New Bedford, MA - Criminal court
One might think anyone on trial for a double murder would follow the advice of their counsel and dress nice. Yet in spite of the Judge’s warning of contempt should he ever show up as he did the first day, T-shirt, jeans, sockless and sandaled, here he sat with a denim jacket over a plaid shirt, no tie, leather pants and hush-puppies. He could have used a shave as well, but this was David Elliot.
If there was a strategy to any of this, it wasn’t working. After eighteen days of testimony, evidence production and arguments both ways, few wins were chalked up on their side according to Sakib Patel, Dave’s attorney. By now Sakib was looking as sullen and distant as Elliot had looked from the beginning. While Sakib was overcome by dread of the soon to be announced verdict, Dave Elliot only appeared dreadful. He had worn the look so long that his face lines were pretty much etched in by now. But looks do deceive. Inside of this strange and quiet man rested a confident, cocky though it was, passive air as though he truly expected to soon be going home to a cold beer and bag of Doritos and life would go on.
Sakib tapped his right hand nervously on the table. It was like awaiting his own death sentence. Elliot would in all likelihood get life, there’s no death penalty in the Commonwealth so that was off the table, but one more loss for Sakib and he knew he’d have to send résumés out to other law firms hoping one hadn’t heard of him. Even worse, he couldn’t think of any positives he’d be able to include in the résumés. Maybe he could make it look like a three-page resume and the second page got lost somehow. He would just refer to his illustrious career on page three as if he’d provided the details on the mysteriously missing second page. That might work, he mused. That might get him in the door at least.
Sakib stole a slow glance at his client. Sullen as ever. He leaned into Elliot.
“I know it’s a little late, it would have been much better before,” he mumbled, “but do you think you can try to smile just a little? Maybe for the court illustrator?”
Elliot grimaced even more. “I am,” he murmured.
Sakib looked him over. “That’s a smile?”
“No,” Elliot mumbled, “you said ‘try to smile’. That’s a try. Here’s a smile.” He flashed a one-second, forced grin. No teeth showing, just a stretched pair of lips.
Sakib hung his head. His eyes stared down at his burgundy tie dotted with small blue dots against his formerly crisp white shirt, now beginning to seep with nervous perspiration. Being a defense attorney, he expected to lose a lot of his cases. His clients were usually guilty, as he had always surmised of Dave Elliot since their first meeting. But every once in a while he had expected to be assigned an innocent man or at least a guilty man with a strong enough argument to walk. Elliot should have been that man. The case wasn’t at all very strong with no weapon ever being produced and only one so-so witness against Elliot whose motive could be questioned. But a sullen client is a tough client and Elliot was the toughest. He wouldn’t even take the stand on his own behalf. He faulted the entire system and begrudged being dragged into this farce from the get-go. Regardless of even the strongest admonishment from any judge warning the jury not to assume guilt or innocence when a defendant doesn’t take the stand, Sakib knew that hardly a jurist existed who wouldn’t read “guilty” into it. Way to go, Dave.
The press didn’t help. Supposedly jurors are isolated from reports and are non-biased to begin with, and just as supposedly, we have a reliable justice system. Neither are true. Elliot’s sullen countenance never quite enamored him to the press and the coverage reflected it. Surely the biased reporting emigrated back to the jurors on some level. Add that to Elliot’s smug demeanor displayed every day and Sakib was already adding another notch – to the prosecutor’s record.
A door to the left of the court bench suddenly opened and just as suddenly a low voice, seemingly from the heavens, bellowed out, “All rise for the Honorable Judge Moses Samuels. This Court is now in session.”
All rose. Elliot was last, as usual.
Judge Samuels cruised briskly to his chair and slid in amongst a slight rustling of his robe. The same low heavenly voice mumbled something about all being seated and all obeyed. This time Elliot was first.
Relieved, Sakib sunk back into his chair and deeper into his misery. His career really was down the tubes. As a criminal attorney it was expected that one can never pull off many victories. Most clients would be what they were billed as – criminals. But you had to pull off a few wins here and there, otherwise who would hire you? The firm Sakib was working for had already unofficially put him on warning and this assignment to be lead counsel for Mr. David Elliot had come with the subtle suggestion that although Elliot was likely as guilty as sin, there was so little evidence to date, that Sakib was expected to prevail. It was supposed to be the life saver Sakib had hoped for but now it looked as though even the life saver wasn’t going to float.
Neither Sakib nor Elliot were attentive to the judge’s courtroom instructions. For Sakib, he had heard them enough times and had other worries on his mind. For Elliot, just being his smug self precluded any interest or concern. Eventually the droning of the judge’s voice relented and another door was opened as the jurors were led in. Not one looked at Elliot.
With the stern faced jurors all seated and facing away from the defendant, Sakib was desperate for just one face to steal a sympathetic glance at Elliot. Just one.
There were a few gracious comments from the judge to the jurists, formal niceties customarily offered for their hard work in deliberation and seeking for justice and blah, blah, blah… Then, far in the background, breaking into Sakib’s dark despair, the droning stopped and a few imperative words stood out.
“Will the Defendant please stand,” Judge Samuels instructed.
