tagNovels and NovellasThe Courier Ch. 12

The Courier Ch. 12


Chapter 12 -- The trial of Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres

While the student protestors continued to kneel outside, Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna, Director Cecilia Sanchez, Prisoner # 101025, and the two officers escorting the prisoner passed through the main door of the Central Courthouse. They walked through an ornate entryway and passed through a second set of doors that led to the main courtroom chamber. The main trial room was quite large, with old wooden furnishings and huge windows on the left side. On the right side were benches where spectators sat. The judge sat at a large desk on an elevated platform at the end of the room opposite from where the prisoner entered, and the prosecution team had a table near the judge's platform. The most important detail for Maria Elena was a second wooden platform about 5 meters in front of the judge's desk. It was round, about a meter and a half high, and had stairs going to the top. That second platform was where the prisoner would have to stand throughout the trial.

Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna took a deep breath as she looked at the prisoner's platform. Already she had spoken on behalf of more than 100 clients, all of whom had to stand during the proceedings. However, the memory burned into her mind was from the very first time she saw that platform, now more than eight years ago. She had been only 18, just out of high school, and had entered the room as Prisoner # 98945. She was a terrified and bewildered foreigner, with no knowledge of the culture or language of Upper Danubia (as the country was called back then) facing a 20-year sentence for marijuana trafficking. How much things had changed since then, but one detail remained constant in the Spokeswoman's mind. Every time she saw that platform, her memory flashed back to her own trial. No matter how many times she escorted her own clients into the Courtroom, for a second Kim's imagination brought back to her, in vivid detail, everything she felt the first moment she saw the platform. It was only for an instant, but that instant never let her forget what it felt like to be going on trial herself.

The Spokeswoman blinked and brought herself back to the present. The cops were un-cuffing her client, who would not be able to escape now that the door was locked. Kim took out the key to Maria Elena's temporary collar and unlocked it. She handed the collar to a courtroom attendant to return to the Ministry, since it no longer would be needed. Maria Elena felt the cool air of the courtroom on her neck, knowing that within a short time she would be collared again, this time permanently.

The Spokeswoman pointed to a worn spot in the Courtroom's very old carpeting and told her client to kneel. Then she issued the following instructions:

"Maria Elena, when the judge comes in everyone will stand and salute him, except you. You must kneel forward and put your forehead to the carpet. You will stay that way until the judge orders you to step forward. You will climb the platform and assume the prisoner's stance. That means you must stand with your legs spread and your hands behind your head. No matter who else is talking, you must remain in that position, facing the judge. Director Sanchez will translate anything you need to know or any answers you need to provide the court."

The prisoner sadly responded: "Dóc-doc, Advokátna Lee-Dolkivna." She remained kneeling, nervously looking at the numerous spectators and trial witnesses sitting in the benches to her right. She recognized almost everyone who had been with the Inspector in the airport interrogation chamber: all those cops who had fondled her and smiled while she was being paddled and humiliated. She saw that female medical assistant who had dishonored her. Unfortunately their eyes met and the woman gave her a very cruel smile.

When the Inspector entered the courtroom to take his seat among the prosecutors, Kim signaled that she needed to talk to him privately. She told Cecilia to remain standing with the kneeling prisoner while she walked over to him. Her heart was pounding, because she had decided to force him to request that the prosecutor drop the charge of perjury against her client. With every bit of effort to control her voice and maintain a calm, confident appearance she quietly asked:

"Inspector, are you aware that there are 13 demonstrators outside this courthouse who are protesting on behalf of my client?"

"Yes, Spokeswoman, I saw them as I was entering."

"Well, Inspector. I believe that the fact there are demonstrators will mean that we will have to play the entire interrogation video of my client during the trial. The demonstrators are not going to accept that my client committed perjury unless the actual footage documenting that accusation is made part of my client's trial record. I am going to have to call you and the medical staff as witnesses to explain your method for proving that my client is guilty of the crime of perjury. When we do that, I will ask that the demonstrators be brought into the courtroom to witness that footage for themselves."

