Curt's life takes a turn that he never expected, and he realizes that it's because he forgot something that didn't seem important at the time. He also discovers that others have forgotten things that are important and that turns out to both help him and hurt him.
Mature or distressing themes. This story deals with abuse.
Chapter 39 — Closing Arguments
I followed Mr. Williams into the courtroom and took a seat in the back on the right side. That way I couldn’t hear any conversation between Beth Wolman and Mr. Williams at the Prosecution table. I looked around to see if I could see Lee Ramsen. He wasn’t in the courtroom. In fact, I was the only one in the gallery. No one sat at the Defense table. I guessed they were still at lunch, especially since Judge Young announced that he wanted to see Lawrence Wilde as soon as he announced the lunch recess.
I wondered if Lawrence Wilde knew about the deal for Lee Ramsen to lie about seeing Tom and me having sex. Maybe not. If he had, he almost had to know about at least some the evidence I gave Beth Wolman and Judge Young. When he looked at the printouts he didn’t seem to understand them.
I thought about Lee Ramsen, and what should happen to him. I realized that I felt sorry for him. It seemed like he’d been coerced into lying on the witness stand. He’s only sixteen years old, and he and his stepfather needed the money they were offered. On the other hand, if it got out at school that he said Tom and I were having sex in the boys’ bathroom it would become a hot topic for the gossip mill even if we had proof that it couldn’t have happened. I didn’t have anything else against Lee. I didn’t know him, and don’t remember ever seeing him at school. I realized that it would be tough to hate him enough that he should go to jail. Why did things have to be so complicated?
I watched Beth Wolman and Mr. Williams talking together, quietly. All I could hear were murmurs that I didn’t think I’d understand even if I sat in the first row behind them.
I checked my watch. They’d been talking for almost fifteen minutes. I chuckled because as if I’d wished it by looking at my watch, they stood up, said a few words I couldn’t hear from where I sat, and Mr. Williams looked around and saw me. He waved his hand in a motion that said he wanted me to come to the Prosecution table. When I got there he pointed to the chair between him and Beth Wolman.
“Sit here, Curt. We want to talk to you before the lunch recess is over,” he said.
“Curt,” Beth said, “because you’re the victim in this trial, I’m going to tell you what we’re going to do about Lee Ramsen. We’re concerned that he might be at risk of being abused. As a result, we’re going to place Lee in protective custody. We’ve decided not to prosecute him for perjury. I want to know what you think about that.”
“I’ve thought about it, and while I’m pissed at Lee for lying and claiming that he saw Tom and me having sex in that boys’ bathroom, I can understand how he could be coerced into lying. He’s not much older than me. I can’t really hate him. What I’m saying probably sounds all mixed up. So to make myself clear, I agree that he shouldn’t have to have his life totally messed up by being prosecuted for perjury.”
“Thank you, Curt,” she said, “I don’t think that what you said is all mixed up. I think you said what you’ve been thinking about Lee Ramsen, and you’ve come to the same conclusion as what I and my staff decided.”
“You said you were going to put him in protective custody. Does that mean in a jail? Or like I’ve seen on TV, a safe house?”
Beth grinned. “Neither. He’ll go into the foster care system and be moved to a group home. These group homes are nice, Curt. They are almost like living in a hotel. Lee will be in a two-person room with his own bed, a desk, access to a computer, and have his meals with the others in the group home in a dining room.”
“Sounds nice. Will it be in this area so he can still go to Los Arcos High? He’s going to be a senior, and staying with kids he knows can be real important. I sure wouldn’t want to be switched to a different high school when I’ll be a senior.”
“It depends on how much security he needs. School starts in about a month, right?”
“Yeah, August twenty-third.”
“Let’s see.” Beth looked at her smartphone. “That’s a Thursday. Does school really start on a Thursday?”
“Yeah. I guess they base the starting date on the number of school days they need to meet the state requirement.”
“I think that we’ll need to consider the threat level a month from now. And what kind of security we need to have for Lee at your high school, if any. We also need the agreement of the school administration.”
