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Members of the Phoenix press filled her courtroom. Tension filled her gut. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Hannah Montgomery leaned forward.
"We are back on the record with case number CR2008-000351. Would those present please identify themselves?"
Hannah heard the attorneys state their names for the record. She knew both lawyers well. Had been listening to them drone on for six days now in this trial that seemed as though it would never end.
But she wasn't looking at them.
Her eyes locked on the dark-suited man who'd just slipped quietly into the back of the room. There wasn't anything particularly remarkable about him. He was twenty-nine years old. Average height. Average weight. His straight brown hair was thick and short. Wholesome. Businesslike.
Hannah couldn't seem to pull her focus away from him. Because she'd been dreading this moment for the entire nine months she'd been administering this hideous case? If so, the nondescript man would have been a disappointment.
Surely an icon, a godlike figure to his followers, should stand out more.
He met her gaze and nodded, his expression properly respectful. Taking a seat in the second row, arms at his sides, he glanced around with an air more curiousmore childlikethan controlling.
Jaime, Hannah's bailiff, cleared her throat, catching Hannah's attention.
Robert Keith, attorney for the defense, had rein-troduced the young man at his side, Kenny Hill. Mr. Hill, wearing a navy suit today, made eye contact with the jury.
Just as he did every time he was introduced.
The eighteen-year-old had more bravado than years and sense combined. As had his Ivory Nation compatriot who'd sat in that very seat twelvemonths earlier, in a trial almost as long as this one. That kid, another young "brother" in Arizona's most influential white supremacist organization, had cried in the end, though, when Hannah had sentenced him to twenty years for breaking and entering, kidnapping and weapons theft.
Her judgment had been overturned on appeal while Hannah was taking family leave, mourning for the adopted son she'd lost to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. A mistrial had been declared and that young man was free.
Sweating beneath the black folds of her robe, Hannah glanced at Keith. "You may call your next witness."
"The defense calls Bobby Donahue, Your Honor."
"Mr. Donahue." She forced herself to look at him again. And to look away. "Please step forward and be sworn in." She indicated Jaime, who'd risen from her seat to Hannah's left.
"Please raise your right hand and state your name." Jaime's voice didn't falter, and Hannah made a mental note to congratulate her youngest employee. Jaime had been nervous at the prospect of facing this dangerous leader.
Bobby. Not Robert. Not Robert G. Just Bobby.
Bobby, who couldn't appear that morning, in spite of the subpoena, due to a Wednesday church service he'd officiated without absence for more than five years. Bobby, who'd offered to appear in her court at 1:30 that afternoon instead.
In the interests of justice and saving the state the money it would cost to enforce the original subpoena, Hannah had approved the request.
"Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth "
Jaime's voice faded as Hannah watched the witness, getting too clear a glimpse of the man's eyes. Ghost. God. Infallible. Unstoppable. All words she'd heard applied to Bobby Donahue over the years.
"I do." Donahue regarded Jaime with apparent respect.
He's vindictive. That was the warning Hannah and her staff had been given by other court employees, the press, even the honorable William Horne, Hannah's social companion and fellow judge who'd officiated far more Ivory Nation trials than Hannah.
While he had yet to get caught at any offense, Bobby Donahue never allowed a wrong to go unpunished, a disloyalty to go unavenged.
Or so they said.
And Hannah, having fought her way off the streets and into college, didn't compromise the law for anyone.
Dr. Brian Hampton was not in the mood to cooperate. Especially with a reporter. And dammit, why wasn't Hannah answering her phone? She'd said she was staying in her chambers for lunch, preparing for the afternoon session of a trial that was taking far too much out of her.
That last was his assessment. Not hers.
Not that he'd told her so. As a friend he'd earned the right to speak frankly with the beautiful, blond, too-smart-for-her-own-good woman. But he'd also learned when it was best for him to keep his mouth shut.
Hannah Montgomery had mastered the art of independence.
Right now, he needed her to answer the private line that rang at her massive cherrywood desk.
When his call went to voice mail a second time, Brian shoved up the sleeve of his blue dress shirt with barely controlled impatience, glancing at his watch. And stopped. Hell.
Where had that hour and a half gone? Last he'd looked, it had been barely noon. And now it was quarter to two?
He'd only seen
Brian paused. Counted.
Okay, he'd seen seven patients in the past hour. Seven patients under four. Which explained the missing hour.
The explanation didn't help him at all.
He'd had a message that morning from a polite Sun News reporter who wanted to talk to him "at his earliest convenience." As long as Brian's convenience happened sometime that dayotherwise he was going to print his story with a "no comment" from Dr. Hampton.
His story. That was all. No hint about the content. Or even the topic.
For Brian, a man who spent his days with people under the age of twelve and his nights largely alone, a meeting with the local rag was not a comfortable proposition.
And what could they have on him anyway? His biggest offense was an inability to keep track of time, arriving either very early or very lateno prejudice either wayto just about every appointment he'd ever had.
As much as he tried to come up with even a parking infractionor an unpaid speeding ticket there were none.
