The Price of Justice 12/14

The Price of Justice
Written November 2005
Rated PG-13
Synopsis: The rape and subsequent murder of a prominent judge leave the squad with no evidence and no suspects.

Disclaimer: The characters within are property of Wolf Films, Universal Television, Studios USA, and other corporations.  No infringement is intended.


The Special Victims Unit had no night staff, so unless one of the detectives was working overtime, the squadroom was both silent and dark. That wasn’t the case Friday night.

Munch sat at his desk, working with the light from the nearby lamp. He rubbed his tired eyes before flipping to the next page, but his mind wandered from the words. The day’s trial testimony had included the head of Leonard’s political party, Elena Petrova, and Carly Summers. Things were looking better for the prosecution.

However, they were looking worse for Munch.

Now he found himself going through all of Woodward’s past trials again, looking for any kind of connection. He’d created a file on his computer cross-referencing the people who lived and worked in Woodward’s building with all rapists, murderers, and other criminals who had been convicted by Woodward. Once categorizing a name, he placed it in one of two columns: those who were still incarcerated and those who were on parole. Then he checked to see where the parolee was living, if they were meeting with their parole officer as instructed, or if they had simply disappeared. He’d just finished going through the most recent year when he heard footsteps.

“I was wondering where you were.” Casey smiled at him. “Why didn’t you answer your phone?”

He looked at his cell display. It was blank. “Battery must’ve died.” He started rummaging through the drawers for his charger.

“So what are you working on? Getting caught up?”

“Uh…” He pretended to focus intently on a drawer’s content to buy himself some time to come up with an answer. Lying wasn’t an option, but he wasn’t sure how to tell her the truth. When he lifted his head and found her standing next to him, he realized he didn’t have to. “Listen, Casey, it’s not that I don’t believe what you heard; it’s just that–”

“John, you don’t have to explain. You’re a cop. You have to follow the evidence, investigate all angles. I work with what I have and what I know.” She smiled again, but he knew it was fake. “It’s pretty late, and I promised Olivia I’d check out her gym in the morning. I’ll see you later.” She began to walk away.

“I know that you’re mad at me, but–”

“I’m not mad at you.” She turned around, teetering on her heels. “I’m mad at me.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m starting to believe him, too.”

He didn’t have to stare at her for long to see her resolve start to crack. It took even less time to cross the room and hug her. Her tension melted in his arms, and he kissed her forehead. “You know, as far as everyone else is concerned, the Woodward rape/murder is closed.”

“Yeah,” she whispered, backing away from his embrace. Her eyes shifted to his desk. “So you have her whole judicial career in that box.”

“And I have the rest of her legal career in that box.” He pointed to one on the floor that was deeper and wider than the one on his desk. “People hold grudges for a long time.”

“The trial will be over by the time you finish.”

He shrugged. “Won’t matter if he’s convicted.”

After a moment, Casey hauled the heavy box on the floor to the top of his desk. “Then we’d better get started.”

“Hey, you have a boss of your own to answer to, and his name isn’t Cragen. This isn’t your responsibility.”

“Yes, it is. I answer to one person, and that’s the victim. Marianne Woodward wanted me to prosecute her rapist and to win. If Leonard didn’t do it, then I need to find out who did. I’m doing this for her.”

Somehow he expected that. With a sideways smile, he pointed to a stack in one corner of his desk. “You can work on the dockets from two-thousand two.”

Casey was a faster typer, so she entered the information from the docket sheets onto the computer while Munch checked the criminal database for a current location. They stripped off their suit jackets and worked in bare feet for comfort. He made a fresh pot of coffee sometime around ten o’clock which kept them going for another couple of hours.

“You know…” Casey paused in thought. “We’re missing something here.”

He looked at the piles they had already gone through, and his heart sank. “What?”

“All of these cases, they’re first timers.”

“What do you mean? The criminals?”

“No, it’s the first time the cases themselves have been tried in the criminal court. I haven’t seen any that were kicked back by a successful appeal. It doesn’t happen often, but I expected to see at least one.”

Something clicked, and they looked at each other with growing excitement. “The original trial judge doesn’t preside over the appeal, do they?”

“Nope.”

“So it’s possible…”

Casey nodded. “Martin Leonard could have presided over a case that Marianne Woodward heard after the successful appeal.”

