The Verdict – Chapter 3

“Do you mean he’s had a heart attack?” I asked, hoping it wasn’t what I thought. I was uncertain of how much more I wanted to know. It suddenly felt like a mistake to have come without first making contact on the phone to get more information.

But that was the problem.

I had tried calling her.

She hadn’t answered, so I’d risked a speeding ticket to get here.

On the way over, my instincts had repeatedly told me something horrible had happened to Barbara, cutting through my euphoria at having successfully resolved a case. A part of me had been foolishly relieved to learn it was the death of her boyfriend, assuming Thomas Guyton was dead somewhere other than right on the other side of the door.

Stupid, I thought, figuring something out that should have been obvious from the beginning.

She’s in his apartment right now.

It was a mark of how distracted I was that I hadn’t thought of this until now.

Barbara shook her head. “I went to shower. We just got back from playing tennis. I had someplace I needed to be, so he was letting me get ready here since we were already downtown. I didn’t want to head all the way to my apartment only to turn around again. When I came out, he was… dead.”

“How do you know it’s not a heart attack?” I asked. It wasn’t good that I had to draw this information from her one question at a time.

It told me more than I wanted to know. I was hoping my guess was wrong and that she’d called to request a personal favor, not because she wanted to make use of my professional capabilities.

“He’s been shot, Mitch.”

Barbara’s voice was so quiet I stepped forward to make sure I’d heard her correctly.

“Come again?”

“I’m not repeating it,” she hissed. “You heard me the first time.”

“Are you sure he’s dead?”

She gave me a look. “Positive.”

“Have you called the police?”

Barbara shook her head. “No. It looks bad, Mitch. It looks real bad.”

I took in a deep breath, my thoughts moving faster than they had just a moment before.

I’d expected Barbara might have some difficulty I could help with, most likely something to do with her stalker.

I’d never imagined something like this.

How could Barbara have gotten mixed up in a murder?

It’s because of Thomas Guyton, I thought.

I tried to step out of the emotions I still felt for Barbara to look at the situation as a defense attorney.

Everything I thought I’d known about the situation had suddenly been turned on its head. I didn’t know if Barbara was right to have called me instead of the police, but she had, and now I had to deal with it.

What is the correct approach?

My instincts told me to get Barbara out of there, but I knew that would be wrong.

Barbara couldn’t hide from this.

“Is the murder weapon in there?”

“Yes, it’s beside him on the floor.” She shook her head, her eyes closing in frustration. “I shouldn’t have called, Mitch. How about you forget I ever did? Just leave. I’ll figure it out.”

I didn’t like the sound of that.

“How many times was he shot?”

Maybe it would be obvious to the police when they showed up that this was a hit, and Barbara would be cleared.

She didn’t respond.

“I’m going to need to know more if I’m going to help you, Barbara.” I took a step closer and opened my mouth to suggest she let me in, but then realized that would be the wrong thing to do.

I wouldn’t have been about to make a mistake like that if I weren’t so emotionally involved with Barbara, I thought chidingly. I’d have to be extra careful with every decision to ensure I didn’t let my own emotions get in the way of common sense.

I didn’t know if Barbara would want me to handle this case for her—it would be foolish to represent her, even if she wanted me to do it—but the last thing I should do was contaminate the crime scene. It was already bad enough that I was out here in the hallway.

“Mitch. Go. I’ll sort this out.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that.

On my way up into the apartment building, I’d noticed security cameras all over the place, something I checked just out of habit, not because I’d expected to find this awaiting me.

That was the first thing the police would check once they learned about Thomas Guyton’s dead body.

There was no way for me to back away.

No, I had to look at the situation as an attorney and had to make the right decisions—

I had to make reasonable decisions.

Whatever that meant.

“Barbara. I’m gonna get you through this, but I need you to listen. I need you to understand why we’re going to do what we’re doing.”

She was crying, and she wasn’t listening.

“We have to call the cops, Barbara.”

“Are you kidding me? That’s the last thing we should do. I don’t even know why I texted you. I came out and saw him on the floor and just panicked. I couldn’t think. I could hardly breathe. I didn’t know what else to do. I texted without thinking. Clearly, that was a mistake.”

“Barbara, we have to think this through. There are cameras all over the place. There is no way to hide your presence. When they discover Thomas Guyton’s body, they’ll also learn you were here. These are two facts we can’t avoid. Since we can’t get around them, we have to work with them. We have to tell your story with these facts.”

