a mystery novel
|This writing has not yet been rated and therefore this information is not yet available.|
Chapter 21 - Final Preparations
As we had for what seemed years but was only a couple of months, Tanya, Meg, and I sat at the tables in our living room. We were making yet another last run-through before the trial with all the evidence spread out in front of us. On the far side of the long table we lined up what we knew and guessed would be the prosecution's main points in the order we expected them to be presented, and on our side the arguments, evidence, and rebuttal testimony we had to refute each of them. The card table had on our side our evidence and witnesses, with the opposition’s expected responses on the other side. Our side of each table was decidedly anorexic.
We went over the probable testimony from all of the State's witnesses and how to cross examine them, and the testimony we wanted to get from each of our witnesses. All of that, however, was subject to change, and probably would, frequently, as the case took turns we hadn't anticipated.
We had only three expert witnesses. Two were former medical examiners for local jurisdictions, recruited to testify as to their estimations of the time of death. However, despite their excellent credentials, Tanya was afraid the jury might dismiss them as “hired guns” who testified to whatever their employer, as in me even though I wasn’t actually paying them, wanted them to. Juries tend to ignore the fact that the ME and most other witnesses testifying for the State are also hired guns: you don't get promoted in government jobs by contradicting the prosecution's theory of the case. Somehow we had to cast doubt upon those witness through cross examination.
Our third expert, a retired FBI forensic linguist, would testify that the syntax – words, format, and punctuation – in the critical text was inconsistent with Jeanie's normal usage in other recovered texts and her writing in general. He wouldn't go as far as to say she absolutely didn't write it, but he would say it was highly unlikely. For what that was worth.
We had each read Jeanie's diary, unexpurgated edition, extensively over the past several weeks after it had magically appeared in my e-mail in-box. We had later received a redacted version, recovered only a few days earlier (so they claimed) when the prosecution's computer people finally managed to hack her on-line cloud storage. While there was evidence she had kept earlier hard-copy diaries, none had been located – at least none the other side admitted to. The on-line diary we did have covered only the past year and, although it contained a detailed account of Jeanie's affair, it never mentioned her lover by name and offered little objective information to identify him.
Also, Jeanie's repeated use of “today” in obvious references to different days in some entries that the file records showed were made on the same date indicated that she kept manual notes for several days then entered them into her cloud file all at once. Since she didn't specifically date anything, events in her diary could not be definitively linked to exact dates, which made it impossible for me to come up with an alibi for some particular incident. But, then, there wasn't anything that the prosecution could show pointed exclusively to me, although that wouldn't stop them from trying.
While searching for information pertinent to the case, we were all impressed with Jeanie’s self-effacing accounts of her charitable activities both on and off her job as an activity coordinator for the local senior center. She also worked as a volunteer in the brain injury wards at two hospitals and conducted reading classes at the library for children with autism and other developmental difficulties. This confirmed and reinforced the information we had gathered previously. She would have been a marvelous mother. What a dreadful loss!
We concentrated our study from the point where Jeanie found out she was pregnant, which she and her lover had thought impossible on both sides. She was overjoyed as she had always wanted children; however, her husband in their short-lived marriage had not. Then, after the shooting, she had been told by doctors that it was virtually impossible – apparently they underestimated her body's recovery capabilities. Her lover kept offering reasons why she should have an abortion, but she never really considered it.
She had always been satisfied with – and in fact preferred – her part-time relationship with her lover, until she became pregnant. From her writing, at first she wanted him to get a divorce and marry her to give the child a normal family. Then there was an obvious shift in her priorities, as her lover gradually but unmistakably took a distant rear seat to her baby. She very soon stopped pushing for the 'right time' for him to tell his wife he wanted a divorce and began demanding something to guarantee financial support for her child. In the aftermath of the strokes she had suffered, there was the distinct possibility that related complications could occur at any time and could be fatal. And, of course, pregnancy and childbirth exacerbated that risk. She wanted her child provided for no matter what happened to her.
She seemed convinced that her lover had the ability to make such arrangements, which should have eliminated me from consideration as her paramour right then and there! The lover had fought and stalled her at every step until what appeared to be about a week or so before her death when by text he suddenly capitulated and agreed to her financial demands, only asking that she give him a few days to have the necessary documents drawn up and that she delete those texts immediately and never tell anyone the source of the funds. She complied – except for one girlfriend. That's the problem with secrets: there's always that one close confidant….