“Or vice versa.”

“Maybe we’re looking for a guy who was found guilty the first time around–”

“When Woodward heard the case,” he interrupted.

“–but was found not guilty in Leonard’s court. It’s rare but not entirely impossible.”

“There’s a motive.” He paused as his idea began to unravel. “But then why frame Leonard, the judge who told him he was free to go?”

“Maybe Leonard instigated the whole thing. He had a grudge against Marianne for stealing his JAASA idea and getting nominated as Justice, our newly freed convict has a grudge because she sentenced him.”

“A match made in heaven.”

“The original trial would have been very early in her career. Appeals take time, and she hasn’t been a judge for that long.”

He sighed. “Maybe that’s why we don’t have any cases that were remanded; she never did one.”

“I don’t know,” Casey said with a yawn. “But I can’t think about it tonight.”

“I’ll take you home.”

“I live on the other side of Manhattan. I’ll just call a cab.”

“At one o’clock on a Saturday morning?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“I’m not going to let you take a cab home. What if something happened to you?”

“Nothing’s happened to me in the last seven years or so.”

“And I intend on not letting anything happen for the next seven years or so either. Come on.”

“That sounds like commitment to me.” His body tensed, and she chuckled. “I’m only kidding, John. Relax.”

He hadn’t been kidding, and the admission was both liberating and terrifying. It was official: he was completely out of his mind. “It is commitment. I’m committed to being your private bodyguard.”

“Then you can protect me while I wait downstairs for a cab.” She reached for the phone, but he slid his hand over hers, stopping her from picking up the receiver.

“A compromise then. You can sleep at my apartment.” He gave her his trademark ‘whatever’ shrug, building up the wall between them again. Just when she’d torn half of it down…

“You’d have to take me home early in the morning, say … five-thirty?”

“That’s fine.”

“I don’t have an extra change of clothes.”

“I’m sure I have something you can wear.”

“You mean, you own more than suits?” she asked with a grin.

“Actually, I have a dress that would look spectacular with your hips. Looks terrible on me, though.”

She laughed again. “All right, you win. Let’s go.”

***

Casey hurried toward the gym door, nearly slipping on some ice in her haste. She glanced at her watch as she rushed inside. Olivia was waiting for her by the front desk, already wearing shorts and a sports bra and ready to go.

“I am so sorry. I thought I could make it in time–”

“Don’t worry about it,” Olivia said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “You look like you got up on the wrong side of the bed.”

“You could say that.”

“Go get changed; I’ll commandeer some treadmills.”

As promised, by the time Casey had emerged from the locker room, Olivia had access to two state-of-the-art treadmills on the expansive second floor of the gym. Windows covered one full side of the room from top to bottom, providing a view of the buildings across the street, and the wall opposite them was decorated with full length mirrors. They stretched and started up their machines.

“How was the trial on Friday?”

“Same as every other day,” Casey replied, pulling her hair back with a plastic band. “Leonard inventing invisible perpetrators, Ashland trying desperately to prove it’s all a ruse.” She didn’t tell Olivia about her late-night docket reading session with Munch. If they were right, and Leonard really was innocent, he wanted to have enough evidence before presenting it to the other detectives. “He made Elena cry.”

“Leonard did?”

“Yeah. He brought up everything: lying on her taxes, sleeping with Marianne’s husband, having his baby, keeping it a secret. There was even the tiniest hint of implication that Elena herself had hired someone to rape and murder Marianne, although he focused mostly on his phantom perpetrator.” She shook her head. “You know, if he’s acquitted, he’ll have to be removed to civil court.”

“Because of the trial?”

“No, because every district attorney is going to ask for a substitution of judge if he ends up on their case.”

Olivia chuckled. “When is he scheduled to testify?”

“Last for the prosecution. I know Jay would love it if he’d testify on a Friday.”

“Give the jury something to mull over all weekend.”

“Exactly. But yesterday was too soon and we don’t have enough witnesses to make it to next Friday. You know, Jay could be a really great attorney if he could rein in his attitude.”

“He still giving you hell about your relationship with John?”

“He’s hardly spoken to me since he blew up in my office and when he has, he’s completely indifferent. Makes me wonder what he’d say if he found out I spent the night at his place.”

