Voices in the Darknessbyjill999©
VOLUME ONE -- VOICES IN THE DARKNESS
All eyes turned as my attorney called our witness: "The plaintiff calls Michelle Liu to the witness stand."
The entire courtroom fell silent in anticipation of Michelle's appearance. The distinctive sound produced from a woman's high heel shoes walking on a marble floor could be heard approaching. The sound from each step grew louder as she approached the imposing double doors of courtroom number two.
Michelle Liu was the star witness in my case. She walked confidently down the center aisle of the Orange County courtroom located in Santa Ana, California. She was dressed in a navy blue pin striped suit and she wore dark blue high heel pumps. Her right ankle was adorned with a thin gold and diamond bracelet which glimmered with each of her strides. She carried a small hand bag which she grasped firmly in her left hand. Her raven colored hair was cut in a manner which accented her beautiful dark eyes. Bangs covered most of her forehead and formed a straight line above her eyebrows. Her makeup had been applied flawlessly and she looked as if she was a fashion model striding down a catwalk. Her hips swayed seductively as she moved. She approached the bailiff who was standing in front of the witness stand.
I had achieved celebrity status as a result of my case, even though I was shy and avoided being a public person. But my story had that precise combination of elements which produced high ratings for the 24 hour news networks. They knew that any scandal involving wealthy doctors, sex, and intrigue would draw a huge audience. So I was forced into my fifteen minutes of fame.
Michelle was seated after swearing to tell the truth in the matter of Christine Velarde vs. Southland Memorial Hospital Incorporated. Her testimony was crucial to my case. She had come forward one and a half years ago after my story gained some local news exposure. Michelle claimed that she couldn't live with herself knowing what she had done. So she contacted my private attorney and he in turn directed her to the State Attorney. As a result of her willingness to testify I was going to get my justice.
Michelle was the key to everything in my case. Not only was she a surgical nurse at Southland Memorial Hospital, but she was also dating the anesthesiologist for the hospital's plastic surgery unit. She was there in the operating room when my vital signs plunged and I was left in a coma like state.
The State Attorney had granted Michelle immunity in exchange for her testimony. She was safe from prosecution and had already told everything she knew to the prosecutors. Criminal charges were brought against Dr. Robert White shortly after Michelle made her immunity deal. The story went national shortly thereafter and my life was transformed in a profound manner. As the news cycle intensified, Dr. White accepted a plea bargain deal which gave him a year in a minimum security facility and three years probation. He was also forced to surrender his medical license.
His plea was an admission of liability. After all; the whole world knew that he had almost single handedly killed me through his criminal negligence and then participated in a cover up to conceal his misdeeds. His malpractice insurance company settled out of court with me for a lump sum payment of $1,800,000. Of course my attorney received $600,000 of the award for negotiating the deal, but I also desperately wanted the hospital to pay for their part in this matter.
On direct examination my attorney, James O'Connor, established to the Court's satisfaction Michelle Liu's identity and her relevance to the case at hand. Her testimony had been rehearsed and it proceeded smoothly. The moment of truth was rapidly approaching.
Mr. O'Connor asked: "Ms. Liu, will you tell the Court where you were on the evening of Tuesday, March 11, 2003?"
"I was at the home of Dr. Robert White in Huntington Beach."
"Who else was there in addition to yourself Ms. Liu?"
"Robert White was there and Stewart Lyons and his wife Susan were also there."
My attorney pressed on: "Do you remember when you arrived and when you left the house?"
"I arrived at about 10:00 PM and I spent the night. I left the next morning around 9:00AM."
"Was Dr. White with you all night Ms. Liu?"
"Yes he was."
"And was Dr. and Mrs. Lyons there as well for the entire evening?"
Michelle looked at the jury and said: "No they left around 1:00 AM. I remember Dr. Lyons saying that he needed to get some sleep."
"How would you characterize the meeting which took place at Dr. White's house on the evening in question?"
"I would describe it as an intimate party."
Attorney O'Connor looked in the direction of the jury instead of looking at Michelle and asked: "Ms. Liu, did anyone consume or use any intoxicating agents at this party?"
