The Not Exactly Complete Works of Peter Schulman

Circumstantial Evidence

©2010 Peter Schulman
 

 

  Chapter 1  

  Chapter 2  

  Chapter 3  

  Chapter 4  

  Chapter 5  

  Chapter 6  

  Chapter 7  

  Chapter 8  

  Chapter 9  

  Chapter 10  

  Chapter 11  

  Chapter 12  

Chapter 3

Doris Gold was seated behind her desk. She was approaching her mid-fifties. The stress of her job made her look every day of it. She was five four, around one hundred forty pounds. She had gray hair and intense green eyes surrounded by wrinkles. Her face was rounder than when she was young, I’d seen pictures.

Her warm smile today was welcoming, but it wasn’t clear whether it welcomed a friend or a meal. I opted to be cautious.

“Jon, how are we doing on Caldwell?”

“Jury’s out.”

“Are we winning?”

I shrugged. “You know juries. Sometimes you win a case you shouldn’t even have brought. Sometimes you lose when you have everything including videotape.”

“Is there anything to make you think this jury won’t follow the evidence?”

“I don’t read them that way. But you never know. I’ve seen professional basketball players miss a slam dunk and this case is not a slam dunk. I wouldn’t want to bet my house on either result.”

“You must have a sense of how it went,” she said, growing ever more annoyed by my evasiveness.

“I don’t know. Lots of people tell me I don’t have the sense I was born with.”

“Is everything a joke with you?”

“No. Yes. No. That’s what gets me through the day. I can’t do anything to influence the jury now, but I’d say we’re likely to win.”

I joke all the time. Sometimes when I’m uncomfortable, as I was now, the quality suffers.

Doris wasn’t given to this kind of chit chat. We had never discussed a case this way. Caldwell was just foreplay. I waited for the other shoe to fall.

“Good. You know I like to move your career along with successes like this. Maybe some day you’ll be a famous defense attorney.”

My career? The last election had been a lot closer than it had any right to be. Philadelphia is so heavily Democratic that winning the primary is akin to ordination.

I might well have believed it when I told the jury it was not my job to win. Doris did not share the sentiment.

“I want you to handle the Janet Reedy case,” she said.

Ah, the other shoe. I winced. “I kind of guessed when I was ordered to the scene. I don’t know what’s happened since I left, but I have to tell you, they had the wrong guy in custody when I was there.”

“We’ve got a confession.” She handed me a copy. “You’ve got the chops to win this case,” she said.

I read it fairly quickly. “Doris, I don’t think we should win this one.” I was not just pandering to the jury in my closing. I really do believe in the importance of beyond a reasonable doubt.

“I interviewed Phillip Patrick for over an hour on a case about ten years ago. He had real trouble following what I said. He had major difficulty connecting cause with effect. At the time, I talked to other street people about him and they confirmed his lack of abilities.

“He didn’t make this confession. He doesn’t have the capacity. It’s not his language. He barely has the ability to sweep floors with careful instruction. Handyman is way too advanced for him. The detectives wrote this confession and confused him into signing it.

“Plus, I saw the crime scene. He couldn’t possibly have left it so clean. That took some understanding and skill. I doubt he can understand why he shouldn’t leave evidence at a crime scene, let alone what evidence or a crime scene is.”

“That’s for a jury to decide, not us,” Doris said.

Technically, yes, if we abdicate all responsibility for using our reasoning and judgment. But then we might just as well toss the defendant into the Schuylkill River. If he floats he’s guilty. If he drowns he’s innocent.

“We’re officers of the court, Doris. If we know an injustice is being perpetrated, don’t we have a responsibility to prevent or correct it?”

“We don’t know. We just have some reason to suspect.”

I shook my head at the notion. “We’re looking at compelling circumstantial evidence. The inference from our knowledge of his limited capacity is crystal clear. I just told this jury that circumstantial evidence could be as unequivocal as scientific evidence.” My voice had gotten a little more strident than perhaps it should have. This was my boss, after all.

“There is supporting evidence, Jonathan. It’s not just the confession. This is why we have an adversarial system. The jury is supposed to decide impartially on the facts. The public has a right to feel safe.”

“The public has a right to be safe.”

“Part of being safe is feeling safe. We’ll just let the system sort this out.”

“How can I prosecute a man I’m convinced is innocent?” I had the silly notion I had some say in the matter. I should have paid better attention to her body language.

“It’s a very important case. I need my best people on it. The public wants a District Attorney who gets things done. And, in case you’ve forgotten, this is not a democracy.”

“When did I lose the right to vote?” I asked.

“When you took this job.”

“Damn. I always forget to read the fine print.” But I never seem to forget to dash right to the edge of insubordination.

There were more really clever and penetrating things I could have said, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to be fired this time. I settled for, “Is that all?” with an edge in my voice.

Doris pretended it had been cordial. She leaned back in her chair and straightened up. Her demeanor was regal. “Good luck on Caldwell.” She was in charge. All discord was forgotten.

By her.

“Thank you.” Your Royal Highness.

 

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  Chapter 13  

  Chapter 14  

  Chapter 15  

  Chapter 16  

  Chapter 17  

  Chapter 18  

  Chapter 19  

  Chapter 20  

  Chapter 21  

  Chapter 22  

  Chapter 23