she held the attention of the group.
“A tree? Is that supposed to be evidence of a crime?” Juror number 2, a tall, attractive mother of two piped up, in an audibly patronizing tone.
″ Well actually, it could be .“Laquisha, explained undeterred by the snappy reaction. “It’s a Borrachero tree, also known as the “drunken binge” tree .A substance derived from it, is called scopolamine. It’s illegal here in the States because it blocks a person’s ability to form memories and make free will choices. If it’s blown in someone’s face or put in a drink, the person will do anything you tell them to. These trees are extremely rare and regulated, yet the best friend appears to have access to one. This picture was taken on his uncle’s land, according to the photo caption. ”
She noted the raised eyebrows , this time smirk-free. She spotted the pursed lips and exchanged glances, brows furrowed with doubts.
“It would explain why the accused has no memory of the night in question. ” Juror number 10 surmised, the realization signalling a reversal of mindset.
“Exactly,” Laquisha confirmed “Now, just
one more thing: motive. The accused’s best friend was also in their lottery syndicate. They had all won $1 million and were going to split it four ways. But now two of them are out of the picture: one is dead and the other one on trial for murder. Here’s a photo of the two remaining winners: the best friend and his girlfriend. They’re currently in Mexico, according to their latest Facebook post, on a beach drinking Mai Thais.”
The room was abuzz with murmuring and whispering, several whipped out their phones out to check the Facebook page she had mentioned.
Then silence. Even number 5 had no rebuttal.
“So,” She took to stuttering again, adjusting her glasses as she spoke. “I hate to rock the boat but maybe there are just few facts the police need to look into first ....don’t you think?”
"How do you know that the suspect is guilty, huh? How do you know that he really did kill his father in cold-blood?" A slam on the table and the question spat from his lips subdues the others into submission.
"Hah?" One of the other men say, his eyebrow arching and his face contorting in dismay. "What, you've been quiet for all this time and now you decide to talk, just as soon as we decided to start an unanimous vote?"
He... should have spoken about it earlier, but be needed time to think, to truly understand if the defendant really was guilty or not. The poor boy couldn't have done it; the evidence didn't add up.
These people just wanted to get this trial over and done with. They didn't care whatsoever about condemning an innocent person to their own death.
It sickens him just thinking about it.
"All the evidence points to him as the killer," a woman says. She was one of the others who didn't agree to vote, instead staying silent and listening to everyone else talk.
Like sheep, they all only listen and follow after the leader, who's adamant the boy did the deed.
It's up to him to change their minds, to make them all see reason. There's always one person who doesn't agree with the majority, and they normally go unnoticed.
That's only if they don't speak up and say anything. He's determined to make sure that the boy gets to live another day, and none of them stain their hands with blood.
Every life is worth fighting for, and he's going to see to it.
Rosa sits impatiently as opinions flow around the room. Her twin toddlers, Ava and Enrique, are clearly in the forefront of her thoughts. “Can we put this killer in prison, already? “, Rosa finally belted out. James, the “old school” seventy-two year old veteran, seemed convinced that, "The accused", Charles, was guilty from the start. Our randomly selected group of so-called average people...how could we be knowledgeable enough to determine someone’s innocence or guilt? Why would we be gate keepers standing to slam the metal bars and throw away the key? Am I too sympathetic? Empathetic? Naive? Charles, referred to by the judge as, “The suspect in question”, couldn’t have murdered his parents. His demeanor was somber and broken, yet he was the only one home..well, he and his ten-year old sister Sara, who allegedly never woke up during the sounds of bullets ripping through walls and doors; the sound of bullets shattering her mother’s leg; her father’s skull and arm. The sound of her mother’s last pleas for help and mercy before suffering a fatal shot. Did Sara’s fear convince her to rationalize the noises as part of a dream, or a scary movie playing in the den? Yet, the 11 other jurors are convinced Charles is guilty; but, beyond a reasonable doubt?! Juror #3, Bill; a regular, “Good ’Ole Boy”, couldn’t reason his way out of finding Charles guilty. Charles had been to the gun range every Sunday for the past year; according to his sister’s convincing testimony, but does that make him guilty? Apparently Bill thought so. Who could possibly provoke their eyes to create that many real tears? That was Bill’s reasoning for why he thought Sara had no part in the killings. Young blonde girls just drip with the appearance of innocence. At least much more than a young guy like Charles; dyed-black hair, painted finger nails, and a piercing in any tiny area of his body that didn't already have a tatoo. Here I sit, jurror #7, having been taught to never judge a book by its cover, or be influenced to believe anything that I didn't know to be true. I need more proof, something solid to hang my hat on. Then, as we walk, for the third week in a row, single-file into the jury room, I realize something that not even the lawyer's had discovered. The reason why Charles was willing to go down for a murder he didn't commit. Afterall, wouldn't we all trade places and take any pain and punishment, to save our own child?