She stared at Casey, brown eyes wide. “I guess it wasn’t the wrong side of the bed you woke up on. It was the wrong bed all together. Well … congratulations?”

She frowned for a moment then laughed. “No, we didn’t do that. We slept together, but it consisted of just sleeping. And it was … nice.” She wanted to confide in Olivia, to tell her that over the last couple of months she’d fallen for him. But Olivia had known John longer than she had, and they saw each other almost daily. It might make everyone feel awkward — or more awkward than they already did.

The whirring of the treadmill motors filled the uneasy silence between them. “I’m happy for you, Casey, and John. We all are. It’s just–” She sighed. “It’ll take some getting used to, you know? For the past month or so, I think I’ve been living in the Twilight Zone. He like a big kid, grinning all the time, and I don’t think I’ve heard him say anything even remotely negative.” She chuckled to herself. “I never would’ve guessed in a million years that he’d date anyone, let alone someone I knew, let alone you.”

“Believe me, I know. I thought all the decent guys in the city were taken.”

“John’s decent, but he’s been hurt before. His last wife left him for another cop.”

“Well, he has nothing to worry about there.” She cast her a quirky glance. “Or does he?”

Olivia laughed. “Either you’ve been spending too much time with him…” There was a short, thoughtful pause. “Or you’re perfect for him.”

Casey blushed. “Let’s say it’s the former.”

***

After going home and changing into jeans and a striped sweater, Casey headed to her office’s law library. There were several computer terminals available for her to use her choice of Lexis Nexis or Westlaw, massive legal search engines. The cases on the computer were identical to those in the Northeastern Reporter series which listed appeals to higher courts and their outcomes. While Marianne wasn’t an appellate judge, she would be listed as the presiding trial court judge. If that particular case was remanded back to the trial court, she could go to their local court docket and see if Leonard heard it the second time. At least that was her plan.

“Hey, you’re early.” Munch kissed her cheek before sitting in the chair beside her. “Any luck?”

“Typing it in now.” She typed ‘Woodward’ into Westlaw’s find box, selected New York state cases, and pressed go. It would likely produce more hits than she needed, but she didn’t want to risk missing one.

“Seventy-three?” Munch sighed. “Can you print them all or–”

She smiled. “That was just typing ‘Woodward’. The first hit is People versus Woodward, and it’s not even in the same district as ours. So that’s not related. I just wanted to see how many we got.” She returned to the find page and typed ‘Marianne Woodward’. Three cases appeared on the screen. “That’s better.”

Richards versus Gelber. Civil case.”

“She was probably the attorney on that one.” She opened the case and skimmed the attorneys of record. “Yeah, look. Marianne Woodward is one of the attorneys who handled the appeal. And she won.”

“What’s next?”

People versus Knutz. Affirmed. So that’s a no.” She took a breath before opening the last case. “People versus DeLance.” She skimmed the summary at the beginning of the document. “Defendant appeals on the grounds that the evidence was insufficient to sustain a conviction…” Her heart jumped to her throat. “Affirmed in part and reversed in part. Remanded for sentencing only.”

“Damn. There goes our theory.”

“Not necessarily.” Casey closed Westlaw and opened up the county docket search engine. She typed in the name of the defendant, David DeLance, and waited for the man’s name to appear. “The original case was heard by Marianne, and the remand for sentencing was heard by … Martin Leonard.” She read through the entire docket sheet and looked at Munch. “DeLance would be out on parole by now.”

Munch gave a slow nod. “I think it’s time we paid Mr. DeLance a visit.”

***

Residence of David DeLance
Queens, New York
Saturday, December 5

Shaking his head, Fin got out of his car and walked toward the low-budget apartment building. Some of the windows had been boarded over, and the front door was loose on its hinges. A rat scurried across his path, and he froze in place. He glared at Munch, who was standing near the building, one hand in his pocket. “You called me on a Saturday afternoon to check out this junky old place?”

“What’s the matter?”

“I’m not sure if I’m up to date on my tetanus shot.” He continued forward and tripped on a crack in the sidewalk. “We’d better get hazard pay for this. What are we doing here anyway?”

“This is the last known address for David DeLance.”

“Yeah, you said that on the phone. What case is this?”

“Woodward.”

