Court of Law

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic


Nelson Douglas is a state attorney. In a cross-examination, he sets out to convince a jury that Frank Shewman is guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Submitted: November 26, 2017

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Submitted: November 26, 2017

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“Frank Shewman,” the prosecutor announced behind the courtroom podium, speaking so everyone in the room could hear, “you are a businessman. A growing, bound to be successful businessman that is going nothing but up. Shewman Electronics, that is your triumph, not your father’s, or grandfather’s. You didn’t ride any coattails, as people would say, you built your company from the ground up. Right now, you’re riding the entrepreneurial dream.

“That is, if what you said is true. You face dire consequences here, Mr. Shewman. So my question to you is: would you lie in the court of law? In order to preserve your business, your success, and your freedom?”

“No,” Mr. Shewman said behind the microphone. “I would not lie and I have not lied.”

“That’s good to hear,” prosecutor Nelson Douglas said. “Now, if I may, Mr. Shewman, I would like to dig a little deeper, if you would answer some questions?”

“Excuse me, your Honor,” George Gardner butted in, “if the prosecution may move along his arguments?” Nelson looked sharply at the defense lawyer. He was sure he was going to be interrupted all night; he knew this man well, he was a persistent son of a bitch. But what he had here was a rich man with an unwinnable case. George didn’t care about Frank Shewman’s well being, he cared about his paycheck that had been coming since this entire ordeal began. That was how most lawyers were.

“Move it along, Mr. Douglas.”

“Of course,” Nelson said. He could feel all eyes on him. The jury behind him was silent, making about as much noise as the fluttering wings of a butterfly. Frank Shewman sat next to the judge in the raised podium at the front of the courtroom, although situated several feet lower than Judge Campbell. George Gardner’s annoying eyes were piercing from Nelson’s right.

“As I understand, Mr. Shewman, you are the owner of many firearms that you keep inside of your home, is that correct? Not just pistols, but rifles, shotguns, all safely stored within your home. It seems to me that you are an avid supporter of our country’s second amendment, is that fair?”

Frank nodded weakly.

“Is that correct, Mr. Shewman, yes or no?” For the court reporter. Nothing in this room would go unrecorded if Nelson had any say about it.

“Yes,” Frank said.

“And one particular firearm of yours,” he looked down to read the notes on his podium, “I believe a Walther P99 AS nine-millimeter handgun, was kept locked away, hidden, in the bottom of your dresser, yes?”

“No, it-”

“No? Because that’s what you told the police officers after the incident. On August 7th, I believe your exact words were… ‘that gun was hidden, no one else knew where it was.’ Are you retracting that statement?”

“Any intruder could’ve found the gun when they broke in.”

“An intruder. Do you believe someone broke into your home on that night, Mr. Shewman?”

“I can’t say, but-”

“Do you believe that this intruder took the gun from your dresser and killed Marjorie Thane?”

George Gardner interrupted once again. “Your Honor, I object. The defendant never stated that there was a break-in.”

“This is going somewhere, your Honor. If I may continue?” Judge Campbell nodded in response, looking almost bored. He was an old man, with two jowls hanging from his cheeks. Nelson had been in this courtroom many times with him. Many years of convincing to this man, and not once did he look entertained.

“Mr. Shewman, are you aware that no signs of breaking and entering were found on the crime scene?”

“I am.”

“And so I have one question for you: who, on God’s green earth, could have taken that gun from your dresser and shot that woman in cold blood… other than Frank Shewman?” It was a question for the jurors rather than Frank himself, yet Nelson still had his vision locked on the defendant’s furious eyes.

“Your Honor, please.” George said before a response could be made, “If the prosecution could make some kind of point here that was not already covered in the general arguments? This case is not about who committed the crime, this is about Frank Shewman’s innocence. Could we keep this moving along?”

“Sustained,” Judge Campbell said. “Move on, Mr. Douglas. Do you have any more questions for the defense?”

“Of course,” Nelson said, slightly frustrated but never showing it. He reminded himself that this was still going in his favor. “Mr. Shewman, you are aware that you are not required to testify in front of a jury?”

“Yes.”

“I would like you to remember that with future questions. At any point you are free to utilize your Fifth Amendment right.” Control. That was the one thing a lawyer wanted during a cross-examination. “So, Mr. Shewman, I would like to ask you about your relationship with the victim. Marjorie Thane. She was your girlfriend, yes?”

