by Rick Beck

Chapter 16

Judges, Juries, and Justice

The trial started Thursday. Wes and Angus had done everything possible to secure information concerning Ronnie Haggerty's whereabouts. They'd so far come up empty. The prosecution set out a simple case in his opening statement. It depended on the doctor drinking, driving, hitting a pedestrian, and after all of this, he tried to treat her. Even a good doctor should know better.

Wes stood, buttoning his jacket, he touched Vince's shoulder lightly before approaching the jury.

"A handsome young doctor meets an attractive young

lady. There are certain mutual feelings exchanged. They decide to go out to dinner to become better acquainted. They drink a little wine and eat some good Italian food. Dr. Vincent Parsons is driving with his date down past Balboa Park. It's not the type of evening any of you haven't experienced.

"A young lady is walking along the same street Dr. Parsons' car is traveling on," Wes says, a bit more compelling in his delivery. "She sees her boyfriend. He's just across the street. Young love is hard to deter. She starts out to cross the street, wanting to reach him. Walking between parked cars, she steps out into the path of Dr. Vincent Parsons' car. He slams on his brakes, frantically trying to stop in time. He can't. The car hits her. Her neck is broken. She falls lifeless onto the asphalt. You'll hear that the doctor goes to her aid, treating her to the best of his ability, under the circumstances. A neurosurgeon, he's familiar with this kind of injury. He works over her, until the police arrive and move him back away from the scene. The paramedics come, take her to the hospital, where she later dies from her injuries.

"What started as a date to mark the beginning of a new relationship ends in tragedy. What's at issue here is the amount of alcohol Dr. Parsons consumed before the accident. A couple of glasses of wine and then he ate a full meal. He hit the girl approximately twenty minutes after leaving the restaurant.

"You will be told that Dr. Parsons refused a breathalyzer test. That's true, but a doctor knows, Vincent Parsons knew, a blood test is more reliable in establishing the amount of alcohol in your system. He asks for the blood test, knowing it will prove his innocence…."

"Your Honor," Ben Green complained.

Wes had been waiting for Ben Green to object before this and he expected a stern rebuke from Judge Hamilton, but he'd gotten the facts into the minds of the jurors. They each could relate to the circumstances.

"Mr. Mathews, let's keep your opening comments confined to the evidence you intend to introduce," Judge Hamilton said with dispassion.

Wes was surprised the judge hadn't commented on the fact no evidence would be introduced to prove Vince asked for the blood test. Wes realized that the three documents the judge said could not be introduced as evidence that Vince asked for a blood test, did not mean he didn't understand their significance.

Judge Hamilton was known as a hard judge. He was also known as a fair judge. This was good evidence of it to Wes, who didn't smile or acknowledge the judge's jurisprudence.

If Wes was pleasantly surprised, Ben Green was displeased at the mild mention of evidence. The prosecutor glared in the judge's direction, but Judge Hamilton kept his eyes on Wes, waiting for him to continue, as he stood in close proximity to the jury.

"A doctor, a neurosurgeon, out on a date is at the scene of an accident. The girl that has been hit by a car needs his particular expertise if is any hope her life can be saved. A neurosurgeon is on the scene. He's the only one on the scene. He can help her, but he's had some wine with dinner, and so he stands by and watches her die.

"No, Dr. Parsons didn't stand by and watch her die. After the tragic accident, he went into action, doing all he knew how to do to keep her alive long enough to get her to the hospital, where she'd have a better chance.

"I can't imagine any of you thinking a doctor of Vincent Parsons caliber would do any less. You'll be told that because Dr. Parsons had wine with dinner, he was negligent in treating the girl. The prosecutor will tell you he should have stood back and watched her die. Dr. Parsons could not stand by. He was trained to act and he acted. If you were lying on that asphalt and the man who could save you had wine with dinner, would you want him to deny you help? No, me either."

"Good food, a little wine, and one of those evenings most of us look forward to. It ended in tragedy and as accurate as a blood test would be, no blood test was taken. The evidence that would prove my client innocent was never collected.

"An oversight, an expected consequence of too many prisoners being introduced to an overcrowded jail, and what we need most to clear this all up is not available to us. That's why we are here, at trial, wanting only the truth, and the truth is, Dr. Parsons is innocent; guilty of nothing more than believing in love.

"The prosecutor will tell you this is irrelevant. The breathalyzer was refused, thus California law says this is evidence of guilt. A doctor knows a blood test is more accurate. The test was not given and Dr. Vincent Parsons is guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and of being arrested on a too-busy night.

"As tragic as the death of a young girl is, she walked into the path of the doctor's car and the doctor couldn't stop in time. Any of us could be sitting where he is sitting today, under the same circumstances. Thank you."

The attention of the jury went back to the prosecutor as Wes passed his table on the way back to Vince's side. He once more touched Vince's shoulder reassuringly.

Wes was made uncomfortable about having a weak case. Without the key witness there would be a dogfight. He had listened to the supposition and carefully laid out facts that were supposed to prove the guilt of his client. Their experts were expert, and they called Jennifer early on to prove that Dr. Parsons was drinking before and at dinner. The question of how much was left to the imagination of the jury. They did not focus on the amount.

Wes had the waiter and his testimony was as ambiguous as Jennifer's, but he leaned toward two glasses of wine, one before the meal and one with it, but he couldn't say there wasn't a drink in the bar before dinner and Jennifer maintained that she thought one mixed drink. It made the amount he drank the issue.

