Benz

by Rick Beck

Chapter 17

The Stall

On Friday morning Wes began presenting his defense. The first impression he wanted to make on the jury was one of a compassionate doctor, helping his fellow man. It was an unusual way to begin his case, but it was an unusual case.

"Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I want to present some witnesses who are keenly aware of who Dr. Vincent Parsons is. I think it goes to his character, which is at the center of the charges against him. So, I ask your indulgence."

"I'd like to call Father Carroll, Your Honor," Wes said, doing his best to consume time and make his points.

"Go ahead, Mr. Mathews. I won't tell you how to present your case," the judge said, watching Wes carefully.

Father Joe Carroll came forward, put his substantial hand on the bible offered, and swore his oath, though no one in that courtroom doubted this man's veracity.

"Father, do you know Dr. Parsons?"

"I certainly do," Father Joe beamed.

"In your own words, how do you know him?"

"Vince, I mean Dr. Parsons, works for us at St. Vincent DePaul six days a week, most of twelve hours each day, or until the line runs out. He's been there several months. The line hasn't run out yet," Father Joe said to the amusement of those present.

"Your honor!" the prosecutor objected almost predictably. "Unless Father Carroll wants to testify about Dr. Parsons confession to him, I don't see where this is relevant. I'm a sucker for a good story but the doctor isn't charged with practicing medicine."

"Sit down, Mr. Green, I want to hear this. If there's some reason to exclude any of it, I'll so direct, after I hear what a respected member of our community has to say, if you don't mind?"

"Yes, sir," he said, mumbling to himself as he took his seat.

"Go on, Father,' the judge said. "Dr. Parsons is a big help to you?"

"As I was saying, he cares for the homeless. Gives them treatment they otherwise wouldn't receive. He's a Godsend, and yes, he practices the kind of medicine that comes from the soul."

"How long has he been doing this, Father?" Wes continued.

"Months now. Three maybe. We've missed him this week."

"That must be pretty expensive service. How does St. Vincent DePaul afford a doctor of Dr. Parsons' caliber?" Wes inquired.

"He works for free. He volunteers his services. When he first showed up to offer his help, well, he was a bit of a jerk, but the Lord had a chat with him. Now I can't get him to go home until he's exhausted. He cares about the people he treats. They care about him. They don't find many men they can care about.

"We haven't paid him anything. Technically, wanting to be completely correct, he eats with us. Speaks well of a sturdy digestion. I'm certain he's accustomed to better food. I'm not so sure anyone would consider our food worthy payment for anyone's service."

There was some laughter as Father Carroll offered his opinion.

"You Honor, with all do respect, I don't see what any of this has to do with our little trial here," Ben Greene said, confident this time the judge would see his side of it.

"Goes to character, Your Honor," Wes said. "I want to establish my client is a credit to his community. Father Carroll should be acceptable even to our illustrious prosecutor. I think it is important for Father Joe be heard, and he has to be back at the center this afternoon. I want his testimony on the record."

"Shouldn't that wait for sentencing, this kind of witness?" Ben Green advised.

"I object to the reference to sentencing, Your Honor."

"It will be hard to avoid by the end of trial," Ben Green said.

"There can be no sentencing for an innocent man. It's obvious these charges are excessive and unwarranted. I think it's important to establish his character. We're talking about fairness and justice."

"Gentlemen, it's customary for both sides to be heard. It being my courtroom, I have said I'm allowing Mr. Mathews to establish the character of the accused at this time. If something comes in that is prejudicial, I'll have it struck. I hope that's good enough for you, because that's the way it is."

"Can Father Joe possibly be considered anything but a credit to our community and an excellent judge of character?" Wes interjected.

"Gentlemen, please. Disregard any indication that there may be a sentencing. I'll allow the rest in. Go on, Wes, but try to get to a point that's relevant to the trial. We're all happy to hear from the Father."

"Does Dr. Parsons tend to the homeless by himself?"

"No, his nurses have come to show their support. Each works a different day. Some give up their days off to work with Dr. Parsons."

"I'd like them to stand, Your Honor. I won't call each one."

