Oathkeeper Chapter 13

Oathkeeper

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Chapter 13

 

DA Chalmers leaned over his table and flipped through his notes. When he found the pages he was searching for, he stepped out from behind the prosecution’s table and addressed the judge. “Your Honor, the State next calls Wendy White.”

“Wendy White, please,” called the judge.

The murder trial of Montgomery Turcot was held in the old Fremont County Courthouse, Courtroom A. Its walls were plastered white and the windows were paned with cloudy glass. The woodwork throughout was mahogany-stained hardwood, with carved details filling the wainscoting and the face of the bench, and finely-lathed legs and spindles accented the chairs and bar.

A heavy-set bailiff in squeaky shoes waddled down the nave of gray rug that rolled through the middle of the gallery pews. He partly opened the mahogany doors at the far end, caught his breath, poked his head out into the vestibule and muttered something to the Fremont County Deputy stationed outside the door.

Chalmers turned back to his table and shuffled and organized his papers, then twirled his pencil between his fingers, smirking faintly. Ben Stern’s face was buried in his yellow notepad, his hair was disheveled. He looked up revealing a strained look on his face.  He took a pillbox from his pocket, removed a white pill and placed it on his tongue. Then he took a drink of water. At Stern’s side sat Monte Turcot wearing an orange jumpsuit, his wrists and ankles were shackled. He stared forward showing no emotions. Half the audience was comprised of DEA agents, all of them were pressed, polished and coiffed, donned in their best uniforms. Vincent Acevedo’s chest was adorned with a fruit cocktail of commendations and medals. Kevin Sniggs’s father had made the journey as well, sitting several rows back amongst the agents. Stoic and rigid, he wore a wrinkled tweed jacket and a wide-striped tie. His only movements were to periodically remove and polish his thick lenses and to surreptitiously sip from his plastic flask that he kept stashed in his breast pocket. Sheriff Ellison was there as well, dressed in his CCSD forest green uniform shirt and khaki, polyester pants.

The bailiff opened the door all the way and Miss Wendy White appeared, backlit by the natural light that filled the vestibule.

“Miss White?” asked the judge.

Wendy nodded, looking meek and mousy in her white blouse and long linen skirt. Her hair was bound up into a bun.

“If you would please, ma’am,” said the judge, gesturing for her to approach.

Wendy advanced down the aisle, through the silent gallery, passing through the gate of the bar held open by the deputy bailiff. She crossed into the chancel and between the tables of the prosecution to her left and defense to her right. She stopped at the podium before the dais supporting the judge’s altar. The deputy bailiff directed her to place her left hand upon a Bible resting on the podium.

“If you’ll raise your right hand the bailiff will administer the oath to you,” said Her Honor.

“Do you solemnly swear or affirm that the testimony you give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

“I do.”

“All right, ma’am. If you’ll please come right around here and take a seat in the witness chair…” the judge directed. “If you would take care to speak directly into the microphone… Mr. Chalmers, please proceed.”

Chalmers stepped over to the podium. He briefly reviewed his notes, then he sniffed and coughed to clear his throat. Miss White grinned nervously from the witness stand’s wooden box.

“Miss White,” he began. “Will you tell the court where you were employed back on November 23rd this past year?”

“Yes,” she meekly answered. “I was working at Perks Diner at that time.”

“Please speak directly into the microphone, ma’am,” reminded the judge.

Wendy leaned in and answered again. “I was working at Perks.” She had overcompensated and the amplified thunder of her voice made her to recoil.

“What did you do there?” asked the DA.

“I was a server,” she answered, voice now properly calibrated.

“Would you tell the court what that job entails?”

“I took orders and served food to customers. Sometimes I bussed and wash–”

“So,” Chalmers interrupted, “while you were working as a server, you saw the patrons that come in to the Diner?”

“Well, yeah. While serving, yes.”

“Did you see the entire Diner while you were serving?”

“I didn’t see much of the kitchen.”

“But you saw the dining area…where the customers are seated.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“The entire dining area?”

“Yes. Well, not at once, but it’s not that big so I see it as I go to each table and back and forth.”

“Miss White, on November 23rd, what shift were you working as a server on that day?”

“I was working from eight ‘til noon.”

“And at nine a.m.?”

“Yes, although I had a break around–”

“Can you describe that day, while you were on your shift at around nine a.m.?”

“Describe the day?”

“Yeah. What was it like, that day?”

“Well, it was sunny. It was busy.”

“Busier than normal?”

“Yes. The diner was filled up with policemen.”

“When you say policemen, do you mean DEA agents?”

“Yes. Sorry. And there were contractors in there, too.”

“Contractors?”