“Okay. That makes sense. But… what kind of threat are you talking about? Will someone try to kill Lee? Or just beat him up?”
Beth shook her head. “We don’t think anyone will try to kill Lee. We think Lee needs to be protected from his stepfather.”
“Why is Lee’s stepfather a threat?”
“Because we don’t know where he is. He disappeared.”
“Whoa! Now I understand. So, let’s say you find Lee’s stepfather. Then where does Lee go?”
“That’s something that will have to be decided when we find Lee’s stepfather. That’s about all I have to tell you about protecting Lee.”
“Okay. I guess I only have two other questions. Where is Lee’s mother? And where is Lee now?”
“Lee’s mother passed away about two years ago. I can’t tell you where Lee is now, Curt. I’ll just say that he’s in a protected location and he should be fine.”
“I’ll bet he’s relieved that he’s not going to be prosecuted.”
“Yes, he is very relieved. And very sorry for what he did to you and Tom Williams. He’s going to write each of you a letter apologizing for what he did.”
“That’s cool. He’s probably a better person than I thought.”
Beth smiled. “Any other questions, Curt?”
I laughed. “No. And really no this time.”
“Alright, I have to get ready for my closing arguments to the Judicial Panel. So shoo!” She turned to Mr. Williams. “Both of you!” She smiled.
“Come on, Curt. I know when we’ve been dismissed,” Mr. Williams said.
“I’m thirsty. Do you want to walk over to the coffee place across the street and get something to drink?” I asked.
“Yes. Let’s do it. Maybe we can find Tom and the others and they can come with us.”
We found Tom sitting outside the courtroom reading, but we didn’t find Kyle, Mark, or Mrs. Hutchins.
“Maybe they went home,” Tom suggested.
Mr. Williams agreed, “That’s a possibility. They don’t need to be here unless they want to hear the closing arguments. But I’d think that Mrs. Hutchins would have let me know.”
“Maybe they’re doing what we’re about to do,” I said. Tom and Mr. Williams nodded their agreement as we crossed the street.
I got a jumbo chocolate mint latte with two extra shots of espresso. I wanted to make sure I’d stay awake during the closing arguments. Tom got a cappuccino with whipped cream. Mr. Williams got a small coffee. We brought our drinks back to the courthouse and stood out front. The weather had cooled down but the sun was still warm, and it felt great to stand outside and enjoy the day after having been in the courtroom so much.
“Look, here come Kyle, Mark, and Mrs. Hutchins,” Tom said, pointing. We waited until they joined us.
“Did anything exciting happen in court today?” Mrs. Hutchins asked.
“Yeah, did that Lee Ramsen get nailed to the wall?” Mark asked.
“Yes, Mrs. Hutchins, and partly yes partly no, Mark,” Mr. Williams replied. “It’s a long story, and what I’d like to do is tell you about what happened today, but let’s go in now to hear the closing arguments by the Defense and the Prosecution.”
Everyone agreed, and we went in and picked seats. There were more people in the gallery, probably because the witnesses were released and could come in and listen to the summations. I saw my mom sitting near the center aisle about half-way back. I stopped to say hello.
“Hi, Curt. I guess this trial is near the end. I’m glad for that, and I expect you’re glad too.”
“Yeah, I sure am. I hope the closing arguments are interesting. If they aren’t I’ll probably fall asleep.” I yawned.
“Me too. At least you’ve been in here where things are happening. I’ve been stuck in a witness room for almost all of the trial.”
“I never thought of that,” I said. “That doesn’t sound like fun. What did you do, read?”
“Yes. Three novels. One boring, two interesting.”
“I’m almost jealous. But only almost,” I joked, and Mom grinned. “I’m going to go sit down. The Bailiff just stood up and I think that means the Judge will be coming in to start the closing arguments. I’ll talk to you later.”
“I love you, Curt,” Mom said.
“Love you, Mom,” I replied. I realized that was the first time I’d told her that I love her since we got into our argument about whether Don had lied and I moved out.
