Copyright 2016 Mario V. Farina
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Mario V. Farina
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Hear ye, hear ye, the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles is now in session, the Honorable Lee Mannerheim presiding.” The judge settled into the massive leather chair behind the bench and the long awaited trial began.
The district attorney, William Crane, made the opening statement. “We will show,” he stated, “that on night of March 23, this year, the defendant, Henry Allen Wilton, brutally murdered his wife. We will show that his motive was control of the family owned corporation, Horizons Beyond.”
Henry winced when he heard himself accused of murder. He wanted to shout, “That’s a lie! I loved Jan!” But he couldn’t do this. John Barkley, had warned Henry that outbursts during the trial would hurt him.
When it was his turn to speak, Mr. Barkley asserted that the Defense would prove that his client was innocent. Someone else had committed the murder and made it appear that Henry had done it.
John didn’t mean a word of what he was saying. In private, he made no secret of the fact that he thought Henry was guilty. But everyone deserved the best defense that he or she could buy, and John knew that he was the best. He had been able to convince the judge to grant bail for Henry. It hadn’t been easy or cheap. Henry was president of Horizons Beyond, an international travel agency worth several hundred million dollars. John had utilized his skills of persuasion, honed to acute sharpness with twenty years of courtroom experience, to convince the judge that Henry Wilton wasn’t about to skip the country.
Henry had grown up in the Bronx. He had always had a manipulative bent and, in his youth, had ingratiated himself to some powerful movers who had helped him obtain an education at an ivory league college. Then, he had acquired an influential position at a well-known advertising firm. The same powerful friends had helped him infiltrate the highest strata of society. In his early thirties, he had met and fallen in love with Janice Ann Lansbury, of a prestigious San Diego family. She had returned his love and the wedding had been the gala event of the decade.
The couple made their home at the outskirts of Los Angeles in a luxurious a estate they dubbed Hidden Acres.
Horizons Beyond had been founded by Janice’s grandfather. At the time of the marriage, she was its sole owner. On their tenth anniversary, Janice had conferred upon Henry half ownership in the company. “How else can I show my undying love for you?” she had declared as they toasted each other at their anniversary party.
The first day in the courtroom was long and boring for Henry. The jury was finally selected and the court was recessed until the following day. John told Henry that the nine man and three women who had been selected to serve on the jury were above average in intelligence. This fact meant that Henry had at least a thirty percent chance to cheat the gas chamber. It could have been much worse. As Henry drove homeward, he reviewed in his mind how he had come to find himself in a battle for his life.
It had begun on the night of March 23. While Henry was away on business in Reno, someone had invaded the grounds at Hidden Acres. The person or persons had made their way into Janice’s opulent bedroom and had murdered her with one well-placed bullet in the brain. A silencer had probably been used since the maid had heard nothing and had not discovered the outrage until the following morning. Half a million dollars’ worth of jewels had been taken. The police were unable to uncover any clues. The murder weapon was never found.
At first, it appeared that Henry was completely in the clear since he had been in Reno on business for several days. Later, routine investigation by the Reno police uncovered the fact that Henry had chartered a private plane on the night of the murder, a plane that was capable of flying to Los Angeles and back in a time span of only four hours. At his hotel in Reno, Henry had not been seen from ten in the evening until nine the following morning. The State contended that Henry had ample opportunity to fly to Los Angeles, take a cab to Hidden Acres, secretly enter the mansion, murder his wife, and return to Reno during the time that he had not been seen. Henry had taken the jewels to make it appear that robbery had been the motive, they said.
Henry Wilton had been the only passenger on the Gulf Stream 840. The pilot, Mike Chandler, could not be located. When asked to explain his strange actions that night, Henry said that, on impulse, he had decided to take a trip to Montréal, but changed his mind after he and the pilot had been in the air for several hours. He had ordered the pilot to return to Reno. He had no idea where the pilot was now. Records at the Los Angeles airport told a different story. At headquarters, the police had laughed at Henry’s tale.