"Your Honor, I object to this. The prosecution will stipulate, Dr. Parsons is a decent human being. He also drank, drove, and killed a young girl, which is why we're all gathered here for his trial."

"I object to that characterization," Wes complained.

"Mr. Green, if you persist, I'll let him call each nurse to testify to why she works with the doctor. I'm sure Wes wouldn't mind."

"This is my courtroom. I decided to let this in. Wes, it's stipulated, Dr. Parsons has done a great service for his community. You can finish with this witness. We don't want to delay Father Carroll."

"Yes, Your Honor," Wes said.

"Is this okay with you, Ben?" the judge asked.

"Yes, Your Honor. Objection withdrawn."

The six nurses stood in place in the front row so the jury could see them in their nurse's uniforms.

"Father, if you were in need of a neurosurgeon, who would you call?"

"No doubt in my mind. Dr. Vincent Parsons."

"Objection, Your Honor. He's not an expert on doctors."

"No, I'm not, but the answer is still the same," Father Carroll interjected. "Ben, I've seen the doctor practice medicine."

"Objection sustained. We'll strike that little commercial announcement. Father Carroll's choice of doctors isn't relevant in this case," the judge agreed. "Go on."

"Okay, Father Carroll. You do have access to the Archdiocese's doctors? Say you went out for lunch and fell down our marvelous escalators. You need a surgeon. You're dizzy and feel faint. Who do you call?"

"Dr. Vincent Parsons. I would want the best. That's Vince."

"Objection! It's the same question, Your Honor!" Ben Green was indignant.

"Sustained. Disregard. Father Joe is not an expert on doctors."

"Thank you, Your Honor. Thank you, Father. I'm done with this witness."

Ben Greene walked slowly to the witness box with a troubled look on his face.

"Morning Father."

"Morning Ben. You are certainly looking dapper today. How's Marge?"

"Fine, Father," the prosecutor answered.

"Ben, you want to ask a question?" the judge asked.

"Father, let me ask you this, before the accident that brings us all here to this courtroom, how many days did Dr. Parsons spend at St. Vincent DePaul treating the poor?"

"None. I didn't know him before that date."

"So, then, one day he shows up and says I'm the answer to your prayers. Put me to work. That about how it happened?"

"Not exactly. He was reluctant to help once he became aware of the size of our need."

"So, he came down there looking for a way to assist you but wasn't sure he could?"

"He came down looking for someone he thought could aid his case, Ronnie Haggerty. Ronnie eats with us now and then. He once did. No one has seen him in some time."

"He came to you looking for you to help him in this case? Is that correct?"

"Yes, isn't that what I just said, Ben? He needed help. The Lord sent him to us. He decided he would help us. He didn't need to do that. He came for a favor and ended up giving one."

"So you don't think it is possible that he's spending so much time there looking for this mystery boy that only he's seen?"

"No, I've seen Ronnie often. Dr. Parsons is eager to work. The Lord sends help in all kinds of ways. We can always use another attorney, Ben."

"Yes, I'm sure. Let me ask you again, Father. It isn't possible he's there because he thinks that boy might show up sooner or later. Is that possible?"

"Ben, if he was there only to find the boy, he'd have given that idea up months ago. You don't devote yourself to people, only because of what you are going to get out of it. Besides a sore back, exhaustion, and some rather average food, nothing but dedication could keep a man like Vince in a place like St. Vincent DePaul all this time. He's there because he has found his calling."

"I bet as quick as that boy shows up, his calling would be to take a hike out of there," Ben Green said.

"I object. There's no evidence of that," Wes said. "If you stipulate there is a witness, I'll withdraw my objection."

"I'll stipulate to what I just said," Ben Green fired back.

"Gentlemen, can we finish with our witness?"

"I imagine it is possible the boy witnessed the accident, Ben. Dr. Parsons wants to find him. It's obvious he can prove…"

"That's all, Father. Thank you."

"Redirect, Your Honor. Father, finish what you were going to say."

"It's obvious to me that Ronnie Haggerty would be able to prove Dr. Parsons is innocent of the charges. I hope he comes forward."

"Thank you, Father. That's all. Your witness," Wes said, passing Ben Green's table.

"Ben? You have anything else?"