I walked to the first row where Mr. Williams had saved me a seat between him and Kyle, Mark, and Mrs. Hutchins who were on the aisle. Tom sat on the other side of Mr. Williams. I was surprised that Beth Wolman and Lawrence Wilde weren’t at their tables. I asked him where they were.
“I don’t know. Perhaps Judge Young wanted to set some conditions so the closing arguments are kept under control and don’t go off the deep end.”
I was curious. “Off the deep end? How would a closing argument go off the deep end?”
“By making inflammatory statements, making unfounded accusations, raising issues that weren’t brought up during the trial, that sort of thing. Judges don’t look kindly on such posturing. The best way to prevent it from happening where the judge thinks there is such a possibility is to talk to the Prosecutor and Defense Attorney and make sure they understand what will be acceptable and what will not be acceptable during the closing arguments.”
We sat for another ten minutes or so during which nothing happened. The Prosecution and Defense attorneys were still in the Judge’s Chambers.
“Maybe they’re having coffee to kill some time,” I suggested.
“The Judge wouldn’t allow any delay. Something else is going on,” Mr. Williams said.
Tom leaned over. “Like what?”
“Maybe the Defense has proposed a settlement,” I suggested.
Mr. Williams looked at me. “What you’re referring to is a plea bargain, Curt. That’s a definite possibility. Though I don’t know why the Prosecution would be willing to consider a plea bargain this late in the trial. Especially since it’s time for the closing arguments to the Judicial Panel.”
“Do you think that if the trial ended up with the Judicial Panel that they’d vote to convict Don?” Tom asked.
“I never try to second guess a jury, even one that consists of a Judicial Panel. But… I’d guess that based on the evidence the chances of a decision in favor of the Prosecution are good.”
Kyle leaned across me and he asked, “What are the chances that the Prosecution or Defense would be offering a plea bargain?”
Mr. Williams replied, “I can’t see any reason that the Prosecution would be offering a plea bargain. After the testimony in this trial I think the Defense would definitely benefit if they could reach a plea bargain. I think the Defense would have to request a plea bargain and have something the Prosecution would be willing to accept, though I wonder if Don would be willing to go along with anything the Prosecution would find acceptable.”
“Don would have to agree to a plea bargain?” I asked.
“Yes. The accused has to agree to a plea bargain and so does the judge.”
“So Judge Young would have to agree to a plea bargain in Don’s trial?” I asked.
“Yes, if the plea bargain is offered and agreed to during a criminal trial the judge has to agree to the terms. If a plea bargain is offered and accepted prior to a trial there’s no judge that would be involved.
“How about me? I’m the victim, shouldn’t I have to agree to a plea bargain?”
“I’m sorry, Curt, it doesn’t work that way in a criminal trial. It’s the Prosecution, the defendant, and the judge that have to agree to a plea bargain in a criminal trial.”
“That doesn’t seem fair to me,” I said.
“I agree with Curt,” Kyle said. Mark had also been listening to our conversation, because he added, “I also agree with Curt. It’s like the victim is left out of this plea bargain thing and the defendant could go free and the victim can’t even complain.”
“Sorry, guys, that isn’t how it works,” Mr. Williams told us. “The victim is represented by the Prosecution. The defendant is represented by a Defense attorney but it’s the defendant who will be going to prison or have to pay a fine, so if the Defense attorney discusses a plea bargain, the defendant has the right to accept or reject that plea bargain. Then the judge reviews the terms of the plea bargain and has the right to return it to the Prosecution and the Defense to remove his objections. If a plea bargain is rejected by the defendant, the case will go to trial, or the trial will continue, and the defendant will have his or her day in court and a jury will make a decision. Do you understand why it’s that way, Curt?”
“I guess,” I said. “It still seems like the victim is being ignored. What happened to all the victim’s rights thing that was on the news recently?”
“Curt, victims can sue the defendants if they feel they didn’t get a just sentence. Because of double jeopardy a defendant can’t be retried at the request of the Prosecution, or the victim. However, in a criminal case the defendant can appeal a sentence and request a new trial, or a higher court can overturn a sentence or a conviction though that is very rare and would be connected to malfeasance on the part of the Prosecution or the Defense Attorney.”