There’s also no way to hide my presence, I thought, but didn’t add.

Barbara just stared at me.

“You have to trust me. I’ve had clients in situations like this, and I’ve usually been able to improve things. I can’t promise anything, but we have to take the cards we have and play them the best we can. If we don’t, it will look bad if they charge you for his death.”

I’d intentionally chosen to use the word death instead of murder.

“What am I gonna do, Mitch? I can’t help how this looks. I know I didn’t kill him, but it’s been set up as if I did.”

“There’s a reason you texted me and didn’t call the police. That was your instincts talking. You immediately recognized you could’ve been framed. You knew what they’d say. So you figured you’d try to get ahead of it or at least take control of how the situation unfolds by bringing me into it. That was a good move.”

I didn’t know if it was, but I needed to say something to comfort her.

“But now you’re telling me to call the police?”

I nodded, holding her eyes. “Yes, we have to get in front of this. There’s no way to hide, so we must explain the situation as best we can. You’ll have to tell them the truth.”

I didn’t think she’d have a problem doing this. I’d never thought she was dishonest, but this was a tough situation, and she’d certainly be tempted to hide anything she thought wasn’t favorable.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Barbara asked in a tiny voice. “I thought maybe you could…” She trailed off and didn’t finish what she’d been about to say.

Does she want me to help her just walk away? I wondered.

I recoiled at the thought, though if I were to do it for anybody, I’d do it for her. But I didn’t even consider the notion as I studied her desperate face.

She’s not rational, I thought. I have to remember that. I also need to remember she can be unpredictable when she’s like this.

Tears flowed again, and she looked at me as if I were the only person who could save her. I felt terrible for not telling her what she wanted to hear. It was clear she’d expected that I could get her out of the apartment, hoping to somehow leave this all behind. Or, failing that, she wanted me to do something else.

I desperately wanted to do everything she expected and more, but the facts of the situation tied my hands. The rules of professional responsibility and my sense of personal ethics did too. I might find some wiggle room in the knots, but I had to be careful if I wanted to have a life after this.

“I thought you’d help me escape without them knowing I was here.”

This was not the first time a client had asked me to cover up a crime, but this was undoubtedly the first time I carefully considered my response because of my personal entanglements.

I could tell from Barbara’s face that this was exactly why she’d called me.

This was probably a natural outgrowth of the media attention my cases had attracted over the years. I’d developed a reputation for getting innocent people out of jail and pointing the cops in the right direction.

In her mind, that’s probably what she thought she was asking me to do, even though it sounded a lot like something else.

Or at least that’s what I told myself.

While I could help Barbara within the confines of the law, there was no way I could do what she was suggesting.

She sobbed.

She was so close but also the furthest she’d ever been from me.

When I saw the anguish on her face, I wanted to make the situation better in any way I could.

The cameras, I thought. They’re recording right now, Mitch. The longer you take to call the police, the worse it’s going to look.

I had to convince her, and I had to convince her right now.

I wanted to believe Barbara’s story without looking at any of the evidence, but I forced myself to acknowledge Barbara could have done this. If she had, it wasn’t likely first degree murder because I doubted she could kill somebody in cold blood.

But her instinct was to reach out to a defense attorney, not call the police, I thought. I can’t ignore that.

I didn’t want to even consider the possibility and felt guilty the moment the thought occurred to me, but I couldn’t deny my rational side.

It was downright dangerous to discount it out of hand.

Even if she’d done this, the best thing she could do was take it straight on, praying the judge and jury would have mercy.

Barbara was a good woman.

The judge and jury might see that too, when it came down to it, assuming it got that far.

“Please, Mitch.”

Seeing the desperation in her eyes gave me pause.

At one point, I’d been convinced I wanted to marry her, but she’d already moved on by the time I’d finally arrived at a decision. Even though it had been hard, I’d chosen to accept it and move on as best I could.

While I was working the Candy Carlisle case, Barbara had called, concerned she had a stalker. I’d ultimately gotten Detective Stephanie Gray involved, an ex-girlfriend from law school, and we’d gotten Clyde Montague arrested.

All these thoughts went through my mind in a flash, and I knew what I had to do.

Could I risk my well-being and professional status to help Barbara out of a tight spot because of our past relationship? I’d never faced a question quite like this in my professional practice.

My instinct was to emphasize that our only choice was to call the cops, but I stopped.

This was Barbara.