He hadn't had his stereo on in weeks, didn't have anyone around to yell at, hadn't thrown a party since graduating from med school. And the only woman he'd slept with in the past year was his steady girlfriend, Cynthia, a twenty-seven-year-old single mother, so an exposé of his wild lifestyle was out.
Of course it was possible, probable even, that they wanted him to corroborate a juicy story about someone or something else.
The only juice he could think of was the glass of cranberry he'd gulped that morning.
Still, the thought of the four o'clock appointment he'd scheduled unsettled him. Brian did enough public speaking on behalf of his newest passionthe fight against SIDSand he'd been misquoted enough to be wary of talking to the publication known for making mountains out of molehills that didn't exist.
This was a time when a man called on the help of his friends.
The woman who was well connected enough to know, firsthand, practically every Sun News reporter in the city.
Where was his judge when he needed her?
"Do you know this man?"
"I do." Bobby Donahue identified the defendant.
Robert Keith's next questions were rote, but necessary to establish a fair trial. And a fair judgment from a jury who'd been sending Hannah pleading glances since the first day of testimony. That was when prosecutors described the sodomy and three-hour beating death the nineteen-year-old victim had suffered, allegedly at the hands of kind-looking Kenny Hill, whose affluent parents were sitting on the bench directly behind him. Right where they'd been every time their son's case had been on the docket over the past many months.
The victim, Camargo Cortes, was an illegal immigrant and, had he lived, would have stood trial for statutory rape of the seventeen-year-old daughter of the newly elected Arizona senator, George Moss.
When pictures of Cortes's body had been shown, Hannah had had to excuse two jurors to the restroom to be sick. At the request of the defense, she'd later dismissed both of them.
She wasn't taking any unnecessary chances that might result in a motion for mistrial. With luck, no one would have to repeat the past six days, to see the things that those present in the courtroom had seen.
With luck, Kenny Hill would be put to death.
Brian worked through the half hour he'd allowed himself for lunch. Three-year-old Felicia Summers had had a sore throat on and off for more than a month. He wouldn't be overly concerned except that the child was underweight. And had already had her tonsils removed.
He didn't even want to think about leukemia. Or any other serious condition. Certainly didn't intend to alarm her parents at this stage. But he'd ordered blood work, just to be sure, and went down before his two-thirty appointment to get the results.
A day that had been diving rapidly now sank completely.
"Mr. Donahue, where did you and Mr. Hill meet?"
"How long have you known each other?"
"Most of his life. His parents and I have attended the same church for more than ten years."
With a short nod, Donahue acknowledged the older couple sitting, hands clasped, on the front bench. The corners of Mrs. Hill's trembling lips turned slightly up, before she lowered her gaze. Her husband, a bit more successful at hiding intense emotions, nodded back.
Both of them spent most of their courtroom time staring at the back of their only son's head.
Character reference questions continued for the next forty-five minutes. Hannah attempted to show no reaction to the jurors who continued to look to her for guidance. If she believed this witness, they would, too.
And if she didn't
This was a jury trial for a reason. It was not her job to decide this particular verdict. She was here to officiate the process. To allow or disallow testimony. To apply the law when attorneys, in the name of winning, veered away from it. Or challenged it.
She was here to ensure that the defendant's rights were upheld.
They were talking about possibly taking a man's life here. A young man. Who deserved to die if, indeed, he'd committed the horrendous acts that had ultimately left another young man dying an atrocious death.
"Where were you on the night of March 9th of this year?"
"That was a Sunday," Bobby Donahue said.
Robert Keith nodded, his shoulders squared in front of the witness box. "That's right."
The chief prosecutor, Julie Gilbert, narrowed her eyes.
"I was in church."
"Are you sure?"
"Can you tell the court why you remember this so specifically?"
"Once a year we have a joint Sunday-evening meeting, combining the usual men's Sunday-night gathering with the women's Wednesday-morning assembly. It's always the second Sunday in March."
"What hours were you in church?"
"The service started at five and ran until almost midnight."
"With a meeting that long I'm assuming people come and go?"
"No. The doors are locked the entire time. Not to keep people in, but to prevent interruption. Our services, particularly that once-a-year meeting, are sacred to us. That's why I remember the date. These special gatherings are very emotional and interruption breaks the spirit."
"But the doors could be unlocked. Someone could become ill. People would need to access the facilities. Surely, if a person was careful, he could leave without disturbing you."
Donahue shook his head. "The sanctuary is self-contained. There are bathrooms at one end. And a small kitchen, too, with an attached nursery. I'm the only one with a key."
Horrified, Hannah kept her eyes on the file in front of her. She'd heard stories about the infamous white supremacist "church," but never in this much detail.
"So if someone comes late, say, maybe they have a flat tire, they miss this once-a-year, spiritually enriching meeting?"
"Of course not," Donahue said. "One of the brethren always volunteers to keep his phone on vibrate for just such emergencies. Members are notified of the number the week before."
"Then you'd interrupt the meeting to unlock the door?"
The witness remained straight-faced and serious. "Hymns are strategically placed throughout the meeting to allow for any interruptions."
"Do you remember whose cell phone was on vibrate that night?"
Hannah recognized the name from the defense's witness list. The man was slated to be called to the stand next.