Uncertain Justice
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2012 by Longhorn__07

"A San Antonio jury continues to deliberate in an attempt to reach a verdict in the trial of accused rapist Miles Underwood. A third note was passed to Superior Court Judge Roy Farmer yesterday afternoon indicating they were deadlocked on all charges. In a last ditch effort to avoid a costly mistrial, Judge Farmer instructed the seven women and five men on the panel to return to their deliberations and try to reach a consensus.

"Underwood, a twenty-year veteran of the U.S. Army, is charged in the rape and manslaughter of teenager Virginia Rodriguez of New Braunfels. Underwood has maintained his innocence throughout the trial, claiming his only contact with the girl was to give her first aid when she collapsed at the home of mutual friends.

"In other news, the Texas Department of Transportation announced plans to expand Loop 1604 around San Antonio to a four lane controlled access highway on the south side of the city beginning next October. The winning bid on the highway expansion will be announced..."

KSAA Channel Nine
San Antonio Texas
"Evening News at Six"
February 4

The crack of wood slapping hard wood pierced the low buzz in the courtroom, silencing conversations in mid-word and turning all heads toward the bench. His honor, Judge Roy Farmer, was fuming. He knew he was going to do something this morning he wouldn't like, and he wasn't at all accustomed to being forced into anything that displeased him. A second rap on the sounding block was unnecessary. Order had been reestablished with the first.

"We're back on the record in the matter of the State of Texas versus Underwood," Judge Farmer announced. It was so quiet in the packed courtroom he could hear the whine of the floor fan in the rear of the room. The sound irritated him. He wanted to order it disconnected, but choked off the demand before he spoke. After all, it had been placed there at his request; it was there solely for his benefit. He turned to look at the jury box.

"Madam foreperson!" His voice boomed in the silence. Three jurors, already thoroughly intimidated by the judge's manner, squirmed uncomfortably in their chairs. The lean, acidic ex-school teacher who'd been elected foreperson stood to face the judge. Her chin rose to acknowledge his summons.

"Yes," Judge Farmer continued, his tone more accusation than statement. "I have this note from you." He held up the unfolded sheet of paper between thumb and forefinger before dropping it disdainfully to the desktop again. "You say that you are 'hopelessly deadlocked' and that it appears you cannot reach a verdict in this case."

"Yes, your Honor. That is correct." The elderly woman held firm against the judge's scowl. "We've voted a number of times on each count in the indictment and we are unable to agree on any of them."

Judge Farmer held his breath for a minute, controlling and concealing his anger as best he could. His jaw muscles clinched as he searched for the words he wanted. "Is there any way," he asked formally, "that this jury can reach a finding with additional deliberation ... any possibility at all?"

"No, your Honor. There is not," she said emphatically. "We find ourselves stalemated on all charges." She shot a glance in Miles' direction. Though brief, it was unmistakably disapproving.

"A number of the jury are completely intransigent in their position, Your Honor," she continued. "I see absolutely no prospect of a unanimous decision." She edged imperceptibly away from the short, burly man to her left, making it clear where some of the obstinacy could be found.

The middle-aged Hispanic peered up at the prim spinster's face. His eyes narrowed, momentarily increasing the wrinkles in his weathered face. For a moment, he seemed about to join the discussion, but then settled back into his seat. His hands relaxed in his lap. The curl at the corner of his lips showed amusement ... or perhaps something less charitable. It disappeared too quickly to be sure.

"Thank you, Madam Foreperson, you may sit down." Judge Farmer glowered impartially at the two who clearly represented the 'intransigent' viewpoints on the jury. Lifting his gaze, his eyes flicked across each juror a final time before swiveling his chair back face the attorneys and spectators.

"I am ... extremely disappointed that twelve reasonable citizens, after six weeks of testimony and reflection on the facts, cannot arrive at a fair verdict. It is..."

He forced himself to stop, biting the inside of his lower lip to keep from making an observation that might be cause for reversal in a new trial. He would have to preside over that one too and if this case ever did get settled, he sure as hell didn't want it sent back down to him after a successful appeal. He sighed inaudibly.

"Be that as it may," he said slowly, resigning himself to the inevitable, "I have no alternative other than to declare a mistrial in these proceedings." He spoke to the jury for the record, but he would not look at them. "The court thanks you for your service and you are dismissed."

Judge Farmer fixed his attention on the attorneys for the prosecution and defense. The three representing the State of Texas sat to his left front, a few feet from the jurors slowly filing out of the jury box. The attorneys were busy gathering legal pads and stray legal papers, stuffing them into cavernous briefcases.

The defendant and his counsel were to his right front; the accused was visibly uncomfortable in his off-the-rack suit. The judge snorted softly. You'd think the man would try to make as good an impression as he could. On the other hand, why waste an expensive suit you were likely to be wearing to prison. He took up the gavel again and tapped it on the sounding block twice to bring attention back to the bench.