Alone I Fall
I plead to every God who exists that today will be the day true justice reigns supreme from my own ambition to recover my virtue which I have lost because of my own grave mistakes. As I sit within this courtroom I know nothing will ever be the same again, and I fear the poor man seated with such diligence who reminds me of the man I used to be fills me with an unholy abundance of sorrow for what I have become will be found guilty of a crime he did not commit. My own trembling body refuses to look away from the man with the most pitiful stare I have ever witnessed. I can sense the aura of wrath my peers on this jury feel towards the suspect, and the anguish that lacerates their impartial hearts of what they believe he did. Oh, if only they knew of the criminal who had truly committed the terrible murder, then I would not be in this unforgetablly dire situation. I am incredibly alone, I am not like any human who sits within these walls built by men. It is not him who killed that man, it is I. Oh, the almighty Gods! I beg you to give me the strength to overcome this atrocity of a creature I have become. Why can’t I simply stand up and object against the jury? Why can’t I tell them of the truth they deserve to hear? Am I truly a vile monster who wishes it could get away with the horrible crime? I close my eyes and look towards the floor. I cannot bear the pain. The tears which I try to hold back suddenly pour out. A dear human supports me by gently rubbing my back. It was Luna, oh dear Luna! Do not care for such a filthy being, it is not the tears of innocence that leak! I cannot smile at her, her lips move but I hear no sound. My dear Luna must have been saying something comforting, but I could not hear her. My mind was too focused on my guilt and my body was breaking down. Luna, move away, do not touch my tainted skin. It once held the blood of the man you mourn over. Do not comfort the beast you wish to destroy. Do not trust me, and for the love of God, please see through me. I can feel the storm approaching, the judge is about to reveal his verdict.
“I find the suspect to be—”
I do not care for the answer to be spoken, and a sudden urge to act bestows upon me. “Innocent!” I yell as I jolt up.
Every head turns to look in my direction. Luna whispers my name in concern.
“That man is innocent,” I point. “He is innocent and I know of the real criminal.”
Not a word was spoken by another man, not a single sigh.
Here I stand and face my future. “Because,” I say. I know what is right and what must be done, yet why is it so difficult? “Because,” I repeat, “it is I.” As soon as I uttered those words, I heard a gasp and the courtroom filled with confusion. “I,” I pause. “I am the murderer.”
“What are you saying?” the judge demands.
“I am the murderer, I am the criminal who you seek.”
“It can’t be,” says Luna.
“It is,” I say, “I’m sorry.”
“You were at the hospital during the night of the murder,” says one.
“Yes, because I was struck by lightning.”
“This man admitted to the murder and we have a stack of evidence to support that he is the one in question,” says another.
“That evidence must point to me, it must be layered with ambiguity to point towards that innocent man.”
“It is impossible. How can you be in two places at once?”
“I was not. I took up the responsibility to aid the man who came covered in blood. I should have declined, I should have rested, yet I took on a task I could not complete successfully.”
“Doctor, it was your duty to help the man, not save him.”
“You don’t understand. I did not help him, on his chest was taped a message which read: ‘doctor, do not aid.’ He was a frail old man.”
“You cannot help someone unwillingly, it is not your fault. This man refused to call for help when he knew the old gentleman to be in danger because of his actions!”
“No, you do not understand. How was I so sure the message was written by the old man? How was I so sure he wished to die?”
“Doctor, the message was confirmed to be written by the deceased. We sent it to five different handwriting experts who all agreed it to be written by the dead.”
No, it is not right. Something has changed me, after that bolt struck me. “It was not right of me to get back to duty after only a day of recovery.”
“It is not your fault,” the jury assured.
