Emerging from the warm cab of the pickup, the world gains a certain clarity in shades of a wintry gray afternoon, amid the sporadic fall of sheets of cold, driving rain.
Surmounting a small rise above the square, crowded half-block of parking, the oddly designed palazzo, part pyramid with steep Aztec steps, part rusticated Italic fortress, part roccoco bauhaus, and topped with a cylindrical double dome complete with rampang eagles and heroic statues, dominates amid a lush landscape studded with pecans.
At the top of the steep steps, on a landing that emerges from the third floor, jurors huddle to take the air and smoke in the chilly air. They look so forlorn.
Stepping out of the elevator and rounding the railing of the rotunda, one may see the judge on the bench, a witness giving testimony, and finally the jurors, back from their cold and forlorn break, seated in the box.
Inside, the witness, a spare black man with a constantly surprised smile and a soft-spoken demeanor, explains the testimony given by a victim of ongoing sexual abuse, a girl who has testified that her ordeal began when she was just 14.
At the extreme right of the defense table, the accused is seated, slightly apart from the legal professionals involved in his case, impassively staring into the brave illumination battling the slowly diminishing grayness from the windows visible through the open door of the judge’s chambers.
A tall lady prosecutor made taller by heels questions him about how a professional may gauge the veracity of a child’s testimony – one of three years of age, or four, compared to a young lady in her mid-teens.
“Does a three-year-old know the difference between the truth and a lie?” she asks. How can one tell when one so tiny is telling an experience that it is accurately described, she follows up after he has agreed it is not a problem
“We use pictures to distinguish their descriptions,” he replies. What about young adults? “Their stories are consistent. This witness’ story was consistent,” he assures her.
Is the witness able to accurately describe what part of her anatomy and where she was hurt, and what part of his anatomy he used to hurt her,” the tall lady asks.
“Yes,” the doctor replies.
When the defense counsel cross examines him, he is equally agreeable, answering a question about how a little child can easily tell the difference between a red and blue crayon, and will tell you when you say otherwise.
When the man finishes his questions, he adds “Ultimately it’s up to 12 people on the jury to determine the truth.” He gestures expansively toward the jury box.
The forensic psychologist smiles, nods, and agrees readily, saying yes.
Following this interchange, the prosecutor stands tall in her heels, her hair braided and circling her scalp, and explains. “Some things came up and the trial progressed must faster than the attorneys thought it would. We have no more witnesses to examine today, but we will tomorrow.”
The judge instructs then what time to return in the morning and all rise as they file out.
Then the judge touches a button at the bench and the projector screen whirs and the electric motor whines gently as it winds the screen up into his housing.
A diagram on a white board mounted on the wall behind the projector screen, drawn in royal blue marking pen, suddenly dominates the room. It is an elevation of a naked female with legs spread, feet presented heels down, toes up, and the vulva starkly defined, the inner and outer labia, sketched in intimate detail, the clitoral hood and clitoris atop the urethral opening and vagina, anus represented by a dot below. An inset illustration makes a clock pattern, 12-3-6-9, indicating certain parts of the anatomy and marked with ticks where the victim sustained certain injuries. The judge sits at the bench, seemingly bemused, staring at the wall, and, thinking of nothing further, stands and walks the few steps to his chambers, closing the door softly.
The drawing on the white board remains a center of focus, something entirely out of place in this quiet bastion of rectitude, a state district courtroom. The drawing is something you would expect to find scrawled in a toilet stall, the back of seat of a city bus, an item of spray-painted graffiti in an alley.
The attorneys sit and look at one another for a moment, and then the two bailiffs take charge of the defendant, escorting him to the passage that leads to the holding cell at the rear of the courtroom. He appears detached from the reality of the moment, a person present, but already forgotten in the rush of reality toward kingdom come. He is soon gone, the bailiff returning alone, shutting the door.
In the world, rain pelts the pavement, streams across the windshield, puddles in ruts on the highway and makes the vehicle dance a bit as it hydroplanes through the ruts and back in contact with the surface of the pavement. The day has turned dark in early afternoon. Night cometh.