"No, I don't have anything else," he said, knowing he'd broken the cardinal rule by asking a question that resulted in something coming in that hurt his case.

"I call Conrad Simpson, Your Honor."

Conrad came forward and was sworn in. Wes set the relevance of his testimony to the case.

"Conrad, you were in the restaurant where Dr. Parsons and his date ate the Friday night in question?"

"I was."

"What were you doing there?"

"I wait tables. I'm a waiter."

"How many drinks did you serve Dr. Parsons that night?"

"Two."

"You're sure? How can you be that sure? It took us some time to find you. Your memory that good?"

"I saw the newspaper. I saw his picture. I knew I served him an hour before the accident."

"Do you know what he drank?"

"Yes, two glasses of port Wine. The good stuff. Not the $2.00 a glass crap. He knew his wine."

People chuckled at Conrad's description of the wine.

"Conrad, did you let Dr. Parsons leave your restaurant intoxicated?"

"On two glass of port? Please. He was fine."

"Objection. He's not an expert witness," Ben Green said without bothering to get up.

"Sustained," Judge Hamilton said. "Disregard his opinion of Dr. Parsons' condition at the time he left the restaurant."

"Was the doctor wiggling, waggling, staggering, or in any way acting like he was drunk, in your opinion, Conrad?"

"He wasn't drunk," Conrad said confidently.

"Object. Same cause."

"Sustained. Disregard any reference to Dr. Parsons' condition as relates to his sobriety," Judge Hamilton advised the jury.

"And how long would you say he was in the restaurant that night?"

"Service might have been a little slow. Friday nights tend to be busy. They were there an hour and a half, I'd say."

"How long have you been waiting tables, Conrad?"

"Nine years."

"You serve alcohol as part of you job all that time?"

"Almost all of it. I worked at a couple of fast food joints between restaurant jobs, when I couldn't find anything else, but most of the nine years I've served alcohol as part of my duties."

"You work in nice restaurants all the time?"

"I prefer that. It's where the money is. No, not so nice restaurants some of that time. You work where you can find it if you like to eat regular."

"Did you ever have cause to stop serving someone drinks in the course of being a waiter?"

"I could tell you stories. Sure, someone gets loud, obnoxious, is disturbing other tables. I cut them off in a minute. It's better to lose his tip than to spend a lot of time dealing with him and ending up with no tip anyway. Drunks are terrible tippers."

"What kind of a tipper was Dr. Parsons?" Wes asked.

"Left a fifty dollar bill on less than a forty dollar check. The young lady ate like a bird. He was a good tipper," Conrad said smiling.

"You didn't cut him off, did you? Was he acting loud or obnoxious?"

"On two glasses of wine? Please."

"That's all I have. Thank you, Conrad. Thanks for coming in to testify."

Judge Hamilton looked at Ben Green and then Wes, shaking his head at how Wes had finally worked in the testimony he was after.

"Your witness," Wes said as he passed the prosecutor's table.

"Conrad," Ben Green started talking before he stood. "How do you like Dr. Parsons' place? He live well? Does he enjoy life?"

"What?" Conrad said.

"You seem to fancy yourself an expert on alcohol consumption. Tell us how much Dr. Parsons drank before he left home that night. Could he have had a drink in your bar and paid cash for it before he was seated at your table? Could you have forgotten something?"

"Why don't we let the witness answer one of those questions before you pose any more, Ben," Judge Hamilton suggested.

"Pick one, Conrad. I'm all ears," Ben Green advised.

"I have no knowledge of any drinking Dr. Parsons did anyplace but at my table that night. What I said is, he wasn't intoxicated while he was at my table."

"I object, Your Honor," Ben Green stammered. "Unresponsive. Strike the last part of his answer."

"Asked and answered," Wes said, standing to offer his opinion.

"You asked the question, Ben. I'm still the judge and I get to strike what I want to strike. The answer stands," Judge Hamilton said to the court. "Answer only what he asks you, Mr. Simpson," Judge Hamilton advised. "Don't add commentary to your answers."

"Yes, sir," Conrad said to the judge.

"Go ahead, Mr. Green. I've instructed the witness for you."

"No further questions, Your Honor," Ben Green said unhappily.