Oh, how I wish I could believe them. That pitiful stare the suspect showed now stares towards me. My God, is this what I must have looked like to the gray man before I chose to do what I did? The forgotten obituaries screamed of an unknown force so inclined to be death yet seemed so far away from it, and now I believe I know of the horrors they wished to convey. A cut straight through the artery led to an enormous amount of blood to clog and for the patient to succumb to his inflictions. A place between good and evil. A place between justice and corruption. A place between life and death. A place of relief and uncertainty. I’m sure justice will be served today, although I'm not sure what will happen to me. But, do I really care? I curse the foul thing I have become. “My dear God!” I yell. There laid across the wall the shadow of the monster I saw before! In a quick glimpse of the illumination the lightning provided I saw the beast. Its sharp claws, or maybe it was its teeth. The round silhouette which turned into a chaos of jagged sharp edges. A long boned wing with the hide of pure black reached towards me, but this time it was I who was reaching towards the man with the pitiful stare. Take it back! Take it back! No, please, move away! The figures went on, flapping their lips away. They were conversing with one another. I swear it was I who committed the atrocity. In a swift act of granting a prayer, I played with the insides of the man with a disturbing amount of aspiration. I remember how I paused when I saw scarlet stains stuck upon my palms which held the blade. I leapt over the guard and threw myself towards the man, but before I could reach him the security got ahold of me. I yelled, screamed, and wept. The pain was unbearable. The saturated white halls oozed with a glittering red as the sliding tomb was followed by a constant ringing. I didn’t say anything that could be made out as words. My spit wet my left cheek as my head laid flat on the floor with the giants lying across my spine. The bright windows caused my left eye to be burnt yet I kept it open. Half my face was illuminated by the sun and I stared straight into it because I knew it to be God punishing me for my sins. Not long after, the blood rushing to my head caused me to lose consciousness, but the thought echoing in my mind told me of the destiny I sought.
I have set to accomplish what the remainder of my heart aches to finish. If the court will not accompany me to my death, then from the soaring heights of my apartment: I’ll go alone.
I say the accused is not guilty,
I say the accused has committed no crime,
I say to my fellow jurors to not make haste,
I say to my fellow jurors to not waste time.
Every murder has a motive,
Every murder has a place,
This crime was done much different,
This crime has no trace.
There is no evidence,
There is no DNA,
We have but one option,
We have but one role to play.
This person is innocent until proven not,
This person is innocent until guilty found,
We have to deliberate carefully,
We have to deliberate with minds sound.
It happened on Tuesday,
It happened at night,
But no one saw it at the park,
But no one saw the gruesome fight.
The coroner said the victim fought til the end,
The coroner said that the attacker also would have bled,
The police report indicated that our defendant was untouched,
The police report indicated that others turned their head.
The defense plead with us to listen to the facts,
The defense gave a shaky alibi with some regret,
The prosecutor lunged on to that little nook,
The prosecutor focused on that little fret.
The evidence is circumstanstial at best,
The evidence simply hasn't held up with time,
The testimonies are simply a jest,
The testimonies don't match to the crime.
The defendant unharmed went to a bar,
The defendant unharmed drowned their night's sorrows glass by glass,
Unhurried and uninjured they snuck back to their bed to get some rest,
Unhurried and uninjured they layed down to the quiet sound of whispering grass.
The murder weapon was a gun fired several times,
The murder weapon has yet to be found,
But you would have this man arrested for one bad day,
But you would have this man headed toward the gallows bound.
I urge you fellows in the court of law,
I urge you fellows in the juror box,
Let us review the evidence once more,
Let us review a crime most unorthodox.
I will stand firm that they are innocent until the very end,
I will stand firm that the evidence does not show a connection,
For if they are the culprit who raped and killed their friend,
How do you explain their documented inability to gain an erection?
