Without stopping to think I said, “You’ve watched too many cop shows.”
Macaulay rolled his eyes. “Don’t be a smart ass,” he answered. “Fact is most people are killed by their spouses.”
“But not in every case.” I’d thought to say a less than perfect correlation, but even I wasn’t that pedantic.
“What is your problem?” This from the short tempered, overweight man whose name I couldn’t remember. “You’ve kept us locked up for two days, arguing about nothing. I’m sure there’s nobody looking for you but I’ve got a business to run. Everyone else here knows he’s guilty so why are you wasting our time?”
Macaulay knew his duty as foreman. “You can’t say that, Arthur. A man’s life is at stake. We mustn’t take any short cuts just to get finished. We all have to agree.” He checked the table, seeking approval. Two nodded wisely, but four refused to meet his gaze and someone audibly huffed.
I felt I should give them something. “It’s not about the man’s guilt,” I said. “I’m also inclined to think he’s guilty. My problem lies with the process. In my view, the case isn’t proven.”
“Why not, for God’s sake. He’d got motive, means and opportunity.” This from the thirty-something woman with the dyed blonde hair.
“I get that,” I answered, “but so have other people. Her sister for one. She also fit the facts in evidence. We’ve got no actual witnesses, remember. Everything about this case is circumstantial.”
“What have you got against the sister? The police never thought she did it.”
“And that’s my problem in a nutshell. I think they focused their investigation too quickly.”
“So now you’re telling them how to do their job.” Again from the blonde.
“That’s not fair,” I said. “Their job is to prove the case to my satisfaction, and I don’t think they did that.” I was meaning to make a point. Instead, I made an enemy.
“Okay then,” said the older woman at the end of the table. “Tell me why you think it’s her.”
“Well I’m not sure do I think it’s her. It’s more that I think it could have been her, and that’s enough for reasonable doubt.”
“Oh, good grief.” Again from the overweight man. Macaulay stepped in.
“That doesn’t help, Arthur,” he said, then turned his attention back to me.
“So that’s your issue, is it? You can imagine some scenario where the sister might be guilty.”
“And you want to share that with us, see if we agree. You understand you have to be realistic. You can’t concoct a story out of thin air. It’s gotta fit the facts of the case at least as well the husband.” A delay then, “You want to do that?”
“Sure. Why not?” This felt good. At last he’d understood me. He’d got that I wasn’t just being difficult. I wasn’t really the bad guy.
“But if your answer doesn’t convince us, what next? You’d have to fall in line, vote guilty and let us go home.”
“I’m not sure I’ve agreed to that.”
Macaulay let his temper show. “Now you’re just being a jerk,” he said, but calming down he added. “Let’s understand your position. You’re saying the sister could have done it, but if we can show that’s too big a stretch, you’d stop with all your nonsense. You’d find the husband guilty, and we can get back to our lives.”
An academic by training, I shouldn’t be asked to serve on juries. It’s not in my nature to come to conclusions, but I’d been caught by his logic. If I couldn’t show the sister as a viable alternative, I’d have to find the man guilty. If it wasn’t her, it had to be him. Reluctantly I said, “Okay.”
“About time,” from the old man in glasses.
“Let’s start with the rifle,” I said. “Ballistics confirm the wife was shot with the husband’s hunting rifle, meaning the killer had prior access to the basement and kitchen. Also, she was shot about five in the morning, her normal time for starting the day, meaning this person knew her habits.”
“You want to tell us something we don’t know.” Again from Arthur.
“I know its not in your nature,” I said, “but try to be patient and keep an open mind.” “Cut that out.” Macaulay spoke quickly before Arthur had time to react. “Just stick to your story.”
“Sorry. Okay then. We know the rifle was just used for hunting. It wouldn’t be needed until the fall, so if it went missing, no one would notice. Yes, it was locked in a basement cabinet, but the key was kept on a ring in the kitchen, so no problem there. And yes, the husband had easy access, just as he knew his wife’s habits, but so did her sister. She often babysat, so she’d be alone in the house. With the kid only nineteen months, he can’t be a witness. She’d plenty of time to take the rifle.”
