Now is not the time for the air-conditioning system to fall apart. It’s already near ninety-five outside, and in here with eleven other bodies, it was starting to feel like twice that much.
This room had seen better days. Some parts of the wall you could see where the paint had peeled. The overhead lighting from a fan with three light extensions attached were not the brightest in the world and all the fan did was circulate hot air. The curtains, a sea-green color were faded, dull and lifeless.
The coffee I was drinking tasted lifeless. This whole damn day was lifeless.
But, we are sitting around, deciding if one man’s life is worth saving, or… if he should die.
Four days we have been at this. Four long miserable days. Each time we decide to vote, via a secret ballot, only one vote comes back not guilty.
By day three, tempers were rising, swearing ensued, even threats and finger-pointing got out of hand.
“I know it was you, Carter!” yelled Sunderland. “I can see it in that beady-eyed face of yours.”
“Hold on, Sunderland. Don’t accuse me of something you don’t know. Besides, how do we know it wasn’t you.”
“Why you son of a….”
Yeah, that’s how things have been the last couple days. But today, today will be different. No secret ballot voting. Today we are to verbally cast our vote.
“Martin? Hey, Martin!”
I turned away from the window as I had been watching two birds skip-hopping across the street pavement. They had no worries or cares in the world.
I turned and looked at Harris. “What?”
“We’re about to vote.”
Harris is the foreperson, basically our lord and master, ruler of heaven and earth and the one who is supposed to maintain order, but Harris is a fat, disgusting racist slob. Fact is, day one when we first started voting, the first thing out of his mouth was, “You can tell by looking at him, he’s guilty.”
Janice Jones, one of those grandmotherly looking people asked, “How can you tell just by looking.”
Harris said, “Simple. He’s black, bald and has no teeth and a long scar on his face.”
People in the room at that time groaned. But that first day, the votes came back: 11 to 1.
If nothing else, today will tell everyone in the room will know who the holdout is.
Harris spoke to the room.
“Listen up ya’ll. We need to come back to the courtroom this time with a guilty verdict. If we don’t, this thing could up in a hung-jury, and you know what means. It means the bastard could get a new trial, or this whole mess becomes a mistrial, and if that happens, the state could decide not to prosecute, and that man walks away free.
“I for one am here to vote that that doesn’t happen. So one by one, I want each of you to stand or not, and say out loud guilty or not guilty. We’ll start with you Stevens.”
Stevens is a retired research assistant for the Berkshire Labs. Thin, bald, and just past sixty-five. How he got here is anyone’s guess. His voice, his whole demeanor is soft. From what I heard the man never married. Matters not to me.
Counting Harris; there had been eleven verbal guilty votes before my turn came up. I sat in my uncomfortable wooden chair and rubbed my chin.
“Martin,” Harris said impatiently, “we’re waiting.”
I slapped both hands on the stained oval table and stood up.
“Before I give my vote, I want to tell you all a story. This is true and…”
“Martin, for god’s sake, man, guilty or not guilty!”
“Look, Harris, we’ve been here four days over this, a ten-minute story isn’t going to make that much of a difference.”
Looking around the room at the other six men and four women, I continued.
“There was this man, fresh out of prison , and all he wanted was a fresh start and no trouble. Sounds simple enough, right?
“His first day of freedom found him in a convenience store. He was buying a pack of cigarettes, a soda, and a bag of chips. In walks a man with a gun to rob the place. The man just out of prison backed up but then something changed his mind, and he wrestled with the robber and they tussled pretty good.
“Meantime, the clerk hit a button behind the counter and before you knew what was happening, two police cars showed up. By that time, our just out of prison guy had disarmed the robber and was holding the robber’s gun in his left hand, arm hanging down by his side.
“The police came rushing in, guns drawn, saw him standing there with a gun, another man on the floor, face down, and without flinching a thought, the first two officers opened fire on our just out of prison guy.
“Of course later, regardless of what the clerk related in testimony; the police department declared it a righteous kill. Why was that? Because he had a record and no ther reason.
“The point of all this … not one of us were there when this crime happened. Not one of us really know what happened. We have listened to so-called expert witnesses, and mind you, they are classified as professional experts only. We listened to three different accounts leading up to this man’s arrest. So I had to ask myself, who do I believe?
“When Stanley Palmer was in the witness chair, if you all recall, all he said was, ‘I was walking by when the man was shot. I turned him over to see if he was still alive’.
“When the police arrived, he was standing there over the body, with blood on his hands. That’s all they needed to arrest him for murder. Kind of stupid if you ask me, especially since they never found the gun used to kill the victim.
“If any of you were in the position Stanley was that day, ask yourself what you would do. What you would say. Truth is, you more than likely would be sitting in his shoes right now. The bottom line for Stanley Palmer was the same thing for the just out of prison guy and no other reason. Wrong place. Wrong time.
“My vote is not guilty.”
Needless to say, Harris pitched a fit, three other men complained. Once again, we went another day without a clear vote.
As we left the room to go back to our secluded hotel rooms, Janice Jones tugged at my shirt sleeve.
“I just wanted to say, you might be right.”