The nightmare began when the demon reached into my home, pressed his claws into my skull, and tossed my body into this transparent lockbox. Now, here I remain, trapped within the darkest corner of the demon’s lair awaiting the end of my time. I knew that I was nothing more than brain food to him, but I cherished life and missed the freedom I once took for granted. I was constantly searching for a way out, but the demon had a clear view of my head and his guarded position ensured there was no hope for escape. He was built as buff as an oak tree and stood higher than the summit of the summer sunrise. Guerilla style, he posed with one fist against the other, forcing his billowing biceps to arc in the shape of a battle-ax. War-torn and lopsided, the left side of his face has fallen in defeat and the right side was permanently held up in defense. Braided horns twisted up from the top of his scalp, fashioned in the likeness of the dark overlord himself. Deep folds within his forehead sat tightly stacked atop the edge of his brow, partially smothering his line of sight. When he peered into the box, it was clear that his eyes have become consumed by deep voids of perpetual darkness. With his jaw half-cocked, deeply decayed and crooked teeth jutted from the jagged end of his lower lip. On top of all that, demonic noises pulsed through every smothered breath he strained to suck through his flaring nostril flaps. Whatever hellish firepower was responsible for spawning this monstrosity, I was sure it contained the very essence of evil itself. With my eyes pressed against the demon’s head, the hammer of justice struck with a thunderous crash, and the nightmare better known as Jury duty suddenly became all too real. If the demonic demeanor of the defendant wasn’t frightening enough, I would soon have to confront the mental monster dwelling within this madman’s mind. The demon’s name…I mean, the defendant’s name is Charles C. Birden; he comes from the wrong side of town where nothing ever goes right. He’s on trial for the murder of Grace S. Forchun; she came from the right side of town where nothing ever goes wrong.
The trial was in full swing when the prosecutor stepped up to the jury box and played an audio device containing a prerecorded phone call. (((“911 can I help you?”—“there’s a huge black man in my neighbor’s window! Oh! And I think…he’s got a gun! (explicit language) Hurry! he’s headed for the back door!”—“We’re on our way…” The prosecutor lowered the audio device and spoke with a firm voice, “This phone call to the emergency dispatch center was placed by a concerned neighbor when she noticed a dark and mysterious man peering inside Miss Forchun’s living room window. Minutes later when the police arrived, the defendant was seen fleeing Miss Forchun’s residence. Following a short pursuit, he was quickly subdued and detained. When the arresting officer asked the defendant about the fresh bloodstains soaked into every part of his body, the defendant simply replied, “she already dead...”--“Who’s dead?” the officer snapped back. At which time the defendant extended his finger in the direction of Miss Forchun’s home and repeated, “she already dead.” The police officer’s followed his lead and entered Miss Forchun’s home. They discovered her lifeless body on the bedroom floor. She was found in a puddle of blood with a single gunshot wound to the head. The detectives would find the impression of a foreign body within Miss Forchun’s bloodstain, and Mr. Birden fit the mold in every way.”
The prosecutor paced the length of the jury box and practically shouted in our faces, “With an extensive criminal past, the defendant has spent the majority of his life either running from the law or locked up behind bars. His recent actions prove this murderous monster’s sick and twisted history threatens the future light of peace in the free world.” The prosecutor faced the defendant before pressing on, “Please don’t be swayed by anything other than the evidence that is clearly displayed before your very eyes.” After a life-sized image of the bloody murder scene was placed on display, the prosecution continued, “The man responsible for this horrific act of evil could only be Charles C. Birden. Here’s your proof…” The prosecutor held an enlarged photo of Mr. Birden’s bloodied mug shot and placed it beside the image of the crime scene. Then he confronted the jury and raised his voice again, “This ‘piece of human waste’ was caught with the blood of the victim soaked into every part of his being. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, there’s no denying the fact that this man is guilty…” Facing the bloodied photos on display, the prosecutor concluded, “…as you can see for yourselves.”
As the prosecution rested, I closed my eyes, and images of the defendant’s soiled hands collided with the horrific display of the victim’s dead body, and the two scenes mingled as one. This is when the story came together and I was convinced this man was responsible for killing that lady. This case was over as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t wait to lock up ‘Charlie the lady slayer’ and send him back to the dungeon of darkness with the rest of his sick and twisted thug brothers. I knew I wasn’t alone when Mr. Grudgy leaned in and forced a hard whisper into my ear, “this guy’s goin’ down!” I nodded in agreement as the defense stepped up to present their case, as silly as that sounds.