"Mr. Brady, do you know at this time if the people will be retrying this case?" There was little chance of this going away, but he had to ask.

"Yes, your Honor. The State believes Mr. Underwood is guilty of particularly heinous crimes and we will seek an early date for a new trial. We're confident we will be able to convict Mr. Underwood given the chance to present all the facts to an impartial jury." The District Attorney's words held a delicate maliciousness that could easily be denied later. He glanced at the defendant and his lawyer across the aisle to include them in the conspiracy.

Judge Farmer's lips tightened to a thin line. In remarkably few words, the District Attorney--the lead prosecutor--had managed to imply there had been serious error on the part of the judge in one or more of his rulings during the trial as well as a lack of integrity among the citizens selected to try the case.

"Spare me the speeches, Mr. Brady ... and mind your manners, Counselor," cautioned the judge forcefully. He wasn't going to take any crap from the prosecutor in his own courtroom. He glared at the offending district attorney. Brady busied himself with a quick review of some papers, unrepentant in the face of the rebuke.

"Counsel for both sides will check with my clerk to find a date agreeable to both sides. If you can't find one, gentlemen," the judge growled finally, "I'll do it for you."

All the lawyers nodded. It was plain they'd better find a suitable time and date without his intervention.

"Are there any other matters we need to address?" he asked.

"Yes, your Honor, there are. May we approach?" P. Jonah Trenton, Attorney at Law, and Miles Underwood's representative before the court, bounced up from his seat to make his request before the judge could end the proceedings. Assuming Judge Farmer's permission, he strolled to the bench with notepad in hand.

Miles stood and massaged the knotted muscles along his lower spine with both hands. He watched the men and women of the jury exiting the room. Few met his questioning eyes as they filed out. He shook his head in confusion. Turning away to avoid their disdain, he found himself face to face with Chief Bailiff Morales. The man's eyes, nearly hidden in folds of sweating flab, gleamed with sudden inspiration.

Morales had decided weeks earlier he didn't like Underwood. His girlfriend thought the man was handsome, dignified, and ... interesting, she said. The bailiff intended to see the defendant, interesting or not, didn't get away with anything. He'd just decided to interpret the instant dislike in Underwood's expression as an affront to his authority.

"Turn 'round," Morales said viciously, "and put yer hands behind ya."

"What? Why? What did I do wrong?" Though he protested, Miles could see the handcuffs in Morales's hands. The blood drained from his face. He swung his body around slowly, mechanically. He bumped the table in front of him, his bulk knocking it an inch or two deeper into the well. Eyes blurring, his universe shrank until it included only himself and the bailiff.

He'd mortgaged his home for bail money when it was granted, but somehow the mistrial changed that? He was going to jail anyway? He felt the chill in the steel restraints as they ratcheted closed about his wrists. Muscles in his chest and shoulders tensed involuntarily.

Helpless and off balance, Miles stumbled when Morales pushed him down into his seat at the defense table. Miles' mind whirled. His body sagged; his neck bent forward until his chin was firmly tucked into his chest.

The sudden blow to his shoulder startled him badly. He recoiled, twisting away from the unexpected contact. His head jerked up and around to face the unknown attacker.

Completing his discussion of several housekeeping matters with the judge, Jonah Trenton had returned to the defense table to find his client apparently dozing in his chair. Mildly miffed, he reached down to shake him awake. He wasn't prepared for the violence of Underwood's reaction and backpedaled two quick steps, holding the yellow legal pad up as a shield between himself and his client.

Miles collapsed back onto the chair and focused on the lawyer's face. Not sure he could speak, Miles scooted to the edge of his seat and swiveled his hips around to show Trenton the cuffs on his wrists. Humiliation and despair dampened the corner of his eyes.

Annoyed, the defense counsel darted an angry glance at the bailiff and started to demand the reason for the cuffs. As the intent formed, Jonah changed his mind and pivoted to face the judge who was still involved in a last off-the-record conversation with the prosecutor.

"Your Honor," he called, reproof clear in his voice, "we assume bail is continued for the defendant pending the outcome of the new trial?" A new idea came to him. "Better still, your Honor," he remarked, "Mr. Underwood has demonstrated throughout this trial he is eager to face his accusers. He should be released on his own recognizance." The judge raised his chin to stare down a slightly crooked nose at the attorney and then shook his head.

"No, Mr. Trenton, I think not. Bail is continued for the defendant in the amount of three hundred thousand dollars." Judge Farmer stood. Looking around one last time, he gaveled the session to a close. The black robes of his office swirled about him as he spun to his right and walked quickly through the door to his chambers. The court clerk belatedly tried to call the courtroom to its feet, but the door had closed behind the judge before many could stand.