“Yeah. They were fixing the roof in the back over the kitchen. There was a lot of noise that day. Lots of power tools and hammering and–”

“Did anything unusual happen that day?”

“Unusual? You mean like other than the shooting?”

Chalmers stepped out from behind the podium. “By shooting you mean the shooting of Agent Sniggs?”

“That’s the only shooting I’m aware of, Sir.”

“Please bring up Exhibit 30,” Chalmers asked, licking his lips as he went back to his table and reviewed his notes. He took a drink of water and strutted back to the podium. Monte Turcot’s bearded and disheveled mugshot appeared on the one hundred inch television monitor adjacent to the jury. Vincent Acevedo leaned back in his pew with a vindictive grin forming on his face. The elder Sniggs took another swig from his flask. Stern’s head was buried in his notes. Turcot stared blankly into the wall. Once behind the podium again, Chalmers adjusted himself and cleared his throat once more. He casually rested both elbows on its surface and leaned into the microphone.

“Miss White, do you recognize the person in this picture?”

Wendy leaned towards the monitor and squinted her eyes.

“Are you having trouble seeing it, Miss White?” asked Her Honor.

Chalmers sighed. “It’s four feet tall.”

“If you’d like,” the judge continued, we could have you step down and take a closer look.”

“No. That’s okay. I know who that is.”

“Who is it, Miss White? For the record.” asked Chalmers.

“That’s Monte Turcot.”

“Let the record show that the witness identified Monte Turcot in Exhibit 30.” Chalmers shifted his weight onto one loafer and drummed his thumbs on the podium in excited anticipation. The loafer on his relaxed leg began to tap, rhythmically. He continued. “So, Miss White, would you please tell the Court whether or not you saw the man pictured on the monitor at Perks Diner on the morning of November 23rd?”

Wendy squinted again, then looked down. Then Chalmers noticed her eyes dart towards Ben Stern for an instant and then back to the monitor. Chalmers’s excited fidgeting stopped cold.

“Miss White, please answer the question,” said the judge.

Wendy’s eyes switched between the monitor mugshot and the real life Monte Turcot, seated at his table. Turcot’s eyes remained fixed on the wall ahead. Stern’s head seemed to be melting down into his notes. Acevedo leaned forward in anticipation. Chalmers lifted his elbows off the podium, pulling himself erect.

“Miss White?” asked the judge.

“No,” she answered.

A din of whispers and movement drowned the deafening silence.

“No?” Chalmers asked, mouth gaping.

“No,” Wendy replied.

“No?” Chalmers repeated.

“Objection,” Stern shouted, without looking up from his notes.

“Sustained,” replied the judge.

Chalmers pushed back from the podium and rolled his eyes. “Miss White, when you were deposed, you said that you saw Montgomery Turcot–”

“Objection.”

“Sustained.”

Flustered, face-reddening, Chalmers stormed over to his table and dug through his manila folders and produced Wendy’s deposition.  “Did you not say that you, and I quote, ‘saw Mr. Turcot at the breakfast bar and served him scrambled eggs’?”

“I guess I–”

“Did you say that you saw him or not?”

“I guess I did say that, if it says that there.”

“So yes or no, Miss White?” asked Chalmers, shrugging his shoulders and looking confused.

“Yes, then.”

“So let me ask one more time, did you or did you not see Mr. Turcot at Perks Diner at roughly nine a.m. on November 23rd? Let me remind you, you are under oath.”

Wendy looked up as if she were rolling her eyes back into her brain to search for the memory. Then she shook her head.

“No. I do not recall seeing him.”

Chalmers turned to the judge with a look of shock. Her Honor shrugged.

“I’d like the record to show that Exhibit 66, Wendy White’s deposition, contradicts her testimony today.” Chalmers stormed back to his table and took a seat and fumbled around with his papers

“So what do you want to do, counsel?” asked the judge.

“No further questions, Your Honor.”

“Defense. Your witness.”

Stern looked up and pushed back from his table. He stood up, straightened his tie, adjusted his glasses, and proceeded to the podium.  Chalmers glowered at him, grumbling inaudibly as Stern passed.  With his back to the jury, Stern gazed back and gave him a furtive wink.

“Miss White,” Stern asked. “Is there any reason why your previous deposition would have indicated that you thought Monte was at the Diner?”

Wendy coughed and leaned in towards the microphone. “It was a terrible thing that happened that day. I…I wanted to help. The police seemed so sure that Monte did it so I just went along with them.”

“Why?”

“It was such a crazy time. Everyone was angry. The commotion. It was like a tornado or something. Then there was all the police and detectives and testifying and – but after I got home and thought about it, I realized that I really wasn’t so sure. In fact, I wasn’t sure at all. I feel terrible for this.”

“No further questions, Your Honor.”

Oathkeeper

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