This story is by Louis Eugene and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I was furious that morning when I opened up the newspaper. Sickened actually and overwrought with sadness. “What’s wrong Lou?” my wife Esther asked loudly, after hearing me cursing out loud at the breakfast table we had shared for the past forty-five years now. “Another tragic murder of a ten year old girl here,” I bellowed. “Oh no, dear, not again?” “Yes, again, this time, more horrid than ever before!”
She asked me to share the details, but I refused to do so. Demonic and monstrous acts of negligence and inhumanity had just occurred in the city I grew up in and made my home and that of my family.
Nothing in the paper would prepare me for the travails that today’s headlines portended. I had paid my dues and now it was time to rest and recover. Forty-four years as a dedicated, criminal defense lawyer in a booming metropolis of 800,000 people should have been enough. I finished my ritualistic cup of black coffee and ignored the healthy food Esther had placed before me. “Got to go now, honey, too upset to eat, love you!”
It was mid-September, 2018, and my official retirement date was just three months hence. If truth be told, I was tired and out of gas. I had no more stomach for the details of a gruesome murder and more that I had just been made party to.
I arrived at my downtown office early, the staff was not in yet. The phone rang early, but I ignored its plea, not fit for human conversation after man’s inhumanity to man I had just been subjected to.
I closed my office door and put my head on my desk. I had no more stomach for the violence which I had just been made party to. My emotions were reeling with compassion and despair, all mixed into the blender of my morning’s breakfast news.
Before long the office staff arrived and the phone rang again. Arlene, my trusted office manager and confidante for more than twenty years came in to put a note on my desk and as I picked up my head, she handed it to me, startled at my presence.
“What’s this? I growled at her, which was not my style. She shrunk back and quietly said “Chief Judge Brown wants to see you in his chambers this morning at 9:00 a.m.” He said it had to do with the murder of that fifth grade girl last night.” “Oh my god…not that, anything but that.”
All of the criminal court judges knew I was a short-timer. None of them bore me any ill will. Please, lord, make them leave me alone so I can ride off into the sunset.
Judge Brown was curt and as distempered as I, as he hastily advised the three criminal defense lawyers seated in front of him as to what fate lay ahead for each of us. I drew the short straw…he appointed me to represent the mother of the deceased girl. A female lawyer was picked to represent the boyfriend of the mom and another male lawyer to represent the cousin of the boyfriend who was caring for the child when the murder occurred. All three were habitual criminals and drug addicts and ne’er do gooders. I started to protest my appointment, but saw that the Judge was in no better mood than I and zipped my lips. I wanted to feign illness and race out of his courtroom, but fate kept me there.
The initial police report had the crime going down like this: mom and BF and his female cousin got stoned out of their gourds on meth/heroin cocktails and a crime spree erupted. Sometime the evening before, one or more of them stabbed the girl to death, and then dismembered the child in the bathtub of the apartment and then burned her remains. There was no apparent motive for the killing and that and the heinous acts was what had sickened me this morn.
Months of pre-trial discovery followed and it disclosed that mom and BF had cavorted off to party leaving caretaker cousin with the girl. The girl had gone to sleep as usual. That meant they had not participated in the murder and that someone else was responsible.
The caretaker reported hearing a knock on the door and through the peephole espied a well dressed male she had never seen before. She opened the door and he rushed into the apartment. He asked to see where the girl was and she showed him the sleeping child. He then pronounced that he had a beef with the BF and he had come to extract his vengeance. “He stole a batch of meth from me and never paid me. I know he cares for that girl and her mom, so I am going to make him pay.”
With that, the intruder entered the bedroom and swiftly stabbed the innocent child to death. Caretaker wept and cowered in the corner of the living room, thinking she was next. Drug dealer’s paranoia over his depraved act soon overwhelmed him. He grabbed the caretaker and screamed into her bewildered face “When BF comes home you and he had better completely get rid of the evidence, or else I will return and you will suffer the same fate as the girl did.”
This new evidence meant that none of our three clients were facing the maximum sentence for the girl’s murder permitted in our state. We were one of only four states which had abolished the death penalty. When that occurred, the maximum sentence was then imprisonment for life, without any possibility of parole or pardon. If and when the drug dealer murderer would face that sentence, if he were ever found, returned to our state for trial for murder, convicted, and sentenced to that maximum.
I prepared to represent the mother and to negotiate a plea bargain for her with the District Attorney. Charges against her included child neglect, child abuse, parental negligence resulting in death, each of which carried additional sentences for aggravated circumstances, which were certainly present here.
The District Attorney I met with was furious with my client. He told me in confidence that this person appeared to have no redeeming human qualities and that in most other jurisdictions in the USA she would receive the worst possible sentence. I pretended to plea and bargain for mercy and leniency for the mother. At the same time, defense counsel for the caretaker and for the BF were simultaneously trying to negotiate mitigated sentences for their clients.
Then the most incredible thing I have ever witnessed occurred. Caretaker turned states’ evidence in return for a proposed plea bargain that would have gotten her off with a few years in prison, for letting the murderer into the apartment. She and her counsel and the District Attorney went before the Judge just last week. In support of her proposed lenient sentence, she submitted an 18 page sworn affidavit as to what had occurred that night, when mom and BF came home. In her Affidavit, she swore that when my client, the mother was advised that her child had been murdered, she turned around without comment and went into her bedroom and fell asleep and slept all night.
Meanwhile, it was BF and cousin who in order to dispose of the body, dismembered it in the bathroom, poured charcoal lighter fluid all over the limbs, and set them on fire. It was the fire that then caused the police to be present, when the firemen responding to neighbors’ report of smoke in the apartment complex, discovered the grisly scene. As if this were not enough, caretaker also swore that mom and BF had prostituted the young girl and offered her to their drug suppliers, in return for regular sexual encounters.
This was the final straw for me. Although the DA was no ally of mine, and my normal foe in the courtroom, in this one instance, we forged a bond and strove to secretly cause this grossly negligent and abominable excuse for a parent to get what was coming to her. Using the caretaker affidavit as proof of mom’s gross negligence and disregard for her daughter’s life, safety and well-being, we carefully crafted an admission and I got mom to sign it. It stated that as a result of flagrant inattention to her daughter and mom’s narcissistic, drug-filled lifestyle, that she had placed her daughter in harm’s way and enabled the murderer to carry out his revenge upon mom’s BF, to the severe detriment and ultimate violent death of her only child. She did not admit to the trafficking of her child, but did not deny it.
Judge Brown accepted mom’s plea without hearing from mom. No one protested her maximum sentence: life in prison without parole or pardon.
“How was your day today Lou?” “Esther, for once I think I did good.”