New - 22 September 2008
We the Jury, a novel:
With all of the players congregated, and only relatively minor changes in seating, the Old Bailey was finally prepped for Act One. Penn and Mead made their entrance into the packed courtroom carrying their hats, following by the Strong brothers and two other bailiffs. The Co-defendants were apparently less threatening today than previously when their escort had been six bailiffs. Perhaps the Quaker philosophy of non-violence was being taken seriously.
The Lord Mayor, however, was in a wholly different space. “Sirs! Who bid you to put off your hats? Bailiff, put their hats on again.”
Penn and Mead were mystified at this strange demand, but did nothing to prevent the Bailiff’s snatching the hats from their hands and then setting each hat on the respective head… and making minimal effort to do the job properly. The effect was that the co-defendants now looked just slightly ridiculous. However, English decorum being what it is, no one gave any outward sign of amusement.
Starling, however, had other plans. “Sirs! Do you know where you are?”
Penn answered, “Yes. It is the King’s Court.”
“And do you show respect to His Court,” Starling sandbagged.
“We do,” Penn answered.
“Then why do you not pull off your hats now you are before the Court?”
“We did not think that to be a matter of respect,” Penn frowned.
Starling dismissed the defense with the wave of his hand. “The Court sets forty marks apiece upon your heads as fine for contempt of Court.”
Penn had no illusions about overturning such a verdict, but nevertheless said, “But it is you who bid us do so.”
Starling was now the fully engaged, apparently enraged, and authoritarian judge. “Do not be insolent with this Court!”
Mead asked, “Am I so fined also?”
“You are,” Starling snarled.
“But this has no justice in it,” Mead replied.
Starling commanded, “Cease your ranting! We will have none of your pontificating in this Court.” Turning to his clerk, “Swear the jury.”
Dutifully, the Clerk stood and turned to the jury. “You shall well and truly try that betwixt our sovereign Lord the King and the prisoners at the bar, according to the evidence, so help you God.
Not exactly harmony, but in more or less approximate unison, the twelve jurors managed an “I do.”
Starling then determined to make the oath binding. “Kiss the Bible.”
The Clerk carried the by now disease-carrier-of-first-resort Bible to the Foreman of the jury, who as commanded, kissed it. The Bible was then passed to the others. When it reached Bushell on the back row, Bushell kissed it without incurring the possible wrath of communicable diseases, and prepared to pass it on to Jack and Duke, the remaining jurors to be so obligated. At that point, Judge John Robinson, who had been watching the proceedings with squinted eyes, suddenly erupted.
“Wait! That Bushell, he did not kiss the book. Will you disgrace this Court, Sir?”
Bushell, maintaining his posture and bearing, answered, “I bring no disgrace for I did kiss the book, my Lord.”
Robinson was not satisfied. “Do not insult this Court again. You say you are a juryman of much tenderness and conscience; yet I saw that you did not kiss the book, and this Court requires you to be sworn in again. Clerk, swear this man again.”
Jack handed the Bible back to Bushell, who kissed it with unusual reverence. He then stared back at an unrepentant Robinson, and without a glance at Jack, handed him the book. Jack and Duke completed the process, both taking special pains not to repeat Bushell’s experience. Of course, with the hate mail flying between Robinson and Bushell, scarcely anyone would have noticed if Jack had spit on the book.
Clerk, relieved, reported, “The jury is present and sworn, My Lord.”
The Denver jury included, in order, Thomas Veer (already designated as foreman), Edward Bushell, Thomas Damask, Henry Michel, Thena Pales, Henry Henley (the senior most citizen of the lot), Lola Tinsle, William Plumstead, Gregory Walklet, Katrina Gorlik, Jack Bailey, and George Brightman. The four alternates were: Lin Sue, Charlie Milson, John Duke Hammond, and Olivia Rud. All were seated and at relative ease when the co-defendants, Bill Pence and Billy Matson, were brought into the courtroom, their arms behind them – the latter fact causing Olivia Rud to suddenly gasp and raise one hand to her lips. Her gasp was thoughtfully ignored. Upon reaching the defense table, a sheriff’s deputy removed their handcuffs, and the two young men sat down next to Sophing.
The prosecutor, our very old friend, Thomas Howell, rose from his chair and walked slowly toward the jury. Then he looked at the sixteen decision makers arrayed before him, both studying them and simultaneously playing the part of the reluctant man who must somehow do his sad and unfortunate duty. No doubt several observers sent him their heartfelt prayers for doing what had to be done by someone. If not Howell, then who? Or is it whom?
Howell began his opening remarks with practiced authority.
“The defendants before you are charged with a heinous crime. By their action, dozens were brutally, cold-bloodedly murdered! The prosecution will demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendants, William Pence and William Matson, were in fact conducting wholly unauthorized and dangerous experiments in an attempt to actually launch a dangerous rocket in clear violation of the law and which resulted in the death… nay the murder of nearly two score of innocent victims. These unrepentant amateurs include a reckless, self-styled creative genius and Nikola Tesla devotee, a man lacking any recognized credentials whatsoever and without formal training or academic degrees of any kind… a no-account of the first order. The second co-conspirator in this heinous crime is the only son of a wealthy and honored member of our society, a man of prominence who even while gravely ill, has taken the high road by disinheriting and disowning his own kin because of his son’s wholly unacceptable behaviors. These two young, callous men with malice aforethought have committed acts that have resulted in the wholesale slaughter of thirty-six men, women and children, and the injury of well over a hundred others.”