Kim noticed the Inspector's face going pale. She knew that the last thing he wanted was for footage of his unit's interrogation tactics played during a trial. The fact that there were demonstrators, who had Church approval no less, present outside the courtroom, would obligate him to show the film of Maria Elena being beaten and throwing up. There was no question that would cause a huge scandal and possibly cost him his position at the airport. He knew that the Spokeswoman had backed him into a corner. He would have to drop the charge of perjury. He was defeated, but outwardly maintained his calm.

"Spokeswoman, I would imagine, thinking about it, that perjury really is not relevant in the case of your client. I am convinced that she did not understand what we were asking of her. It will not be necessary to enter the interrogation tape into the trial because it simply shows something that we cannot be sure of anyway. If you wish, I will notify the prosecutor of our misgiving about the perjury charge."

"Very well, Inspector. I appreciate your understanding about the perjury issue. If that charge is not included in my client's hearing, I would agree that showing the interrogation video will not be necessary. There is something else."

"Yes, Spokeswoman?"

"Perhaps we might agree to minimize the number of switchings my client will face? I think that, given her sentence will still be 35 years; we could have her switched once a year? That would still be 34 switchings, which I think is enough."

"Yes, I would agree, Spokeswoman. That would be plenty. I will discuss our misgivings with the prosecutor."

"Thank you, Inspector."

As the Inspector turned to talk to the prosecutor, Kim struggled not to faint and not to scream with joy. She took a deep breath and returned to her client. She was trembling and trying to control her emotions. Maria Elena looked at her with concern, while Cecilia whispered:

"What happened?"

"I...I think I'm going to get the perjury charge dropped. If I do, I'll owe that to your students."

"My students?"

"Yes, your students. Because they're out there, I would've forced the Inspector to play the video where they were interrogating Maria Elena. He wants to keep that out, because he doesn't want a bunch of protestors to see what his crew did to her. So, without that video, there's no proof she committed perjury."

Kim and Cecilia watched as the Inspector and the prosecutor discussed the matter. They glanced at the Spokeswoman with worried expressions. The prosecutor then said something unpleasant to the Inspector, before crossing off several lines from his statement. He glanced up again at Kim, his expression full of resentment. It was obvious the perjury charge would indeed have to be dropped. Kim whispered to Cecilia:

"They're really pissed. Essentially I blackmailed them. But I couldn't have done it without your students. As soon as you can, I need you to get out there and let 'em know what they've accomplished."

The judge entered the chamber. The entire room shouted "Doc-doc Danube!" and everyone saluted, including Kim and Cecilia. As instructed, Kim's client knelt forward and placed her hands on the worn carpet, her forehead touching the ground. Maria Elena felt the cool air of the courtroom blowing against her exposed vagina and bottom. She realized how much she was on display, but after two weeks in Danubia, she understood that modesty was a privilege that no longer was part of her life.

The prosecutor read the charges, which included cocaine possession, cocaine trafficking, and violating the sanctity of her body. Kim signed with relief, because not included in the list was the perjury charge. She had scored a significant win against the Inspector.

The trial judge asked Kim in Danubian: "Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna, is your client properly aware of the charges she is facing and that you are her representative in this court?"

"Yes, your honor, although with your permission, I'd like to clarify to her what charges she is, and is not facing."

The prosecutor tightened his lips, because it was obvious his opponent was referring to dropped perjury accusation.

"Very well, Spokeswoman. Please make that clarification so we can continue."

Kim told Cecilia to translate what had happened, that the perjury charge and its resulting 20-year sentence had been dropped. That detail only heartened Maria Elena slightly, because she still was facing 35 years of being collared and a bunch of judicial switchings. Still, Kim's pre-trial victory heightened the prisoner's confidence that her Spokeswoman really was determined to protect her as much as possible.

The trial judge addressed Kim again:

"Spokeswoman, please tell your client to present herself to the court."

