They make me wear a dress. It's strange because the last time I was in a courthouse and sentenced to six months in juvy I was sixteen and I'd got caught in a hold up. I wore ripped jeans and a flannelette sweater. This time, I feel as if I'm attending my own funeral. I've showered, straightened my hair and am wearing a dress that was delivered by the officer on duty but came from a charity. I think. It's a simple navy-blue with elastic around my stomach and frilly hems. I feel gross in it.
The courthouse is fuller than I expect. The media attack us with their flashing cameras and shout questions over the top of each other and I'm handcuffed as I'm guided by the police into the old building downtown. I try to keep everything peripheral and focus on getting the hell out of there. I just have to do everything the lawyer says and hope that the opposition doesn't pull anything dirty from my record. I'm eighteen now, I don't get any pardons.
It's difficult watching Danny, Lizzie and their distant relatives and friends enter the courthouse. Lizzie is already crying, probably feigning the grieving sister. Danny sits on the desk next to mine with his lawyer. I know nothing about his plan of attack and frankly, I don't care. I distract myself by staring at Nick, who sits two rows behind me. He's still not smiling at me, but I can tell he's worried. He's trying to pass me all these messages but I can't put any of them together. Then I notice that Maria and Kayla are squeezing through the crowd to join him. Kayla sees me and her face lights up.
"Jessie!" she shouts.
"Honey shh," says Maria. "No shouting here, okay?"
She continues to wave at me. Maria gives me a small smile. I'm heartbroken that they might see me escorted out of the building in handcuffs and then never again. So I force myself to focus on getting out without a life sentence.
Lewis scoots in beside me. He has a smile on his face.
"I've just been talking to the guy who's acquitting your street buddies," he says.
"Looks like the judge is on our side. He's always fair with people less privileged than others. Doesn't discriminate either."
"That's a good thing, yeah?"
"Absolutely. We just have to make sure the jury are over fifty-percent for us and then we're golden. Unless they find actual physical proof."
"They won't," I say and I don't care if anyone hears me. "I'm completely innocent."
"Let's prove it then, shall we?"
The court settles. Someone says, "All rise," and the judge enters. He actually looks familiar, maybe from another trial I've been to. He has a frowny face but his eyes are kind.
There's a lot about court that I don't understand. Rules that date back to before dinosaurs walked the earth. Tricks that lawyers have to know like the back of their hand so they can stay one step ahead. Ways to prove things that aren't real. It's all just a show, right? I'm an actor and the lawyers are the directors and the jury are the critics, judging the performance and who tells the truth – or a lie, depending on how convincing you are – better than another. I start wishing I could take them all back to that night, make them feel how I felt. Let them hear the sound of my screams, the gun under Carole's throat and the bullet in Garcia's head. And when I get up on the stand that's exactly what I do.
"Jess," asks Lewis. "Will you tell us what happened to you on the night of May the thirteenth, after Alonzo Garcia kidnapped–"
"Objection, leading the witness!" shouts the defense attorney.
"Sustained," says the judge. "What is your question, Mr. Jacobs?"
Lewis swallows. Yep, I think nervously to myself. He's definitely a newbie. But hey, if Elle Woods could do it ...
"What happened that night, Jess?" he asks again.
I look directly at him as I recount the events. I'm not as graphic as I was for Nick, Agent Johnson and Sarge at the station. Not until I get to the part in which Garcia orders his men to torture me. At that point, I turn to the jury.
"I know I'm guilty," I say.
I hear the entire courtroom gasp.
"I'm guilty of plotting a murder. I was threatened." I laugh to myself. "For some weird reason, the Mafia thought I was going to go through with assassinating Alonzo Garcia. And why wouldn't I? He had his 'security' string me up in a shipping warehouse. They tore off my clothes and made jokes about my body. Not the funny kind of jokes. Then they beat me with a wrench. I was a little numb from the adrenaline pumping through my body, but ... after the wrench started chipping my bones, I really started to feel it. Then they brought out the hot poker." I lift up the side of my shirt and there are dark, black bruises and still burning blisters from the poker. The jury recoils and I can see that one woman looks like vomiting. "After that, Garcia arrived. He'd just seen his wife commit suicide only the night before and yet he still had time to leave his family and drive downtown to torture me. He should have been making sure his son and daughter were okay." My words start to grind out through my teeth and I don't realize how emotional I'm getting until my eyes blur. I look right across the courtroom at Lizzie and Danny. Lizzie is horror-struck. She clearly doesn't know what her brother and her father did to me. "No, he wanted to be there. He wanted to gloat that I had come so close – the closest anyone's ever gotten – to ending him. He was angry. And he was taking it out on me. With a scalpel."
Again, the jury cringes.
"And then what happened?" asks Lewis. "Did you shoot him?"
"No." I shake my head. "The bikers and the cops arrived. A fight broke out outside the warehouse. A gang-member I used to know and Officer Bronson found me inside. Garcia used me as a shield against them. I couldn't move, let alone grip a gun and shoot him. My arms and legs were tied. I thought he was going to end me when–"
The courtroom is completely silent. I bite my lip. It's now or never, Jess. Who's it going to be? Danny or you?
"When ..." I look at Nick. His hands are clasped together, his frown creased, pleading me with his eyes. It's then that I remember what he did for his family. Turning in his own father. It was justice. I am just as if not more guilty than Danny. I've murdered before. It just so happens that this is not the murder I committed. And though this doesn't feel like justice, I know it's the right thing.
A chair scrapes back. Nathan steps aside. The jury's heads all whip left to look into the crowd.
And there is Danny, on his feet, tears streaming down his face. He looksat me with an almost smile on his lips. Then he says, "I killed my father."
YOU ARE READING
Free as a JailbirdGeneral Fiction
Jess Knight likes her freedom. Despite being in jail for about sixty-five percent of her teenage life, she is in complete control. But there's only one problem: she doesn't know her purpose. One day, everything changes. Her reputation as the younges...