(Please note: This manuscript is currently being professionally edited)
“This is cause for a toast,” I said as my legal team celebrates at Mojo’s Cafe. I raised my shot glass above my head. “Another murderer on death row.” Our glasses clanked.
My colleagues drink their shots or water or Corona (beer) or whatever they had to drink. I wasn’t the drinking type at least not with beer. I’d preferred a bottle of wine with dinner, not at a dive bar beer foaming to the brim of cheap glass.
We high–five like we’d won the Super Bowl. “Next stop, Disney land!” I said. That sounds cheesy as hell, I know, but old habits are hard to break. I’d talk about going to Disney land when I won a video game—never actually been there, though.
Dizzy, my best friend, and I throw back shots of whiskey like dehydrated men. Dizzy’s real name is James Miller. But ever since college, we’d called him Dizzy because of his lazy eye. Dizzy liked the nickname better than his birth name—so it stuck.
“I gotta drive home,” I said, waving my hands as if to scold myself. “I can’t have much more.”
“What are the cops gonna do, arrest you?” Walter shouts. Jamie and Walter clap and laugh as if we were untouchable. And untouchable we were. In the past three years, I’d been stopped five times on suspicion of DUI but cops looked the other way. “Brent, we’re sorry we stopped you, sir,” they’d say. I’d gotten so used to being above the law that I thought I was the law.
I turned to the door and spot Peggy Johnson, the defendant’s lawyer. Peggy has very red hair. One has gotta try hard to miss her. Our eyes draw like a magnet, and Peggy gives me a chilling stare and a cocky grin.
“We’ll appeal it, you know?” she said loud enough for only me to hear.
“And you’ll lose,” I said.
“You sentenced him to death!” Peggy said.
“He did it to himself.”
“The case was circumstantial at best.”
“The jury found…”
“I don’t give a fuck what the jury found,” Peggy said, pointing inches from my face like a jaded ex-wife during a frequent fight.
“That’s the way our…”
“No, it’s not the way the system works; it’s the way you charged him.”
A waitress brings Peggy her Corona. She twisted the cap and took several quick sips.
Sore loser, I thought. Shoulda put on a better defense to prove her client’s innocence.
“You’re a bastard,” Peggy said. “You know that?”
I glanced back at Peggy to see her crying in her beer as if she were in some country music video.
I raised my hands and clapped. “Alright, guys, let’s call it a night.”
“Already?” Jamie said, finishing the rest of her coke and vodka.
“We gotta another case to prepare for tomorrow,” I said.
“Asshole!” Peggy said as I open the door to leave.
I stopped and turned around, and if looks could murder, I’d be dead. I wanted to tell Peggy to go to hell but continued out the door.
I passed stoplights and street signs, tapping the steering wheel and bobbing my head as I listen to the radio—Peggy’s words play louder, though.
I couldn’t shake Peggy’s anger outta my head. I’d never seen her this upset about a case. My father was murdered in a robbery-gone-bad when I was five-years-old, so prosecuting murderers gave me satisfaction. Every time I heard a guilty verdict, I thought of my dad’s murderer getting sentenced to death. But they never found my father’s killer. So my father’s justice came through the sentences of other dirtbags.
The next morning I sipped coffee, flipping through case law for my subsequent trial. The defense was sure to pull the self-defense card when I came across a document that I’d hidden from Peggy’s client. What? It’s not like I’m the only prosecutor to withhold exculpatory evidence. And as I was about to flip to the next page, I sighed. “What the hell do we have here?” I said.
The document was an enlarged receipt of the defendant’s alibi. Mark Davidson couldn’t possibly have been the killer. He wasn’t in the same state at the time of the murder. I leaned back and fold my arms. Mark should have…found a way to prove it, I convinced myself.
I made the drive to my office. People on the side of the road held congratulatory signs and cheered me for Mark’s death sentence. This community didn’t like child murderers and rapists. The jury convicted Mark of both.
Peggy, my nemesis, couldn’t stand losing, especially not to me. We’d dated in college until she caught me cheating with her best friend. Peggy’s never forgiven me. Well, cheating is only part of it: I didn’t know how to show her love. I loved her, though. Hell. I still love Peggy.
