It's been weeks since I participated, so I'm playing catch up. The words I had to use this time were:
Plausible, taint, willingly, buckle, evade, wedge, educate, object, silence, dabble, lean, utter, judge, nightfall, safety, demise, effort, revival, advance, pander, shuffle, clutch, delight, happy, gesture, immediate, treasure, abrupt, kernel, wield, fragile, rampant, tremor, effect, immense, shimmer, absolve, hiss, ridicule, hint, lust, sheen, engulf, imminent, tamper, gait, nudge, ripen, demure, offend, volatile, charm, feast, robust, break, negative, surface, abstain, halo, prayer.
So, here it is:
“Is it plausible to willingly tamper with and taint evidence enough to evade arrest for murder?” Channing stared at the surface of the scarred table in front of her while Mr. Turnbeck, her lawyer droned on and on to the jury. She tried to tune him out and listen to the hiss of the fluorescent lights, but his nasally voice kept sucking her back into what he was saying.
She glanced at the judge, and almost snickered when he dozed off in the middle of Turnbeck’s opening statements. The lawyer’s voice was robust and his gestures were volatile. It was like being at a tent revival. His voice would trail off to near silence, then burst into the air making the fragile peace shimmer and shatter like the mirror she’d knocked off the wall the last night her husband beat her.
Channing closed her eyes and sent up a prayer as her lawyer continued to wield his words and gestures like demure weapons in an effort to sway the jury before the trial really even began.
The prosecutor finally nudged himself off his seat long enough to object to something her lawyer said, and plopped back down when the judge uttered, “Sustained.”
When Turnbeck finally resumed his seat next to her, a tremor shook her. She’d be on the stand to talk about the demise of her marriage soon. When the prosecutor, a piggy little man named Beck, called her to the stand, Channing clutched her hands together and shuffled as fast as the shackles would let her move. She forced her knees not to buckle as she climbed the two steps onto the witness stand and wedged herself into the corner farthest from the bailiff. Oh, how the mighty have fallen, Channing thought to herself.
“Please state your name, age and address for the record.” Beck parked his large backside on the table in front of her and she wondered how it managed not to lean.
“Channing Diane Newell, 32,” she mumbled. She recited her address and waited for the next question.
“And what is your occupation, Mrs. Newell?” His dark watery eyes seemed to glitter with a sheen of delight in the dim courtroom.
“I taught self defence classes at the women’s shelter.” That had been such a happy time in her life. Then she’d met Jeff.
“So, you would educate women on how to protect themselves against abusers and that sort of thing, correct?”
“Yes sir.” She wanted to sneer at him. She had a degree and two black belts. Her career wasn’t something she just dabbled with. It had been her life. She gave women safety and a kernel of hope in a world that threatened to engulf them in violence, pain and fear.
“And you had an occasion to use this knowledge yourself on the evening of January 27, 2009. Is this correct?”
“Yes sir.” She hung her head and waited. She didn’t want to pander to the jury, but she knew without their understanding, no one would absolve her of Jeff’s death.
“And on the evening of January 27, 2009, did you or did you not break the neck Jeffrey Samuel Newell, your husband?”
“I was defending myself, sir.” Beck advanced on the witness stand with the gait of a predator. It should have been funny to see such an immense man move so quickly and with grace, but she couldn’t dredge up any humor.
“That’s not the question I asked, Mrs. Newell. Did you kill your husband?” There was a hint of lust in his eyes, almost like he was waiting to feast on her admission of guilt.
“Yes sir, but it was in self defense.”
“So you did kill Jeffrey Newell?” His voice was loud and strident now in his rampant questioning.
Channing sighed. “Yes sir.”
“No further questions for this witness, your honor.” Beck sauntered back to his seat.
Turnbeck, her defense attorney rose slowly just as the clouds outside cleared. Light poured through the windows and a halo of light reflected off his shiny hair. “Ms. Newell, you have admitted to killing your husband in self defense.”
“Yes sir,” she mumbled fearing her imminent trip to prison.
“Can you tell me what happened on the evening of January 27, 2009?”
