Copyright© 2014 by Jay Cantrell
My wife arrived at home that evening with a trunk filled with boxes. I could see she had a weekend of work planned. That was OK because it freed me up to grab Lauren and spend all weekend playing games with her, going to the park and having fun. If Elizabeth was too busy to participate it left more hugs for me.
I was OK with that.
"Where do you want these?" Ellie asked as she carried the first of a half dozen boxes into the house.
"Wherever you want them is fine," I said.
"They're yours," she said. "You were already gone so Judge Pickle dropped them off to me to deliver."
"What are they?" I asked. Inside I wondered why she couldn't wait until Monday when I had someplace to store the shit.
"Cases," she said. "She put together transcripts from the last two dozen capital cases in the state. The ones in the brown boxes are under appeal and the ones in the black boxes have already been overturned."
I rolled my eyes.
"Put them in my trunk," I said. "I'll take them to the office Monday. Sorry, Ellie, I didn't mean to get you pushed into messenger duty."
"I was meeting with her anyway to go over the budget for the trial," Elizabeth asked. "She said it's a good thing I was saving the county money because you seemed intent on bankrupting it."
"I only asked for what I'm worth," I said with a smile. I knew I was setting myself up for verbal abuse. I half expected Ellie to pull a nickel out of her pocket and hand it over. Instead the reaction I got was so much better. She wrapped her arms around my neck and dragged me down for kiss. "She can't afford you, Babe. Did you get things worked out then?"
"I suppose," I said. "I've got to go in for a while tomorrow to visit Tiny. I figure I could do it while you're at your folks' house. I hope you know I would prefer you got to prosecute this case and I was nowhere involved in it."
"Tell me why you don't think Tiny is guilty?" she urged.
"I didn't say he isn't guilty," I clarified. "I said I don't think he killed Biff Wells."
"Hon, you're going to get this in discovery," she said, "so I'll just tell you. He is on video."
"You said that," I replied.
"And we have a witness who will identify him," she added.
"Really?" I asked. "He will identify Desmond Huntley or will he identify a black man?"
"I didn't get the chance to talk to the guy before you stole the case," Elizabeth said with a wink. "Now, tell me why you think he didn't do it?"
"Is the special prosecutor in place?" I wondered.
"Starting Monday morning," Elizabeth said.
"And you are completely removed from the case?" I continued.
My wife rolled her eyes and nodded.
"Many reasons," I said, giving in against my better judgment. "Tiny Huntley does not use a gun. He sure as hell wouldn't have needed one for Biff Wells. I'm about half Tiny's size and I didn't need a gun. I could have killed him that night a few years ago."
"It's a good thing you have an iron-clad alibi," Elizabeth said with a laugh. "When I first heard Biff had bit the big one, I wondered if the time of death would correspond to sometime I didn't know where you were. Thankfully, I can verify your whereabouts when he died."
"When was that?" I asked. "Between midnight and 6 a.m. Saturday," she said. "Whoever did it left the air conditioner on full blast so that is as close as the coroner can come. You were snoring your little heart out the whole time. Believe me, I can confirm that."
She pinched my nipple playfully.
"What else gives you pause?" she added.
"From what I understand there is no sign of forced entry or a struggle," I continued. "That means Biff invited his killer into his room and didn't put up a fight. There is no way he would let Tiny in the room. If he did, there is no way he wouldn't put up a fight. Then there is how it was done. Babe, Tiny would have taken a week cutting off parts of Wells' anatomy. He would not have simply shot him and then left. Come on, of all the things you know about Tiny Huntley, you have to admit that is the one that doesn't make sense in this case."
"How do you account for the witness?" Elizabeth asked.
"Racism?" I guessed. "One large black man looks the same as any other to some people. If you find six people Tiny's height and weight and put them in a lineup, your witness will fail. The same with the security camera. Those things are usually low-resolution and black and white. Given the type of hotels that Century Island caters to, I can imagine this one cost no more than $50. It is going to show a black man but I don't think even someone with 20-10 vision will be able to identify it as Tiny Huntley unless someone plants that seed in his mind."
