Guiltless Chapter 14: The Prosecution

I didn’t answer. The eavesdropper leaned to his right, looking over my left shoulder.

‘Public Defender, Claire Anderson. Associate at Fischer & Kohn Legal Services’ he said.

‘ADA Walter Gravitt’ said Claire from behind me. She dropped her pen, got to her feet and turned around to face us.

‘Trying to listen in on us?’ she asked.

Walter lips curled in a smile as he looked down at Claire. He stepped past me and leaned against the wall.

‘Hardly’ he replied. ‘I’m here to offer you a deal.’

My interest was piqued as I watched both lawyers with rapt attention. Claire, however, seemed unimpressed.

‘I’m listening’ she said.

Walter scratched his stubble.

‘We’re willing to come down to manslaughter. Chow will serve 20 years if he pleads guilty.’

‘And the assault charge?’ inquired Claire impassively.

’10 years, served concurrently. He could get out in seven on good behavior.’

A part of me thought swapping a life sentence for a possible seven years was a damned good deal. But I couldn’t shake that lingering doubt about Ryan’s innocence. His face mirrored my conflicting feelings. Claire remained a perfect picture of calm as she studied Gravitt.

‘And you’re offering this… because?’ she inquired.

‘We’re willing to take his alcohol consumption into account.’

‘You don’t have a concrete case, do you?’

‘Don’t get cocky. We have his prints on the murder weapon.’

‘Circumstantial’ muttered Claire.

‘Coupled with video evidence of him leaving the crime scene and eye witness reports of him shooting at two Detectives? More than enough to make a case’ countered Gravitt.

‘Show me evidence of him purchasing the gun, then I’ll concede you have a case.’

Gravitt shook his head and flicked a thumb over his lips.

‘I guess we’ll see in court’ he said.

‘Yes’ said Claire. ‘We will.’

‘We could settle this right here’ said Walter. He turned his gaze to Ryan. ‘Things could get ugly at trial. Think about it, Mr. Chow.’

‘Please direct your comments to me, Mr. Gravitt’ said Claire.

‘Pardon me, Miss Anderson. So what’s it gonna be?’

‘I prefer to review all my client’s options before discussing with you.’

Gravitt frowned and pushed himself off the wall. He stepped around me, towards the door and looked over his shoulder at Claire.

‘Don’t take too long. Deal’s on the table till 6:00pm’ he said.

He reached for the door and held it open.

‘I’ll call be expecting your call’ he said. He gave me a terse nod and walked out.

I watched him walk up the corridor, past Devino, and out of sight before closing the door. Claire sunk into her seat with surprising heaviness, shoulders slumped.

‘This complicates things’ she said.

‘But I thought-’

‘Gravitt could really hurt us in court, depending on the jury’ explained Claire, cutting through my feeble protest. ‘Miss Wellings. I’ll have to ask you leave. Again. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover.’

I nodded in defeat and gave Ryan’s hand a quick squeeze.

‘Whatever happens…I know she’ll make the right decision for you, Ryan’ I said.

He nodded. My fingers lingered, brushing his palm as he pulled away. He was being strong now, I had to be too. My eyes swept over the room; over the defendant and attorney one last time before I stepped out and shut the door behind me.

Devino was waiting at the end of the corridor. I walked up to him.

‘I’ll give you a lift back if you’re going somewhere close by. It’s only fair, since I messed up your schedule.’

I nodded and five minutes later we were in his car.

‘You made quite an impression on Walter’ he said, eyes on the road.

‘Gravitt?’ I asked. ‘He was trying to listen in on us.’

‘No, I think Raker pulled a fast one on him’ said Devino.

He caught my confusion and clarified. ‘My partner, he walked Walter to your room and left him there. So, did Anderson take the deal?’

I shook my head. ‘Not yet’ I said.

‘I didn’t think so’ said Devino. ‘She likes to cover all her bases, a real pitbull.’

‘Pitbull doesn’t sound very flattering’ I said.

‘She’s got the drive, think of it as a passion for justice. She chose to become a public defender, to help as many people as she can. As long as she believes he’s innocent I think he’s got a real chance.’

I found that comforting, and intriguing. Claire, though rather discourteous and potentially combative, genuinely seemed to have Ryan’s best interests at heart.

I wondered what Devino could tell me about her.

‘You speak of her with admiration. Is she that good?’ I asked.

‘She could be. She’s doing well for herself, considering what she gave up.’

‘Gave up?’ I asked.

Devino’s eyebrows arched as his face stretched in incredulity.

‘Claire Anderson?’ he stressed. ‘Daughter of Ron Anderson? Founding partner of Anderson, Morrow &Associates?’

‘Doesn’t ring a bell’ I said as I shook my head.

‘They’ve got to be the largest family of tax lawyers in DC.’

‘That’s quite a way from criminal law. What else do you know about her?’ I asked.

