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The Whole Truth
By James Scott Bell
ZondervanCopyright © 2008 James Scott Bell
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Mr. Conroy?"
Steve heard his name. Like someone calling from the front of a cavern with him deep inside. Inside, where his thoughts were pinging off the walls like a drunk's haphazard gunshots.
"Yes, Your Honor?"
"I said you may cross-examine." Nasty voice. Judge O'Hara, exprosecutor, ex-cop, did not like screwups in his courtroom. Especially if they themselves were ex-prosecutors now prowling the defense side of the aisle. O'Hara glared at Steve from the bench, his imperious eyebrows seeming to frame the Great Seal of the State of California on the wall behind him.
"Excuse me, Your Honor." Steve Conroy stood up, feeling the heat from all the eyes in the courtroom.
The eyes of Judge O'Hara, of course.
Everyone on the jury.
And his client's extended family, which seemed like the entire population of Guadalajara, all packed into Division 115 of the Van Nuys courthouse.
Officer Charles Siebel was on the stand. The one who'd claimed that Steve's client, an ex-felon, was packing. An ex-felon with a gun could land in the slam for up to three years, depending on priors. Which his client had a boatload of. The one hope Carlos Mendez had of getting his sorry can back on the street, free of the law's embrace, lay in Steve's ability to knock the credibility out of a dedicated veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department.
And doing it with no sleep. Steve had fought the cold sweats all night. Which always made the morning after an adventure in mental gymnastics. His brain would fire off an unending stream of random and contradictory thoughts. He'd have to practically grunt to keep focus. The chemical consequence of recovery.
"Excuse me, Your Honor," Steve said, grabbing for his yellow pages of notes. He trucked the pages to the podium and buttoned his suit coat. It fell open. He buttoned it again. It fell open again. A yellow sheet slipped from the podium. Steve grabbed it in middescent, like a Venus flytrap snatching its prey, and slapped it back on the podium in front of him.
He saw a couple of jurors smiling at the show.
Steve cleared his throat. "According to your report, Officer Siebel, you saw my client standing on the corner of Sepulveda and Vanowen, is that correct?"
"Yes." Clipped and authoritative, like the prosecutors trained them to be.
"You were in your vehicle, is that right?"
"Driving which way?"
"On what street?"
Officer Siebel and Judge O'Hara sighed at the same time.
Just like a comedy team. The whole courtroom was one big sitcom, Steve playing the incompetent sidekick.
"Sepulveda," Siebel said.
"At what time?"
"Is this cross-examination or skeet shooting?" Judge O'Hara snapped.
Steve clenched his teeth. O'Hara liked to inject himself into the thick of things, showboating for the jury. For some reason, he'd been doing it to Steve throughout the trial.
"If I may, Your Honor, I'm laying a foundation," Steve said.
"Sounds like you're just letting the witness repeat direct testimony."
Why thank you, Judge. I had no idea. How helpful you are! The DA didn't even have to object!
"I'll try it this way," Steve said, turning back to the witness. "Officer Siebel, you were driving north on Sepulveda at 10:32 p.m., correct?"
"That's what happened."
"It's in your report, isn't it?"
Steve went to counsel table and picked up a copy of the police report. As he did, Carlos Mendez, in his jailhouse blues, gave him the look, the one that said, I hope you know what you're doing.
Ah yes, the confident client. When was the last time he'd had one of those?
Steve held up the report. "The lighting conditions are not mentioned in your report, are they?"
"I didn't see any need, I was able to see-"
"I'd like an answer to the question I asked, sir."
The deputy DA, Moira Hanson, stood. "Objection. The witness should be allowed to answer."
Steve looked at the DDA, who was about his age, thirty. That's where the resemblance ended. She was short and blond. He was an even six feet with hair as dark as the marks against him. She was new to the office. He hadn't met her when he was prosecuting for the county of Los Angeles.
"Your Honor," he said, "the answer was clearly nonresponsive. As you pointed out so eloquently, this is cross-examination."
O'Hara was not impressed. "Thank you very much for the endorsement, Mr. Conroy. Now if you'll let me rule? Ask your question again, and I direct the witness to answer only the question asked."
A minor victory, Steve knew, but in this trial any bone was welcome.
"Are there any lighting conditions in your report?" Steve asked.
"No," Siebel said.
"You are aware that the corner you mention has dark patches, aren't you?"
"What scientists refer to as illumination absences?"
Officer Siebel squinted at Steve.
"You do know what I'm talking about, surely," Steve said.
Moira Hanson objected again. "No foundation, Your Honor."
"Sustained. In plain English, Mr. Conroy."
That was fine with Steve. Because he'd just made up the term illumination absences. All he wanted was the jury to think he had Bill Nye the Science Guy on the defense team. These days, juries were under the spell of the CSI effect. They all thought forensic evidence was abundant and could clinch any case in an hour. Prosecutors hated that, because most cases weren't so cut, dried, preserved, and plattered. Steve intended to plant the idea that science was against the DA.
"Illumination absences refers to measurable dark spots. There are all sorts of dark spots on that corner, Officer Siebel, where you can't see a thing, right?"
"I don't know what you're talking about. I could see clearly."
Steve turned to the judge. "Why don't we take the jury down there tonight, Your Honor, and we can-"
"Approach the bench," O'Hara ordered. "With the reporter."
Putting on a sheepish look, Steve joined Hanson in front of the judge.
"You know better than to make a motion in front of the jury," O'Hara said.
"He knows, but does it anyway," Hanson added. She was like the smarty in school who dumps extra on the kids who get sent to the principal's office.
"What?" Steve said. "It was just a request."
"I know what you're doing," O'Hara said.
"Representing my client?"
"If this is representation, I'm Britney Spears. You're taking shortcuts. Well, you're not going to get away with it. Not here. And you don't want to tempt me. Another disciplinary strike and you're out."
That was true. Steve had been out of rehab for a year after dealing with a coke addiction and losing his job with the DA's office. Now that he was trying to establish a private practice, no easy task, he did not need the State Bar on his back again. They wouldn't be so forgiving this time.
"And what's that load about this illumination thing?" O'Hara asked. "You better have a foundation for asking that."
"I can find a scientist to back it up."
"You can find a scientist to back up anything," Hanson said. "I won't allow it," O'Hara said. "I think you're just whistling in the dark, so to speak."
"Representing my client, Your Honor."
"Call me Britney. Go on. But watch every step you take, sir."
Steve didn't have to. He'd gotten what he could out of the witness. All he needed was one juror to think that maybe this officer didn't see what he thought he saw. One juror to hang the thing, and then maybe Moira Hanson would call her boss and say it's not worth a retrial. Let the guy walk.
Sure. And Santa Claus sips Cuba Libres at the North Pole.
Excerpted from The Whole Truth by James Scott Bell Copyright © 2008 by James Scott Bell. Excerpted by permission.
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