She couldn’t have done this, my skeptical nature notwithstanding. I was pretty sure if I helped her escape by hiding what happened, I’d be helping an innocent woman stay free, but I’d forever negate the possibility of the actual murderer going to prison. We’d have to get rid of everything to hide Barbara’s presence.

Fool! I thought. You can’t hide this. The cameras. Somebody’s going to check the cameras, and what are they gonna find?

Mitch Turner sitting outside Thomas Guyton’s apartment.

No way would I come back from something like that, not with all the enemies I had on the other side of the aisle.

I’d started as a prosecutor, but it didn’t suit me.

It was too political.

Sometimes, the wrong people went to prison, and guilty parties went free because of politics.

Eventually, I’d figured out I could do more good from the other side, even though I wasn’t a typical defense attorney.

The people I’d left behind at the prosecutor’s office and in law enforcement didn’t see it that way.

Some even saw me as a traitor.

They couldn’t see I was working toward the same goal from the other side.

I believed somebody should do time if they committed a crime. But that didn’t stop me from zealously representing each of my clients to the best of my capabilities, doing everything I could while making the prosecutors prove their case.

It was my job to ensure the prosecution didn’t send innocent people to prison.

I rarely took a guilty person to trial because I could usually persuade them it was in their best interest to make a deal so they could serve as little time as possible.

That was just pragmatic.

I took another deep breath and held it, contemplating everything I’d just thought about and what Barbara was asking me to do.

I’d never been tempted any of the other times my clients had asked me to help cover up a crime. If I gave in to what Barbara wanted, it could make the situation infinitely worse when it might have otherwise been quickly resolved.

I’d never expected a situation where I’d be tempted to compromise my ethics in this way.

It was heartening to know I’d hold to them even in such a dire circumstance as this.

I felt like I’d just passed a test.

“Barbara—”

“Mitch, I need you to do this. You’re the only one who can help me.”

What happened to wanting me to go? I wondered.

“Barbara—”

“Just think about it.” Barbara looked at me. “They set me up. They’ve probably done such a good job we’ll never convince the cops.”

My ears perked up at the certainty of her tone. It almost seemed like this hadn’t caught her entirely off guard.

Was that just my imagination?

Had she suspected Thomas Guyton was about to be murdered?

“Do you know who they are?” I asked slowly.

“Maybe. I don’t know for sure.” Barbara shook her head, and it was clear she wouldn’t say anything more. She had that look that told me she was digging in and that it would be difficult to get anything else out of her.

“Are you going to help me or not?” she demanded.

“Yes, I’m absolutely going to help,” I said. “The question is how.” I paused. “You can’t run from this, Barbara. The best thing for us to do is to call—”

“I almost didn’t call because I was afraid that’s what you’d want to do.” There was scorn in her voice, but that wasn’t all. There was fear too. “Can’t you do this one thing for me?”

I shook my head.

“Barbara, I am going to help. You’re going to have to trust me.”

“Can’t you think of a way to get me out—”

“I’m sure it’s not as simple as they make it look on TV,” I whispered, hoping the camera down the hall wasn’t picking up our conversation.

Barbara would undoubtedly go to prison if the prosecution ever played our conversation to a jury. I hoped the camera was far enough away to not record it, but what were the chances there was another recording device nearby?

I wanted to check if somebody’s door was cracked open or if there was a nearby doorbell camera, but I didn’t because I knew how that would look on tape.

I kept my face directly on Barbara while glancing down at my watch.

What time had I arrived?

Wasn’t it just after 3:30 PM?

Maybe 3:45? The time was now 4:02 PM.

It seemed like I’d been here longer than that, so we needed to hurry. I had to get her past this as fast as possible.

It was time to call the police.

I’d initially represent her so that an attorney-client relationship formed just in case somebody somewhere was recording our conversation. The attorney who took this to trial could then claim that attorney-client confidentiality had attached to try to get it excluded.

“Please, Mitch. I’m sure you can figure it out.”

The more she continued to ask, the warier I became, but I ignored my skepticism.

“No.”

“But—”

“There’s only one way.” I looked her in the eye. “First things first. Do you want me to represent you as an attorney?”

I held up a finger, figuring I should qualify what I was suggesting. I also didn’t want to explain my concerns about a recording device. It would be easier for a prosecutor to convince a judge to allow the conversation in as evidence if they heard me say that.

“I’m not saying I’ll take it to trial. All I’m saying is—”

“Sheesh!” Barbara said, cutting me off. “I thought I’d be the exception. I thought you cared about me! That time I saw you outside of the restaurant, I could tell you still had feelings for me. I thought—”

“Now, look here!”

