Shattered Ch. 13bydrdirty8©
Before going to eat, Denise had John take her by her house to get another copy of the tape and then to a newspaper, which gladly took the story. Denise was thrilled not only that the newspaper accepted the tape and said they would run the story but that the tapes she had in her house were never discovered during the break-in.
Denise and John then went out for pizza and headed home. They got back just in time to catch the six o'clock news. Denise thought that if the story were run, it would be the top story, but there was no mention at all of the tape or story. Denise started out frustrated and soon grew angrier and angrier until she finally exploded. "Where the hell is the story?!"
John tried to calm her down and get her to relax, offering her first coffee, and when she refused that, a beer. Denise was still ranting and raving about the story not being run.
John casually said, "Hey. It's only the six o'clock news, ok? You just gave them the tape a while ago. Maybe, they haven't had time to get the story ready yet. It'll probably make the ten o'clock news."
Denise sat there for the next four hours, still furious. When the ten o'clock news came on, she expected to hear her story as the top one, but again, nothing. She was so mad that she began to punch things, first, the arm of the couch, then, John's arm, and then, a wall. This agitated Meatball who began to growl heavily, frightening Denise because Meatball was a very large dog that John said could rip out chunks of flesh.
"I'm really sorry, Meatball. It's not you. It's the damn so-called reporters. They're supposed to run a very important story. I'm just mad. It's ok, boy," she added, stroking Meatball's head, but Meatball still looked upset. Meatball couldn't help it. It was how he had been trained. Denise tried for another ten minutes to calm the dog, barely able to get results.
Denise checked her cell phone and found that she had a message from her secretary. Now that Rick was out of the hospital, his arraignment and preliminary exam had been scheduled for the next morning. Usually, the two things would be set for different days, but the D.A.'s office was pushing to get it all done and move to trial as soon as possible. It was nearly eleven P.M., and Denise was due in court at nine A.M. She knew it would be a miserable night. She wasn't very tired yet but had to be in court in a little more than ten hours.
Denise told John everything, so John said he would go to bed early, allowing Denise to get some rest. Denise tried for several hours but only dozed here and there. It was soon two A.M. Faithful Meatball was asleep on the floor next to the couch. This time, Denise had fallen asleep lying down instead of sitting up. She was glad this happened. At least, her neck wouldn't be sore again.
At about four, Denise fell asleep for good. She almost awoke at six-thirty when John was cooking breakfast, but she fell back into a deep sleep and didn't wake up for another hour. She was mad that John had let her sleep so late, but he told her that he knew how badly she needed it. Denise ate in a hurry and took a very fast shower, once again, thinking John was somehow spying on her. She didn't really care this morning, though. John could be a pervert if he wanted to be. She didn't have time for it.
John drove Denise to the courthouse and let her out, leaving to go park. He planned to be with her every step of the way, court appearances and all. Aside from his perversions and tendency to be mean to his hacker friend, he was turning out to be a very good friend to Denise. She had so few of them left and was happy to have him.
Denise got into the courtroom nearly twenty minutes before the arraignment was set. There were other arraignments set for the day, so Denise understood that it would probably be closer to ten o'clock before Rick's was under way, but she wanted to be there as early as possible, just in case. She also wanted to discuss things with Rick first.
Denise sat through the proceedings that were taking place, unable to stop worrying about how the day might go. After a while, Rick was escorted in by two sheriff's deputies. Denise got a few minutes with him to review what was going on.
"Be careful what you say, Rick. When asked how you plead, of course, say innocent. Don't take any deals. The D.A., I'd say, isn't offering anything anymore anyway. Let me do most of the talking. Just answer when spoken to, and keep it short and simple."
"I got it," Rick said.
"So, how are they treating you? Are you on meds or off, " Denise asked, genuinely terrified that they were still doping Rick.
"Today, off. I'm glad, too. This Experon is killing me. I can't take another dose."
"Some new drug they have. I've never heard of it before, but I think it makes patients worse than before they take it. I've seen other people that took it. It makes some suicidal and others, it makes almost psychotic. You either go into the deepest depression imaginable where nothing makes any sense and nothing can possibly cheer you up at all, or you feel like killing everybody around you. I've had it do both. I saw one guy take it who tried to strangle himself with his sleeve."