“Yes, I… Yes, she was.” He hesitated, then added: “And I loved her dearly.”

“I’m sure you did. The way she looked at you… She was your angel, right?”

“Yes.”

“And did you ever hit her, Mr. Shewman?”

“Of course not.”

“Was there any abuse, at any time?”

“No.”

“And so,” Nelson said, “I think it’s safe to say that things were going swimmingly. But we must hear it from the man himself. Mr. Shewman, everything was perfect… right? Based on the picture you’ve painted for me and this jury, there was absolutely no friction in your relationship. Is that right, Mr. Shewman?”

Frank Shewman said nothing.

“Mr. Shewman, was there a little trouble in paradise during the latter weeks of July?”

Still no response.

“Was Marjorie… unfaithful, Mr. Shewman?” Nelson asked. “Was she trying to leave you? Did she run off with another man?”

George Gardner stood up quickly and with energy. “Objection, your Honor, the defendant clearly does not want to answer the question.”

Judge Campbell calmly looked down at Frank sitting to his right. “Mr. Shewman, are you pleading the fifth here?”

Nelson thought he’d pushed too hard. He thought he was about to see tears in the man’s eyes, but instead, Frank looked up, his brow furrowed. “No. I can answer the question.”

Judge Campbell nodded as George sat back down. “Objection overruled, Mr. Gardner. Please proceed.”

Frank took a deep breath. He closed his eyes, calming, focusing. In through the nose, exhale through the mouth. “Marjorie was… Christ, yes, she was ‘unfaithful.’ And we argued that night, yelling, but-”

“Just so we’re clear, we’re talking about the night of July 30th?” Nelson interrupted.

“The night she died. Yes. But I swear, when I stormed away to my bedroom, that was the last time I saw her.”

“Mr. Shewman, I would like you to rack your brain. Think back to that night as hard as you can. What did you do after this argument?”

“I turned my back to her and walked to my bedroom.”

“Just like that? Mr. Shewman, you get done yelling at your girlfriend, you tell her to get out, and that’s all for you? You turn around and walk to your bedroom and you go to sleep.”

“I don’t see how this is-”

“Is that what you did, Mr. Shewman?”

“I walked to my bedroom, yes. I never slept.”

“And, as I understand it, you were there until you heard two gunshots, correct?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“What did you do then, Mr. Shewman?”

“I ran out to investigate what had happened.”

“To investigate what happened. Two gunshots, you said. As we’ve established, Mr. Shewman, you are a proud gun owner. Many, many guns inside your house… or mansion, more fittingly, and plenty inside your bedroom. Including the pistol Marjorie Thane was killed with. But you have testified to the police that you never laid a finger on that gun, despite your prints laying all over it. So, ignoring that small detail with your fingerprints, as I understand it, you hear two gunshots echo throughout your own home… and you decide to investigate, completely unarmed. Was that simply a mental lapse? Or, Mr. Shewman, did you go to your bedroom to grab that pistol and shoot Marjorie Thane out of spite, pure passion?”

“I did not kill her, Mr. Douglas!”

“Order, Mr. Shewman,” the judge said calmly.

Nelson was intense now, intimidating. He spoke harshly and with purpose. “Frank Shewman, did you try to clean up the evidence after the murder? A bloodied bullet casing in your trash can, not exactly the most cunning of hiding spots. Why didn’t you call the police immediately after seeing the body? Even after hearing the gunshots there should be plenty of reason to dial nine-one-one.”

“I was scared…”

“Mr. Shewman, here you face a charge of second-degree murder, up to fifty years in prison. You have everything to lose. And so I ask again... Did you kill Marjorie Thane?”

There was a long silence in the courtroom. The wind outside did not whistle and a pin did not drop.

“I don’t know how many ways I can say no, Mr. Douglas,” Frank said weakly.

Another pause.

“Your Honor,” Nelson said, “That is all for this cross-examination.”

 

===============

 

Nelson sat on the bench outside the courtroom. He held the lit cigarette between his index and middle finger. It glowed orange in the blue darkness. He flicked it with his thumb, a small stick of ash falling to the pavement and then subsequently brushed away softly by the wind. He stared at nothing in particular; he was only lost in his thoughts.

He heard the door open to his left and when he looked over, he saw George Gardner approaching. He sat down on the bench next to him.