Miles turned his back on Bailiff Morales and pushed his wrists away from his body in unspoken demand. After a long moment, Morales pulled out his keys and shuffled forward to unlock the restraints. Deliberately fumbling the first attempt, he drew out the process as long as possible.

As he kneaded the indentations on his left wrist, Miles felt some of the anger Morales had hoped he would actually show earlier. Morales countered with a smirk while he put his keys away. Negotiating his way around the defense table, he waddled toward another bailiff standing near the exit. Following the man's progress with unhappy eyes, Miles rubbed at the marks on his right wrist.

"Miles!" The sharp tone of Trenton's voice got Miles' attention.

"Let's go find a quiet corner and talk for a minute," commanded Trenton. He grabbed Miles' upper right arm, guiding him out of the well and through the public seating to the doorway to the fourth floor hallway.

It was anything but quiet there. A flood of reporters and cameramen surged toward Miles and his attorney as they left the court. Bright television lights blazed and microphones stretched closer to catch the slightest sound from the accused.

"Mr. Underwood, what do you think about today's developments?"

"Mr. Trenton, how would you characterize..."

"Miles, what are you going to do..."

"No comment!" Trenton yelled repeatedly. "No comment!" He tugged on Miles' sleeve, pulling him down the hall to the right.

Half blinded by the lights, utterly bewildered, and cowed by the shouts coming from all angles, Miles let his attorney lead him through the crush without protest. The pack followed, demanding answers to unintelligible questions shouted with increasing volume and vehemence.

A few steps before Miles and Trenton reached a set of large, windowless double doors blocking their path, the left door opened abruptly and two Sheriff's deputies shouldered their way inside. They halted, as surprised by the crowd in the corridor as the crowd was by them; both dropped a hand to a holstered pistol. The representatives of the media shrank back and quieted.

"Alright," announced the leading deputy, lifting his hand from his weapon and waving it in the general direction of the mob in the hallway.

"Let's back up there. Make way." He watched for a few seconds as the reporters began to stumble aside. Satisfied the mob of news personalities and camera operators were beginning to move, he made a half-turn and gestured through the open doorway to a double line of prisoners.

Clad in bright orange jumpsuits, the first one on the right pushed open the other door and they began to troop inside. The detainees, arriving for their first day in the legal system, were handcuffed and secured with leg restraints that were, in turn, fastened to a long chain. They began moving through the double doors as the suddenly passive herd of reporters parted to give them room.

"Make a hole ... coming through," the deputy chanted as he advanced. He led the line of prisoners toward the holding cell down the hall. "That's it. We need a little room, folks. Let us through ... thank you, ladies and gents," he called out, chivying the crowd into giving the inmates enough space to pass.

Watching the line of accused men and women, Miles' eyes fastened on the huge black man bringing up the rear. Several inches taller than Miles' own six feet, the man's upper body was so overdeveloped the zipper had been left half undone for extra room across the chest but the seams still threatened to give way. The wholly inadequate sleeves had been cut off at the shoulder. Garish tattoos on the side of his head made the man's face a terrifying spectacle even without his ferocious glare.

The heavily muscled prisoner appraised Miles in return, his face expressionless and uncaring. His eyes took in the attorney at Miles' side. With his expensive suit and barely manageable armful of briefcase, cell phone, and palm pilot, it was clear what service Trenton provided. Cynical amusement flickered in the convict's eyes as he swaggered by.

"Fresh meat!" he chortled mockingly. "See ya soon ... Dawg." His rasping voice drifted back to Miles as the chained prisoner swaggered across the lobby and disappeared beyond the crowd. Miles shuddered, his eyes locked on the man's back. His knees threatened to give way.

"Come on, Miles," the attorney whispered in Miles' ear. He was pulling on Miles' arm and had been since he'd seen the approaching end of the line of prisoners. He hadn't been able to get his client to budge or even acknowledge the tugs until now.

"Let's get out of here while we've got the chance." Miles let Trenton lead him through the set of double doors. They slammed shut with a boom, locking automatically behind the two men. The reporters were left to themselves in the vacant hallway, frustrated at the loss of their prey.

Trenton made a sharp turn into a stairwell. Using one hand for balance, he trotted quickly down the steep stairs from the fourth floor, turning rapidly at each landing and stepping off with a confidence built from long familiarity with the courthouse and its avenues of escape. Without slowing, the lawyer pulled a pair of sunglasses from an inside pocket and hooked them over his ears.

Miles followed as quickly as he could. His feet were dead and unresponsive; he stumbled often and twice nearly fell headlong down the steps. He caught himself only at the last second by grabbing at the handrail. Trenton looked back at his client, irritated at the disturbance Underwood was making.

