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Mary Beth Testifies
by Andrew Vachss


I called the DA's office. They told me Wolfe was on trial, in Long Island City, Part L-3. Bureau chiefs don't try cases. I put it together. Threw on my lawyer suit and headed out to Queens.

When I walked in the courtroom, Mary Beth was already on the stand. That's the way Wolfe trained them: no prelims, no dancing—come out throwing bombs, try and drop the other guy soon as you hear the bell. Lola was leading the little girl through her testimony, her body language suggesting she was pulling softly, coaxing the child out past her fear. Bringing the monster into the light. Lola's slim body was a gently weaving wand in front of the little girl, pacing back and forth on her high heels, blocking the defendant's view of the witness box.

Sheba sat next to Mary Beth, the little girl's hand on the old wolf-shepherd's head. The dog's eyes followed Lola.

"Just one more question, Mary Beth. You told us what he did, what he did to you. It went on a long time—how come you never told anyone?"

"He said ... he told me he'd make something bad happen to Mommy. He said he'd made her get sick and die. He showed me... in the paper where a little girl's mother got sick and died. He said he did that to her. Because the little girl told."

"No further questions," Lola said, sitting down as Mary Beth brushed tears off her cheeks.

The defendant's lawyer got to his feet. A fat, jowly man, his hair was plastered to his scalp with sweat, carefully combed up and over his head from one side to advertise his baldness.

"Your Honor, I again renew my objection to the presence of that animal while the witness testifies. The Rulon decision clearly holds that . . ."

The judge was a regal-looking woman, reddish-blonde hair cut stylishly short, square shoulders, almost a military bearing. I'd seen her before—she started out in Family Court, where they get closer to the truth. Hard to tell her age, but her eyes were old. "Counselor," she said, "the court is familiar with the Rulon case. That involved a witness who testified sitting on the lap of a social worker. Surely it is not your position that the dog is signaling to the witness?"

"No, Your Honor. But . . ."

"The court has already ruled, sir. You may have a continuing objection, and your exception to my ruling. Ask your questions."

Sheba watched the fat attorney like he was mutton in a three-piece suit.

The questioning wasn't much. The usual: Did she ever watch horror movies? Ever see a porno tape on the VCR in her mother's house? Have bad dreams? Anybody tell her what to say?

Mary Beth answered the questions. Sometimes the judge had to tell her to speak up a little bit, but she was getting through it. Patting Sheba, drawing comfort and strength.

The defense attorney asked, "Do you know it's a sin to tell a lie, Mary Beth?"—stepping aside dramatically so the jury would understand it was his client being lied about.

"I know it's a sin," the child said, calmly. "I'm not lying."

"She can't see me!" the defendant hissed suddenly, whispering for his lawyer's ear but loud enough for everyone to hear. "She can't see without her glasses."

Wolfe was on her feet and charging forward like they just rang the bell for the last round and she needed a KO to pull it out. "Was that an objection?" she snarled.

"Yes, that was an objection!" the defense attorney shouted, scrambling to clean up the mess the molester made. "My client is being denied his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation."

"He doesn't want confrontation, he wants terrorism. The law says he gets to see and hear the witness—it doesn't say anything about her having to stare at the likes of him."

"That's enough," the judge snapped. "Take the jury out."

The court officers hustled the jurors away as everyone sat in silence. One of Wolfe's people took Mary Beth and Sheba out a side door. The judge turned to the lawyers.

"That will be just about enough, counselors. You both know better than to make arguments like that in front of a jury. I don't want to hear a lot of rhetoric now. Mr. Simmons, have you any authority for the proposition that the Sixth Amendment requires a witness to wear corrective lenses?"

"Not specifically, Your Honor. But if she can't even see the witness, how can she identify him?"

"She already did that, counsel. On the prosecution's direct case, remember?"

"Yes, I remember. But she was wearing her glasses then."

"What's your point?"

"My client has rights."

"None that have been abridged by this court. Now... that won't be necessary, Ms. Wolfe . . . I have already ruled. Bring the jury back in."

"Your Honor, in light of your ruling, I have no choice but to ask for a mistrial."

"On what grounds, counselor?"

"Prejudice, Your Honor. The jury heard what my client said. A statement like that will poison their minds."

"Are you claiming the prosecution caused your client's outburst, Mr. Simmons?"

"Well, yes . . . I mean, if they hadn't. . ."

"Denied! Let's go."

Wolfe turned away from the bench to return to her seat. Caught my eye.

The defense attorney stood up again. "Your Honor, may I have a few minutes with my client before the jury comes back in?"

"No, counsel, you may not."

"Your Honor, I ask for this time because I believe it might promote a settlement of this matter."

"There is no settlement," Lola snapped out at him. "It's too damn late for that."

"I don't need your permission to plead to the indictment," the defense attorney shot back.

"Then do it. It's a B felony, and we're asking for the max."

"Your Honor, could we approach?"

The judge nodded. Wolfe and Lola came up on one side, the defense attorney on the other. Couldn't hear what they were saying. Finally, the defense attorney walked back to his table, began talking urgently to his client, waving his arms.

I felt it coming.

The defense attorney stood up one last time. "Your Honor, my client has authorized me to withdraw his plea of Not Guilty and to plead to the indictment as charged. My client is a very ill man. Besides that, he wishes to spare the young lady the trauma of cross-examination. I believe . . ."

"Counselor, save your presentation for the dispositional phase of these proceedings. If your client wants to change his plea, I will take his allocution."

They kept the jury out of the courtroom while the defendant admitted the whole thing. His lawyer promised extensive psychiatric testimony to explain the whole thing. Lola and Wolfe sat silently.

The judge discharged the jury, thanking them for their attention. I watched their faces—the defense attorney had read them right—if they had gotten their chance, his client was going down.

The defense attorney asked for bail to be continued. Lola pointed out the defendant was now a convicted felon, facing mandatory imprisonment, with great motivation to flee the jurisdiction.

The judge listened, asked the defense if there was any rebuttal. Listened again. Then she revoked the defendant's bail, slammed her gavel for emphasis, and walked off the bench.

The fat defense attorney turned to Wolfe and Lola. "You just put a very sick man in prison. I hope you're pleased with yourselves."

Wolfe and Lola looked at the lawyer, blank expressions on their faces. Then they slapped each other a loud high-five.

 

For Sheba, a warrior who fought blindness until the last battle closed her eyes.
If love would die along with death, this life wouldn't be so hard.

© 1991 Andrew Vachss. All rights reserved.

Excerpted from the novel Sacrifice by Andrew Vachss.



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