"No redirect, Your Honor. I'd like to call Mr. Harold Bliss, Your Honor."

Ben Greene turned to watch Mr. Bliss approach the stand. He seemed drawn and withered for a middle-aged man. His walk was tentative and careful. Ben Greene leafed through his witness pages, not recognizing the man or the name.

"Excuse me, Your Honor. I have no record of this witness. I'm supposed to be informed of all of Mr. Mathews' witnesses."

"Yes, that's how it works, Ben. I'm sorry. It's under parents or relatives of Sharon Doe. Sharon is no longer Sharon Doe. Excuse me, Your Honor, my investigator just found Sharon's parents. There hasn't been any time to amend the witness list. I think he can shine some light on the victim in this case. He is the parent of Sharon and he deserves to be heard before he returns home with his daughter."

"It's noted. Sharon Doe will now be referred to as Sharon Bliss. Please amend all documents in reference to Sharon Doe. I'll allow the witness. Do you object, Mr. Green?" Judge Hamilton asked.

"No, no objection, Your Honor. We reserve the right to cross examine."

"Understood," Judge Hamilton said. "Go ahead, Mr. Mathews."

"Thank you for coming, Mr. Bliss. I'm very sorry for your loss. How is it Sharon was here in San Diego?" Wes asked.

"It's a long story," the man said softly, clearing his throat as his words came slowly. "Sharon started drinking and doing drugs when she was twelve. We did everything we could but it only got worse. She refused to come in. Ran away frequently and just wouldn't listen to us, when she was home. I don't know what happened to her. We tried everything. She just wouldn't listen. She was such a good child."

"Did you love your daughter, Mr. Bliss?"

"Yes. Of course we did. I loved her very much," he said, struggling to stay in control of his emotions.

"That's why you tried so hard to help her?"

"Yes."

"How old was she?"

"She turned sixteen two months ago. She was already gone then. She'd run away. Her mother was beside herself with worry. Each time the phone rang, well, our hearts stopped. We were afraid. Well, we were afraid we'd find out she was dead."

"Why do you think she left home, Mr. Bliss?"

"Drugs. We wouldn't tolerate it, once it got so bad. We were planning to commit her to a facility to help her. She found out. She was gone before we got her the help she needed."

"She ran because of the power of the drugs?" Wes wondered.

"She tried to quit. She tried hard at first. She wanted to be good, but the drugs had her. She had a good home. I know, it looks like we failed Sharon. I suppose being ignorant is failure, but not because we didn't care. How do you rescue your child off drugs?"

"Are you surprised at the way she died?"

"No. I'm not surprised. We expected the call. Mr. McCoy was quite kind. He spent a lot of time explaining how it happened."

"Is your wife here with you, Mr. Bliss?"

"She is."

"She came to testify about her daughter?" Wes asked.

"Yes. She wanted to make sure people understood how hard it is to get your child back once drugs get them. She's very upset."

"We won't call her, Mr. Bliss. We appreciate that both of you came to tell us about your daughter. I know this can't be easy for you. I wanted your voice to be heard. You do know I'm defending the doctor who was driving the car that hit her?"

"Yes, I do. Your investigator was very clear. I don't blame him, but if he was drinking and driving like the paper says, he needs to account for his actions. We're busy making arrangements for our daughter, so you gentlemen will sort that out. Sharon is dead now and we need to take her home, where she belongs."

"Thank you, Mr. Bliss. Thank you for coming. That's all I have for this witness, Your Honor. Any time or questions Mr. Green has will be fine. I didn't call this witness to make points. He needed to be heard."

"Thank you, Mr. Mathews. Cross, Mr. Green?"

"No, Your Honor, I think Mr. Mathews covered the questions the prosecution would have asked. I'd like to extend my condolences to Mr. Bliss and his wife. Thank you for coming."

"The court would also like to express its sorrow for your loss. Thank you for coming," Judge Hamilton said, only to Mr. Bliss.

As Mr. Bliss walked from the witness stand, Angus McCoy stepped just inside the door of the courtroom. Wes turned to look at him for some sign there would be more witnesses, but Angus shrugged his shoulders as he opened the door for Mr. and Mrs. Bliss.

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