"Did they stop him," Denise asked, already feeling like she had answered her own question in her mind. Of course, they had. Why wouldn't they, even if they were crooked?
"Yeah. They stopped him. Stopped him by grabbing him and throwing him hard to the floor and then holding him down with a knee to the throat."
Denise didn't know what to say. All she could think of was how sad it was that Rick was in such a place, especially when he shouldn't be. Actually, Denise thought, no one should be.
The A.D.A. strolled in, with a beaming smile, seeming to have no cares in the world. He threw his briefcase down on the table and sat down, staring at Denise as if he wanted to crack some joke or remind her of the slam dunk case he supposedly had against Rick.
Soon, the judge walked in, and the bailiff announced, "All rise for the Honorable Ellen Sims."
"Remember... don't say anything unless spoken to, and let me do most of the talking," While rising, Denise reminded Rick who shook his head to note that he fully understood.
"You may be seated," the Judge Sims said, and everyone sat. Denise, however, took a big gulp of water and felt as if she might choke. She never got very nervous in court, but for some reason, this had her shaking.
Turning to Rick, the judge stated simply, "Richard Ratner, you are being charged with..." Putting on her glasses and looking at the paper before her, she continued, "Murder in the second degree."
The Judge then looked directly at Denise and asked, "How does your client plead?"
Rising once again, Denise said, "Not guilty, Your Honor."
"Ok," Judge Sims said. "Bail is set at five hundred thousand dollars."
The A.D.A. then rose and exclaimed, somewhat nervous himself, "Your Honor, we feel that Mr. Ratner is a flight risk. He has no family in the area that might keep him here. He has substantial financial means. There is nothing that would stop him from say, boarding a plane to another country."
Taking a deep breath, the judge replied, "You have a point, Mr. Dobbs. I change my mind. Bail is denied. Mr. Ratner will remain at the Sunnydale Behavioral Hospital for the time being."
Denise turned to Rick and assured him, "Don't worry. I know that place sucks, but we really couldn't have expected bail. It was a long shot. It's not even worth trying to fight. But you have your preliminary exam later, and I think we can convince the judge that there's not enough evidence to move to trial."
Rick, nervous and very afraid that he might not have the case dismissed, asked, "Do we have the same judge for the exam or not?"
"No," Denise responded. "But we do have a judge with a high record of leniency. I don't know him, but I've heard he's not that tough. He should be easy to convince."
About that time, A.D.A. Dobbs was standing over Denise's shoulder. "Don't worry, Hunter. We all win some and lose some. Today just wasn't your day. But like I told you, this is a sure thing... for us." He laughed so hard that Rick thought he might collapse and then started to walk away.
Denise wanted so badly to say something to him but hadn't gotten the chance. She tried convincing herself that it didn't matter and wasn't worth it anyway.
There was nearly four hours to go until the preliminary exam. Denise felt that she was as prepared for it as she could be. She went through every possible scenario she could think of in her head, trying to come up with an counter argument to everything the A.D.A. would say. She felt confident but still scared at the same time. If they made it out of all of this, what would happen? There was no way they would be safe. Everywhere they turned, there was someone involved in it all.
The arraignment went faster than Denise expected, so she had no clue as to what to do to kill the rest of the time she had. She found a bench outside the courtroom and went over the file, hoping she might see something that she had missed. There was very little evidence that the D.A.'s office could use. As long as she could counter everything they had, the judge might be convinced. Denise wondered how it could be so easy to make it to the preliminary stages and do so having a judge that had a track record of easy dismissals. Why was Judge Lankin taken out? Did he do something to raise suspicion about him.? Did it have to do with this case? Why him? Why let this new judge live and still preside over the case? Did Judge Lankin not give in to their threats? Was this new judge easily swayed? All of these thoughts were bombarding Denise's mind. It was all so frustrating, seeming to cloud her judgment. She hoped it would go away so that she could think straight. She knew that she needed a clear mind to do what she needed to do. It didn't help, however, that she had only gotten a few hours of sleep.