Chairs slid and squeaked. Sakib and two of his assistants rose somberly. Elliot dragged behind but eventually pulled out of the slouch he had seemed to will himself into as if he were setting up a slo-mo clip for the cameras that would run it over and over on the evening news. Maybe it would go viral on You Tube.
Sakib had about had it and for the first time was almost looking forward to the verdict he expected. His career may be on the ropes but at least he’d be able to take solace in knowing Elliot would be paying an even higher price for his lack of cooperation. As the judge issued a few more instructions, Sakib continued to zone out. It was all so surreal, but there wasn’t a hint of this being a dream. The reality was hitting him hard making him queasy in his stomach. There was something being said about the jury floor person rising, then the Court Bailiff’s voice punctuated the moment.
“Charging the defendant, David Richard Elliot, with two counts of murder,” he pressed to the jury box, “what say you Madam Floor person? Is the defendant not guilty, guilty of murder in the first degree or guilty of murder in the second degree?”
Instantly the floor person responded. “Guilty of murder in the first degree on both counts.”
Sakib let out a breath of resignation. Elliot seemed to hold his. His jaw tightened, his teeth clenched. While Sakib was allowing this reality and finality to free him of this impossible predicament with the most belligerent client he could ever imagine, Elliot was seeming to realize for the first time that he lost. He was going away to jail. How preposterous it was to him. How preposterous it was to Sakib that it was only now sinking in to his client. Elliot’s forehead wrinkled. He looked puzzled, his breathing got heavy.
“Madam Floor person,” the bailiff continued, “by which theory or theories, deliberate and pre-meditation and/or extreme atrocity or cruelty?”
“Extreme atrocity or cruelty,” she instantly responded.
Elliot began rubbing his left shoulder. An anger was welling up inside him, eating at him from the depth of his being. His breathing was strained and beginning to make noises. Sakib wanted nothing to do with consoling him. Elliot had been his own worst enemy throughout the trial and he was taking Sakib down with him, so let him feel a little distress now, he thought.
The judge had been settling the Courtroom down as murmurs rose in volume, no sobs or sighs of remorse as David Elliot had no family and his friends, not present anyway, were sketchy to say the least. After restoring order the judge choreographed a few moves between the bailiff and jurors, then launched into his sentencing.
“Mr. Elliot. In consideration for the crimes for which you now stand convicted you are sentenced by order of the Court as follows.” He paused, looking at a page from the Commonwealths Sentencing Guidelines no doubt. Then as if reading, he continued.
“You are committed to the MCI Cedar Junction facility for the term of your natural life without possibility of parole for each count. The two terms are to run consecutively.”
With those few words, David Elliot was to be abolished from circulation, never to be heard from again in this life or, if there ever was such a thing, his next life either.
Out of the corner of his eye, Sakib noticed Elliot wavering backwards and starting to sit down. Finally, he thought, the guy realizes this was never a game. He’s getting what he deserves and it’s flooring him.
Sakib wondered if he should caution his client to remain standing but then thought better. As he sensed Elliot falling into his seat Sakib panned the court, expecting to hear the judge lambast Elliot for his dis-respect. It wouldn’t be the first time. But as he panned he could only see a look of shock on all the faces. Why? Sakib was his defense counsel and even he expected nothing else. As he looked back at the judge he noted a strange look on his face and not the rebuff he had expected. Neither was the judge reaching for his gavel to chastise Elliot for not remaining in a standing position until he, the judge, ordered him to sit down, but the judge held the same look of shock and awe held by the rest of the courtroom audience.
It was only then that Sakib heard a raspy breathing emanating from his client. He turned to see his client grabbing at his chest and shoulder, his face a color that looked like last week’s fish and a grimace that actually looked sincere. What was happening?
The bailiff and two guards rushed over as Elliot’s color got even worse. Then the raspy breathing stopped and he started falling forward. From Sakib’s view he could see that Elliot’s bladder had let loose. Continuing his freefall, Elliot banged his head on the table and flopped off to his left as Sakib made a furtive effort to catch him.
The judge now grabbed his gavel and began flailing away.
“Someone get some Medics in here,” he bellowed. “Guards, clear an area and get him flat on the floor!”
The courtroom audience were all on their feet now. Sakib was trying to stoop down and render whatever assistance a washed-up attorney would be capable of, but the bailiff and guards edged him out of the way. He felt helpless. As he had the entire trial.
Someone yelled, “I’m calling 911. He needs more help than we can give.”
The gavel continued to resonate. “Order, order!” The judge was now up on his feet. “Order,” he repeated. “Everyone sit down. Let the guards tend to him. We’ll be getting more help soon. Order! And sit down!”