It was the kind of testimony Wes could take apart easily enough, but his client asked him not to challenge her. Jennifer had been traumatized and Vince wasn't about to allow Wes to traumatize her further. If her testimony could be shaken, no one ever knew it by the way Wes approached her.

"How long have you know Dr. Parsons?" Wes asked.

"I met him the week of the accident," she answered.

"Oh, you liked each other right away?"

"I guess we did," she replied.

"What kind of doctor is he? Well regarded?"

"The head nurse called him a real catch. He's a handsome man, intelligent. I liked him right off," she said, looking at Vince for the first time.

"The accident must have been terrible. A girl walking out in front of the car like that," Wes said.

"Your Honor," Ben Green growled.

"I'll withdraw the question," Wes said. "That's all I have for this witness. Thank you."

He'd gone easy, slipped in one little doubt for the jury to consider, and Ben Green took the floor.

Angus had his operatives working the list of prosecutors he'd acquired from Wes. He himself spent time at the jail, the sheriff's department, and the county police department. They knew the question before it was asked. Angus had been asking it for months.

"Any news on a Ronnie Haggerty, 19, blond, blue eyed, five foot eleven to six one, one hundred and sixty-five to one hundred and eighty pounds."

"Angus, don't you ever get tired of asking me that?" Spiegel asked him.

"Haven't got the answer I need yet. He's crucial in proving a case that can cost a man his career and ten years in prison to boot. Time is running out. I need my witness."

"I sympathize with you. Not on my radar. No arrest, no reports, no anything has crossed my desk with that name on it."

"You once told me a story about not looking for your undercover cop, because he's out there with the feds. That ongoing?"

"Ongoing, Angus. I can't comment. You shouldn't even know that."

By midday Thursday the prosecution was getting the last expert's testimony into the record. They were all positive about what they had to say. Wes saw no point in questioning what amounted to opinion. The more time he gave to the prosecutor's story , the more time the jury thought about it from that point of view.

Wes needed to go for reasonable doubt and Ben Green's witnesses were carefully prepared for trial. Ben was good at what he did and he left nothing to chance, but Wes thought he was in way too deep for a DUI case.

On the other hand Judge Hamilton left the negligence charges on the case. Vehicular homicide could be argued as part of the DUI conviction, but negligence is how Wes brought in reasonable doubt. The law was clear that doctors offering treatment in an emergency situation were not to be charged with malpractice. Using the DUI law, guilty if you refuse a breathalyzer, was being used to prove he was too drunk to have been treating any patient, emergency or not.

It was too much of a reach for Wes. Even the charge of negligence could be appealed in case of a guilty verdict, but the most troubling part was that Judge Hamilton left the negligence charge on the indictment.

Wes had filed motions to throw out the negligence charge, but as was Judge Hamilton's habit, he denied most motions and preferred to have it fought out in court. It was his arena as he refereed the combatants in each case. Wes understood it but it gave him no comfort to know his skills alone stood between Dr. Vincent Parsons and prison.

Ben Green's questions were reasonable and well-framed to get the answers he wanted. What Wes wanted was to use up time. He was charming and asked questions that were easy to answer. Attacking relatively weak witnesses was counterproductive.

During lunch recess, Wes met with Angus to exchange notes.

"Prosecution won't last much longer. It'll be my turn soon. I hope it can wait until in the morning, but I'm afraid the jury will have the case Friday late. I'll try to stretch it, but my case won't last a day if nothing slows things down.

"Oh, Angus, Judge Patrick called me last night. Asked me how the case is going. I told him at best we might have enough circumstantial evidence to get Vince off, but it could go either way if we don't have our witness before the trial ends. He said he thought there was some hanky panky going on.

"Those are his words. A big time lawyer tries never to say hanky panky if he isn't singing along with Tommy James and the Shondells."


"Before your time. There's something to consider," Wes said.

"You going to tell me, or should I guess?"

"No, I just had another thought. He's not being held under his own name. If he's there and you can't find him."

"It makes no sense," Angus said. "Why do that? In witness protection programs it's not unusual, but he's a street kid. What could he possibly know that would make that necessary?"

"You tell me. It's a thought," Wes explained. "Judge Patrick seemed interested in hearing my version of the irregularities in this case. He agreed we best not rub Judge Hamilton the wrong way. He's a good ally to have and a bad enemy to make. He didn't ask me anything about Ronnie. I thought that's what you were asking him about?"

"Judge Patrick has heard all he needs to hear about Ronnie from me. He knows he's our key witness and no one seems to care. He knows he is among the missing, but he's curious about what else is going on," Angus said. "He wants to see what I have on Clark tonight. I'll ask if there's a way Ronnie can be held under a phony name. He may not have thought of it either."

"He sounded like he wanted to help," Wes said.

"I've got every favor ever owed me in play right now. I've got everyone from clerks to a federal judge on this one. I feel like the answers are just out of reach. This case is making me old, Wes."

"What did you do for Judge Patrick anyway, Angus?"

"That's a privilege I dare not violate. I like my freedom."

"Dr. Parsons feels the same way. When you present the evidence that proves your theory to the judge, present it to him the way you presented it to me. You nailed it down like I'd want it done in court."

"You didn't act all that impressed the night I laid it out for you."

"I'm not paid to be impressed, Angus. I'm paid to present evidence that proves my case. I couldn't present what you have as facts in a case in court. It is, however, a compelling narrative to connect a man who can pull all the strings that have been pulled, and the client who may be victimized by the pulling of those strings."

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