On the ground floor, Trenton pushed through the stairwell door into the foyer and nodded to the two constables providing building security at the exit. The bright sun streaming through the glass doors finally roused Miles from his stupor. He blinked and sneezed explosively into a handkerchief snatched from a pants pocket.

The men made their way without speaking through the parking lot behind the building and came to a stop next to Trenton's black Lexus. Unlocking it with the remote built into his key, the lawyer opened the rear driver's side door and tossed his briefcase and Palm Pilot into the back seat. Closing the door, he glanced at Miles before beginning to dial a number on his cell phone. Pausing before he entered the last digit, he looked up to meet Miles' eyes for the first time in a long while.

"Miles, I don't know why he's being so damned hard-nosed on this, but Brady says he wants to set a new trial date for the first week of April ... maybe earlier," he grumbled. "I have to check with the office to see if there's anything else I'm doing then, but it I expect we'll be back about then for another go at this.

"Hell, the clerk says there were four jurors voting for acquittal," he continued after a moment. He'd thought Miles would want to comment at that point and was mildly put off by Miles' silence. He pointed the phone at Miles to give weight to the points he was about to make.

"I'll be damned if I can see where Brady expects to do any better the second time around. What did you ever do to him, Miles? He's bound and determined you're going to do hard time in Huntsville." Miles didn't answer at first. He was trying to assimilate what Trenton had said. An uncomfortable silence built between them. Looking down, the attorney frowned and decided to clear the entry on the cell phone's keypad. He started over.

"Four?" Miles finally rasped. He pushed the question through a parched throat made worse by sudden emotion.

"Four? What happened to the others? You mean eight of those people think I really raped that ... that girl? What the... ? Weren't they listening when those people from the party told them it wasn't me she was talking about?"

Moving slowly, Miles' body straightened until he was staring down into Trenton's eyes. The muscles in his shoulders flexed and his weight came up on his toes. At first scratchy and faltering, his voice strengthened until he was roaring his questions into Trenton's face. Two city cops making their way into the Justice Center changed their path through the parking lot and drew closer to the commotion.

"Whoa, now." Trenton retreated to set his back against the side windows of the Lexus. He waved reassuringly at the two officers. Taken aback by the intensity in Underwood's voice, the attorney stalled while he thought of something to say. He adjusted the custom-made Gucci sunglasses, a gift from his wife on his last birthday, just to have something for his hands to do. The forgotten cell phone clanked against the left lens. Glad for the distraction, he took off the glasses to look for a scratch. Miles backed away a step and rubbed rigid neck muscles with his right hand.

The policemen threaded their way through the cars, their badges reflecting the sunlight as they sauntered closer. They watched Miles carefully as they passed by on the other side of the Lexus. Satisfied there was no real threat, their hands fell from the holstered nine-millimeter semi-automatics on their polished equipment belts. They dismissed the two civilians from their minds. Whatever the yelling had been about, it didn't warrant their continued attention.

The younger cop began to tell the other of stopping a car full of high school cheerleaders last night. Their coarse laughter echoed through the parking lot, only to be cut off as they reached the doors and went inside. Satisfied his glasses had suffered no harm, Trenton adjusted them carefully over his eyes.

"Man, don't think of it that way," the attorney remarked. "Hell, it only takes one juror who thinks you didn't do it--just one who has the tiniest bit of doubt--to keep you a free man. We've got four of them in our pocket." Trenton had been well pleased with the outcome of the trial so far and he allowed his pique show.

"Screw that!" retorted Miles. "Damn it, you don't seem to understand something, Mr. P. Jonah Trenton." Miles pressed close again, speaking quietly but forcibly. His right index finger stabbed into the lawyer's chest for emphasis.

"I ... didn't ... do it!" He scowled into the attorney's eyes for a moment longer, hidden though they were behind the dark glasses. Dropping his hand to his side, a fist formed before he could relax it. He paused, too angry to say more. He shrugged; there was nothing to say anyway.

He wheeled and stalked toward the curb, looking around to orient himself. He had to find the five-year-old Taurus he'd put in a parking garage early this morning. He thought it was in the building across the street and a block to the west.

Behind him, Trenton pressed the button that would dial the number he'd keyed into the instrument and put the phone to his ear. He watched his client walk away. The troubled expression on the attorney's face cleared as the connection was made and another discussion begun. He turned to look at his reflection in the car window and made a tiny adjustment in the way his tie hung so that it was precisely centered in the v-shaped opening of his suit coat's lapels.

The flash of anger cooled before Miles reached the street corner. Hunched shoulders became level and tight muscles loosened. Removing his jacket and tie, he folded them carefully over his left arm as he walked. Slumping into a relaxed slouch, he weaved his way through a mixed group of tourists and office workers taking an early lunch. At the curb, he fixed his eyes on the pedestrian symbol on the post across the street to discourage conversation. He waited for the signal to change.

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