"We all did; Rob and I smoked marijuana and drank wine. Dr. Lyons made and drank several martinis and Susan only drank a little bit of the wine."
Still speaking to the jury he asked a crucial question: "Would you say that either Dr. White or Dr. Lyons was intoxicated?"
"Objection; calls for the witness to render a medical opinion for which she has not been qualified by this court as an expert."
The judge quickly sustained the defendant's objection.
My attorney turned and faced the judge: "Allow me to rephrase your honor. Ms. Liu did you notice anything in the behavior or actions of Dr. White and Dr. Lyons that indicated any impairment of their physical or mental faculties?"
Once again the defendant's attorney objected, but was overruled by the judge. "You may answer the question."
Michelle had been instructed by my attorneys to face the jury when answering important questions on direct. She looked directly at juror number 5 and said: "I didn't see anything in Dr. Lyons' behavior which made me believe he was affected very much by his drinking. He spoke clearly and was alert all night. Stewart, I mean Dr. Lyons, walked straight when he and his wife left. However Rob was slurring his speech and he stumbled twice while getting more wine from the kitchen."
"Would you tell the court how many glasses of wine did Dr. White consume?"
"I wasn't counting how many glasses Rob drank. However, I know we completely finished three bottles of a very nice merlot that evening. Susan Lyons had two glasses and I had four or maybe five. Rob had the rest. I'm fairly certain that what Susan and I consumed equaled one full bottle and Robert drank about two bottles."
"Previously you said that both Dr. White and yourself used marijuana. Is that correct?"
"How much marijuana did Dr. White smoke?"
"I think he rolled about six joints that night. We smoked them all. It was really good stuff. I was feeling very mellow after the first two joints."
These facts were already known. They were the basis of the charges rendered against Dr. White by the State of California. But now my attorney had to prove that the hospital was aware of what Dr. White was doing during his evenings. We had to show the hospital should have known about the doctor's impaired condition.
"Ms. Liu, did Dr. Lyons ever comment on Dr. White's condition that night?"
"Yes he did; Dr. Lyons told Dr. White several times that he should take it easy on the booze. He reminded Dr. White that they had surgery starting at ten the next morning. He also asked Dr. White not to smoke anymore marijuana that night after we did our third joint."
"How did Dr. White respond?"
"He told Dr. Lyons to stop pretending to be his mother. He said he knew his limit."
Mr. O'Connor asked permission to approach the witness before he strode across the courtroom. He spoke softly to Michelle and said: "I know this is going to be difficult but I need to ask you some very personal questions. Is that alright with you Ms. Liu?"
The court reporter looked to the judge and indicated that she could not hear the question. The judge asked Mr. O'Connor to repeat the question so that it could be heard. That was a courtroom tactic which James O'Connor had used at crucial moments. He now had everyone's attention as he repeated the statement. Then his next move was to start a series of questions that would reveal to the jury the scandalous activities which occurred that evening.
"Ms Liu, would you please tell us besides the drinking and drug use what else went on at the party that evening."
This time Michelle kept her eyes lowered. She didn't want to make eye contact with anyone. She spoke softly: "We had sex. It was a party where all of us had sex together."
"I know this is very difficult but could you please tell the court the details of the sexual activity."
Tears formed in Michelle's eyes, but she continued her testimony: "We were all in the living room and at first the guys wanted to watch Susan and me undress each other. They were seated and we stood in front of them and I helped Susan take off her cocktail dress. I think they had just come from dinner at a nice restaurant. I stood behind her and unzipped her dress and helped her take it off. Then I unhooked her bra and slid the straps from her shoulders."
The defendant's attorney quickly stood: "Objection! This testimony has no relevance to the proceeding. It is intended to incite the jury."
My attorney replied: "Foundational evidence your honor, it will demonstrate why the witness was privy to certain information that will prove the knowledge of the defendant's involvement in this matter."
The judge responded by looking to the witness and saying: "Ms. Liu, I am going to ask you to answer Mr. O'Connor's question. But please tell the Court only the details that are necessary for an understanding of the relationships you had with the defendants. Do you understand my instructions?"
"Yes your honor."
