Chapter 33: Excerpts from Chris’s Trial

©iStock.com/junial

©iStock.com/junial

The trial was, in a word, awful. The judge didn’t even attempt to hide his bias against Chris. He allowed all of Stan’s motions, overruled all of Josh’s, and routinely allowed procedural violations. Even so, Josh’s defense was extraordinary. Chris was often as amazed by his tenderness as by his astuteness. His cross-examination of Charmaine was a good example.

“Mrs. Piper,” Josh began, “please allow me to express my very deepest sympathies for your loss.”

The genuine sympathy in Josh’s voice seemed to catch Charmaine off guard. She looked at him in wonder. “Thank you, Mr. Damour. You are very kind, sir.”

“I’m afraid I must beg your indulgence as I question you. I’ve never met you. On the other hand, I and my family have known Mr. Strider and his family, even his fiancée and her family, for generations. I know him to be a kind and compassionate man—”

Stan jumped up. “Objection!”

“Sustained.” In his heavy southern accent, the judge added sternly, “Counselor, quit gushin’. If you’ve got a bona fide question, ask it.”

Stan reseated himself and gave Chris a mocking look that seemed to say, See there? I’ve got them all in my pocket, boy, and I’m going to use them to get you.

Josh turned back to the witness. “Mrs. Piper, you testified that Mr. Strider coerced you into the car at the grocery store. Are there witnesses to confirm your version of events?”

“No, sir. There was no one else there. Otherwise, I know my kind neighbors would never allow such a thing.” Although her eyes looked dry to Chris, Charmaine dabbed at them with a black lace-edged handkerchief that matched her high-necked black cotton dress.

“I’m certain they wouldn’t.” Josh walked toward the jury box, where eight white men and four white women sat with perpetual scowls on their faces. “You didn’t notice, then, that there were two ladies present who witnessed your interaction?”

Charmaine glanced over Chris’s shoulder at Susana. “I saw no such persons, sir. But I have no doubt that any honest person would verify my story.”

“I see. Can you describe for us exactly how Mr. Strider coerced you? Was he armed? Did he use brute physical force?”

Stan shifted in his chair.

“He had no weapons, sir. But he is very strong and, as you can see, I’m just a little bit of a thing.”

“Yes ma’am, you are. Can you tell us what he did? Perhaps he grabbed your arms, or your neck?”

“Objection!” Stan called. “Leading the witness.”

Charmaine waved her handkerchief at the judge. “That’s all right, Horace. I know how he hurt me.” Returning her attention to Josh, she answered, “He grabbed me by both arms first, then ’round my throat.”

Stan started doodling on some paper.

Josh nodded. “And you’re right, he is very strong. I should know, I’ve trained with him and know how—”

“Objection!” Stan exclaimed.

Josh didn’t bother waiting for the judge’s response. “Apologies, your Honor.”

Stan flashed Chris that look again.

“You see,” Josh continued, “that’s one of the things that puzzle me, Mrs. Piper. Even I would bruise if Mr. Strider forcibly grabbed my throat. I certainly would expect a delicate, fair-skinned lady like you to bruise.”

“Oh, but I did, Mr. Damour! I had a pack of bruises and scratches on both arms, and bruises all over my throat.”

Chris thought he heard Stan emit a quiet groan.

“Oh, good!” Josh exclaimed, and Charmaine pulled back, obviously offended.

“Pardon me, Mrs. Piper. I don’t mean that your physical injuries were good. Such injuries would be painful and embarrassing, I’m sure. What I mean is that there will be pictures then, to substantiate your account.”

“No, sir. I didn’t think to take any pictures.”

“No, of course not. The situation you describe would be very upsetting. But your husband, being the conscientious and decorated lawman he was, would know to document your injuries.”

“They were gone by the time he got home, sir.”

“That was three days later?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Really? So you’re Paradisian, Mrs. Piper?”

“I am not!” she said indignantly. “I am American, sir, born in this very town, as were my parents and their parents before them.” Applause broke out and Charmaine nodded at her neighbors.

With sadness in his voice, as though it gave him no pleasure to expose Charmaine’s lie, Josh addressed her again. “Mrs. Piper, perhaps you would like to rethink your testimony. Or shall I call your physician to testify? For, as a physician myself, I can tell you that there has never been any circumstance documented, except in native Paradisians, which would allow such bruising—bruising that would require two to three weeks to heal—to heal in three days instead.”

Stan sprang up. “Objection! Badgering the witness!”

“Sustained,” the judge agreed.

But Stan couldn’t give Chris the look that time. Josh had quietly moved between them.

Chris felt Josh made more progress in his cross-examination of Tony, who looked flushed and jittery throughout. When Josh questioned him about the lack of fingerprints on the gun, Josh managed to back Tony into a position of claiming that Chris’s fingerprints weren’t on the gun because he was wearing rubber gloves due to a contagious rash on his hands.

In a British accent, Stan muttered, “Imbecile. Donkey.”

Josh followed up by pointing out that the prison had to keep records of contagious diseases in its prisoners, and that no such record existed to substantiate the claim of a rash on Chris’s hands. Chris was pleased to see that a few of the jurors’ scowls changed briefly to puzzled expressions. Josh later called the officer who booked Chris, who testified that he had no rash.

In this way, Josh managed to cast doubt on each of the evidences against Chris. And, when Debora and Susana testified about what they had seen pass between Chris and Charmaine in the parking lot (to which Charmaine exclaimed, “Well, I never!”), Chris noticed several of the jurors exchange knowing looks.

Stan didn’t call Debora or Josh to testify about Chris’s period of absence, nor did he cross-examine Debora. He simply asked the judge and jury to note that she was Josh’s mother. Josh had said Stan may do this since he wouldn’t be able to attack their character or trick them into looking foolish. He preferred, therefore, not to examine someone he was, to put it bluntly, afraid of.

Stan did bring up Chris’s absence when he cross-examined Susana. But he also questioned her in a way that especially angered Chris. He began by asking about her dating history. Josh objected to that line of questioning, but the judge allowed it. Stan proceeded to make Susana out to be a woman desperate for love, one who would do anything to retain the attentions of the one man who seemed interested in her.

Josh had warned Chris that Stan would likely do this, not only as a prosecuting angle, but simply to torment Chris. Still, being forewarned didn’t make it any easier to watch Susana being humiliated.

Once Stan finished grinding Susana under his heel, he asserted that Chris was obviously manipulating her—“the poor, desolate soul”—in order to have someone who would do his bidding and tell his lies. He finished by asking the jury if they had ever seen a lower life form.

The jury answered by shaking their heads in obvious disgust.

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