I gave the opening statement for the next case. It was also a death penalty prosecution. I’d tried twenty cases and won all twenty. All twenty sentenced to death. I didn’t lose any sleep over it because a jury convicted them and decided the sentence, not me.
TEN YEARS LATER. Mark’s execution is three days away. Ten years of thinning hair. Ten years of losing zero cases. And ten years of guilt.
“Hello?” I said, ending the phone ring.
“You gotta do somethin’,” Peggy said. “Mark is dying for a crime he didn’t commit.”
“The jury found…”
“It’s me, Brent. Stop… I know you. And this isn’t you.”
“You put on his defense!” I said.
“I’m his appeal lawyer.”
“Not my problem.”
“For once in your life, have a fucking heart!”
I noticed a news conference on TV with Peggy on the phone with me as I ended the call, I saw her shove her phone in her briefcase and step up to the microphone.
What the hell is she doing? Is she going to ruin my career? Part of me wanted her to, and part of me wanted Mark out of prison. I’d been overzealous ten years ago, and I’d put the wrong man on death row. I couldn’t admit it then, but I can now. I stood in front of the TV, biting my fingernails.
“Um…hello,” Peggy said. “I’m here today to call for the resignation of District Attorney Brent Mason.”
Audible gasps echoed from the press.
Peggy glanced down at prepared remarks and directly into the camera as if to speak to me by name. “Over the years, Brent has withheld crucial evidence. Evidence that could give a jury reasonable doubt as to their guilt.”
“What the fuck is this bitch doin’!” I said, throwing on my tie and blazer to head to the office.
“We were David up against Goliath, but as we remember David won.” Peggy motions to her assistant, who placed a poster of Mark’s receipt on a table. “This,” she said, pointing to the receipt, “is proof that my client had nothing to do with Jack’s murder and indeed was in another state. I’m Mark’s appeals lawyer and his trial lawyers failed him. Mark didn’t get a fair trial.”
I pulled Mark’s file, trying to find a way I could refute this evidence. I threw on my suit and passed streetlights and stop signs, rattling my brain for a hole I could put in this evidence. Judge, I think of saying, the defense had access to this information during the… That won’t work because now the public knows that I had access to this exculpatory document.
My shadows bounce off the hallways as I open my office door, Dizzy is freakin’ the hell out.
“What are we gonna do!” Dizzy said.
“Calm down,” I said, gesturing.
“Did you have this evidence?”
I look down and away. “It’s…”
“Oh…my…god, Brent,” Dizzy said, covering his mouth. “You were going to put an innocent…”
“Don’t get all self-righteous on me!” I said. “We’ve both fucked up.”
“Not like this,” Dizzy said. “We’ve done some shady shit but nothing like this.”
“Hello?” I said of a phone call.
“Mr. Mason, you’ve got court in two hours.”
“For what?” I asked the clerk.
“Mark,” she said, hanging up the phone as if I’d killed her kitten.
“YOUR honor,” Peggy said, shoving her finger in my direction, “Mr. Mason withheld this critical piece of information, not admitted in Mark’s original trial.” Peggy handed the bailiff the paper who handed it to the judge.
“And that’s relevant, how?” the judge said.
“It proves Mark, my client, didn’t do it,” Peggy said.
The judge eyes the paper with his glasses on the edge of his nose.
“Well, if he didn’t do it, who did?” the judge asked.
Peggy lowers her head as if she hadn’t thought that far ahead.
“I did, your honor,” I said.
“Excuse me?” the judge said.
“I killed Jack. I hid the evidence.”
Peggy folds her arms and gave me a tight-lipped stare.
“Mr. Mason, this isn’t the time for joking.”
“Jack killed my father, so I killed him,” I said. “Now, it’s true that Mark worked for Jack and had a criminal history, but he did not kill Jack. I did.”
The judge screwed up his face and scratched his bald head. “Son,” the judge said, “you’re tellin’ me you killed Jack and framed…”
“Yes,” I said. “I have proof.” I reached into a duffel bag, pulling out the murder weapon and blood-stained clothes I’d saved.
“Take him into custody,” the judge said. “Mark Davidson shall be released immediately. Sentencing is set for March 4th.”
(© 2021 Andrew Cyr)