The People VS Joshua Pent – Preparations

This entry is part 4 of 14 in the series Equanimity

Helen Kramer was good at what she did.  Very good.

The cases she had fought over the years had brought her a number of distinctions and honours, to the point where she was now known by some as a legend.  She was the defense attorney everyone wanted to have, which meant she was also the one all her colleagues wanted to beat.

This made for a pretty hectic work environment.  Helen, however, had learned early on how to ‘play the game’, and though she didn’t play it often, she did when she found she had to.

In the end, she wasn’t trying to prove herself worthy or better than anyone, she just wanted to get the job done to the best of her ability.  It was this focus that had allowed her to excel in her career, and – more often than not – it was this focus that was lacking of her colleagues.

They always make the same mistake: putting themselves before the case, she thought to herself.

One of these colleagues was Defense Attorney Steven Lee, a young, strong headed individual who had graduated at the top of his class a few months earlier.  Steven had shown a lot of promise on his first case, a case that the firm believed didn’t stand a chance of succeeding.  The prosecution had held the same belief, and had mistakenly underestimated the young lawyer.  By the end of the trial, Steven had thoroughly humiliated the prosecution, and his client had walked away scot-free (though whether he deserved freedom was another matter).

The young man showed promise, but the win had boosted his already high ego to dangerous new levels.  The firm partners wanted to keep him on a tight leash, and decided to pair Steven with Helen, hoping that working with the legend herself would ground him.

The problem was that Steven didn’t want to be paired.  In fact, shortly after being assigned to Helen’s team, he had stormed into one of the partners’ offices and demanded his own case.  His demand had been quickly rejected (along with – Helen later learned – his demand for a company car and a 25% raise).  Beaten, Steven had stormed out of the office with defiance in his eyes, vowing to himself that he would outdo Helen, and show everyone just how good of a Defense Attorney he was.

***

The two were paired for an extraordinary case: the People VS Joshua Pent. The case had already garnered national attention to the point where the name “Joshua Pent” had become a household name.  Everyone knew of him and what he had allegedly done, some newspapers going as far as printing stories such as “Church Shot by Nut”, “St-Catherines Cathedral Destroyed” and, most damaging of all, “Insane Man Goes Crazy, Shoots Priest”.  This, obviously, was bad news for the defense team.

Helen particularly didn’t like the last headline.  The article was an obvious attempt at selling more papers, and its authors and publishers evidently didn’t care about the difficulties it would cause when trying to choose an impartial jury.  Yes her client had shot a gun in the presence of a priest, but Helen knew the target was not the priest himself, and nowhere in the article was that particularity mentioned.

There was also the matter of Joshua’s mental problems, which, Helen suspected, were one of the reasons why the press were being so harsh on her client.  She could perfectly imagine how the meetings at the newspaper offices had gone:

Author: Here’s my story on the rape victim that was found last weekend.

Newspaper Boss: Rape?!  Every week we have a rape story.  That’s not news!  Find me something better!

Investigator: Well, there’s this crazy guy who shot a couple of guns in a church up on 3rd.

Newspaper Boss: Yes, do that!  That’ll sell!

The worst part, Helen had learned, was that none of this might have happened if it wasn’t for the accident.  A little over a year and a half ago, her client had been in a horrible car pileup down on the interstate.  In all, over a dozen people had lost their lives in the accident, and though Joshua had survived in critical condition, his girlfriend had unfortunately not.

The loss, along with the trauma of the accident, had made a thorough mess of Joshua’s mind, a mess that psychiatrists had simply not been able to clean up.  Time had healed some wounds, but others were too deep, and would remain with him for the rest of his life.  What’s more, the accident had given Joshua an almost grotesque physical appearance which, combined with his slow reactionary time and slurred speech, made him look confused, scared, and most important of all, guilty.

***

Joshua’s almost grotesque look was the reason why Helen had fought to keep her client off the witness stand.  It didn’t matter how impartial a jury was, its members were still human, and they would undoubtedly feel uncomfortable with Joshua’s presence in the court room.  Helen had to control that lack of comfort as best she could, and that meant keeping her client out of the spotlight, where he could avoid attracting any unwanted attention.

She had successfully convinced the prosecution to keep Joshua off the stand, arguing that his actions on that extraordinary Monday morning several months ago were on trial, not his personal problems.  The prosecution had agreed with one condition, that they be allowed to call Joshua’s doctors to the stand.  Helen had agreed, although Steven had protested.

Where Helen saw the personal problems of a man, Steven’s ambitious mind saw a crutch, something that the defense could use to get Joshua off the hook.  This was where Helen and her apprentice passionately disagreed, arguing for hours about whether to plead not guilty, or insanity.

“We have a history of mental problems, a psychiatrist who’s ready to testify, and prescription pills that were not taken during the week leading to the attack. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty big opening for insanity,” Steven summed up.

“You do know that whether or not we plead insanity we still have to go through a trial, right?”

“Have you seen this guy?  He looks like Igor and Uncle Fester had a fucking whoreson,” Steven chuckled. “It can’t be too hard to prove this guy is crazy.”

“Your point being?”  Helen sighed.

“My point being: let’s not waste any time with this turd.  Let’s plead insanity, lock him up and move on.”

Helen paused for a moment.  She did it to allow for the tension to cool, and to show she was considering Steven’s idea.  The truth was, however, that they were not going to plead insanity; to do so would be career suicide.   Steven would have to either recognize and accept Helen’s decision, or he would have to get out of her way.  She chose her words carefully, then spoke, quietly but sternly.

“Steven, premeditation and insanity don’t go together,” she’d countered.

“Premeditation?  What premeditation?”

“Well, receipts for firearms purchased a few days before the incident for starters,” Helen quickly shot back.

“I don’t know if you’ve realized this,” the young lawyer said dryly, ”but our client has no chance in hell of getting off the hook.  Security camera footage, witnesses, crime scene evidence, it’s all against us right now.”

Steven’s face had turned bright red and now looked as though it was about to burst.  Helen tried to concentrate on what he was saying, but instead found herself transfixed by the large vein that was now throbbing on her apprentice’s forehead.  She took a step back, by fear he would faint and fall onto her.

“Steven, why don’t you take a seat,” she said, going for a chair.

“I’d rather stand,” he said as a gesture of defiance, the vein quickly bulging with his every heartbeat.

“We’re not going down the insanity route Steven,” Helen finally said, in a calm but stern voice.  ”If we do, the prosecution will eat right through us, and the case will be over before it even starts.  We’ll plead not guilty and work our butts off to convince the jury that its the right verdict.”

While she was talking, Helen could feel the young man staring back at her, she could see in his eyes that he was furious, and she imagined that he wanted to scream at her with all his might.  Instead, he remained quiet, quickly walking up to his desk and grabbing his coat.

“If you want to stay here and lose this fucking case that’s fine with me,” he said his back to her, struggling to get his coat on as quickly as he could, “but I have a reputation to build, and I’m not going to stand around and let you shit on my career before it even has a chance of getting off the ground.”

Steven stormed out of the room, slamming the door on his way out. Helen stood, shaking her head and rolling her eyes.

They always make the same mistake…

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