"You were the chief investigator at the scene of the accident?"
Seated at the defense table, Jackie Flowers kept her voice low. Courtroom 12 was as tight as a shoe box and the jurors were so close they could have heard Assistant District Attorney Tom Tuttle break wind.
Tuttle sprang to his feet and two jurors winced.
"This is a manslaughter case," Tuttle said, oblivious to the judge's pained expression as his words echoed in the airless room. The walnut slats covering the wall behind the bench made Jackie feel as if she were trapped inside a pipe organ. "'Accident' is hardly appropriate in view of the fact that Ms. Flowers' client decapitated -- "
"My client has already sworn under oath, and he intends to repeat that testimony in this court" -- gracefully rising, Jackie caught the same two jurors, now joined by a third, gazing at her client with renewed interest -- "that he secured his trailer to his pickup truck with a steel bolt and chains. It came unhitched and sailed across the median into oncoming traffic. That sounds like an accident to me."
"Overruled," the judge said. "If this were a murder case, Mr. Tuttle, you wouldn't be assigned to it."
Jackie strode to center stage.
Accident. Focus the jury on the accident, not her client. Or, God forbid, the victim. In her cobalt suit and two-inch alligator heels she stood eye to eye with the seated witness. Positioning herself directly between him and the jury box, she hooked a honey blonde curl behind her ear and softly continued.
"What was the condition of the road?"
"Help us out, Officer. Don't you mean washboard?"
"And you were able to ascertain the exact section of that washboard asphalt where my client's trailer came unhitched?"
Damned if he did, damned if he didn't. Admit Jackie's client hit a three-foot pothole, or pretend he didn't know where to look for that wire and bolt? The biggest mistake most cops made was getting in a pissing match with the lawyer instead of focusing on the jury. The witness looked helplessly at the DA and Jackie smiled. With every eye in the courtroom on her, she could afford to be generous.
"You told this jury your job was to examine the highway for evidence that the hitch was or wasn't bolted. What precisely were you looking for?"
"Metal bolt and piece of wire." Sweat prickled his upper lip.
"What did you find?"
"Bottles, cans, rubber. You name it." The officer gave a weak laugh and tried to look past Jackie at the jury. "Some people think I-25's their personal dump site."
"How high are the weeds at the side of the road? Eighteen inches?"
"So you used a metal detector."
She took a step closer. "Get your uniform dirty?"
Now she was leaning over the witness stand.
"When you got down on your hands and knees on the shoulder of I-25 and dug through all those weeds and trash looking for a three-inch scrap of wire and a sheared-off steel bolt!"
"I -- "
"No further questions, Your Honor."
Tuttle and his two assistants fled through the door behind the bench as soon as the gavel dropped. Jackie watched her client being manacled and led off by a deputy laden with chains, pepper spray, stun gun -- enough junk to stock a militiaman's RadioShack. Until he hit that pothole, he'd been just another carpenter on his way to work. Albeit one with two previous DUIs to his credit. Shaking her head, she took her time packing her briefcase with the blank legal pads and unopened Rules of Criminal Procedure that were her stock-in-trade. When the courtroom finally cleared she left.
On this first Monday in April, the fourth-floor corridor of Denver's City and County Building was a cacophony of wailing babies, bleating walkie-talkies and screeching cell phones. The marble pillars and terrazzo floors made the clattering heels of hookers and their higher-priced attorneys audible from the far end of the hall, and a tide of shackled prisoners whose color-coded scrubs denoted their presumed level of culpability streamed from the sheriff's private elevator. Jackie stood aside for a trio of women in washed-out olive and pea-green jumpsuits destined for drug court.
"We'll knock it down from manslaughter to neg homicide."
It had taken ADA Tom Tuttle eight minutes to recognize his case was going down after his chief witness bailed out. Record time.
"The only negligence is your office going to trial with this case."
"Come on, Jackie." He was trying not to beg. "What choice did we have? Sixteen-year-old honor student driving down I-25 in a brand-new Mustang, minding his own business -- "
"That cop never even looked for a bolt, and you know it."
"Your client's been busted twice for drunk driving."
"Not this time, he wasn't. The most we'll consider is careless."
"Careless driving?" A felon shuffling by in leg irons and Day-Glo orange turned to look, and Tuttle lowered his voice. "Duncan Pratt's not going to like that."
Since when did the Denver district attorney have to bless every plea?
"He'll like it more than an acquittal. When my guy takes the stand tomorrow all bets are off." Tired of waiting for the public elevator, Jackie started for the stairs.
"Hear about that six-year-old boy who's been reported missing out by the country club?" Tuttle was at her elbow. The marble staircase behind the elevator bank conferred an unwanted intimacy and she quickened her pace. "Another missing kid, right up your alley."
"Didn't you defend that sleazebag accused in one case last year?"
Why did every DA take his brethren's defeats so personally?
"My client walked," she said. "And the alleged victim was a college coed, not a six-year-old boy."
"Maybe you'll be lucky enough to defend another innocent client."
"Keep filing on the wrong guys, and what do you expect?" She began counting the steps to the lobby. "So you've already made a bust?"
"He's only been missing since yesterday."
Not even long enough to file a missing person's report. DAs were all alike; they took it personally and they saw a pervert behind every bush.
"Maybe he ran away."
Tuttle's smile pitied her.
"How far can a six-year-old run?"
Jackie stepped through the City and County Building's majestic doors and into the sunlight. Standing with her adversary beneath the fifty-foot columns, she gazed down at beds of purple and yellow pansies whose festivity mocked the grim business within. Across Civic Center, the gold dome of the state capitol gleamed but clouds were massing to the north.
"You know how easy it is to lure a kid," Tuttle said before turning to go back in. "All it takes is something bright and shiny."
A little girl in a frilly dress. A man in a dark sedan easing to the curb and leaning out the window. A handsome man, with a snap-brim hat and an easy smile -- Blinking away the memory of the public safety film shown so many years ago to her grade school class, Jackie started down the granite steps.
Since when did evil wear a snap-brim hat?
Copyright © 2004 by Stephanie Kane