This new episode of Catherine Reynolds, after an 18 months hiatus, was partially written a year ago and tells the story of a case that Catherine really didn't want to take: defending a man accused of rape.
The case of the falling woman (Episode 1)
Letters : 21012 Words : 3914
Lawyer Catherine Reynolds has a new case, a purse robber whose last victim fell and got severely injured. Will her friends at the naturist center where she lives be able to help her ?
I was tanning in my back yard when the phone rang. It was a nice Sunday afternoon and the temperature was just perfect.
"Catherine ? This is Karen from the phone service. We received a call from Marc Finley. He has been arrested again, but this time, he seems seriously agitated. He says it's worse than in the past. He confirmed he will not talk to the police before you are there, but he says to hurry. He is at District 7"
I thanked Catherine and asked the sky what I did to deserve this guy for a client. He was already awaiting trial for robbing an old lady of her purse, only a few days after having been release of a short prison term for the same offence.
I rapidly got dressed and picked up his files from my home office. I wondered what he had done this time. I grabbed a meal bar because these things can really drag on and I was afraid I would miss supper.
It's really sad because every other Sunday afternoon, there is a potluck supper at the community center and I really enjoy those events, especially since Bill died.
I rapidly reached the police station where the detective summed up the events.
Marc had stolen the purse of an old lady near a bank, and in doing so, pushed her on the pavement where she hit her head and fractured her skull and hip. She was in serious condition, and there was a high risk she wouldn't survive her injury, or that if she did, she would remain in a coma due to the heavy trauma imposed on her brain.
He was rapidly caught by one of the bank security guards. One of the bank's security camera caught the whole event on camera.
The district attorney, seeing this was his third offence, wanted to use this arrest as a justification for a third strike law for the state, and as such, was drafting accusations of attempted murder, aggravated assault in addition to the usual robbery charge. The second the victim dies, they will elevate the charges to second-degree murder.
I knew full well that Marc didn't have the money to support such a case. We usually agreed to a lot of points before a trial to reduce the costs. On the first one, he pleaded nolo-contender and on the one currently pending, he was waiting on the DA to provide an interesting plea bargain.
Defending against second-degree murder was not in his budget and I couldn't afford to go pro-bono. I thanked the detective nonetheless. My client's financial capacities was the least of his concerns.
I met with my client, and asked him what he told the police. "Nothing", he insisted. I asked him to confirm. "I asked them to pick my driver's licence from my wallet, and for a phone call. I didn't even tell them my name or answer any other questions. The only times I spoke after that was to repeat : I will not talk until I see my lawyer."
Good. Roughly seventy percent of the clients initially explain to the police that they are innocent, and give their alibi on the spot. What they never understand, is that if later, something contradicts their initial explanation, it will incriminate them.
For example, if you say you were at your house alone all afternoon, and someone you knew years ago claims to have seen you near the crime scene an hour prior to the crime because they mistook you, it will paint you as a liar. Once that witness comes forward, instead of insisting you were home all afternoon, we can insist you were home at the moment of the crime. As such, there doesn't seem to be any contradictions with the witness. You don't even need to address the witness, since where you were and where you were not an hour before the crime is not relevant. Where you were a few minutes before the crime is, however.
He related to me the questions they asked him. They all turned around whether he pushed the lady or not. This was a great news, because it meant that the tape the police presumably had was either unclear or inexistent. It means we can possibly play on the doubt on whether she feel after he robbed her or because he pushed her.
If she fell on her own, we could argue he is only guilty of robbery, but if he pushed her, it would be harder.
"Marc, given you probably don't have a lot of money for your defence, and given they want to charge you with second-degree murder if she dies, we have three options I can see :
One, try to call a bluff. It is possible their evidence is slim. If we decide to plead guilty to robbery today in exchange for dropping the other charges, it might work. You could offer to plead guilty on your pending trial also. You would get up to 5 years in prison, liberation after a third on good behaviour.
Two, if they refuse or if you know you pushed her, we could decide to plead guilty on the aggravated assault today in exchange for the dropping of the bigger charges. It's a much longer prison sentence, up to 15 years, but you avoid the possible second-degree murder. Once again, liberation after a third on good behaviour.