Another ten minutes and still nothing from the Judge’s Chambers. I leaned back and closed my eyes. I was tired, and with nothing happening I figured a nap would be nice.
I guess I fell asleep because the next thing I knew Mr. Williams was shaking my shoulder, and as I woke I heard Kyle laughing at me.
“Huh?” I asked. Not very brilliant, but hey, I just woke up.
“Beth Wolman and Lawrence Wilde are here. I think the Judge is going to come to the bench,” Mr. Williams told me.
I looked at my watch. Five minutes to three. I couldn’t believe it. Man, they took forever to come to a decision. If they actually made a decision.
The Bailiff announced, “All Rise.” The Judge walked from his chambers and sat at the Bench.
“Mr. Wilde, is the Defense ready to make its closing arguments?”
Lawrence Wilde stood. “Yes, your honor.” He walked to the Judicial Panel’s table and faced them.
“When he was a boy, Mr. Donovan Clarey was sexually abused by his Sunday School teacher. That scarred him and conditioned him to renounce homosexuality and homosexuals. He discovered that Kyle, his adopted son, was homosexual. Despite his wife’s objections, he took Kyle to a camp where he could be counseled and renounce his homosexuality. However, Kyle became ill and when the camp took him to the hospital he claimed he had been kidnapped. Mr. Clarey’s wife divorced her husband because, apparently, she didn’t have any problem accepting the homosexual lifestyle that Kyle had adopted.
“Mr. Clarey regrets that Curtis Fischer was injured. However, he is not responsible for those injuries. He had been told that Curtis Fischer and Thomas Williams were having a homosexual relationship. Mr. Otto Vanvelick, his neighbor who lived across the street from the Clarey residence, observed this relationship with the boys hugging and kissing.
“Mr. Clarey was in a daze. When he attempted to talk to Curtis about what he had been told, Curtis became argumentative and it escalated to a minor scuffle. Unfortunately Mr. Clarey had to defend himself, causing minor injuries to Curtis. Curtis ran from Mr. Clarey, tripped and fell, breaking his arm. He heard pounding at the front door and when he answered he saw two policemen who attacked him and knocked him to the floor.
“Mr. Clarey has suffered as a result of what happened. He was arrested and charged with child abuse, the case you are considering in this trial. He lost his job. His wife filed for divorce. He has now found new employment in Los Angeles, and will move there as soon as is able.”
So Lawrence Wilde decided to go with the ‘gay panic’ defense, implying that he acted because he had been sexually abused as a kid. Interesting, but after what Mr. Williams told me about the members of the Judicial Panel it seemed like an approach that wouldn’t work. But then, Don always seemed to pick attorneys that didn’t know what they were doing.
Lawrence Wilde continued talking about a lot of other stuff that my grandma used to call blather. I almost fell asleep listening to him talk. That might have been his objective: put the members of the Judicial Panel to sleep. Finally, he finished.
“So, I plead that you render a verdict of not guilty. It is the correct and rational verdict for Mr. Clarey in this unfortunate and unnecessary trial.”
Lawrence Wilde walked back to the Defense table and sat down.
“Ms. Wolman, is the Prosecution ready to make its closing arguments?” Judge Yong asked.
Beth Wolman stood and replied, “Yes, your honor.” She walked to the jury box and faced the Judicial Panel.
“Mr. Donovan Clarey attacked his fifteen year old stepson Curtis Fischer because he had been told by Mr. Otto Vanvelick that Curtis was gay. It was demonstrated on cross-examination that Mr. Valvelick’s testimony consisted of aspersions about Curtis Fischer and Thomas Williams that are untrue. However, it makes no difference if Curtis Fisher was not or was gay. The facts of this matter are that Mr. Donovan Clarey attacked and gravely injured his fifteen year old stepson Curtis Fischer, a boy who weighs seventy pounds less than Mr. Clarey and had no way of defending himself against his stepfather. This is, members of the Judicial Panel, unwarranted child abuse.