“It was right around nightfall when Jeff got home. I remember watching the sun set
and wondering if he’d stopped at the bar after work.”
“Was that common?”
“How did you and Jeff meet?”
The change of subject shocked her for a moment, but she answered. “We met at a church group for college kids who wanted to abstain.”
“Abstain from what?”
“Sex, drugs, alcohol. The normal temptations for college kids.”
“So, and I don’t mean to ridicule you here, you and Jeff were good kids?”
“Yes sir. I thought so any way.”
“How did he treat you when you were dating?”
“Like I was a priceless treasure. Any time I needed him, he was immediately there. But then something changed. He didn’t like my friends, so I couldn’t hang out with them. He didn’t like the way my mother was negative about our relationship, so I couldn’t talk to her.”
“So, to keep from offending him, you cut all ties to your friends and family.”
“In the end, yes sir.”
“He waited for you to become totally his, like he would wait for fruit to ripen perfectly before snatching it off the tree?”
“I suppose so.”
“What happened that night, Ms. Newell?” Again the abrupt change in questioning threw her.
“Jeff was drunk when he got home. He’d gotten laid off from another job and had been drinking since around noon. He wanted to have sex with me, but I didn’t want to.”
“Why not?” Turnbeck looked down at his notes.
“The day before he’d hit me and busted my lip, and punched me in the stomach. I was sore and not feeling particularly interested in having sex with my husband.”
“Had he hit you before?”
“How many times?”
“I don’t know for sure.”
“Did you ever call the police?” He fired off questions almost faster than she could answer.
“How many times?”
“I don’t know. Four or five, maybe.” Her face felt hot and she knew she was blushing.
“Seven, Ms. Newell. You called the police seven times. I have the reports here.” He showed the evidence to the jury. “There are some painful looking photos in with those reports, Ms. Newell. Why didn’t you just leave?”
“I didn’t have any where to go, and the first few times he always apologized and would treat me like a princess afterwards. Then he quit apologizing, and started blaming me. Pretty soon, I did feel like it was my fault. If I’d been a better wife, he wouldn’t have had to punish me.”
“So, after Jeff got home that night, drunk, wanting sex, what happened?” Turnbeck gathered the police reports up and laid them on the corner of his desk.
“I said no and he hit me. I fell back against the table and knocked the dinner dishes off. He jumped on me and we hit the floor. I remember the smell of rum on his breath gagging me.”
“What happened next?” His question broke through her memories and the effect was startling.
“I tried to push him off of me, but he was too heavy. He grabbed my breast and squeezed until I screamed. That shocked him, I think because he sat up and I was able to pull my legs out from under him and run upstairs. I was going to lock myself in the bathroom and wait for him to calm down.
He chased me and about halfway up the stairs, he grabbed the waistband of my jeans and pulled me down. He flipped me over on my back and yanked my shirt up over my face. It felt like I was going to suffocate.” She paused to clear the knot of tears from her throat. “May I have a glass of water?”
The bailiff poured a glass from a nearby pitcher and she took a long drink. “After he pulled my shirt up over my head, he grabbed my wrists and pinned them. With his free hand he undid the fastenings on my jeans and pulled them down. He…”
“He raped you, didn’t he, Ms. Newell?” Turnbeck’s voice was soft.
“What happened then?”
“He started hitting me again. The stairs were cutting into my back and my shirt was still covering my face. It hurt so much, all I wanted to do was get him off of me.”
“At this time, your honor I’d like to show the jury photos of the injuries sustained that night by Ms. Newell.” Turnbeck unwrapped a poster size photograph of her face. It was grotesque – bruises covered every inch and blood ran from her nose and mouth. He took that photo and put it on an easel, then he put up one that showed the bite marks on her abdomen and legs. There were hand-shaped bruises covering her hips and thighs.
Channing couldn’t look at the photos. She was excused from the stand and waited at the defense table.
The jury deliberated for 27 minutes before returning the verdict.
When “not guilty” rang out in the courtroom, tears flooded Channing’s eyes. Her shackles were removed and she knew she would be free.
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