Three, you argue in court you didn't push her. If you win, you only get the robbery charge. If you lose, you get life in prison, 25 years before possible liberation.
We can also plead guilty on the robbery today, and not-guilty on the others. That way, you avoid the costs of defending the robbery. But I won't lie to you, the trial is going to cost you a lot, and if you end up in jail, you won't be able to pay. As such, I might not be there for you. You would need a public defender. But the trick is to negotiate while the victim is alive. Once she dies, if she does, we lose all arguments"
"Thank you Miss Reynold. I guess go with your plan. In order. You've always been good to me. And I will indeed plead guilty to the robbery. But I did not push her. You understand ? I didn't. I stole over fifty purses, and not once did one of the ladies fell. I know what I am doing."
"Ok, I will go negotiate on your behalf. Do you have a little money at this moment ?"
"I have about two thousand dollars, but my rent is due."
"They won't let you out of jail until your trial or until the victim is out of the hospital. You should arrange to store your personal things until the trial, but that 2000$ will not cover much. Is there anyone who could support your trial costs ?"
"Well, I could ask a little money from my mother if this drags on, but I'd prefer not to. She doesn't speak to me, but perhaps she might be able to help me if I am in the end of the line."
"See what you can do, and I will try to help you. I'll go talk to the detective and the DA about a plea bargain and give you an update as soon as I have one."
"Thank Miss Reynold".
As soon as I left the discussion room, the detective, Sergeant Packard approached me.
"So, what do we do ?"
"He want to plea bargain. He can plead guilty to robbery on the arraignment and will change his plea on the pending trial to guilty, if all of the other charges are dropped. We are willing to accept the maximum on robbery, 5 years."
"Let me talk to the DA. The arraignment is tomorrow morning, at 9h. Why don't you go home, and I will call you once I have an answer ? We will process your client, but won't interrogate him."
"Deal. Call me at this number". I gave him my card, and looked at my watch. I still had time for the potluck supper, so I rushed home.
Once I entered the gate, I parked in front of the community center and was able to see almost everyone was there, but they were still preparing the food. I had planned to bring a salad, like I usually do, so I went to check I wasn't too late.
Gregory, the groundkeeper commented me on my clothes, as usual. I spend so much time at the center unlike other young people, that most residents are not used to seeing me clothed. When I appear in my work clothes, everyone is always surprised, since I usually wear slackers when I go out for grocery shopping.
I did have plenty of time, so I ran back home, stripped naked and grabbed my big salad bowl I bought just for that occasion. I put all my ingredients in a big box along with a few soda drinks, my cell phone, a plate and my towel and walked toward the community center.
After a few hours in the hot police station wearing suffocating clothes, it felt good to feel the gentle breeze on my skin once more.
I met Janine and George, a retired couple living on the center that thought me to play bridge. One of the things I love since I moved at this naturist center compared to my high cost downtown apartment, is the sense of community. A lot of the residents like to help each other, and for a widowed lady, that's important.
I ate with Peter and Marge. Peter is a retired cop, and I wanted to get his thoughts on the case. He proposed to review the police report once I would get it, but his feelings confirmed my suspicions. They had enough witnesses to convict my client of robbery, but not enough yet to convince him of the assault and attempted murder.
"My guess is that they were waiting on the victim. They hope she will either testify she was pushed, either because she was or because her fear will make her believe she was, or that she dies and they can pin him for second degree murder. I wouldn't put too much faith on the security footage."
It seems I had the same instincts about the case they he does. My cell phone rang in the middle of the conversation. I was explained that the DA would reject all plea bargain deals until we know the fate of the victim. I asked if he was open to negotiate a plea bargain for the aggravated assault, since my client didn't have a lot of money for the defence and preferred to settle, but that it was no admission at this point of anything. I was told the DA didn't want to settle on anything less than attempted murder with possible escalation to second degree murder if the victim dies.
Peter and I both were in agreement. They wanted my client to be an example. The only problem I could see is, for 2000$, what can I do ?
When I sold my apartment downtown, I still owed half the mortgage on it, but the cash I made from the sale paid fully for the construction of my house at the naturist center. I didn't have a mortgage and my financial needs were rather small and usually filled by small time offenders, petty thefts and prostitutes. On one side, 2000$ was nothing for a trial that size, but it would possibly provide enough exposure for bigger clients. And his mother could possibly help him a little.