I’d spoken too loudly and immediately lowered my voice. “I do care. It wrenched my heart to see you with him, but I wanted you to be happy. You looked happy, so I was determined not to get in the way.”

I held her eyes before she looked away and swore under her breath.

“I should have just—” She stopped and gave me a disdainful look. “Why won’t you just leave?”

“There’s no way you can hide this. Cameras, remember? Your text to me will undoubtedly come out in court. I’ll be called to testify. I’ll be forced to tell the truth about everything I’ve seen.”

I waited for her to look at me. I was hoping to avoid saying this out loud, but I couldn’t see a way around it. She had to understand what I was getting at, and she wasn’t picking up my subtle hints.

“That’s if I am only an ex-boyfriend. That could change if I’m your attorney and we handle this the right way. After you retain my services, I’ll walk you through this situation, doing everything in my power to help you come out the other side.”

“I don’t need your help. I’ll figure this out.”

It was time to take off the gloves. We were running out of time. “If you shut the door, my first call will be to the police. I’ll tell them everything that’s happened and everything I suspect has happened. Is that what you want?”

“You wouldn’t.”

I felt bad putting it to her this way, but I didn’t see another option. I knew she’d misinterpret this as a threat, even though I didn’t intend it that way.

“However, if you retain my services, it gives me more flexibility and you a smoother way to handle the situation. I can tell them I have a client who’s found herself in a sticky situation. She wants to do the right thing but doesn’t want it to look bad. I’ll call in a favor to a friend in the department and have them come out.”

“Isn’t there another way?”

I shook my head.

She wiped her eyes with her hands.

I noticed she had blood on them.

It’s probably from trying to save his life, I tried to tell myself.

“I’m scared, Mitch.”

I nodded. “That’s understandable. Anybody would be in your situation. I’ll do my best to help you walk away with your life intact. We have to do this right. Any other way we go is wrong and will hurt you in the end. The best thing is to start by telling the truth.”

Or at least as much as we have to, I thought.

“But the gun’s here! They’re going to think it was me.”

“What’s your motive?”

Barbara hesitated. “I was about to break up with him.”

“Really?” I frowned. “Didn’t you guys just get done playing tennis? Why not break up with him beforehand so you don’t have to be with him if you’d already decided?”

“The game was something we’d agreed to in advance with another couple, some mutual friends. I was planning to do it right afterward, but the match went longer than I intended. I needed to shower so I could get to an appointment downtown. It was quicker to clean up here so I could make my appointment. I was planning to tell him right before I left so I didn’t have to see him again. I can’t tell you how difficult it’s been, knowing we weren’t going to last.”

“You won’t have to testify. They won’t be able to prove—”

“I told Patricia. She knows everything.”

By the way Barbara said this, it appeared there was more to it than just Barbara’s plan to break up with Thomas Guyton.

There was something else.

What’s Barbara holding back? I wondered.

“You leave that to me.” I looked at Barbara. “Have you touched anything?”

“I was so freaked out I tried to stop the bleeding. It wasn’t until after I’d gotten covered in his blood that I realized he was already dead. After that, I didn’t know what to do.”

I nodded. “Have you cleaned up since?”

“Yes, of course! I washed off in the kitchen sink and dried my hands with paper towels.”

I grunted.

It probably would have been better had she not done that because the prosecution would represent that as her trying to hide what she’d done.

I glanced at my watch. It was now 4:08 PM. I could just imagine the prosecution playing the security tape to a jury, asking what we’d been talking about for so long before calling the cops.

“Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to sit there, right there, on the floor. Don’t touch anything. The cops will come. We’ll start from the beginning and tell them every single last thing that’s happened. Make sure to lead off with how you were planning to break up with him. Get that out there right at first so it doesn’t seem like you were trying to hide it. You’re going to explain you had to keep the tennis appointment. That’s why you didn’t break up with him beforehand. We must also explain why you were at his apartment instead of going to yours. Leave nothing out, got it?”

“Nothing?”

“You have nothing to hide, so you’ll tell the truth. We want them to think there was no way you could have done this because you fully disclosed everything from the beginning. You take away some of the bad fact’s power by disclosing it yourself. I’ll be here every step of the way.”

“You sure about this, Mitch?”

I nodded confidently, even though my insides were twisted into knots.

I was anything but sure.

But I didn’t see what other choice we had.

I put on a brave face.

This was going to be bad.

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