The Statewide Cab Company had a record of a Mr. Johnson having been picked up at the Los Angeles airport and having been taken to a point within a mile of the Wilton mansion. The driver of the cab that was prepared to swear that the passenger had been Henry Wilton.
The Porsche owned by Henry had been missing. A few days after the murder it was found abandoned in a San Diego suburb.
Henry had failed a lie detector test. The technician who had administered the test stated that he had never seen anyone fail a test as miserably as Henry had. Mr. Barkley told Henry that there was no need to worry. The test could not, and would not, be admitted as evidence during the trial.
A court appointed psychiatrist reported that he found Henry to be exploitative and completely without scruples. When asked whether he thought Henry was capable of murder, he said yes without hesitation.
John Barclay had laid it on the line. He was the best defense attorney in the country, but he couldn’t work miracles. He would deem it a victory if he could save Henry from the death penalty.
Henry was not worried. He felt that a miracle was not needed. He was convinced that when the verdict was read, it would be in his favor.
Arriving at his home, Henry pushed the button on the radio controlled door opener and drove into the garage. Another button alerted the valet that he had arrived. He walked the few steps along the breezeway to the side door. It opened just as he reached it.
“Good evening, sir.”
“Good evening, Thomas, did anything unusual happen today?”
“No sir, there were a few routine calls that I took care of. There were none that required your personal attention. Is there anything I can do for you now?”
“No, Thomas, you may retire to your quarters. I’ll glance at the evening paper and go to bed.”
“Very well, sir.”
Henry walked into the library and sat in his favorite armchair. He picked up the paper that had been made ready for him and skimmed the headlines. Looking over his shoulder to make sure that Thomas was gone, Henry reached for the ornate French phone located on the stand next to his chair. He dialed a number, then waited a few seconds.
“Is it safe to talk?”
There were some words on the other end.
“Yes, I know, dear, but it will all be over within a few days. Then we can let it all blow over and take a nice trip.”
Henry listened, then spoke again.
“Having you on my side makes all the difference. I’ll call you when I get home tomorrow. Good night, my dear.”
The proceedings resumed at nine the following morning. The clerk called out the familiar “Here ye,” and all present settled down for a full day. Henry and his attorney were seated at a large oak table. Flanking them on both sides were additional lawyers from the firm of Cohen, Adams, and Griffith. Henry new that they made an impressive array against the two individuals that the State had managed to pit against him.
The court room was packed. There was a raucous hubbub that Judge Mannerheim effectively quelled with a severe, “Order in the court!”
Henry stared at the judge. “Stern looking. Very stern,” he mused. John had told Henry that judge Mannerheim had a reputation for adhering to the letter of the law. If Henry were found guilty, he could expect no mercy.
Henry perused the jury. He tried to recall the professions of the members. He remembered that most of the men were in business for themselves. Two of the women were wives of office workers and the third woman was in business for herself with a dress shop. Feeling that he had a professional eye for feminine beauty, Henry studied the faces of the women. Not even one of the three was half as attractive as his sweetheart, he concluded. If the State had any inkling that he had been seeing this beautiful woman for over a year, they would have had a field day. He glanced at his watch. It would be several hours before the court would be recessed.
John leaned in his direction and whispered, “You should be paying more attention to what’s being said. Juries expect that.” Henry nodded and tuned in. The people were presenting a pretty good case. They had brought out a witness who was testifying to the brutality of the murder. Henry leaned over to John. “Are they allowed to be so graphic?” He continued with, “Couldn’t that be considered inflammatory? Maybe you should object.”
John whispered back that there was not much he could do. The Prosecution was within its rights.
“Approach the bench!” The judge severely summoned the attorneys from both sides. William Crane and John Barclay moved forward. There was an out-of-earshot animated discussion, then the consultation was broken off. John Barclay came back to the table.
“What did the judge have in mind, John?”
“The judge was very disturbed at the methods being used by the Prosecution. They were told to cool it. You were right, I should have objected.”
“How did Mr. Crane feel about this?”