I am guessing we could admit a lot of differences and focus entirely on whether the victim was pushed or not by my client. What worried me the most is their insistence on pinning attempted murder on my client. I do realize they can escalate charges during a robbery, but this was unheard of.
I decided to excuse myself from the community center to take a walk around the center. The sun was slowing setting behind the trees, and I wanted to take a last opportunity to take a nude hike while it was still warm enough to do so.
Sadly, my thoughts didn't bring an epiphany, so I was shortly back home with too many unanswered questions.
When I was home, I decided I needed to speak further with my client. After all, he is the only one who can really make decisions. I can only make suggestions.
I dressed back home and drove back to the police station. Sergeant Packard was out of the office, but the lieutenant on duty let me meet with Marc.
He was happy to see me, and I realized that while I had eaten, he had not. I didn't know what or when he would be allowed to eat, so I gave him my meal bar I had previously tucked in my brief case.
"Marc, you have an important decision to make. The DA refuses to negotiate a plea bargain until the victim is out of the hospital. They claim she is so unstable they don't know yet how they will charge you. I spoke to one of my friends who is a retired detective about your case. We both feel it is possible they have no idea whether you pushed the victim or not. But perhaps they have a videotape of the crime from the bank."
"That's impossible. I did ran in front of the bank to escape, so they have me running with the bag. But I was too far away when I grabbed her bag. In fact, I snitched it a few feet from where she fell. The street was empty. My guess is that she tripped while trying to pursue me, not because I pushed her"
"If that's the case, you are only guilty of robbery. But proving it might prove too expensive for your financial capabilities. The only way to fight this at a reasonable budget, is to plead guilty to robbery, and right at the beginning, concede as many points as possible and only contest the fact that you pushed her. But it's going to be thought. They might call an expert witness on her injuries. If he testifies that she was pushed, you won't be able to afford a cross examination. In fact, if the trial lasts more than 2 days of testimonies, I might not be able to continue."
"I understand Miss Reynolds. I am sorry I am such a pain. I know I should get my life in order, but "
I interrupted him immediately.
"Marc, honestly, I don't personally care about your life in general. It's not my job to do that, unless you want to completely avoid prison and have a lot more money. My job is to help you get the fairest trial you can get. If you want more than that, there are lawyers specialized in that, but I don't think you can afford them. What you do get with me, is an honest and direct lawyer who will be there for you. "
"Thank you. I appreciate that. Tomorrow at the arraignment, I will get you the $2000 or so right away, to make sure you get it. I guess we'll see each other then. And thanks again for the bar."
"Don't mention it".
I left for my house after checking if there were any news from the victim.
As soon as I stripped, I ran toward the heated pool near the community center with my towel, and relaxed in it with a few of the other residents.
I didn't really start a conversation, but I played a little with Lily, one of the 5 year olds summer residents who loves to throw her beach ball in the pool. Her mother told me they had been playing together for the last 2 hours, so she welcomed a little break to relax by the side of the pool.
The next morning, I was awaken by my message service a few minutes before my alarm clock. They indicated that one of my regular clients, a prostitute, had been arrested during the night and would be arraigned at 10h30. She didn't need me until then, so I wasn't rushed between my two court appointments that morning.
I quickly ate breakfast, put on my court clothes and arranged to be at the court about an hour before Marc's arraignment. I took the opportunity to review his cases with me and phone the police station for an update on the victim. She was still in intensive care at this point.
Personally, I would have loved to go visit her to try and offer my support to her family, but I was one of the last persons they would want to see, since I was defending the person they undoubtedly thought responsible for her condition.
Detachment was the hardest part of my job. I still had the reflex to reach emotionally with the others around me, but until the final statements, it usually hurt my cases. You must not be surprised to hear then that final statements are one of my favourite parts of a trial.
About twenty minutes before the appointment, a man approached me, asking for my business card. Upon delivery of the card, I was given an envelop containing twenty bills of one hundred dollars. Attorneys hate receiving payments in cash, as if can only cause problems down the road, but sometimes, it's the only way to get paid. I just ensure to declare all payments, as a security, I photocopy every bill or check I receive.