Denise felt herself starting to doze off but caught herself, trying to delve back into the case file. Several minutes later, she started to doze again. Thankfully, John showed up with a cup of coffee.
"My savior," Denise shouted, not realizing how loud she was being.
"I saw your head bobbing. I figured this would help."
"Thanks," Denise said, snatching the cup from John's hand and taking a huge swig, not caring that it was hot enough to burn her mouth.
"Anything new you can figure out," John asked.
"Not really. I've gone over this thing a thousand times, it seems. I can't find anything I've missed. I've played the whole thing out in my head from different angles, different arguments they might use. I think I'm doing everything I can. It helps that they don't have their star witness."
"The guy from the tape," John asked, brow raised.
"Yeah, that guy."
"Didn't you hear? He's alive. It wasn't him that got killed the other day."
"Seriously," Denise asked, somewhat relieved that the man was ok but scared that he was alive because the A.D.A. might still try to use him. "What about the paper?"
"Yeah, the story. Did they run it? I haven't had time to check. Have you seen it," Denise inquired, staring at John with sad, doughy eyes.
"You mean this paper," John asked, producing a copy of the newspaper from behind his back.
"Yes. Thank you so much," Denise said, grabbing the paper so fast that she nearly ripped it.
To Denise's surprise and relief, the story was run. It was, she thought, at least enough to cause doubt and either convince the Judge there was no trustworthy witness or, if it all went to trial, convince the jury of the same. With all luck, it might even get the D.A.'s office investigated and everyone in it fired, maybe even brought up on charges themselves.
"Whew," Denise let out, so happy that her luck had changed.
"I thought you'd like that," John said, smiling down at Denise. Denise didn't know how John really felt. He was so good at hiding things, but Denise had been too busy to see that.
The preliminary exam was beginning soon, and Denise felt a deep hunger coming on. John said that he would take her out to eat. Denise was unsure if she should go, worried that she might not get back in time, but the hunger built stronger and stronger until she could take it no longer. They arrived back at the courthouse less than thirty minutes before the preliminary exam. Denise felt overwhelming butterflies in her stomach. She knew that this was not a jury trial and not necessarily much to worry about, but she was trying to prevent it from having to go that far. If she could get the judge on her side now, everything would be fine. All she had to do was convince the judge that there was insufficient evidence for a trial. Could that be done, she asked herself over and over.
Denise poured over the case file again, hoping that she would spot something last minute or, at least, be totally prepared with what she did see. It seemed like no time at all before she was rising for the judge. "Please rise for the Honorable Percy Q. Whitman."
This was it. This was the big moment Denise had both looked forward to and dreaded.
"Please be seated," the bailiff said.
The judge, a pudgy, short, nearly balding older man, began with, "I see that Mr. Ratner has plead not guilty, so we are here today to determine if there is sufficient evidence for trial. Mr. Dobbs, you may begin."
Dobbs stood up and shot a menacing look Denise's way, smiling so deviously that Denise wanted to go over to him and hit him. She obviously couldn't, but the desire was so strong that it was making her feel almost sick.
A.D.A. Dobbs started, "Your Honor, Richard Ratner killed his daughter in cold blood. We believe that we have plenty of evidence to convince a jury of that."
The judge quickly interrupted him. "Mr. Dobbs, this is a preliminary hearing, not a trial. You can keep your opinions of whether or not the defendant is guilty to yourself for now. Just present your evidence."
"Yes, Your Honor. We have the murder weapon, a large kitchen knife, with the victim's blood and the defendant's prints. We can prove the defendant's motive... his daughter's intention to move away, leaving Mr. Ratner with no family. We have neighbors of the defendant that will testify that they heard screams coming from Mr. Ratner's house, as well as lots of yelling. We also have Mr. Ratner's psychiatrist willing to attest that the defendant suffers from MPD, or Multiple Personality Disorder."
The judge looked somewhat upset. "Hold on, Mr. Dobbs. I'm a little confused here. Isn't it one of your witnesses who is supposedly on tape, stating that he was told by members of your staff what to say on the stand? There was a front page story about it in this morning's paper."