“He was furious and made a formal protest. On balance, this was good for you. Your chances have improved a good deal.”
In the afternoon, a procedural battle erupted over whether an individual named Gordon Effram should be heard. Henry knew who Gordon was. This man could place him at the Los Angeles airport at eleven. His testimony would be devastating. John’s argument that the existence of Gordon should have been revealed to the Defense before the trial began was weak. But that’s all they had, and they had to go with it.
The judge listened to the arguments of both sides, then decided in favor of the Defense.
“It appears that the people had ample opportunity to inform the Defense of this witness, Mr. Crane,” the judge declared angrily. “I will not allow this testimony. I have to warn you, councilor, that your conduct in this matter has been duly noted. Now, as the hour is getting late, we will adjourn and resume at nine tomorrow morning.”
As Henry walked out of the courtroom, he discussed the events of the day with Mr. Barkley. “They don’t have a great deal left, Henry” John said. “The evidence is strong, of course, but it’s circumstantial. We have just one more hurdle to overcome, then I think you’ll make it.”
In the library, Henry depressed the digits of the number he had dialed the night before.
“Hello, darling,” he said, “How do you think the jury feels about what happened today?”
“No, sweetheart, I don’t have my eye on any of the women in the jury. I was just studying their faces to see if I could guess what they were thinking. When compared to you, they’re nothing.”
There was a pause.
“Yes, dear, tomorrow should be a decisive day. And do be careful. I caught you looking at me with that special way you have. There will be plenty of time for those looks later.”
“On the following day, the State presented records from the Statewide Cab Company and offered the testimony of the cab driver who had driven a man close to Hidden Acres. The driver stated positively that the man was Henry Wilton.
Mr. Barkley introduced evidence that the witness had been fired from his previous position for drinking. The objections from the Prosecution were to no avail. They were summarily overruled, and the destruction of this witness was allowed to continue without interruption.
The State attempted to introduce records obtained from Los Angeles International Airport. John was able to have most of them stricken because of missing affidavits. This favorable ruling was based on a technicality, to be sure, but the Defense had prevailed.
The State rested. “Mr. Barkley, Are you going to make a motion?” Judge Mannerheim asked.
John seemed taken aback, then remembered that it was customary to move for dismissal on the grounds that the State had not presented a prima facie case. These kinds of motions were usually denied. He made the motion in a desultory manner.
“Motion granted!” The judge turned to face the district attorney. “Mr. Crane, the behavior of the State in this courtroom has been reprehensible. Whatever case you might have had was destroyed because of the slipshod, even clumsy manner, in which you conducted your case. See me in chambers immediately!”
There was bedlam in the courtroom over the unexpected turn. People rushed to congratulate Henry and his attorneys. The Prosecution was stunned and stood numbly by. Reporters dashed for the phones.
“Send me your bill,” Henry shouted to Mr. Barkley and hurriedly left the courtroom. A police officer drove his Rolls to the front of the building. Henry entered the car and turned the vehicle toward his home.
Meeting his valet at the door, Henry told him to take the evening off. He wanted to be alone and rest.
An hour after Thomas had left, the chimes announced a late caller. Henry hurried to the door and let in a beautiful visitor.
“You always did look lovely in black, your honor,” he said, but those bulky robes don’t do a thing for you.”
He drew her close and kissed her passionately
“I knew you were on my side,” he said “but what you did today was outrageous. They’re going to be very angry with you, Lee.”
“What are they going to do about it? Now that they don’t have you as the political victim of the century, they’ll have to go after Mike Chandler and the maid. My spies in the DA’s office tell me that they’ve had Mike under surveillance for several weeks. They didn’t move aggressively against him because they felt you were easier. In chambers, I told Mr. Crane what I knew, and what would happen to the pack.”
“Henry, you know what a stickler I am for ethical behavior. I wouldn’t have taken such extreme actions if I hadn’t known the truth. But, my love, what a dunce you were that night! When you flew down to see me, you played right into the hands of the Prosecution. It was lucky for you that the judge knew you were innocent!”