A pause while they digested my story then, “Let’s look at the actual shooting. The wife was shot from outside the house through a hole in the kitchen window. That just needs a circular glass cutter, something you buy at most hardware stores. They’re cheap, so a cash sale with no record.”
I smiled I thought warmly at the others, but given their reaction, I may have looked smug. I thought I’d better continue. “They’re ideal for this situation. They’re easy to carry, they don’t make a noise, they’ll cut through double glazing, they won’t set off the alarm, and they don’t let go of the glass. Then you point the rifle through the hole. The noise and flash are inside the house so no one will notice. We know the neighbours heard nothing. It might have woken the kid, but he’s too young to be helpful. There’s no footprints to check. Concrete sidewalk outside the window. The killer also wore gloves so there’s no finger prints. The hole was only four feet off ground, so nothing about the killer’s height. If they hadn’t used the husband’s gun, she might have been shot by anyone, so why not by the sister? In fact, by using the husband’s rifle, it’s almost like setting him up. Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to get a disposable gun?”
“You said why not the sister?” This from Macaulay. “You can’t leave it like that. You can’t just say why not. You have to say why.”
“Point well made,” I told him, “ but let me come back on that.” It looked like he wanted to argue but I held up my hand.
I started again. “I want to begin by talking about security cameras. There’s CCTV everywhere. They’re at traffic signals. On bank machines. On city buses. Businesses. Even the motel parking lot. With so many cameras around, why are there no pictures? Do you remember his excuse for spending the night alone in that motel?”
“He said he’d found a note on his windshield.” This from the older woman. “He told us his girlfriend had wanted to meet him that night at that motel. The note had said she’d important good news she needed to share. Apparently, this message was typed, and he was told to destroy it. He booked the room and waited for her, but she never showed. He says he spent all night there alone.”
“And you believe him,” said the dyed blonde.
“Utter nonsense,” said the older woman. “It insults our intelligence.”
“But if he’d come out of the room,” I said, “and used his truck, he’d be on CCTV. There’s only two ways he avoids being seen. One is he doesn’t leave the room. The other is if he walks to the house. About two hundred yards behind the motel, there’s a system of public footpaths that connects with the sub-division where he lives. He could exit the room by the back window, make his way through the bush as far as the trail, then walk to the house and never appear on any cameras. It’s only six miles. If he left about two-thirty, he’d be there in ample time to cut the hole, shoot her about five, and be back in bed for six-thirty. Nobody uses unlit secluded trails in the dark, though apparently, he didn’t want to risk being seen carrying a rifle, so he buried it in the bush, never expecting the cops to use a metal detector.
“Now that troubles me. It makes no sense. With only the kid in the house, there’s no one to sound the alarm. We only find out she’s dead when he comes home and sees the body. That means he’d plenty of time to dispose of the rifle, and as for running into people on the trails, they’d be using flashlights so he’d see them coming a mile away. So is he really that dumb, cos leaving the rifle for others to find seems almost a plant. Why don’t we break for coffee. When we come back, I’ll try to explain why I feel this doesn’t add up.”
“The girlfriend says she never sent any note.” This from the blonde.
“And I’m sure she didn’t. You could tell from her testimony, she wasn’t that into him. For her, it was just another fling, so why would she bother with lying. But if there wasn’t a note from her, why did he choose to stay at that motel? The obvious answer is that it’s a made-up story, but why risk your entire defence on something that asinine. It’s so pathetic, you sort of wonder if it could be true. You saw him in court. He’s kind of childish and rather naive, and he’s clearly besotted with the girlfriend. You gotta think some kind of note might work on a guy that desperate, but a type written note? It could have been written by anyone. So here’s my point. If he’s lying about the note, then clearly he’s guilty. But if he’s not lying, just stupid and naive, then the note could be real. If it’s not from the girlfriend, who else would write it? Could the sister have him lured him to the motel?″
“I still think he did it.”
