Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Bacon's Blood (56)

The magic number for Elvin Bacon had arrived. It was two hours after the jury began deliberating. Blow and Barbara Bassett read a glimmer of hope in each other's eyes at the time-honored milepost when the odds of a favorable verdict tilted toward the defendant. Blow was facing away from Bacon and his brother, who had joined them at the defense table when the jury went out. Bacon had been distant most of the morning, seeming to regard Blow as invisible. Blow was curious to know what his client might be thinking at the moment but he hadn't quite worked up to the exertion of twisting enough to see, when Leonard blurted, “Two hours. They're going for acquittal.”
Blow winced at Leonard's overreaction. It was one thing to exchange subtle looks, but attorneys religiously avoided tempting fate vocalizing what was common knowledge. They would never admit to superstition, or course. Even in the terrible suspense of the moment Blow would have denied any such intention tapping a peremptory finger against the wooden defense table at Leonard's imprudent remark, although he immediately ceased when he caught himself at it. He twisted around in the chair to find Leonard staring at Elvin.
Elvin's expression remained uninvolved. Something internal was distracting the bituminous eyes, dulling their usual raptorial vigilance. He looked at Blow, but with no sign of recognition. Leonard, his own expression unable to conceal worry, shot a glance at Blow and turned back to his brother.

Blow knew his client had begun to go south on the witness stand during direct examination. He'd orchestrated part of Bacon's change in demeanor, taking what he considered a necessary risk to head off the greater danger Bacon himself knew he would face under cross. Bacon's decision to testify, against his attorney's advice, was brave bordering on foolhardy. Both men knew this. Bacon won the argument because ultimately it was his call. He felt confident enough in his skill as a trial lawyer to handle whatever Gobble might throw at him after Blow led him gently through the steps leading to “Priscilla Kochburn”'s disappearance. They'd agreed to use the name she had given, both to Bacon and to the museum when she'd signed in to research Bacon's ancestor.
Blow had no doubt Bacon could hold up under Gobble's cross-examination. This was precisely why he decided to gamble under direct, and to do so without his client's knowledge. He wanted more than merely to remind the jury the circumstantial case Gobble brought against Bacon didn't prove malice or any other motive. Gobble could still argue for involuntary manslaughter, a subtle distinction the jurors might buy, especially if they did not like Elvin Bacon. Showing up Gobble on the witness stand ultimately could hurt Bacon if he came off looking like the smartass big city lawyer he in fact was. Blow's plan was to knock the chip off Bacon's shoulder himself, which not only would deprive Gobble of that pleasure but, by catching Bacon off guard, would make his crash more convincing. The only risk Blow was not comfortable taking was the one requiring him to ask a question to which he did not already know the answer.
Do you know how to swim, Elvin?” Blow knew his counterpart would be more formal, calling the defendant “Mr. Bacon,” and he wanted to establish the more familiar contrast. Bacon had been cooperating suitwise throughout the trial, wearing subdued materials, softer appearing than the flashy sharkskins he favored when trying his own high-profile cases. The more modest suits were still expensively cut, highlighting his athletic build while deflecting attention from the softened midriff. The suit was little help in hiding Bacon's cringing reaction to Blow's question. His shoulders jerked as he shifted in the witness chair and leaned forward slightly. His forehead crinkled for an instant, then his face froze, becoming the mask he would wear the rest of the morning.
What caught Blow short was that Bacon seemed to be looking past him, as if seeking help from somewhere in the packed courtroom. There was the quick flash of black lasers under the crinkled forehead immediately following the question, an expression Blow expected but had hoped would relax into understanding. Bacon dutifully answered the subsequent questions and displayed the requisite emotions to the jury, but he never again favored Blow with a direct eye-to-eye connection.
My face was bleeding. Blood was in my eyes. I was blinded.”
I understand, Elvin. But I only asked you if you could swim.”
I...yes.” The suit seemed to deflate as Bacon shrunk inside it. He turned his head to the jury, then back to look out over the courtroom, then down at his hands folded on the front of the witness box. Blow waited. He knew that if this had happened during cross, Gobble would pounce. He'd move in for the kill, trying to badger Bacon into humiliation, something Bacon would never tolerate. He would become belligerent in his defense, perhaps even risking a contempt citation. He'd forget the jury, and the jury would forget him. But Blow just waited, motionless, his face composed, his voice, when he next spoke, gentle, sad.
We know the water was near freezing and that you were temporarily blinded by the blood, but didn't it occur to you anyway, Elvin, to--”
Bacon interrupted. “No, Mr. Stone, no. I...I was confused. I...I wasn't thinking clearly. I heard the splash. I was hoping by the time I could see, that I could get the blood out of my eyes, I was hoping she would be swimming back to the boat. I didn't hear her cry out. I heard the splash. That's all. And when I could see again she was...she was gone.” His voice had grown smaller with his diminished physical presence. He stared at his hands while he spoke. Blow could see that his eyes were puffed and red when he finally looked up. He knew the gamble had worked when he saw Bacon's sorrow reflected on several jurors' faces after he turned the witness over to Gobble. It didn't hurt that Gobble gave him a hard stare before picking up the reins. The prosecutor had sense enough to steer clear of the swimming issue and to finish with Bacon after only a few questions, which came off as irrelevant when they failed to goad the humbled defendant to anger.