“Kyle Campbell then told us how he told Mr. Clarey, his adoptive father, that he was gay. As soon as he learned that Kyle was gay Mr. Clarey began abusing him both physically and emotionally. Then, despite his wife’s objections, Mr. Clarey gagged and tied Kyle and kidnapped him from his home in Illinois and took him to an Ex-Gay camp in Wisconsin. At that so-called Christian facility he was abused and left naked and alone in what can only be described as a cell. When his condition was so dire that he had to be taken to a hospital emergency room he was able to escape when he called out to a policeman that he’d been kidnapped. When he was reunited with his mother and returned home he began to have panic attacks, serious enough that he had to undergo professional counseling for approximately one year. All of this was caused by Mr. Clarey. This demonstrates Mr. Clarey’s propensity to violence and child abuse.
“We have proved that the injuries suffered by Curtis were caused by Mr. Clarey and not self-inflicted as the result of what the Defense called a minor scuffle. The testimony of Officer John Brady showed that Mr. Clarey was out of control because he attacked the two police officers who came to the Clarey house to investigate reports of screams of pain and fright coming from what sounded like a teenage boy. When Officer Brady entered the house he found Curtis lying on the floor crying, holding his broken arm. Officer Brady asked Curtis if Mr. Clarey had attacked him and caused his injuries and Curtis replied ‘yes’ then lost consciousness as a result of the severe pain caused by his injuries. This is a further demonstration of Mr. Clarey’s propensity to violence and child abuse.
“You heard Curtis testify that just before Mr. Clarey grabbed Curtis’ broken arm and tried to pull him up from the floor, he yelled at him to, and I quote from the testimony, ‘Get the fuck off the floor you little nigger loving faggot.’ This corroborates Office Brady’s testimony about Mr. Clarey’s disposition when they encountered him at the Clarey home. It also supports the facts that Mr. Clarey is both homophobic and racist.
“You heard Mrs. Andrea Hutchins, the neighbor who lives next door to the Clarey house, say how she heard Curtis screaming for help, and how having raised teenagers of her own could tell that his screams weren’t part of playing a video game. Instead, they were from a young teen who was being beaten.
“You heard the testimony, viewed the x-rays, saw the photographs of and considered the actual injuries that Curtis suffered at the hand of Mr. Clarey. The Defense would have you believe these injuries were self-inflicted. You heard the testimony of Doctor John Leonard about the nature of those injuries that confirmed that they could not have been self-inflicted.
“The Prosecution has proved that Mr. Clarey has a propensity to violence and child abuse, and is fully responsible for the injuries suffered by Curtis Fischer, and pleads that you render a verdict of guilty. Thank you.”
Judge Young then made a statement.
“The Judicial Panel shall move to the jury room, and this trial is recessed until such time that the Judicial Panel has reached a verdict, which must be unanimous, or feels that it is deadlocked and cannot reach a verdict.
“The Judicial Panel will notify me if they are deadlocked and I may elect to meet with the Judicial Panel to attempt to convince them to resume deliberations.
“The Judicial Panel will notify me when they have reached a decision.
“In either case I will decide when the trial shall commence to hear the results of the Judicial Panel’s deliberations. This announcement will be sent to all interested parties, with two hours’ notice by email or telephone so they can return to the courthouse to hear those results.
“Because it’s late in the day, I suggest that the Judicial Panel meet until it’s convenient for them to call a halt to their deliberations today, and request that they schedule their next meeting at ten a.m. on the next business day when their deliberations shall continue. This shall continue each day until they announce to me that they have reached a decision or are deadlocked.
“Are there any questions from the members of the Judicial Panel?”
Judge Ann Rae stood. “No, your honor.”
“Are there any questions from the Prosecution or the Defense?”
Beth Wolman stood and stated, “No, Your Honor.” Then Lawrence Wilde did the same.
Judge Young banged his gavel. He stood and announced, “This trial is adjourned until it is rescheduled for a response from the Judicial Panel.”
He left the Bench and walked into his chambers and closed the door.
“I guess we go home now, right?” I asked Mr. Williams.
“That’s correct. Let’s get going.”
So now what we had to do would be to wait for the Judicial Panel to come to a decision or decide they are deadlocked.
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