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I sigh and pace back and forth impatiently. Finally I hear the grating noise of a key turning in the lock. The door opens to show a bailiff, who beckons to me.
“Come this way.” He lays one hand on my shoulder and one on my back, grabbing my thin shirt, above my handcuffs. I try to ignore the inevitable stares of people rushing past us in the hallway. A courthouse is always busy. We reach the door, and the bailiff stretches around me to push it open, his keys clinking on his belt. The judge glares at me as I am pushed up the aisle. The bailiff shoves me into the cramped seat and takes his stance behind me. After the shuffling of many papers, the judge bangs his gavel and the room quiets.
“Defendant, please approach the bench.”
My lawyer does so.
“Please state the defendant's name and age.”
“Daniel James Rowald. Age, 28.”
“Very well, please state your case.”
And so it goes on, each lawyer taking their turn, the jury listening intently, scribbling notes. That is, all but one. She looks bored, picking at her fingernails, shifting positions. Our eyes meet. She stills and gives me a half smile. I try to smile back, then blink and turn my attention back to the lawyers. I am innocent. Murder, hah. I can’t even step on a worm without a guilty conscience. It is a case of misunderstanding, pure and simple. Somehow, I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, holding the wrong thing. The gun-- I had picked up off the floor. The shot I fired? It was an accident. He had startled me! Yes, him. The prosecutor. The brother of the lady I supposedly killed. My co-worker. The guy who did kill her. As I tune in to what’s happening, I realize with a sinking feeling my lawyer’s losing. The evidence is all pointing the wrong way. Toward me. John, the prosecutor, smiles smugly at me from across the room. He’s got it all planned, doesn’t he. He was wearing gloves, so only my fingerprints showed up. He knew that the struggle we went through when I caught him could serve in his favor. I had been working late at the bank, and had thought everyone had gone home, but as I walked past the office of my co-worker, John, I saw a lady standing in the doorway, arguing. Curious, I approached her. I was going to tell her the bank is closed, but then realized John was standing there too, his face red. Neither of them noticed me, and I listened in.
“It will be mine!” John was yelling.
“Over my dead body,” The woman screeched back.
Then, to my utter astonishment and horror, John reached into his suit jacket and pulled out a gun. I lunged forward, yelling at him to stop. He stared at me, then went down as I landed on top of him.
“Gerr erf ee,” He gasped. Get off me.
I did, wrenching the gun from his hand.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” I howled.
The woman was standing there in shock, just watching. I turned around to her, and in the second, John leapt at me and yanked the gun away from me, pointed it at the lady, and shot. The noise was deafening, but all I could think about was what he had just done. I turned around and punched him in the jaw, he slam his fist into my nose, and next thing I knew I was holding the gun. John jumped on my back, causing my finger to slip and pull the trigger. The bullet buried itself in the lady’s head. At least she was already dead. Unfortunately, the watch guard came running by at that moment, and now here I am, John claiming he heard a gunshot, came running, and saw me holding the gun that shot my sister. According to him, he had fought me for it, and in that, it went off again, which was what the security guard saw. Apparently my motive is that John and I had both applied for a higher position that paid a lot more money and he got it, (which was true) and I came seeking revenge, but found his sister and decided to make him pay by killing her. Of course, that was a lie, but does anyone listen to me? I hear my bumbling lawyer try to convince the jury and know my case is lost. They are making their closing statements. Finally I can’t take it any longer. I jump up, startling everyone and bringing the bailiffs running. The one assigned to me grabs me, but I shake him off.
“That’s not what happen,” I shout, staring at the judge. “I didn’t kill her!”
Now John is standing, denying it, saying he saw me shoot her. I struggle against the two guards that are trying to restrain me. They can restrain my body, but they can’t restrain the truth.
“He killed her. I saw him! Please believe me, I never intended to shoot her. It was an accident!”
“Please,” I sob, pleading with the jury.
I meet the girl’s eyes again. Her face is troubled, her lips move, but no sound comes out.
The guards are dragging me down the aisle. Tears are streaming down my dirty face, but I don’t care.
“I didn’t do it. Just let me tell you what really happened!”
Suddenly the girl in the jury stands up, her jaw set.
“Let him.” Her two words ring out over the chaotic room, bringing everything to a halt. “Let him explain.”
The judge opens her mouth to protest, but the girl holds up her hand.
“I know it’s not the order, but just pretend he’s his own lawyer. What harm could it do, to hear his side of the case?”
The judge is silent, and I hold my breath. After an eternity, the judge says one word that decides my fate.
The guards release me with disdain, and I stumble forward, almost falling. I catch myself though, and manage to stand up before the court, straight backed.
“As you know, my name is Daniel Rowald. I work at East Side Community Bank. Last Friday...” I state what happened clearly, keeping my chin up. John looks more and more uncomfortable with every sentence I speak.
“...that, Judge and Jury, is what really happened that terrible night, Friday, January 14.”
I turn around and face John. “I don’t know why you did it. I don’t know what reason you had. But I know you did it. You shot your sister, you destroyed her life, destroyed what happiness she had, and in doing so, destroyed your own life. Are you going to stand by and destroy mine as well?” My voice trembles, but I hold my gaze, staring deep into his eyes. Suddenly his face crumbles, and his sinks down into his chair, holding his head in his hands.
“She would have gotten it all,” he wept, and everyone leans in closer to hear what he has to say. But it is not necessary, as the next instant he leaps up and surveys the room with wild eyes.
“The inheritance, she would have gotten all the money!” He shouts. “I invited her to my office after hours to talk about it. I needed that money! I was prepared--prepared to--” His voice trails off and he stares down at his hands.
“Prepared to kill for it,” I say softly.
Crying now, he nods. The stunned bailiffs gather around John now, handcuffing him and leading him away, although not before unlocking the metal bracelets from my own chafed wrists. I rub them, glancing over at the jury, meeting the girl’s gaze again. Thank you, I mouth. She smiles and says, quietly,