Blow rested his case after Bacon stepped down and returned to the defense table. The final arguments seemed anticlimactic. Gobble did the obligatory fist pounding to assert the right of safety from criminal violence against innocent citizens. Blow pointed out the absence of evidence any crime had been committed. In his best Atticus Finch slow, dignified rise to passion he ended with an appeal for compassion.
Elvin Bacon made a mistake, ladies and gentlemen. He does not deny that he fell to temptation. An attractive woman with a compelling story persuaded him that his ancestor might very possibly be lying in a lead coffin at the bottom of a river here in Leicester County. They went out in his boat. Miss Kochburn—if that truly is her name (he deliberately used present tense)--had even suggested that according to legend handed down by her own ancestors a Pamunkey slave had given Elvin Bacon's ancestor some kind of potion that left him apparently dead. Miss Kochburn implied that Nathaniel Bacon had in fact been alive when his coffin was lowered into the water.
Miss Kochburn also implied that she had what she referred to as a psychic sensibility, and that she might be able to use this unusual power to identify the precise location of the lead coffin. This all, of course, is according to Elvin Bacon's testimony, as Miss Kochburn is not here to give us her own testimony. In fact the Commonwealth has admitted there might not even be a Priscilla Kochburn, that the name was a complete fabrication. You've seen the affidavit and heard testimony by the defendant's brother, Attorney Leonard Bacon, that a disgruntled former client of their law firm, a man serving a thirty-year prison sentence for fraud and manufacturing methamphetamine—a very deadly addictive drug--wanted to discredit the firm by framing one of its lawyers for murder. No one has been able to prove this is what happened or that in fact such a conspiracy existed as described in Lucas King's sworn statement. But the mystery of Priscilla Kochburn has not been solved. Neither the Commonwealth nor the defense has found any scintilla of evidence as to who she is.
All we really have here is Elvin Bacon. A man accused of committing a terrible crime, but it's a crime that no one in this courtroom has proven beyond any doubt—reasonable or otherwise—not one tiny sliver of proof at all--was ever committed. Elvin Bacon may be a victim of bad luck or even bad judgment. He might be a victim of a sinister conspiracy or a tragic accident. But whatever did happen out there on the river over a year ago, whatever it was or might have been—and we will probably never know for certain--Elvin Bacon was the victim. Whether intended or accidental, Elvin Bacon is the victim. And it is your duty, ladies and gentlemen, it is your duty as fair-minded jurors of this Commonwealth, it is your duty to follow the law and your hearts and to do the right thing today. You must go into that jury room and you must find Elvin Bacon not guilty. He's an innocent man, ladies and gentlemen. He is not guilty.” Blow, his voice and face the very embodiment of gravitus, moved his eyes gently across the jury box, making definite contact with each of the twelve members seated there. When he was through, he nodded politely and murmured, “Thank you,” and walked slowly back to his seat.
Elvin Bacon also nodded politely, when Blow reached the table. Bacon also murmured, “Thank you,” but it sounded rote. His eyes still failed to convey any familiarity or emotion. They swept past Blow's face to the sea of spectators behind him. Blow stared at his client a moment, looking for something that might indicate the gratitude he knew he deserved. Finding none, he sighed away some of the tension and leaned back against his chair.
The courtroom itself began to relax as the jurors filed back to their room to begin deliberating. A ceremonial stretch as all stood while this took place progressed to animation after the door closed behind them and Judge Pendleton, with a tap of his gavel and some ritual words released the formal thread of attention. The judge then fussed with some papers, ignoring the voices and sounds of shuffling feet as spectators began enjoying their intermission. He encouraged this further by removing himself to chambers, leaving only his bailiff in charge. This is when Leonard Bacon, who had remained in the courtroom after testifying, joined his brother at the defense table.
A sharp rap on the jury room door shortly after the two-hour mark brought the bailiff hurrying there from his chat with the court clerk, who had remained at her desk opposite the witness stand at the bench. Blow watched closely as the bailiff tapped the door. It opened. A brief discussion. The bailiff returned to the bench carrying a piece of paper. Blow heard a heavy sigh nearby behind him. The bailiff handed the note to the clerk, who carried it back to the judge's chambers. The judge emerged and took his seat. He rapped the courtroom to order, and waited until all were seated. Blow willed a pressure he'd only just noticed building in his bowels to be patient. Judge Pendleton looked first at the prosecution table, then at Blow, face revealing nothing. Then he shifted his gaze outward and smiled.
There's no verdict yet. The jury is hungry. We will take an hour break for lunch. Court is in recess.”
Leonard Bacon, speaking for himself and his brother, politely declined Blow's invitation to join him and his secretary at Marie's Diner. As Blow and Barbara Bassett made their way down the aisle toward the exit, Blow turned back once and saw the Bacon brothers, still at the defense table, staring fixedly across to the rear of the courtroom. He followed their eyes and found someone in a wheelchair staring back at them, a woman in a wheelchair.
[click here for Chapter 1:]

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