a mystery novel
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Chapter 25 – The Gruesome Details
As anticipated, the prosecution was holding Jeanie's girlfriend in reserve and started off in the morning with one of the first responders testifying to finding the body and determining the victim was dead. The first cop on scene related receiving the call, arriving at the scene to find the front door open with the RP – the reporting person – passed out just inside. Not knowing if she were badly injured, a victim or perpetrator, seeing blood on the floor farther in the house, and uncertain if there were still danger within, he and his partner got her to safety and control locked in their squad car. They called paramedics for the unconscious woman and waited for backup for themselves. Then they searched the house and found the victim's body, quite obviously dead. With no reason to believe there was anyone else, either victim or perpetrator, alive in the house, they retreated outside and secured the crime scene to await the arrival of the various investigators. He and his partner later participated in the neighborhood canvass but learned nothing significant beyond the names of the neighbors.
The prosecutor then handed him a stack of photographs and asked if they accurately depicted the state of the victim and the crime scene as he found them. He winced before answering ‘yes’ and the prosecutor entered them into evidence and then, with apologies, passed them to the jury. There were gasps and groans and retching sounds. One juror, a retired construction worker, actually threw up. The judge declared an early lunch recess until two p.m. I doubt anybody on the jury ate much of anything.
* * *
When we resumed, my cross examination of the cop consisted of only two questions. “I'm sorry you had to go through that, officer. It must have been a terrible experience even for someone in your profession. Tell me: while inside the Victim's house – or anywhere else, for that matter – did you personally perceive anything that indicated the identity of the perpetrator?”
“Did you personally perceive anything that indicated I was involved in any way with the Victim or what happened to her?”
“Thank you, officer. I have nothing more for this witness at this time. However, he is also on the defense witness list and it is possible although unlikely that we will need to call or recall him.”
The next witness, the partner of the first, had two major contributions. The first was that she had retrieved the video disk from Bixby’s security system. Tanya and I had debated whether we should try to keep out the prosecution’s ‘enhanced’ version depicting the time from midnight to two a.m. on the night of the crime. We needed to make sure the earlier time showing the car turning around in our drive was available – without alerting the prosecution, if possible. We settled on stipulating to the accuracy of the original disk and allowing both versions in with the provision that we could later challenge the enhanced one’s accuracy during presentation of our case; both disks were entered into evidence. This misdirection seemed to work as the prosecution appeared puzzled by our reservation since their enhanced disk didn’t show anything relevant except our car driving into our garage.
The officer’s other contribution was that during her second round of visits to the same neighbors, after getting an update from the detectives now on scene regarding pertinent questions, from Jackson she retrieved two soda cans that I had allegedly emptied a few days previously. The cans were also entered into evidence without objection.
We could see nothing to be gained by cross examining the officer beyond the same questions I’d posed to the previous witness and she was soon off the stand.
The DA then called another cop to the stand. After the formalities, the cop testified to finding the knife, cell phone, and the bleach and acid containers in the backyard of the house next to the one behind Jeanie’s. The prosecutor entered all four items into evidence, again without us objecting, and turned the witness over to me.
“Officer, did you personally see or otherwise learn anything that showed any of these items belonged to me or were ever in my possession?” He answered 'No' and after my two standard questions I was done with him.
The next witness to be called was Dr. Carlson Rosen, the medical examiner who had been at the scene and later performed the autopsy on Ms. Rogers' body. After the prosecutor indicated the doctor's testimony would be lengthy, the judge recessed court for the weekend, renewing his admonitions to the jury. We were too exhausted to do much of anything that night. The weekend was spent in yet more reviewing.
* * *
Monday morning, after eliciting his credentials ad nauseam, the prosecutor finally extracted the cause of death from Dr. Rosen: blunt force trauma to the head coupled with exsanguination from several perimortem lacerations. In human terms, she was beaten, stabbed, cut open, and bled to death. He then proceeded to describe in gruesome detail each individual wound, pointing to the relevant places on the screen where he displayed greatly enlarged technicolor slides. When he got to the slide of the crude but thankfully postmortem hysterectomy, the gasps from the audience – and worse, the jury – were deafening: two female jurors literally turned green and again a man vomited – this time a different man.
After a brief recess to clean the jury box, direct questioning of the ME closed quickly. The evidence knife was consistent with the instrument that had made the wounds to the body. Traces of blood on the knife were matched to the victim by DNA analysis. Manner of death: homicide; time of death: ten p.m. to one a.m. on the night in question. Surprising me, the prosecutor then concluded without going further into all the tests and measurements that the doctor had performed before reaching his conclusions.
As I got up to cross examine, I reconsidered my plan. It was a real risk; was it worth taking? Then down the doctor's face rolled a bead of sweat. As he brushed at it, my decision was made. “Your Honor, the defense has no questions for the witness at this time provided we can reserve the right to recall him later should that prove necessary. He is also on our witness list.”
The judge nodded, saying, “The witness is excused, subject to recall. You will keep yourself available, doctor. The court stands in recess until two p.m.”
The look of relief on Dr. Rosen's face reassured me I'd made the right choice. You're relieved now, but once it sinks in you'll realize you're still on the hook. You can sweat it out waiting. The other advantage of postponing his further examination was that he would remain excluded from the courtroom during the testimony of the remaining prosecution witnesses as well as our initial ones. The disadvantage was that the jurors would have his testimony unchallanged in their minds for the interim.
As we walked out to try to eat, Tanya whispered, “That's a big gamble; hope it pays off.” Me too.