"I still think we'll convict him," Elizabeth declared.
"I think you probably will, too," I admitted. "Mostly because you'll be able to introduce a host of allegations against him by alluding to prior bad acts. I'll object and they'll be removed from the record but the jury will hear them. I do not think that you will convict him on the evidence you have."
"Then who do you think did it?" Elizabeth asked. She was getting angry at me.
I shook my head. I had a ready-made suspect if I went for the SODDI (Some Other Dude Did It) defense. In fact, I had two or three of them. That didn't even count the number of people would love to gain Tiny's favor by killing a man he basically put a hit out on.
But my money was resting elsewhere.
Tiny didn't appear to be suffering from his jail stay. He was smiling and laughing with a guard when he came through the door to his side of the attorney's room. There was still a glass partition between us. Too many lawyers had been caught passing contraband for it to be otherwise.
"Ben, thanks for taking my case," he said. There was a note of sincerity in his voice that threw me a bit.
"It wasn't like I was given a choice," I said. "You pretty well made sure of that, plus you got my wife kicked to the curb."
"How?" Tiny asked.
"She can't prosecute if I defend," I pointed out. The smile Tiny was wearing widened. I noticed the gold teeth in his mouth on the day I walked him into the Sheriff's Department were gone.
"I might actually get out of this!" he said. "Damn, man, I don't believe this. I was convinced that I got away with so much shit that my luck finally caught up to me. You're serious, right?"
"I'll try not to lie to you," I said. "I ask for the same from you. There are things I don't want or need to know. But if I ask you a question, I would like a truthful answer."
"You got it," he said. "Really, in this case, I don't have much to hide. My lady knows to pay your fees. Don't sweat that."
"The county is paying my fees," I said. "You're classified as a pauper. And don't get too excited about Elizabeth being removed. They're bringing in a special prosecutor. She might be a bigger ball-buster than Ellie. My wife recommended her."
Tiny rolled his eyes. I'm not sure he believed there was anyone in the world worse than Elizabeth.
"Now, the first thing I need to know is where you were Friday night," I said.
"Home," he answered immediately. "I spend weekends with my kids, Guy. I do not miss that time."
"All night?" I asked.
"You didn't run out for a pack of cigarettes or a burger from somewhere?" I asked.
"Don't smoke," Tiny said. "Bad for your health. Sure don't do that stuff around the babies. Same reason I started to drop the weight a couple of years back. I was looking at being dead before I got to see my kids grow up. Now it's a healthy diet and exercise."
There went any possible alibi witness. No jury would believe the testimony of his live-in girlfriend.
"What kind of car do you drive?" I asked.
"Land Rover," Tiny answered. "Red with gray interior. Sometimes I drive my lady's car if she has to tote all the little ones around. But mostly it's a Land Rover."
I spent a half hour with Tiny. I knew about the same as I did with I entered: Nothing concrete. I decided to leave him with something to chew on.
"Mr. Huntley," I began before he interrupted.
"I'd like it if you called me Dez," he said. "The people I trust all call me that."
"OK, Dez," I tried, "I'm going to be straight with you. I don't believe you did this. But I also firmly believe you will be convicted of it – if I am your attorney. I have not practiced criminal law in many years and, despite what the state says, I do not believe I am qualified to try a capital case. Actually, I do not believe I am even qualified to try a jaywalking case. To that end, I've asked Judge Valasick to give you a second bite of the apple. Monday morning she is going to give you a second chance to pick an attorney to represent you. I hope you will spend the next couple of days thinking seriously about the quality of representation you might receive from me – not because I won't try my best for you but because my best might not be very damned good."
Dez Huntley looked at me for a long minute through the glass. I didn't look away as much as I wanted to. Finally he nodded.