The defense silently paced the floor before she began speaking with a loud and exaggerated voice, “Yes! Mr. Birden was seen peering through Miss Forchun’s window. Yes! He entered her home by force. Yes! He was caught running from the crime scene. Yes! he was covered in Miss Forchun’s blood. And yes, on the surface it would appear Mr. Birden is guilty of cold-blooded murder. But let me remind you ladies and gentlemen of the jury, all is not always how it appears, and the defendant is the perfect example of this fact. Let’s begin with some history…Mr. Birden is a thief and he always has been. This way of life has run through his blood for generations. Stealing things from the more fortunate members of society has always been Mr. Birden’s single means of survival. When he was seen peering through Miss Forchun’s window, he was making sure the coast was clear. When no activity was detected, Mr. Birden proceeded to break inside. As he entered the bedroom to gather Miss Forchun’s possessions, he tripped over her dead body and fell into a pre-existing blood puddle. When he realized he just stumbled onto an undiscovered crime scene, Mr. Birden ran for his life, knowing he would be the obvious suspect. Allow me to refer back to Mr. Birden’s exact words the day he was caught fleeing Miss Fortune’s home. He said ‘she’s already dead’. He was not implying that he just killed her. He was implying that she was already dead when he stumbled over her body. Please keep in mind that the defendant has the mentality and communication skills of a 10-year-old child. Mr. Birden may have a low I.Q., but I’ll have you know that he has a higher maturity level and a bigger heart than anyone I’ve ever encountered. Even though he can barely take care of himself, he manages to care for his aging mother. I’m sorry to say that the person you thought was a vicious monster is no more than a lost child who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The only crime Mr. Birden committed that day was breaking and entering. He may be guilty of robbing people of their possessions, but he is certainly not guilty of robbing people of their lives. There’s no doubt that Miss Forchun’s life was taken, but I can assure you, Mr. Birden didn’t take it. What the prosecution has failed to expose is the dark area surrounding the spotlight that was strategically placed on Mr. Birden’s head. It’s time to shine a light on the real monster that was lurking within the shadows and expose the true face of death in this case.”
The defense held up a sealed evidence bag containing the murder weapon. “This is the gun that was used to end the life of Mrs. Forchun. You might assume this gun belongs to the defendant, but Mr. Birden has never owned nor has he ever been in the possession of a firearm. And no, he was not holding a gun by Miss Forchun’s window as the 911 caller would have you believe. He was carrying this...” The defense held up another evidence bag. “The police found this crowbar in Mr. Birden’s hand after they detained him. The only gun they found was the one used to end the life of Miss Forchun. With that in mind, think about the fact that forensics never found a single grain of gun residue on the defendant’s hands, and his prints were never found on the murder weapon. The only prints they ever found were traced back to the registered owner. And yes, they found gun residue on the guilty party’s hand. The person I speak of is none other than Miss. Forchun herself.”
After sipping from her water glass the defense cleared her throat and continued, “I think we can all agree that Miss. Forchun was a privileged woman. From luxurious cars to glimmering diamonds, she had all the possessions every woman could ever desire, and then some. But the one thing that Miss. Forchun needed was the one thing that she failed to obtain, and that one thing was love. She was known by her associates to be lonely, depressed, and even suicidal at times. Yes, Miss. Forchun was at the end of her rope and no longer had the strength to hold on. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you to see past the guilty illusion the prosecution has placed within your heads and see the picture as it truly is. Mr. Birden did not kill this woman, she killed herself…”
After the prosecution and the defense made their closing arguments, I entered the jury room with a new outlook on the case. Mr. Birden was no longer the guilty demon of this nightmare. I now believed that the only demon responsible for taking Miss. Forchun’s life was the one living inside her head. As everything came into focus, I was confident the other jurors would feel the same. The head speaker opened the discussion with a deep and commanding voice, “I don’t buy the suicide story, I think that guy’s guilty as hell…” I couldn’t believe my ears as they went around the table and each juror expressed their opinion, “Yeah, I think he planted that gun in her hand, he’s defiantly guilty.” As I thought about gun residue, the next juror spoke out, “Yes, he wore gloves and planted the gun, guilty.” I asked how Mrs. Forchun obtained the gun residue on her hand and one of the jurors responded, “He must’ve smeared it on her skin, who knows? He looks like a psycho to me and I think he’s guilty.” As the verdict continued in unison around the table, I was stuck on the gloves. They never found gloves. After the eleventh juror blurted out guilty, the decision was partially unanimous. With twenty-two eyes pressing against my skull, I almost wanted to go with the flow and just say the one word they all wanted to hear, but I remained silent. Facedown, I hid my thoughts until the head juror placed the ultimatum on my shoulders with a strict and heavy voice, “well, guilty or not?” I slowly raised my eyes to the jury and said the words nobody wanted to hear, “Not guilty.”
