Heads up: This post is not about body positivity. Sometimes I do things for school. This is one of those things.
I attended my first court case last week.
First, I illegally parked in front of a fire hydrant. Then, I set off the metal detector because of the studs on my boots. After I checked the time and realizing I only had 5 minutes to get to room 316, I shuffled into elevator and across hallway, stopping anyone I could to direct me through the massive wooden doors.
When I made it to the courtroom, I sat breathlessly in the corner, facing the massive throne of the judges seat, and witness boxes (or would it be a testimony box? I’m sort’a lost on the lingo). In the middle, a dark haired girl dressed in black with a white tie around her neck clicked away at a computer, occasionally turning her attention to the two lawyers in the room.
Both lawyers laughed and joked as they chatted. The two women were dressed in tailored suits, their hair brushed (unlike mine), their voices varied. While the one spoke in sharp, clean sentences, her voice crisp and commanding, the other was much more timid and sweet, her voice breaking for small smiles and quiet comments.
When the accused was brought in, he was silent. He stared at the floor. His gray hair was greasy and pushed back, his thin frame wilted. His glasses clung together with bits of browned scotch-tape. He wanted to cross his legs, but the shackles stopped him repeatedly.
His family sat near him. His mother, his niece, his brother, his son. He missed his daughter’s wedding when he was arrested, his lawyer told the court. His only daughter’s wedding. The weekend of October 9th. Just a few weeks after he was arrested for allegedly harassing, stalking, and tormenting his female victim.
He allegedly left her hundreds of voice mails. He allegedly chased her down her condominium hallway. He allegedly described the contents of her fridge, the dust on her paintings, the new clothes she bought. He allegedly slipped his notes under the door; hundreds, detailing his feelings. Some sympathetic and caring, others aggressive and disturbing.
The lawyer reads a letter out to the court. In it, the accused jokes about how he’s outside her door, and how her nose-blowing will wake up the other tenants in her condo. He lets out a stifled chuckle, folding his hands across his lap.
They say because he’s 57, they say because he’s never had any criminal history before, that he is not likely to reoffend. He would go to counseling once a week, they say. He would be monitored, too. There would be no more contact and a radius where he could not venture.
If he stays in prison, he only gets 7 months. In fact, since he’s served a few already, he’d only get around 3. All that time for making a woman feel so uncomfortable, that she fell behind in her professional career. All that time for making a woman constantly question her sanity, and safety. All that time for traumatizing a woman so much, that she had to get rid of her high-heels so she could run away faster.
The sixth chapter of Homicide starts in a court room, something I found to be pleasantly coincidental. By no means am I comparing an attempted murder case of a police officer to an aggravated stalking case, but reading about the parallels validated my thoughts and feelings that I had as I sat in on court.
Simon described court like a play- everyone has their starting positions, roles, and cues. The pregnant wife walks her blind, police husband into the courtroom, “where all is suddenly silence.
The jury, the judge, the lawyers, the entire assembly sits transfixed as Police Agent Gene Cassidy stretches his right hand, touches a wooden beam, then guides himself into the witness stand. [His wife] touches his shoulder, whispers, then retreats to a seat behind the prosecution table.
The clerk rises.” (292)
A lone juror cries softly in the back tier. The accused stares at the victim. The witnesses talk. The witnesses cry. The witnesses swear or affirm that they will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
By the end of the trial, the police are certain that they have nailed their man. They’ve provided compelling evidence, shown how dangerous the accused is, and have had witness after witness confirm his actions that led to the blinding of Gene Cassidy. But still there is doubt, and that doubt is crippling.
“There wasn’t enough, he tells himself. I’m losing this jury because I didn’t give them enough. An eyewitness. Corroboration. A jail-house confession. Somehow, it wasn’t enough.” (301)
Simon does an excellent job of building the tension in the chapter. He speaks confidently about the facts of the case and the possibility for justice, but then as tensions raise while the jury deliberates, the police’s hard work becomes essentially useless.
It’s scary to note that no matter how much compelling evidence is built against someone, sometimes it comes down to 12 people making a decision in a room. Or even one person making a decision.
It’s also scary that someone can stalk, harass, and target a woman for months on end, spending days and days obsessing over her every little move, only to receive up to 7 months in prison.
As I have witnessed it, court is a legal stage that allows a careful dance of justice and bargaining to be performed at centre mast. It’s delicate and dainty, with ribbons of legal jargon and plea bargains wrapping in colourful twists, the judge extending a more commanding performance, the lawyers on pointe for an encore.
But as we see in chapter six of Homicide, although the evidence may be damning, and the feeling in the air confident, at the end of the day,
it all comes down to single decision.