"Ben, I like you," he said. "I don't like many folks and I can't think of any I like who's white. I don't like lawyers in general. Cops stay bought."
He gestured to the area where we sat.
"Guards here stay bought," he continued. "Lawyers are like whores. They want their money up front and the only time you're sure they ain't lying to you is when they tell you how much it's gonna cost to get f•©ked. In my life, I've met two lawyers that I can say told me the truth every time they've spoken to me: you and your wife."
He chuckled grimly.
"'Course your wife told me she would someday see me behind bars," he added. "But she always done her job, man. She never cut corners. Other guys in my spot would have found themselves facing bullshit charges just to get something to stick. Your lady didn't play that game. If she got paper on me this time, it's because she thinks I done it. If she is going for the needle, it's because she feels it's the right thing to do. Then there's you. A cracker lawyer showing up to have a face to face with me. Shit, that's shows you got balls and that you go to the wall for your clients. I'll think on it. I'd be stupid not to think on it. But I'll tell you this. When they brought that paper down here the first time and asked me who I'd want on my side, I thought of you right off. You come down here on a Saturday – a day I know you'd rather be with your family – and you been straight with me from the top. No bullshit. No, 'Tiny, I'm gonna get you out this.' I'll talk it over with my lady."
I nodded my agreement and left.
The rest of my weekend was spent familiarizing myself with death-penalty law in all its incarnations. It was not pleasant reading. On the whole I am ambivalent about capital punishment. I disagree with the purpose the politicians ascribe to it – to lower the crime rate – but I agree that some people simply deserve to be killed (see Biff Wells if you have any questions).
I know the general statistics. I know how it is disproportionately used against minorities who are convicted of killing whites. I know that several have had their guilt cast into question after they were already dead. But I found that I really didn't think we should abolish it altogether.
My wife is not a cold-hearted killer. I know she had a lengthy internal debate before deciding to pursue the death penalty against Desmond Huntley. In fact, I firmly believe if her office had done its due diligence she would have pushed for life without parole. But it is paramount that potential witnesses know that they will be protected by the D.A.'s office. So she really had no choice in the matter.
I only wished I agreed that she had the right guy. In my gut, I knew Huntley had not killed Biff Wells. It was more than the method. It was about the timing. If Desmond Huntley had killed Wells – or even had him killed – no one would have found the body for months (if ever). It isn't like there would be a single person in the world looking for Wells. Simply put, Wells was a shit stain on the underwear of humanity.
It was all too perfect but yet, I didn't think someone had set Huntley up to take the fall. Too much was left to chance for that to be the case. My first guess was that Tony Baker had offed Wells. Wells was the only person who had absolute knowledge of Baker's transgressions. But Baker was a hundred miles away trying to get his life and career back in order when Wells was killed.
Dwyer was conveniently out of town, too. I tried to pull my mind away from who actually killed Biff Wells. It wasn't my job to find out and, for all I knew, he could have pissed off the paper boy that morning. That was as likely as any other scenario.
My job was to make certain the wrong man didn't wind up with a needle in his arm and to that end I was looking over previous discovery motions to make sure I didn't leave something out.Elizabeth was leaving me alone. She had agreed that the office was mine for the duration of the case. I knew she used it as a private sanctuary – not only from her job but also from her idiot husband upon occasion – and I hated to take it away from her. But unless I wanted to stay at the courthouse all hours of the evening it was the best we could come up with.
She offered me her key to the study but I waved it away. If she said she wouldn't go in there then she wouldn't go in there. Besides, it was a toothless gesture. We'd both been forced to pick that damned lock more than once and we both could get into the study with a paper clip and a nail file.
I didn't mention my thinking on that part though.
I met with Desmond Huntley first thing Monday morning. He seemed a little surprised to see me, although I had told him only 44 hours earlier that I would be here.
"Have you made up your mind?" I asked when were in our respective booths.