Around 8h50, I entered the room, and saw that Marc was already sitting at the defence table. This was a little unusual, but not entirely irregular. I sat next to him.
"They asked me if I wanted to wait for you or go sit. I knew you'd be there, but I wanted to make sure you got my payment. Sorry if it's not what I was supposed to do."
"That's OK, the judge isn't there yet".
Less than 15 minutes later, I was back in the lobby. Marc pleaded guilty to robbery and not-guilty to aggravated assault and attempted murder. We didn't ask for parole and the trial was set in 14 months.
My life went on as usual for about 4 weeks until I got a call from detective Packard informing that the charges against my client were upgraded to Second Degree Murder due to the death of his victim, who never regained consciousness.
I felt devastated for my client who's primary defence was on the fact he did not push her. The reason is simple : You do not usually die from tripping on the street while following a thief, even if you are in your sixties.
The next morning, at the new arraignment, Marc was completely destroyed emotionally. The last month or so had been really though in jail, and now, he was on trial for life.
He pleaded not guilty, and I returned to the heated pool at the naturist center. Oddly enough, Lily was there again to help me pass the time, with both her parents today and her older brother.
Lily's mother, Sandra, asked me afterward if I was alright. She told me I sounded distracted. I explained the problem with my client, and that I couldn't understand how a woman could die from just tripping on the pavement.
Her husband, Stephen, suggested I speak with his brother, once I have the autopsy report. He is a coroner and might be willing to help me understand the report.
I thanked him, explaining that this is the first time I have such a big case. Later that day, around 6, Stephen stopped by my house with his brother's phone number. I invited them for supper to thank them, but it turns out they had already eaten.
About a week later, the autopsy report was delivered to my PO box. I tried to read it for over 4 hours until finally giving up and calling Stephen's brother, Miles, for help.
Dr Miles Langley suggested I sent him a copy for analysis. He informed me that normally, he charges 70$ per hour for autopsy report analysis, and 150$ per hour for testimony as an expert witness, but because I was a friend of his brother, he was willing to take a peak, and only charge me for the testimony if he felt he could help the case.
Doctor Langley called me back a few weeks later, telling me that the victim's injuries were really odd and while they clearly didn't match a fall on the pavement, they didn't match being pushed during a robbery either. She had multiple fractures, including several on the cranium, including a long crack more than 3 inches long.
Her bone injuries resembled more those of a severe trauma victim, such as a pedestrian hit by a fast moving car than those of a woman who fell, but the pictures taken at admission shows little bruises and skin damage.
One possible explanation for this situation would be acute Osteoporosis, but there is no mention of that in the autopsy report. Normally, the coroner should have seen how easy it was for the bones to break during the autopsy.
I called Sergeant Packard to meet about this new discovery. I explained in great details the findings of my future expert witness and how it could put a serious hole in their case. Sergeant Packard, furious, called the original coroner and simply asked :
"Doctor Langley, is it possible that Mrs Karen Bell had severe Osteoporosis and that as such, her injuries could indeed be caused by her sickness and not by being pushed ?"
After waiting on the line a few minutes, he yelled at the poor coroner about not doing his job properly, and asked me to go wait in the lobby while he spoke with the district attorney.
Thirty minutes later, all of the pending charges were dropped against Marc Finley, except for the robbery charges he had already plead guilty for.
A few days later, Marc was sentenced to 3 years in detention, with a minimum of 12 months before possible parole. The time in jail counts double in my state, so the 6 weeks he already served counted as 3 months.
The judge also compelled Marc to start therapy for his problems while in prison, and subsequent to his release.
Marc thanked me for my work, and insisted I had earned every single dollar out of my fee when I explained to him that he might actually get a partial refund.
I sent 350$ to doctor Langley for the 5 hours of analysis of the autopsy report and invited both his and his brothers' family to a restaurant to thank them for their help.
In the end, I still made over 1400$ in fees, and with the Langley's, new friends. But better still, I now had a name in the streets. Over the next year, several high profile cases came my way, increasing my prestige and my revenues.
Comment from : Anonymous
Sunday, 17-05-09 23:42
I really like how you have mixed her private and naturist life with her attorney life.