"Mrs. Lyons and I had sex after we undressed each other. The men watched and drank while we made love. Then Stew, I mean Dr. Lyons, undressed and I performed oral sex on him. Dr. White undressed and got behind me and started having intercourse with me while I was still having the oral sex with Dr. Lyons."
"Was that how the party ended Ms. Liu?"
"Oh no it kept on going. The guys wanted Susan to repeat what I had just done except that Susan gave Rob a blow job; I mean the oral sex. Rob was on the edge of his chair and Susan got on her hands and knees and............."
Another objection rang out and the judge interrupted Michelle's testimony: "We don't need to know that much detail Ms. Liu. Please just state what sex acts occurred and who participated."
Michelle sat silently for about ten seconds and then said: "I think I had intercourse two times with Dr. White and I'm sure I had intercourse with Dr. Lyons only once. I performed oral sex on Dr. Lyons and Susan Lyons once each, and twice with Dr. White. I had oral sex performed on me once each by Susan Lyons and Dr. Lyons and three times by Dr. White."
"Why did you have sex with Dr. White so many more times than with Dr. Lyons and his wife?"
"Because after the Lyons' left for the evening Rob wanted to party some more. He and I continued until around 4:30AM when I just couldn't do it anymore. I was exhausted."
"Was Dr. White also tired?"
"Objection; calls for the witness to render an opinion on a medical condition."
"Sustained, please rephrase the question."
Attorney O'Connor asked: "Did Dr. White say he was tired?"
"Yes he did." Michelle then stated to the best of her recollection that his exact words were: "Thank god you can't do it again baby. There is no way that I'm getting hard again tonight. I'm so fucked up right now I just have to get some sleep."
The judge looked at the Courtroom clock and said: "We are going to stop for lunch. Court will be in recess until 1:30."
Elizabeth West sat across from me in the rather stark room located next to the bailiff's quarters. My attorney had arranged for us to have this small room everyday during the trial so that I wouldn't have to face the press at lunch time. Liz was now the center of my life. When I had been helpless she was always there. It was always her reassuring voice that told me I would be better soon. Her tender touch on my limp body pulled me back from the despair I suffered for those long days and nights two years ago.
Standing 5'5 and weighing 126 pounds, Liz had a wonderfully feminine body. She was going to be 30 years old in a few months but most people thought she looked 25. Her golden blonde hair draped down onto her shoulders. Liz's face was nicely tanned which along with her glistening white teeth and her sparkling blue eyes made her look like a California surfer girl. And in fact that was exactly what she loved to do in her spare time.
Until a few months ago Liz was a registered nurse at the Irvine Care Center. She had been in charge of the graveyard shift. It was there that Liz was with me every evening for months. I had lived in a world of darkness because I couldn't open my eyes without help. I could see light if a doctor or nurse held my eyelids open but even then I couldn't focus and everything was a blur. I didn't need my eyes to function for me to picture Elizabeth's beauty. I had previously known her and I could always picture her face in my mind. However, I needed to hear her voice and feel her touch because they were my sustenance. She was the one who helped me to fight my way back from the edge of insanity. There were other nurses and orderlies at Irvine Care, and most of them had been respectful of my needs while I was comatose. But it was always Elizabeth who I wanted to care for me.
The trial had triggered so many memories in the past few days. I frequently remembered the horror of being trapped in my immobilized body. And I also remembered the insensitivity of some of the doctors and nurses as they referred to me as a lost cause. Of course I also remembered the man I lived with and how he abandoned me in my darkest hour.
I was glad that my parents didn't have to endure my many months of being in a vegetative state. I think it would have hurt them profoundly. My father, Vincent Velarde, had died when I was 6 years old. He was a construction worker and was killed when a partially completed roof caved in. My mom, Pamela Velarde, died in 1999 of ovarian cancer. The death of my parents, who were both loving and caring people, truly tested my faith in God. I had been left alone in an often hostile world. I needed my faith to be restored.
One of the many side effects from my long ordeal still haunted me. I frequently experienced hallucinations. I was having difficulty differentiating those daydreams from reality. They often seemed absolutely real to me. And at other times I experienced flashbacks. I would relive something that happened to me in my past. It was always very confusing. Luckily for me Liz was with me and she generally knew when I was "tripping" as she called it. She was the one who would snap me out of it.