Kim tapped Maria Elena's shoulder and pointed at the platform. The prisoner approached it and climbed the steps, finding herself standing about a meter and a half above the ground. Reluctantly she spread her legs and put her hands behind her head. Four spotlights shined on her from different directions. She heard the murmurings of the spectators and saw the flashes of reporters' cameras.

The first portion of the trial was dedicated to presenting the evidence against Prisoner # 101025. The prosecutor stood before the judge with a metal cart containing the evidence. The most important item the official presented was a tray containing 100 grape-sized bluish-gray ovals, the "pellets" of cocaine that Maria Elena was carrying with her when she was arrested. The prosecutor called the dog handler to testify how his dog initially sniffed out the pellets Maria Elena had in her jacket, and then the head doctor to explain how Maria Elena had the other pellets concealed inside her body. That detail caused a stir in the courtroom, because to use one's own body for such a disgusting purpose was totally offensive to Danubian values.

Other evidence presented during the trial included Maria Elena's cell phone and the arrest record of El Flaco in Germany. Kim did not contest anything, because she already had eliminated the evidence that most would have mattered, the interrogation video. Anyhow, both she and the Inspector agreed that Maria Elena was much better off having been arrested in Danubia than she would have been had she continued on to Germany.

After two hours, Maria Elena's body was starting to cramp badly, and she wondered how much longer she could stay in her position. Just as the prisoner felt like she was going to faint, the judge stood up. Suddenly the Spokeswoman whispered desperately "Maria Elena! Quick! You must kneel!" The Colombian just made it to the platform on her knees when the entire room exploded with "Doc-doc Danube!"

Kim ordered her client to step off the platform and passed her a glass of water. Meanwhile, Cecilia went outside to tell Carmen and the other students what they had accomplished by demonstrating. They stood up along with the Priest, wincing as they stretched. Their knees ached and their muscles were horribly cramped from being immobile for such a long time. As for their initial unease of being naked in front of the Courthouse, that concern had passed a long time ago, overshadowed by their physical discomfort.

"So far, just by being here, you've managed to cut 20 years off her sentence. In this country that's a big deal. You really helped Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna and she wants me to tell you how grateful she is."

The Americans were relieved. They had accomplished something significant, so their efforts had not been wasted. Cecilia could tell that they were happy to be finished and thought they were about to leave. However, their commitment was far from over.

"Kim and I need you to get back on your knees for the rest of the trial. The next part is the defense, where the Spokeswoman's gonna negotiate her sentence. Right now she's hoping she can get Maria Elena's switchings cut down to once a year. The Prosecutor wants her to get a switching every three months. So if you guys leave now, Maria Elena's still gonna get screwed. Keep at it, because you're making a difference for her. You really are."

Cecilia briefly summarized what had happened to the Priest in Danubian. He returned to his knees. Carmen immediately knelt and picked up her sign. Reluctantly the others followed, trying to ignore the mounting pain in their knees and the cramps in their legs and backs.

As soon as Cecilia returned to the courtroom to take her place next to the Spokeswoman, the judge stood up to resume the trial. There was a loud shout of "Doc-doc Danube!"

Maria Elena scrambled to get into her kneeling position on top of her platform as the rest of the room saluted the judge. He read over some procedural issues and then ordered the prisoner to stand. Cecilia relayed the order in Spanish and she resumed her position on top of the platform, legs apart and hands behind her head. The judge then called the Spokesman of the Criminal to speak up on her behalf.

Kim made no attempt refute any of the evidence or allege Maria Elena's innocence, because that was not her job. There was no question her client had entered Danubia while transporting a kilogram of cocaine on behalf of a drug trafficking organization. Her job instead was to point out mitigating factors. In Maria Elena's case there were several significant details that Kim was able to present to the court, the most important of which was the fact that, thanks to the prisoner's cooperation with the Inspector, her handler had been arrested in Germany.