‘She’s GW to the bone. Went to the University and then the Law school. Declined Harvard and never looked back. Graduated, passed the bar, then gave up corporate law for ambulance chasing. She ran into some senior partners at Fischer & Kohn who’d attended GW Law School. They’re also into corporate law, but looking to do some pro bono work.’

‘How did she get the case?’ I asked.

Devino grinned.

‘Damn you ask a lot of questions. Uncle Sam does its bit by shouldering the payroll for a public defender office.  While PDs form the majority of the legal representation in the US they are typically understaffed and overworked. So the government outsources to Legal Court appointed attorneys and Nonprofit Defender Services like Fischer & Kohn’s pro bono program.’

For a moment we both stared at the road in silence.

‘She sounds like the stuff of legends’ I noted.

‘She is’ said Devino.

***

Avery was parked out in Reston, Virginia when his phone buzzed.

‘Yo, Ames.’

‘Sciratio’ he replied.

‘So, I’ve been keeping an eye on our girl. Nothing worth talking about till some guy approached her at the library around 11. Plain clothed but definitely a cop, I had to get closer but found out they were heading down to the station. Those lip reading sessions paid off, eh?’

‘How did she respond?’

‘At first she was tense, freaked out. Then she got all defensive.’

Avery straightened in his car seat. This was new and unexpected. Something to hide.

He wanted to ask how Sciratio got to the station so quickly, then he remembered the skateboard fastened to the ex-SEAL’s backpack. That was definitely less conspicuous than busting a gut down to the station.

Sciratio was still speaking.

‘So I staked out the station. She was out in half an hour. Cop dropped her at a joint called Lindsey’s Red Lion. They look like they serve a good beer.’

‘I’ll update Creed. Stay with her’ said Avery.

‘Gotcha.’

Avery cut the call and turned his attention back to the bearded, bespectacled old man whom he observed from the refuge of his parked Jaguar.

It was time.

Avery made a call, to a cellphone which had once frequented the corridors deep within the CIA Headquarters at Langley. Its owner was retired now, a man known to only a handful of players in the intelligence game. A man who’d decided to retreat to the suburban life of Reston after seeing terrible, unspeakable things while in the service of his country.

‘Cable’ said the spy veteran from across the street.

‘Hi, Jim.’

‘Isn’t this something’ said the voice on the line. ‘Ames checking up on an old spook.’

Avery inhaled deeply and watched his former handler shake in laughter. ‘I need a favour’ he said.

‘Well, you were never one for chit chat. But just this once I’ll ask you to slow down. What are you doing with yourself now? Last thing I heard you were working a one man brokerage down in Portland. Funny, I never thought that was your thing’.

Avery glanced at the car clock, 1:02. ‘Neither did I, it’s different’

The other end of the phone rustled slightly, as Avery watched Jim nod from his vantage point. ‘I understand. Now, what can I do for you?’

Avery spun him a story not too far from the truth, withholding the most critical details of his employment.

‘I see’ replied the former agent. ‘So you’ll have me believe you, a former special ops agent, are interested in a potential security breach involving one of our interns?’

Avery chose his next words carefully. ‘I received a tip. I thought I’d check it out.’

‘I’ll find out what I can’ said Cable.

‘Appreciated’ said Avery.

The line went dead, and Avery remained parked, watching his mentor.

If he was going to find out more about Jean Wellings he needed all the help he could get.

***

Few can book an appointment at the Department of Justice on short notice, let alone arrange a meeting with the Office of the Attorney General. Most people simply lack the influence required to pull off such a coup.

Omar al-Baziri is not most people, but even he had to strain his network of contacts to make this happen. He’d pulled strings so hard they’d twanged.

Mahamood Jinnah sat in silence, across the table from the most senior lawyer in the US justice system who read his letter of introduction. The AG’s brow furrowed with every line he passed over. Finally he sighed, folded the letter neatly, and turned his full attention to his visitor.

‘ I think you’re overstepping your boundary here, Jinnah’ said the AG.

‘I represent her family’s best interests, Mr. Attorney General’ said Jinnah.

‘And I represent the United States best interests’ replied the AG.

‘Are they not the same thing, in this instance? Mr. Attorney General, you who prosecute on behalf of justice…do you not agree this man should be punished with the full weight of the law?’

‘That’s not what I meant and you know it. What you are asking for is unprecedented.’

‘But very much within your power’ said Jinnah. ‘And I think you remain unaware of the full story. I think these will help you make a more informed decision.’

He placed an envelope and a folder on the well polished power desk which separated him from the AG.

‘What’s this?’ asked the AG, reaching for the folder.

Jazmin Garretts’ autopsy. Of course as Mr. al-Baziri’s counsel I’m exercising his right to access the full report. It seems this isn’t the first time Mr. Chow has physically abused her.

‘And this?’ asked the AG, nodding at the envelope.

‘A gesture of good faith; the name of a mutual enemy. As you know intelligence gathering is not our forte. But perhaps if we are encouraged by your government we will try harder.’