I relaxed for a moment and watched Liz fidget with some sandwiches. The room had no windows and the temperature seemed quite warm. It was probably somewhere in the 76 to 78 degree range. It was just right for me to slip from reality once again.
Suddenly, I found myself seated outside the Courthouse next to Court TV's Beth Karas. A makeup girl was fixing Beth's blonde hair and powdering her face. I was wired for an interview and could hear the voice of Nancy Grace through my earpiece. A field producer was waiving his arms and pointing to us as we heard Nancy make an introduction: "We have a special treat for you viewers this afternoon. Our Beth Karas has arranged for an exclusive interview with Christine Velarde outside the Orange County Courthouse in sunny southern California."
Ms. Karas looked into the camera and spoke: "Thank you Nancy, I'm very fortunate to have Christine Velarde seated next to me today. As you viewers know Christine experienced a living nightmare just over two years ago. She suffered from a coma like form of paralysis as a result of the negligence of an intoxicated anesthesiologist. Dr. Robert White has already pleaded guilty to charges brought against him regarding the injuries suffered by Ms. Velarde. She is now suing the hospital here in civil court."
Beth then slightly shifted her body and looked away from the camera and back toward me and asked: "Christine all of our viewers are wondering how you are feeling now?"
"I'm doing better and better with time. I have fully recovered my physical functionality but I still suffer from hallucinations."
"Christine, some of our viewers are not familiar with you and your background could you tell them just a little bit about yourself and the events that led up to your surgery."
"Well Beth I'm now 26 years old. I was born and raised here in California and love just about everything that California offers a person my age, that is except for the traffic. I graduated from UCLA when I was 22 and landed a great job with a Fortune 500 company in their Human Resources Department."
Beth pressed on for more personal information: "Why did you decide to have elective breast surgery Christine? And were you aware of the risks associated with that type of operation?"
"The reason for wanting breast augmentation surgery centered about my relationship with my boyfriend at that time. I met and fell in love with Rick Winters almost three years ago. He was considerably older than me since he was 31 when we started dating. But he was handsome and he was financially secure. He was a mortgage broker and when interest rates fell in 2002 he started doing lots of refinances. In fact he was making over $50,000 a month. By the start of 2003, his business was a huge success. Rick had a beautiful home in Costa Mesa and after dating for a few months he asked me to move in with him. I think he enjoyed having a beautiful young girl on his arm when he went out and met with his friends. I had the pretty face he wanted in a girlfriend and I was tall and thin. There was just one deficiency that Rick felt I should do something about. That deficiency was my chest size. I was 5'9 and weighed 120 pounds; but sadly my bra size was 34A back then. Many of my friends would comment that I looked just like Barbara Feldon in the "Get Smart" reruns. I have always kept my brown hair cut fairly short and I had bangs coming down on my forehead. My bangs were quite similar to those that Barbara was famous for."
"Christine you do look just like Barbara in her role as Agent 99. Even your green eyes are a perfect match to the way I remember her."
"Thanks Beth, it was difficult to stay in shape after my coma. But now I'm working out again everyday."
"Well you look wonderful Christine. So was it your boyfriend who wanted you to have the surgery?"
"Yes, shortly after I moved in with Rick he started suggesting that I should get my boobs done. He of course wanted to pay and have it done by the very best plastic surgeon in the area. I resisted at first because I had always been scared of hospitals. But he kept telling me how sexy I would look and how much it would please him if......"
A familiar voice was calling me: "Chris.....Chris....are you tripping?"
Then without any warning I shifted in time and place, I was no longer speaking Beth Karas outside the courthouse; instead I was in a beautiful room at the Saint Francis Hotel located in San Francisco.
I thought to myself that I must be having a flashback. This was where Rick had taken me two and a half years ago. In fact it was that very night in San Francisco when I finally decided to have my boobs done. Rick had taken me with him to a mortgage brokers conference.
There were so many fine shops located around Union Square for me to browse and shop in while Rick attended his meetings. I picked out a beautiful dress to wear that evening since Rick had made reservations at Scoma's Restaurant down on Fisherman's Wharf.