As she translated, Cecilia noted that neither Kim nor the Inspector had any desire to tell the court the real reason Maria Elena had cooperated. The Inspector was worried about his unit's abuse of the detainee becoming public record, while the Spokeswoman wanted to portray her client in a way that would make the court sympathize with her. How ironic that the opposing sides shared the same goal, but for totally different reasons.

Cecilia was able to appreciate how difficult and complicated her friend's job truly was, because she had to use guile and tact to outwit prosecutors and police officials whose only goal in life was to treat all criminals as ruthlessly as the law would allow. Kim's job forced her to be cunning and opportunistic, to look for whatever opportunities she could find that would help a client avoid the maximum punishment. What made her position more difficult was that she had to be scrupulously honest about whether or not she believed that her clients actually did commit the crimes of which they were accused. Cecilia knew that if Kim ever attempted to declare a client innocent of a crime while knowing that person was in fact guilty, she could be put on trial herself for perjury and possibly executed.

The defense portion of the trial went very quickly, since there was no conflict between how the Inspector and how the Spokeswoman wanted to treat the prisoner. Finally the judge looked directly at Maria Elena and asked her a question in Danubian. Cecilia translated:

"They are about to pronounce the sentence. He wants to know if you have anything to say to the court. If you do, get on your knees before you speak."

Maria Elena thought for a moment before sinking to her knees. She was neither educated nor very introspective, but she felt that she did have something to say. Haltingly she tried to express herself in Spanish, while Cecilia translated and tried to put what she was saying into a more coherent format. The court heard the following:

"I don't really have a good explanation for what I did or why I did it. I know it was wrong...and when I was doing it I knew it was wrong. I guess I'm going to get what I deserved. But I am lucky. I realize I am lucky, because I didn't know what was really gonna happen to me. I didn't know that...I wasn't gonna be allowed to leave...that they were gonna keep me. And my Spokeswoman said to me that I have to ask myself, why did all those other women end up as...prostitutes...and why didn't that happen to me...why I was spared...and I don't really know. I mean...maybe it was so that you could stop them from what they were doing. But I'm sorry for what I did...I'm sorry for everyone I disappointed...everyone in my life..."

Cecilia gently cut off Maria Elena's rambling so the trial could end. She ordered the prisoner to remain kneeling during the reading of the verdict and sentencing:

"This court finds the Colombian Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres guilty of the crimes of cocaine trafficking through the King Vladik International Airport, possession of one kilogram of pure cocaine in the form of powder, and violation of the sanctity of her body, an offense against the gift that the Creator gave to her soul. The conditions of the Colombian Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres' sentence are as follows:"

"Item One: The Colombian Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres will wear the criminal's collar for thirty five years. Twenty of those years will be for bringing a kilogram of cocaine to the King Vladik International Airport while transporting that drug on behalf of an international criminal organization. For insulting the sanctity of her body the Colombian Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres will wear the criminal's collar an additional ten years. Finally, for the possession of 1000 grams of powdered cocaine the Colombian Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres will wear the criminal's collar an additional five years. The collar will identify her as a criminal, monitor her movements, and alert the police should she try to leave this city. For the next ten years the Colombian Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres is prohibited from traveling more than 10 kilometers from this courthouse. At no point during her sentence will the Colombian Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres be allowed to travel outside the Danube City collar zone, unless such moment is deemed necessary by the government of the Republic of Danubia."

"Item Two: For the duration of her sentence the Colombian Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres is prohibited from covering any part of her body with any article of clothing. That prohibition will remain in effect for the full 35 years, regardless of any other changes to the conditions of her sentence. She has disgraced herself and our nation with her actions, and the Colombian Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres' disgrace will be shown to the world as a result of this conviction."

"Item Three: the Colombian Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres will receive 34 vigorous punishments on the naked buttocks with a standard leather switch. One of the punishments will be given in this chamber immediately at the closing of this hearing, the others on the anniversary of this sentencing in the Central Police Station each year for the duration of her sentence. The arresting officer or his assigned partner will administer all punishments."

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