Through a roomful of jeers and heavy sighs, I had to not only defend my decision but defend a man with guilt written all over his face. I stood up and raised my voice over the useless chatter, “If someone can find these mysterious gloves that were used to not only cover up fingerprints but defend against the residual gun powder, then I might believe we’re dealing with a guilty man. Until then, we need to take a step back and reexamine the evidence.” 22 frustrated eyes rested on my head as I sifted through the jumble of papers sprawled out before me. Mr. Grudgy shouted something about ‘stupid gloves’ when I found the statement that stood out the most in the trial and proceeded with my defense, “This was a significant statement from Miss Forchun’s co-worker, so I ask that everyone please listen carefully: [Mrs. Forchun was very distant and had little to say today. Her response to my every question was the same, ‘I just don’t care anymore.’ Before leaving the building, she said goodbye in a tone that would suggest I would never see her again. Through the 30 plus years that I’ve worked by Miss. Forchun’s side, this is the deepest depression she has ever expressed...] After reading the statement aloud, I was stricken with a boost of confidence and expressed myself accordingly, “The evidence doesn’t lie people. The psychological evidence proves that Miss Forchun was a victim of personal demons and the physical evidence proves Mr. Birden was not one of them. I stand by my vote of not guilty and that’s my final decision.” The energy suddenly shifted and another juror spoke up, “I guess I just looked past all the true evidence when I saw those pictures of Mr. Birden covered in that woman’s blood. I’m also changing my vote to not guilty.” Then another followed, “me too, not guilty.” That’s when Mr. Grudgy knocked his chair back against the wall and took an aggressive stance. With his knuckles firmly pressed against the table, hidden rage and hatred shot from his lip as he spat into the circle of jury members, “are you people stupid! Did you see that guy!? He looks like a killer, talks like a killer, and was covered in bloodstains like a killer! I’m not putting my life at risk because you people can’t see the facts! Just look at him, he’s big, and he’s ugly, and he’s black!” Mr. Grudgy took a deep breath before apologizing to Mr. Jackson. A highly agitated Mr. Jackson took a deep breath of his own and responded, “I don’t need your apology sir…my people are not vicious ghetto hounds out to take your life Mr. Grudgy, we’re just human beings trying to make a life of our own. My culture has struggled for generations to climb from the depths of this hole drilled into the structure of society, and every time we reach for the ledge of equality, it seems there’s always someone to step on our fingers. So I don’t need your apology Mr. Grudgy, I just need you to help lift me up, so I can stand on equal ground…” Following a deep sigh, Mr. Jackson concluded, “As far as the case is concerned, I’m ashamed to say that I am also guilty of viewing Mr. Birden as a vicious monster…But I’m man enough to admit that I was mistaken. I’m changing my vote to not guilty.”
Excluding Mr. Grudgy, the remainder of the jury voted not guilty. Following a brief silence, the jury head spoke like a game show host awaiting the final answer, “well Mr. Grudgy, what’s it gonna be? Is Mr. Birden guilty…or not?” Mr. Grudgy choked on a sudden outpouring of tears. Facing the table, he spoke with a low and monotonous voice, “My daughter…She was 8 years old…Shhh…” Mr. Grudgy soaked uncontainable sorrow into the sleeve of his shirt before going on, “She was right outside…I saw her…then I…I turned my back…Then, everything was silent…I called her name, but shhh…” Mr. Grudgy lifted his head and exposed the perpetual sadness streaming from his eyes as he strained to go on, “I called her name but she didn’t answer…” Anger fueled the rant that followed, “He kidnapped her…He raped her…He took my little girl’s life! Damn him!” Mr. Grudgy pounded his fist against the table. Following a brief struggle he managed to calm his voice, “They uhhh…They eventually caught the guy…He was a black man…And I vowed to kill that bastard for what he did to my baby girl…I had a raging desire to rip that man’s head off and stomp it into the deepest pit’s of hell until he was nothing more than a pile of broken bones and bits of charred ash. Of course, I could never do such a thing, but the anger and the blame lingered on, and on. Every black man I encountered was guilty of killing my daughter, and I wanted each and every one of them to pay for her suffering. In this case, it didn’t matter how much evidence you presented, or how innocent that man truly is, I still wanted him to be guilty.” Mr. Grudgy wiped away the residual tears before concluding, “Anyway, I can no longer blame every black man for a crime they had nothing to do with, especially Mr. Birden. My vote is not guilty…”