The AG’s fingers trembled as he slit the envelope open and pulled out a second letter. He stroked his thick moustache nervously as he stared at the printed words in disbelief.

This is-

‘I assure you the information is legitimate’ interjected Jinnah. ‘All I ask is you do the right thing. Withdraw the plea deal and allow me to push for a life sentence. Dr Mead’s testimony on the cause of death and evidence of prolonged physical abuse should be enough. The American people will love your decisiveness and show of solidarity for the victim’s extended family during this period of grief.’

The AG drummed his fingers on the polished oak table. Jinnah watched him in satisfaction.

‘I will speak to the President’ said the AG.

Jinnah nodded. He had expected this. A power play on such a scale, and within such proximity to the White House would cause the media to drag the President into this. A second presidential term was at stake, with elections on the horizon. The results would be announced in barely a month, hardly the time for controversial decisions.

The AG excused himself and Jinnah found the resulting 45 minute wait a very tense affair. He offered a silent prayer for strength, and justice.

When the decision came, it was worth the wait.

‘The president finds your terms agreeable’ said the AG. ‘The arraignment is tomorrow. You will receive the letter granting you a seat on the prosecutorial team shortly.’

Jinnah’s lips split into a steely smile, exposing his perfect veneers which were reflected even on the polished power table of the AG.

‘Mr. Attorney General, this is most welcome news.’

***

Lindsey’s Red Lion is a bar and dive located on 21st street.  It was a regular hit with the students and our regular haunt. Henry; Pam and I met on the corner as promised and ducked through the garish red double doors; into the welcome warmth and away from the increasingly dry September air.

Not being an overly sociable person or a frequent drinker myself, I still found it difficult to resist the thought of warming up with an apple brandy. The interior is slightly squashed but homely. Even at this early hour business was buzzing.  A lot of tables where filled; mostly by students.

Emma; the eagle-eyed senior waitress, spotted us and came over. She politely asked what we wanted. Henry and I ordered burgers and chips while Pam helped herself to a creamy seafood bisque.

Henry got us shots from the bar and Emma started us off with chicken wings and tortillas while we waited.

‘First off Jay, what did Ryan want?’ said Pam between bites.

I told her as best I could, ignoring Henry’s grunts and overly loud crunching anytime I mentioned Ryan’s name.

‘He says he can’t remember anything, not even the fight. He knows he stopped at the bar to get a drink. But he’s blank after that.’

I sipped my apple brandy. Normally we’d sit there for hours; talking about everything from lectures to weekend getaways.

‘You believe him?’ asked Pam.

‘I do.’

Emma returned with our burgers and bisque.

‘What could cause him to “blackout”?’  I asked.

Pam scrunched her cute nose, deep in thought.

‘Stress? Drugs? I really couldn’t say unless I had a session with him.’

‘I wonder if I could work something I out’ I mused.

Sensing we needed a change in conversation, Pam broke into a story about Duke’s day at practice. Duke; her steady boyfriend for three years, played as a backup point guard for the University basketball team. He’d just returned to the team after recovering from injury. He’d broken his clavicle in a freak training accident that left even our resident tough guy Henry green in the face.

I grew restless and excused myself about an hour later. I walked home, taking the time to clear my head.

I locked myself in my room and turned on my laptop. Then some Trina Broussard for ambience.

I couldn’t shake Pam’s words as I went over Ryan’s story. He didn’t have any health condition I knew of. I didn’t have the time nor resources to consider a medical reason for his blackout and amnesia.

I typed three words in a search engine.

Mind control drugs.

It was laughable theory. I looked over my shoulder and around my empty room in paranoia.

The results were numerous. News articles; interest pieces; crackpot websites and conspiracy theory forums. I read them all. I choked down waves of embarrassment as I learned about the CIA’s MKUltra experiments involving LSD induced psychotic episodes. Man their secret programs sucked.

One drug in particular looked promising however. Scopolamine. If ingested it rendered the victim vulnerable to suggestions.

Ryan said he had taken a drink at the bar immediately after Jazmin broke up with him.

Would it be enough?

I looked up Fischer & Kohn on the internet. I called Claire’s number, obtained from their website.

She didn’t pick up. I felt my resolve slip with each unanswered ring, finally I got voicemail.

‘Hi Claire, it’s Jean. I wanted to know what you’d decided. And I’ve been doing some research too…’

My voice trailed off as I listened to myself talk. I glanced at my watch, 2:00am. Whatever decision Claire had made would have been taken hours ago.

I suddenly felt very tired. I dragged myself to the bathroom and splashed some water on my face. Brown irises gave way to vivid amber as I took out my contacts. In that moment, with most of DC asleep, I stared at myself in the mirror, reflecting on the day’s events.

I believed him. I knew he didn’t do it the moment I saw him. A stark reminder of my mistake six months ago.

His eyes were too open. Wide with fear, not guilt. The eyes of a man who woke up to the false accusations thrust upon him.

Not the eyes of a killer, someone who seen death, caused death.

Eyes like mine.

 

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