“Bum me one of those,” George said, staring at the cigarette that Nelson was inhaling.

“Last one,” Nelson said.

“Damn, of all the days.” George shook his head. “I could really use one tonight. I never should have taken this dead case.”

“Hey, I doubt that guy’s cutting you short on the paycheck side of things. And money’s money.”

“Yeah, and reputation is reputation.” The two of them sat like that for a moment in silence. They both leaned back in the bench, slouched, a far cry from who they were in the courtroom.

“One hell of a closing argument,” George said suddenly. “Not that the jury needed any more convincing.”

“The trial’s not over yet,” Nelson responded. “You can still pray that they’re hung.”

“Yeah, right. I know you’re not supposed to say this about your clients, so keep this between us, but there’s not a person in this state that you could convince he’s innocent. Thanks for leaving me with that, by the way. Why the hell wouldn’t you settle for a plea bargain? You know we would’ve grabbed at that as soon as we could.”

“You just said it yourself,” Nelson said.

“I did?”

“He’s guilty.”

George scoffed. “Yeah… so? A lot less work on your part for no less pay.”

“Whatever happened to a sense of justice?” Nelson responded with a smirk, the cigarette between his lips.

George let out a soft chuckle. “You must’ve lost your mind, man. I’m gonna head back in. See you in the courtroom.”

George disappeared back the way he came. Nelson flicked his cigarette once again, sending a cascade of ash to the ground. It was getting to be a stud. He took one last puff and dropped the cigarette, putting it out beneath his black dress shoes. Reaching in his back pocket, he pulled out a lighter and a red pack of smokes. The pack was almost completely full.

He struck the lighter to the cigarette in his mouth, taking it in and enjoying it.

 

===============

 

Maximum sentence. Fifty years maximum, but at least thirty-five with good behavior. Which, of course, Frank Shewman would have. For he had never committed a crime in his lifetime.

Nelson sat at the diner side table, completely alone. He watched the window to his right, cars passing by in the rain, their headlights blurred through the dark. It was late, far later than he would ever be away from home. On any other day, right now Nelson would be asleep on his comfortable bed.

“Honey, you sure you don’t want a coffee or something?” An old woman had approached the table, a waitress, dressed in her yellow and red outfit for Daina's Diner.

“I suppose I’ll take it black. Thanks.” He wasn’t sure how long he’d be here. The lady nodded and walked off, back behind the bar and into the kitchen. For what Nelson could see, the place was empty.

It was about five minutes later when a man walked in. He was dressed like the average Daina’s Diner customer. A navy polo shirt and khaki shorts with tennis shoes on his feet. He was middle aged, Nelson guessed going on fifty years old, and he held a brown paper bag in his hand. It looked like something a fourth grader would put their school lunch in.

As he approached, Nelson stared him down, but the polo man didn’t look his way. Instead, he walked by, and with a sudden thump on the diner floor, the paper bag was next to Nelson’s feet.

Nelson turned as the man strode past. He took a seat at the far end of the bar and the same waitress that gave Nelson his coffee took his order. Polo man didn’t even glance in his direction.

Nelson, as inconspicuously as he could manage, grabbed the paper bag next to his feet and brought it up on the table. He peeked inside slowly, almost cautiously, even though he was sure he knew what he would see.

Hundreds. Stacks of hundreds, five of them to be exact, as he counted them later. Each stack was twenty-thousand dollars. And just as he was beginning to feel guilty.

Yes, he ruined Frank Shewman’s life. His business, his success, his legacy. Thirty-five years that can’t be given back. Not to mention Marjorie Thane.

Those fingerprints, those bullet casings, that pistol, Frank never laid a hand on. But with the right people, resources, and planning, in the eyes of the law, Frank Shewman can be a murderer. Nelson proved that much.

He didn’t know who hired him, who this money was coming from, but he didn’t want to know. Nelson assumed this was a business move in the consumer electronics industry and never dwelled on it any more.

He preferred not to think about the means to this end. He was a hundred thousand dollars richer, and that was what his thoughts were focused on. No, Nelson Douglas had never been this dirty, in fact, he used to be an honest lawyer. But to him, dirty has never felt so good.

In the back of his mind, his words during the cross-examination flashed and disappeared like a broken light switch. So my question to you is: would you lie in the court of law?

 


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