a mystery novel
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Chapter 28 – Words Wise and Otherwise
After lunch, in a preemptive strike, the prosecutor next called a linguistics expert who, following a recitation of his doctorate and other impressive credentials in a bored tone, stated that, in his opinion, the critical text was not inconsistent with prior texts known to have been written by the victim. Besides her penchant for using only lower-case letters, there were several other similarities and it was, in fact, probable that she did write it. Using several long words he spouted a lot of technical terms involving vocabulary, sentence structure, average word length, and other syntax characteristics as if lecturing a grade school class.
As Tanya got up to cross examine, I whispered, “Now, that’s what I call arrogance!”
“Good,” she replied, “I love arrogance in opposing witnesses.”
In answer to Tanya’s first question, he admitted the phrasing and word usage in the text were a little unusual for the victim as compared to the exemplars. However, he rushed on talking over Tanya as she tried to stop him, he attributed that to the victim’s excited state awaiting the arrival of her erstwhile lover for what was to be an important meeting to settle provisions for her child. He had been well coached, but this was Tanya’s home court.
“Tell me, Doctor, in the exemplars, including the entire diary for the last year and all the other texts she sent, how many times did Ms. Rogers utilize an Arabic numeral in place of a homonym rather than writing out the word, as when the numeral ‘2’ is used for the word ‘T-O’ in the text? In fact, how many times did she use a numeral at all instead of spelling it?”
“I don’t recall offhand – I’d have to check.”
“I’m sorry, I just presumed you, as a conscientious expert, would have examined her diary and texts carefully as samples of her characteristic syntax habits. Go ahead, refer to your notes and read copies of her writings now if you must.”
After pawing through his papers for several seconds, he replied, “I can’t find any right now. I don’t actually remember many instances.”
“Well, I did read through them thoroughly and couldn’t find a single instance in her diary...”
“Objection, Your Honor! Counsel is testifying.”
“Sorry; withdrawn. All right, now, Doctor: if I were to tell you that there is not one single instance, not one, in her diary and, more importantly, in all her other texts – would that surprise you? Could you show where I was wrong?”
“Ah, no, not really. You see…”
“You’ve answered my question.” This time he didn’t attempt to talk over her. “Now, how about abbreviations: Ms. Rogers used two in that short text. I didn’t find any in the exemplars – did you? If you noticed. Please refer to your notes if that will help.”
Again a brief fluttering of papers, then, “Again, I can’t point out a specific occurrence on short notice.”
“Short notice? I’m sorry, I thought you knew you were to testify today. Was it a surprise?”
“No, no, but I didn’t expect these specific questions.”
“Do you think it would help if we postponed the remainder of your examination until tomorrow? That would give you tonight to actually read through the documents.”
“No, we should be nearly done and I’m scheduled…”
“Oh, we really have a lot more to cover. Perhaps the judge might be willing to recess for the day now.”
“A lot more? No, no, we should finish now.”
“All right, let’s see if we can wrap this up quickly. Correct me if I’m wrong, but is it your opinion that even though Ms. Rogers never once used a numeral as a substitute for a homonym or for spelling out a number in all her other texts or in her diary, and she did so in this text; and although she didn’t use a single abbreviation in those other texts or that diary, and she used two in this brief text; in spite of those inconsistencies, in your expert opinion, it is still probable that she wrote that text?”
“Ah, well, perhaps ‘probable’ is too strong a word. A better…”
“Too strong a word! But Doctor, you’re an expert on words; they’re your life! Why would you use the wrong one?”
“Ah, well, possibly I was a little premature in… there wasn’t much time and…”
“A little premature? Doctor, are you aware of what we’re doing here? Do you realize this a murder trial – a man’s life is at stake and your testimony concerns a major point the State is trying to use against him? In these circumstances, couldn’t you take the time to do a thorough evaluation before giving an opinion that might cost a man, my client right over there, his very life?…”
“Objection! Badgering the witness!”
“Overruled. However, you’ve made your point, Ms. Barnes; move on.”
“Yes, your Honor. All right, Doctor,” time to give you a way out, trampling right over the opposition, “Let me provide you with a little information you may not have been given. Just hypothetically, would it change your opinion if you knew that Ms. Rogers had previously suffered serious strokes?”
“Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence!”
“I’m asking this as hypothetical at this time, your Honor. And the prosecution did qualify the witness as an expert so hypothetical questions are allowed. Evidence supporting these hypothetical assumptions will be introduced when the defense presents our case.”
“Objection overruled. Keeping in mind that the question is hypothetical, the witness may answer.”
“Well, of course, depending on the type and extent of any resulting damage,…”
“All right, lets assume – again hypothetically – that the strokes damaged, among others, the sections of the brain associated with speech, and further…”
“Objection! Sidebar, your Honor?”
The judge beckoned and I joined Tanya, the DA and her team, and the court reporter at the judge’s bench (really, just a huge, tall desk). Being closer, Tanya had a head start and was already talking to the judge sotto voce when the rest of us arrived, “… Honor, in preparation for possible testimony regarding the text, we obtained medical records which support my hypothetical conditions. We are ready to make an offer of proof and enter those records now, if necessary, although otherwise we would do so during the defense case after laying a proper foundation, including expert medical corroboration.”
“We haven’t been provided with such records!” snapped the prosecutor.
“We don’t have to provide you with rebuttal evidence,” replied Tanya, “And anyway, we assumed you’d have discovered them yourself as part of any thorough preparation.”
“All right!” the judge interrupted, “Based on your assertion that you have such records that substantially support your hypotheticals, Ms. Barnes, and that you will enter them during your case in chief, I’ll let you proceed. But, fair warning: it will go badly for you if you fail to follow through. Step back.” I decided to ignore his ignoring the lead counsel. This one time.
“Ok, Doctor, where were we – oh yes. Lets assume – hypothetically, for now – that the injuries damaged the sections of Ms. Rogers’ brain associated with speech, and further assume that the notes of her attending neurologist included the following statement, ‘A curious result of the patient’s injuries is that she now seems unable or unwilling to utilize abbreviations in writing whereas in samples of her previous writing there are ample instances of her using them normally’?”
Faced with a choice between his reputation and the prosecution, the good doctor dropped the latter like a warm turd, exclaiming, “Oh, yes, yes, of course; this changes everything!…”
“Remember, Doctor, this new information is only hypothetical at this point,” Tanya headed off the prosecution’s objection.
“Yes, yes, certainly. Well, in the hypothetical circumstances you describe, my opinion would be completely different.” When he bailed, he bailed at warp speed! Recovering most of his composure, he continued, “I would have to conclude that, were those hypothetical conditions true, in my opinion it would be most unlikely that the victim would have written the text in question.”
“Most unlikely. Thank you, Doctor. No more questions.”
“Redirect, your Honor,” from the DA, “Doctor, you wouldn’t say that in your opinion it would be impossible that the victim wrote that text, would you?”
“No, not impossible,” somebody had to pay for his embarrassment, “But the next thing to it.”
The DA decided to cut her losses and released him. Tanya couldn’t resist and, after the judge nodded resigned acquiescence to her silent request for re-cross asked, “Just to be sure we have this right, Doctor, it is your expert opinion that it would be next to impossible for Ms. Rogers to have written that text – under the hypothetical conditions I stated.”
“Yes, that would definitely be my opinion under those conditions.”
It was hard to determine who was happier the doctor was off the stand, the doctor himself, the prosecutor, or the judge who quickly recessed court for the day.
We rated that day: Lions 1, Christians 3.