"Unfortunately, Your Honor, that is correct. We have removed Thomas Gaden from our list of witnesses. Mr. Gaden is attempting to capitalize on the story. He was never told what to say by myself or any other person in my office."
Looking gravely concerned, the judge continued, "Yes, that is unfortunate. However, Mr. Dobbs, it does raise enough questions to bring the entire case and your entire office under scrutiny. I believe it should be enough to bring your office under investigation, but that is neither here nor there nor my place to decide. It does make one wonder about the credibility of any of your witnesses. Did any of your other witnesses, Mr. Dobbs, see anything or hear anything other than screams and yelling?"
"They saw the defendant's daughter enter the house where she was killed. They saw no one else go into the house or leave the house. All that they heard, I'm afraid to say, was just screams and yelling, nothing more."
"I see," said Judge Whitman. "Miss Hunter, do you have anything to add?"
"Yes, Your Honor. Unlike Mr. Dobbs, I am not here to try to convince you of my client's innocence. What I will try to convince you of is the D.A.'s office's lack of evidentiary support. Mr. Ratner had been cooking dinner that night for himself and his daughter, using the knife that later killed the victim. That explains the prints on the knife. Mr. Ratner was covered in the victim's blood because of his close proximity to the victim. However, he was knocked unconscious, as was originally reported. The prosecution will argue that Mr. Ratner was knocked unconscious by slipping in the victim's blood and then falling back and hitting his head. The forensic report, the original forensic report, which I have a copy of, indicates that Mr. Ratner could not have been in close enough range of the victim to have committed the murder. By the time the victim was killed, he was already several feet away because he had already been knocked out. Even the blood spatter on his shoes was a result of being in the same room but was not enough to have stepped in the victim's blood. It's all here in this report," Denise said, holding up the papers for everyone to see.
"Let me take a look at that," insisted Judge Whitman, holding out his hand and motioning for Denise to come to the bench.
Denise quickly did as requested and gave the report to the judge, who looked it over and then shot a glance to Dobbs.
"Please approach the bench, Mr. Dobbs."
A.D.A. Dobbs did so, and the judge motioned for him to lean closer.
"Mr. Dobbs," began the judge. "You of all people should be well aware of forensics. If what Miss Hunter is saying is correct, this original report contradicts yours, showing more signs of tampering and corruption. If I were you, I would get my affairs straight before I enter a courtroom. You are making a mockery of me and the entire judicial system."
The judge then looked up at the rest of the courtroom and added, "In light of the forensics and the questions regarding the prosecution's witness, as well as the lack of any significant information from any other witnesses, I have no choice but to dismiss this case. Now, Mr. Dobbs, if you can gather more evidence and want to re-file, that's fine by me, but next time, be aware of the forensic report. Unless a forensics expert is willing to go on the stand and testify, under oath, that mistakes were made in the original report, I don't think you would stand a chance, and I, for one, would not grant a trial. Another judge might, however." Banging his gavel, he included, "Case dismissed! Mr. Ratner, you are free to go. A deputy will escort you back to the hospital where you may collect your personal effects."
Rick suddenly jumped up and gave Denise a big hug. "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you so much!"
"Rick, you're kind of choking me," Denise said.
"Sorry. I'm just so happy!"
Dobbs, a little furious, walked over to Denise and said, "Well, Hunter, I guess I was wrong, and this really was your day." Lowering his voice, he asked, "How in the hell did you get that forensics report?"
Denise just smiled and laughed a little but didn't say a word. Dobbs turned and walked away, shaking his head.
Rick, who had overheard what Dobbs asked Denise, felt the need to ask the same thing.
Denise, again smiling, nodded her head in John's direction.
"Him," Rick asked.
"Who is he?"
"A friend. A friend who can find just about anyone or anything. Actually, we thought we might have a guy that would testify about Dr. Selis and what she's doing. That in itself would've been enough, but we couldn't locate the guy."
"Oh," said Rick. "Still, not bad. Not bad at all."
Maggie, who had been waiting patiently, came around to where Rick was and threw her arms around him, even kissing him hard on the mouth, right in front of Denise. Denise was upset by this but didn't want to show it. She didn't know the history between Rick and Maggie. Rick, shocked, pulled away.
"What was that for, Mags?"