“Woodward,” Fin repeated with a chuckle. “Must be a new case because I know you’re not investigating something that’s already in trial.” Somehow, he expected the look of guilt on Munch’s face. “What’s going on?”

“Something’s not right here.”

“You’re right about that. You’ve argued that Leonard raped and killed Judge Woodward since day one. Now you don’t think he did it?”

“He’s guilty of something. Maybe he didn’t rape her, and maybe he didn’t choke her or stab her to death, but I think he hired the man who did.”

“David DeLance.”

Munch nodded.

“And how did you come up with his name?”

“Early on in her career as a jurist, Woodward presided over a case, People versus DeLance. DeLance held the victim hostage in her own home for three days, raped her repeatedly, and threatened to kill her six year old son. He was convicted and sentenced. He appealed. The higher court found that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the conviction on all but three rape counts. They remanded it back here for sentencing.”

“So?”

“So Leonard handled the sentencing. DeLance was out in no time, and he’s on parole now.” Fin didn’t look convinced, and he sighed. “The DA’s office still had their files on the original case. I read that woman’s testimony. DeLance tied her to the bedposts, naked. She was blindfolded and gagged with a washcloth. He was hiding in the closet when she came home. Sound familiar?”

“Yeah, it does.”

“Leonard is too smooth not to be involved. He knows something. I think he approached DeLance, reminded him of all the unnecessary time he spent in jail courtesy of Marianne Woodward, and asked him if he’d like to extract some revenge.”

“All right, I’ll go along with that. But if it turns out DeLance is innocent, will you stop with the conspiracy theories and just accept the fact that maybe you caught the right guy?”

With a scowl, he pivoted on his heel and ducked inside the building. Fin slipped past the door, careful not to touch anything. He followed Munch up the stairs, every step creaking with the added weight. The building was dark with only one frosted bulb still working. His shoe sank into something gooey, and he groaned.

The last apartment on the second floor was the address DeLance provided to his parole officer. The building was quiet, as if no one lived there. Munch rapped on the door. “David DeLance! NYPD, we’d like to have a word with you.” No one answered, and no one came into the hall to see what was happening. Perhaps the police visiting was a frequent occurrence and they ignored it. “DeLance!” He reached for the handle, and it turned easily.

Fin pulled out his gun. “That’s never a good sign.”

Munch did the same then pushed the door open. He stepped to the side, waited a beat, then peeked around the corner. “DeLance!” Still no answer. They moved in.

The apartment was freezing; either DeLance didn’t pay his electric bill or he left a window open. From their position in the entranceway, they could see a rumpled couch with stuffing coming out of the armrest and a small end table topped with empty cigarette packages and a tipped-over beer bottle. The walls of the apartment were a dingy grey, and the ceiling was stained with years of cigarette smoke.

The short entranceway opened into a small living room that Fin thought was the same size as his own bedroom. The window on the south wall was wide open. Icicles hung from the sill. Shaking off his immediate suspicion of the worst, he called out, “David DeLance, this is the NYPD. Come out slowly.” There was no response. Fin nudged his head toward the kitchen. “You check there. I’ll look in the bedroom.”

Munch didn’t have to go far. In the center of the kitchen lay David DeLance, pale and unmoving.

***

“You got it?”

Melinda Warner folded her arms across her chest and gave Munch her most convincing stern expression. “I just want you to know that I did all the toxicology reports myself, on my day off, on a Sunday.”

“Yes, and the NYPD thanks you for it. So how did he die?”

“Drug overdose.” She handed him David DeLance’s autopsy report. “No evidence of foul play.”

He thumbed through the pages. “Well, what if the killer knew where DeLance usually injected himself and injected him there?”

“There are no defensive wounds, no suspicious markings. There’s nothing to suggest murder. Sorry, Detective.”

It was getting late, but he drove to Casey’s apartment anyway. She would want to hear the autopsy reports. Plus he wanted to see her. Hopefully the feeling was mutual. As he maneuvered into a parking space a few blocks from her building, he decided to change his entire way of thinking. The feeling wasn’t hopefully mutual, it was mutual. She had made that clear to him more than once. It was time to stop living in the past. Casey wasn’t like the other women he’d dated. She wasn’t intellectually deficient or drop dead gorgeous or overly feminine. She was everything he had been looking for and then some. And despite his attempts to ignore it, he was probably in love with her. She deserved all of him, the good and the bad. It was time he delivered.