Howell approached the jury box, and placed his hands on the railing, leaning forward.
“What possible motivation could these two men have had for the grotesque crime of which they are charged? What could be their defense in heaven’s name? Insanity? They didn’t know what they were doing? Or it was an accident, something that went terribly wrong; economic hardship, we’re poor lost souls who have never had a break? No! They are not insane. Inflated egos, yes! Egos that in fact verge on criminality! But they are not insane. Be very clear on this point.” Howell hesitated for effect. “But was it an accident? Again, a definite ‘no!’ This was not a case of manslaughter where the deaths and horror of their experiment are the result of an honest mistake, an error in their calculations, or an unfortunate lack of judgment.”
Howell again played the timing card. The next argument was the critical one. It was absolutely essential the jury hear and understand this one. “The law is very clear: No one engaged in the commission of a crime can later claim manslaughter or circumstances beyond their control if someone dies. If you break the law, and in the act of the crime, also cause a death, for any reason whatsoever, then you’re guilty of premeditated murder. Period!”
Howell turned and approached the defendants, appraising them for the disastrous product of evolution that he had deemed them to be. Then with all the flair of any actor-turned-attorney, he turned back to the jury.
“These criminals are not the product of poverty or that of a broken home, something that would cause them to ignore all convention and morality and lash out against an unjust world. Not on your life. One is a Rhodes Scholar with every advantage that great wealth and family position could provide. The other is from a prosperous upper middle class family, the recipient of numerous science scholarships -- scholarships, by the way, of which he invariably failed to fulfill the terms and conditions in anything resembling a responsible fashion. Instead, this reckless young man was provided unlimited funds by his equally reckless and wealthy co-conspirator. With all the benefits and opportunities that our society can offer them both, they repaid us with immense pain, death and destruction. In their wild and grandiose plans, their egocentric, misguided, unauthorized, unsanctioned experiments were designed to literally launch a rocket to Mars.”
Howell could hardly contain his disgust and contempt for those with dreams beyond the ordinary. “Can you imagine such arrogance, such unqualified assumption of authority? With no adherence to peer-review or the normal constraints upon unlicensed activities, they claimed, in the style of other ego-maniacal, self-serving wretches, that their work goes far beyond that of ordinary humans, beyond traditional mainstream science and engineering. They know more, or so they proclaim, than all the properly credentialed scientists and engineers living and working throughout the world.”
Howell affected his own rage at the lack of respect for his credentials, as well as most everyone on the planet with any designated authority.
“And yet,” (more sarcasm), “their greatest achievement to date was to fly in the face of the time tested research and devotion to science by real scientists, those committed to established rules and procedures, and with little or no regard for anyone but themselves, these two young criminals chose to conduct ill-advised, and grotesque experiments, carelessly playing with the raw forces of nature, with malice and forethought, and thereby caused the deaths and injuries of innocent people! People like you and I, victims who did not fantasize or imagine themselves far grander than everyone else. These men would have you believe that they were simply giving it the old college try. Would they have done as well as any genuine college student!”
Howell picked up a sheaf of papers and held them in the air.
“Uncaring, reckless, irresponsible, grotesquely egocentric, these young murderers thought they would teach the world a great lesson, ‘a shot heard round the world!’ This is in fact precisely their claim!”
Howell slammed the papers against the table, leaving them there.
“But the only sound we heard when their illicit laboratory was enveloped in the flaming fuel of misguided science was the sounds of death from the innocent people living in the same or adjoining buildings. There was no shot heard round the world; there were only the sounds of pain and anguish… and death.”
Howell stopped for a moment to take out a handkerchief to wipe his brow. Then with just the slight nod to the rules of procedure, he continued, “These two men were breaking the law. Even before having their experiments turn into a raging inferno of death and disaster, they were, in fact, breaking numerous laws. They wanted to launch a rocket without any license or other justification, without insurance to compensate others for their possible failures, without permission of any responsible authority. All of these failures were specific violations of the legal code.”
Howell threw up his hands. “And to what purpose? To go to Mars? To somehow shame the valiant attempts by responsible space activities such as NASA? Are they kidding?” Howell placed his hands on his hips, and took a deep breath. Clearly, he did not think they were kidding.
“As we will show with clear and concise evidence in due course, what we have here are two spoiled, irresponsible failures at life who dreamed far beyond their capabilities. And in so doing, they murdered scores of men, women, and children. And while these others, these innocent victims died from the actions of the defendants, these same co-conspirators were high above, flying in the clouds, looking down from their vantage point, watching from a safe place, their self generated cataclysmic fireball of death!”
Howell took a step back, as one hand reached across his midsection to hold the other elbow, while the other hand reached up to grasp his chin. It was one of Howell’s favorite stances to present to a jury – one inspired by Rodin.
“As the jury, you will have the profound responsibility of hearing shocking evidence, and on this basis, ensure justice for the victims.”
Howell stood looking at the jury, his face sympathetic and understanding. Nearly upstaging the performance by the star, Bill Pence pushed a notepad toward Sophing. Sophing read the hastily scrawled message, and then shaking his head from side to side, held up a hand to dismiss the suggestion.
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