Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons Page 10

Mr. Deveraux looked miffed. The number of potential jurors was dwindling fast.

Judge McClary said next they would ask questions of some of us based on our responses to the questionnaire. Lucky for me, I was first.

Mr. Yates stood. “Ms. Gardner.” He looked over the top of his reading glasses. “You listed that you’d been a victim of a violent crime.”

I swallowed. “Yes, sir.”

He peered at a paper in his hand. “You were involved in the big bust of the marijuana and stolen car parts ring that occurred about a month ago.” He looked up again.

I nodded.

“Miss, you’ll need to answer out loud so the court reporter can record your answer.” The judge motioned to a woman sitting to the side.

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Was that a ‘yes,’ you were involved?”

“Yes, sir.”

Mr. Yates cleared his throat. “You didn’t elaborate much on this. Could you tell us more about your involvement?”

I told him how Daniel Crocker thought I was the anonymous informant he’d paid money to but who was withholding the promised information. And how the undercover policeman living next door to me thought I was involved, too. But I left a lot out, perjury or not. He’d never believe it was my visions that got me in the mess in the first place.

Mr. Yates sat on the corner of his table and crossed his arms, staring straight at me. “Ms. Gardener, since you’ve been a victim of a violent crime, we’re concerned you’re incapable of being impartial. This isn’t a judgment on you or your character. We think it would be best if you recuse yourself from the case.”

My face burned, not believing what I’d heard. “Excuse me?”

Mr. Yates leaned forward and enunciated his words. “Recuse means to excuse yourself.”

Resentment at his insult burned deep. “I know what recuse means. What I’m confused about is why you think I can’t be impartial.”

“I’ve already explained that to you.”

“Then I obviously didn’t understand it. Maybe you should explain it to me again.”

I caught Mr. Deveraux smirk as he gave the paper on the table in front of him his full attention.

“All right, Ms. Gardner.” Mr. Yates stood and walked toward me. “My client has been accused of armed robbery and murder. Since you were the victim of an assault and your mother was a murder victim, I’m having some trouble believing that you can judge him without bias. Wouldn’t you say that you’ll be more inclined to find him guilty and suggest a stiffer penalty because of the ordeal you yourself have been through?”

The fact I’d had the worst morning in the history of mornings didn’t help me hold back all the things I wanted to say to that shortsighted, arrogant man. But every eye in the room was focused on me, waiting to hear how I was gonna answer. That is, with the exception of Mr. Deveraux, who looked like he was choking on something. I refused to embarrass myself.

I plastered a sugary smile on my face and looked the defense lawyer straight in the eye. “I’m sorry, Mr. Yates, but I was under the assumption that Mr. Decker was innocent until proven guilty. Are you sayin’ that he’s not?”

Mr. Deveraux broke into a coughing fit as half the courtroom burst into laughter.

Judge McClary banged his gavel. “Order in the courtroom. Settle down, people.” He turned to me. “Ms. Gardner,” he exhaled my name in a long breath. “You must understand Mr. Yates’s concern.”

“I do, Your Honor, but he has to understand mine. Although I’ve never served on jury duty before, I was taught the defendant is innocent until proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. Isn’t the juror’s duty to listen to the evidence and make a decision based on what’s presented?”

“Well, yes…”

“How can I be biased against the defendant if I believe he’s innocent until it’s been proven otherwise?”

“I’m sure you feel that way, Ms. Gardner,” Mr. Yates drawled. “But once you start hearing evidence about crime scenes and victims’ testimonies, memories of your own unfortunate experience are bound to resurface, makin’ it difficult to for you to concentrate on the case at hand. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. No one thinks badly about you recusing yourself.”

“I’m a lot stronger than I look, Mr. Yates, and I never said I was recusin’ myself.”

“Ms. Gardner—”

I lifted my chin. “I’m not gonna do it.”

Mr. Yates turned to face the judge, clenching his fists at his sides. “Your Honor!”

Judge McClary leaned forward on his elbows and rubbed his forehead with his hand. “Ms. Gardner. No one’s doubting how strong you are, but when evidence is presented, you might experience some fear or animosity toward the defendant.”

“And I might get struck by lightnin’ in the next thunderstorm, but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen.”

The judge rubbed his eyes then looked up with a pained expression. “Ms. Gardner, can you see how it would be in everyone’s best interest if you’d just recuse yourself?”

“Your Honor, with all due respect, you’re askin’ me to lie, which you told me only a few moments ago was perjurin’ myself.”

Raising his eyebrows in frustration, Judge McClary looked at Mr. Yates. “Short of throwing in her in jail for disrupting the court, I can’t make her do it. And considering the fact she thinks she has to lie to recuse herself, I’m gonna let this stand. If you don’t want her on the jury, Mr. Yates, just put her on your exclusion list.”

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