“That’s not what I asked. I asked if this guy might be dumb enough to fall for a note, and if that note might have come from the sister.”
“So you’re also saying the sister knew about the affair?”
“I guess I am saying that. Well, she did tell us the wife was concerned about the way he’d been acting, and it’s a small town. The sister knew people who knew the girlfriend, who also had a bit of a name. It’s hard to keep secrets in small gossipy places, so I think there’s every chance the sister knew about the affair.”
“She said not.”
“Of course she said not, but that’s in her interest, isn’t it. Why would she incriminate herself?”
“Yeah, I guess. Go on then.”
“Now the sister lives just fourteen miles away, but how does she get there and back in time and still avoid CCTV. She can’t use a vehicle, and it would take too long to walk, but what about a bicycle. She can ride the same trails. I’ll bet she knows back ways from her house that reach these trails without passing any cameras. If she uses a bike, she’s plenty of time to get there and back. If she leaves early enough, she’s also got time to go by the motel and check for his truck. If that’s not there, he’s likely at home and she knows to cancel.
“She said she was asleep in bed with her husband that night, and apparently he confirmed her story, but if he was fully asleep, how would he know? Let’s say she got a few sleeping pills and slipped them into his night time drink. She told us they’d gone to bed early, that her husband was extra tired from work, and they both slept through until morning. But he gets up about seven, so if he was out of it all night, she’d have no alibi. She could easily leave about two-thirty, there’s no noise with a bike, and be back in bed by six-thirty. No one using the trails in the night, and no one would notice a bike in the suburbs at six in the morning. What do you think? Does she have means and opportunity?”
“What happens to this bike?”
“Again, no problem. A cash sale so no record, and she’s got a minivan. She throws it in the back then leaves it somewhere to be stolen?”
“Can she even do this journey in the time? It’s twenty-eight miles round trip and she doesn’t look that fit.”
“That’s a good point but there’s also plenty of cheap power assist bikes. She doesn’t need top of the line. She only uses it once. Again a cash sale then leave it to be stolen. That would work.”
“Okay, I get it.” This from the older woman at the end, “but why would she even do it? Why would she want to kill her sister?”
I glanced at her and then at Macaulay, hoping to judge their expressions. They were the sharpest in the room. If I could reach them, the others wouldn’t matter.
Time to close. “Again, I don’t know that she did. My objection is that she wasn’t properly eliminated as a suspect. I don’t believe the cops made enough effort to investigate her, focusing on the husband from the start. I also think the husband’s lawyer failed his client badly. He should have checked her out, or at least gone after her during cross examination. She’s the obvious alternate, but he gave her an easy ride, so here’s my point. Because she’s now the next of kin, I can imagine two motivations.
“One is the wife’s insurance. If the husband’s found guilty, he can’t inherit. The sister then gets all the money. It would be nice to know if she needed it, but nobody bothered to check that. It’s three hundred thousand. That’s money worth having.
“Two, the sister’s got no kids. We already know she likes to babysit. Does she have a thing for children? This would be instant family. Can she have kids of her own, and does she want them? Again, some background would be nice.”
“That’s pure speculation,” said Macaulay. “You’ve no facts about her to back this up.” “But also none to knock this down. Because of the poor police work, I’ve been left to speculate.”
“No way,” said the older woman. “I don’t beliueve there was any note, or any bike, or she had any motive. None of this works for me.”
“Well, it does for me. There’s reasonable doubt.”
“And letting him off on a technicality goes against my sense of justice.”
“And ignoring due process doesn’t matter? Why even bother having a trial if that’s how you feel. I’m guessing you don’t think women do violent crimes.”
“Do you know how rude you are?”
“So now it’s about if you like me or not.”
“Get off your high horse. Even you think he’s guilty.”
“Not the point.”
She slammed her writing pad down on the table. “I can’t work with this man any longer.” Macaulay sighed and rang the bailiff. “Come and get us,” he said. “It’s all over. We’ve got a hung jury.”