Sakib backed off as well, but remained standing slightly away from his table. He could clearly hear the guards and bailiff exchanging confused orders. Someone had mumbled he had stopped breathing. A few useless directions were offered and then someone, maybe the same person, claimed there was no pulse. More confused orders exchanged but it was clear that everyone here was in over their heads. Sakib mused to himself how it seemed that everyone who came into contact with his client ended up over their head, including himself. While he was surprised, maybe even a little shocked to see Elliot laid out below him, there was little emotion on his part as it all seemed just too fantastic at the moment. Elliot had come to him with no effort at all to hide his guilt but had no compunctions in expecting Sakib to prevail in Court. Frankly, considering the scant actual evidence the prosecution had been able to get, Sakib probably could have steered Elliot into copping a plea for a lesser sentence than life. But with the scant evidence at hand Sakib thought that he finally had a chance to score a victory, one that was expected by his firm’s partners. And he would have scored the victory, he was certain, were it not for the defiant lack of cooperation by his client. So now with two life sentences, which seemed to have provoked an obvious heart attack for his client, and a sunken career for himself, Sakib couldn’t find it within himself to drum up any emotion. He was just dry.
Sirens were heard in the background immediately as the hospital was only blocks away, but even with an Olympic qualified crew Sakib could not imagine them making it on time. It would be over for Elliot and he wouldn’t find out what it was like to spend even a night in prison. Pity.
With the courtroom getting edgy the judge gaveled them to order and, realizing his newly sentenced man was in dire straits, asked if a doctor was in the room. Slowly, an older gentleman from the galley stood and nodded without saying a word. He knew his role and started for Elliot. By now the sirens had risen in volume indicating the ambulance’s arrival. Additional help should arrive momentarily.
The doctor shuffled over slowly, appropriate for his apparent age. He bent to check Elliot and offer whatever assistance possible but it was clear that he was shaking his head back and forth as if to say there was no hope, though the shaking may have been an age thing. He started tapping on Elliot’s chest, then re-positioned Elliot’s arms and shoulders to be above the level of his head. Sakib thought he saw the doctor bend down and breath into Elliot’s mouth but his view was somewhat obstructed. “Do we have defibrillators on hand?” the elderly doctor asked. A guard went dashing out of the room but didn’t return until after the ambulance crew had arrived with their own. The doctor didn’t seem to have an urgency which Sakib took to mean that it was too late. The doctor continued to work on Elliot seemingly helplessly, and then the courtroom doors flew open. Two other guards started barking orders to no one in particular, behind them two EMT’s and a paramedic were wheeling a sophisticated looking mobile gurney and came running in to the scene. It was doubtful any of this would change the apparent outcome but frankly, it was highly improbable that anyone cared a whit.
The elderly doctor, Dr. Bennet, now retired, stood and relented his position to the emergency team while still shaking his head. As he made his way slowly back to his seat, his head-shake pretty much told the story. He continued the shake as if it were the tremor of an old man while he plodded back and Sakib thought he heard the doctor mumble something like, “He’s gone,” to someone he passed. By mere chance this doctor had been in attendance, purely out of curiosity. He had followed the story in the papers, lived only blocks away from the courthouse and thought it might be interesting to attend for the verdict and sentencing if there was room. If the verdict were innocent, there might be some celebration, but no one anticipated that. As it turned out, there was plenty of room. Though the press covered the trial in close detail, most of the public were concerned with other matters and couldn’t be bothered with what was assumed to be an open and shut case.
Janet, the paramedic, ignored all this and went to work checking the victim. There had been no acknowledgment that it was a doctor who had backed out of the scene. Grim comments emanated from her as she continued, and low, muffled responses came from the EMT’s. A portable defibrillator appeared from who-knows-where and the EMT’s stood back. Odd sounds and odder responses from the med team held everyone’s attention in spite of most of the audience turning away. After a few rounds of defibrillating, an oxygen tank was pulled from somewhere under the gurney, a mask put on Elliot’s face and a few more futile moves made to get some response. With no further adieux the stretcher was in motion heading for the rear door with all sorts of strange apparatus attached and gliding along with the procession.
“Clear the way,” an EMT cried out. “Clear the way to the elevator!”
The service elevator cab was being held by one of the court guards and it quickly swallowed up David Elliot, two EMT’s, a paramedic and two guards. The doors fanned shut and it may well have been the last anyone would see of David Elliot, convicted double murderer.
Back in court the judge gaveled the crowd to order again. He held some discussions with the bailiff and another court officer. Sakib was still standing, his head swiveling between the bench conference and the prosecutor’s table. There was no book written to cover proper decorum and procedure for the scene that just closed. Clients weren’t expected to die in court.
As the huddle broke around the judge, his eyes bore directly at Sakib.
“Counselor, do you need to be excused to look after your client?” he asked. Whether he was asking, hinting or ordering, it wasn’t clear. At any rate his words shook Sakib back to the moment as he realized he was the only connection Elliot had with the living, whether he was gone or not. Dave Elliot had no family, few friends if they could even be called that, and even fewer now that he had been found guilty of murdering his wife and her alleged lover. As his attorney it would naturally be incumbent upon him to follow his client to the hospital and fill out whatever forms, notices or whatever that would need to be executed. Then, it appeared, he would finally be done with this misfit in life. Finally.
Sakib thanked the judge, excused himself and exited the courtroom. He could hear the siren initiate and slowly fade away as he took the stairs two at a time heading down. He wouldn’t be able to draft behind the ambulance but he knew where the hospital was and frankly, didn’t mind if he was late.