He was in good spirits when he knocked on her door and even better ones when she answered it. “I wasn’t expecting to see you tonight,” she said. “Not that that’s bad. Come in.”

He waited until she had closed the door before pulling her into an embrace. “I missed you,” he said softly, stroking her hair.

There was a muffled laugh, and she lifted her head. “Me too.” She kissed his lips, then his chin, then the hollow of his neck. “Feel free to drop by for no reason anytime.”

“Oh, I came here for a reason, I just can’t remember it at the moment.”

“Selective amnesia,” she teased.

“And what a pleasant way to forget.”

“Certainly more enjoyable than trying to figure out who killed Marianne.” She leaned forward to kiss him again, and he sighed.

“Damn, now I remember.” He led her to the couch, and they sat down. “Warner finished her preliminary autopsy and tox screens on David DeLance.”

“And?”

He shook his head. “No evidence of anything other than a drug overdose. No defensive wounds or strange needle marks or anything.”

“But…”

Damn, she knew him too well. “She’ll know more later, but for now Warner couldn’t give an exact time of death because of the temperature of the apartment. The window was left open.”

“Not another mysterious window,” she teased.

“He could’ve been dead for days or a week or a month. Pretty convenient for a killer.”

“Or it could just be that DeLance was so high on drugs that he left it open.” She leaned into his arms and sighed. “Occum’s Razor, John. The simpliest explanation–”

“–tends to be the right one. Yeah, I know.”

“And what’s more simple? A drug addict leaving the window open or a killer using it to mask the time of death?”

“In my line of work?”

Casey chuckled. “I see your point. Now…” She crossed one leg over the other and leaned close to him. “Is there anything else about the case you need to tell me?”

“Not that I can think of.”

“Good.” Her coy expression was a mixture of sweetness and sexuality, and as their lips met, he gave a silent thank you to every omnipotent being he could think of. He had made it through five when his pager began its shrill beep, and his prayers of thanks turned into curses.

“Take the batteries out,” she mumbled against his skin.

He had pulled the device off his belt loop, intending to toss it across the room, when he noticed the number on the display. At midnight on a Sunday? “As much as I love what your hands are doing right now, I need to take this call.” He dialed the number on his cell phone. “Whatever it is, it had better be good.”

Detective Munch? This is Andy Baker from CSU.

“Andy!” Casey’s eyebrows rose, and he put the ear piece of his phone between the two of them so she could listen in. “How may I help you?”

I would have called the primaries on the case, but I saw you at the trial. We just finished going through the items we collected from Marianne Woodward’s apartment after her murder, and we found something you need to see. Can you come to the lab?

Casey nodded enthusiastically, and Munch smiled. “We’ll be right there.”

***

Baker was alone in the lab when they arrived, and he spun around on his stool to greet them. If he was surprised to see Casey, he made no indication of it. “Marianne Woodward was an amazing record keeper. She cataloged every piece of jewelry she owned and had it all insured, so we were able to compare what we found at the scene with what the insurance company had on record.”

“And you found something out of the ordinary?” Casey asked, the excitement evident in her voice.

“It may be something that wasn’t insured, but I doubt it.” He held up a plastic bag, and a small object glimmered in the light.

Munch took the bag and held it closer to his face. It was a fat gold ring, possibly a class ring. A large blue stone rested on top, and words had been etched around the gem. He squinted at them. “I can’t read it.”

“Silver Falls Law School,” Casey said automatically.

Both men looked at her. “You can read that from here?” Munch asked.

“I don’t have to. That’s Leonard’s law school ring.”

“You’re sure?”

“Positive. He wore it on his pitching hand and would take it off when we played. It should have his initials on one side of the band.”

“And it does,” Baker confirmed. “The other side has fraternity letters.”

Tearing his gaze from the item, he looked at the technician. “Where did you find it?”

Baker grinned proudly. “Wedged between the mattress and the headboard.”

Casey’s eyes widened. “I’ll call Jay, have him draft an emergency motion to admit new evidence.”

Munch barely registered the fact that she pulled his cell phone off his belt to make the call. He was focused on the ring, all thoughts of Leonard’s innocence a distant memory. “We’ve got you now.”

End of part twelve

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