* * *
Regarding the overall trial plan, Tanya and I had a few minor disagreements about details, which were mostly resolved with each of us persuading the other to our point of view about half the time, frequently with Meg providing an ever insightful third opinion. However, we all agreed completely on the overall strategy.
It was more difficult to reach consensus on whether Tanya or I should examine or cross examine particular witnesses. She felt her experience trumped my personal incentive, which she considered no stronger than her own despite my ultimate risk. I couldn't tell her I was not unschooled in extracting information from individuals immensely more reluctant than any witness we would encounter here, although under far less structured conditions than would prevail in a courtroom. However, surely my unwillingness to lose what little control over my life remained to me was a major if unacknowledged factor in my obstinacy. We finally decided to play that part by ear, deciding each instance as it arose.
We again went over the long list of possible witnesses which we would decide whether to call or not as circumstances warranted. There were also a large number of people we had no intention of calling that were on the list we gave the prosecution simply to cause them effort and confusion trying to figure out who they were and what pertinent information they could possibly have. Tanya said the prosecution would do the same to us and so we decided not to expend any of our more limited resources on attempting to interview their potential witnesses.
I had suggested we include in our list all of the witness on the prosecution list that had been provided in discovery, on the off chance that something turned up after their testimony for the prosecution that made us want to examine them further. Tanya said she usually did that and pointed out that there are different advantages and disadvantages to calling witnesses ourselves versus cross examining them when they are called by the prosecution.
When cross examining opposition witnesses, the main purpose is usually to impeach them: to show their prior damaging testimony was false or easily misinterpreted or that they have ulterior motives. The main goal is to discredit either the witnesses or their testimony. However, we are generally limited to questions regarding subjects covered in their direct testimony. All this applies whether we cross examine them immediately after their direct testimony or recall them at a later time.
Those we call as our own witnesses we can ask any questions relevant to the case, but, unless we can convince the judge a witness is hostile to our side, we cannot try to impeach that witness. It shouldn’t be too hard to have those who had already testified for the prosecution declared hostile.
As an added benefit, including their witnesses on our list pissed the prosecution off. (Fortunately, judge Feldstein later dismissed their objections, saying, “So, you can add their witnesses to your list. We all know neither of you is going to call a fourth of the witnesses on your list anyway.”) Tanya did draw the line when I suggested we include all Southern California area residential phone books with our list.
For physical evidence we had very little: just slides of a few photographs, some of the ones the prosecution had provided but might not use at trial along with a few Tanya had had taken; analyses of several oil stains along with that of an oil sample from our car; a couple of Google-map printouts; and a handful of diagrams and sketches. For the rest we would rely on the prosecutions' exhibits, with our own differing interpretations. Somehow, despite all the preparation, taken as a whole it seemed a paltry collection upon which to bet my life. That exit strategy was growing more appealing all the time.
Then we caught what turned out to be a huge break. Tanya’s investigator called: he had located the neurologist who had treated Jeanie after her strokes all those years ago. The investigator had gone through old staff listings for all hospitals near Jeanie’s former place of employment, focusing on brain doctors because trauma surgeons were mainly residents and far more numerous and transient, and finally located one who recalled the ‘weird case’ that happened at the right time. Our subpoena for Jeanie’s records from her primary physician here was general enough that the neurologist would accept it and he agreed to send us her records as well as to testify at trial if we thought it would be useful.
Tanya immediately e-mailed a copy of the medical records subpoena to the doctor’s office and arranged to overnight an original to him. After a brief discussion, she called the investigator back and gave him a short list of questions to ask the doctor. Although we didn’t yet know whether there was anything relevant to our case, it still felt good that now we had four expert witnesses. I worried we would be late notifying the prosecution, but Tanya said if either turned out to be useful, we’d arrange to use the records and the doctor in rebuttal so we wouldn’t have to notify the opposition at all.
The investigator called back with the answers to Tanya’s questions. After reviewing them she prepared a subpoena for the doctor to appear as our witness and included that with the medical one so the investigator could serve him. Then she called the doctor personally and apologized for the necessity of having him served. She promised to try not to call him if possible, and, if she couldn’t, to work around his schedule and make sure his testimony could be completed in one day. When she got off the phone she remarked that, unlike most doctors, he seemed not at all reluctant to testify and actually sounded a little disappointed when she mentioned he might not be called at all. We all agreed he’d probably been wondering about Jeanie’s case for twenty years.