The Price of Justice 13/14

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.


Criminal Court of New York City
100 Centre Street
Monday, December 6

By the time Baker finished his testimony regarding the ring, Leonard looked slightly panicked. It was the first time during the trial he had ever shown any emotion besides smugness or amusement. He had no questions for the investigator, and once Baker left the stand, he asked for a short recess. It was granted, and he exited the courtroom in a rush.

While John had wanted to be with her, Casey insisted that he go back to work. He did so begrudgingly but made her promise to call with any news of interest. She needed to go back to work herself, but to do so felt like a betrayal of her promise to Marianne Woodward. So she sat alone directly behind Ashland, aware that the press was paying too much attention to her and not enough attention to the trial. Probably wondering where John was, if they’d had a falling out. She purposely kept her attention toward the judge’s empty seat and the state seal above it.

The soft sniffling of someone nearby got her attention, and she turned to see a teary-eyed Carly Summers seated two chairs down. The woman did her best to keep a stiff composure, but her shoulders were shaking.

“Are you all right?” Casey asked softly.

“I miss my sister,” was the equally quiet reply.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, Ms. Novak.” Her eyes drifted to the empty defense chair, and her body began to shake again, this time with anger. “It’s his.” She stood up and retreated for the exit. Casey faced forward again, although a part of her wanted to comfort Carly. It was not her place, and she’d never make it out the door without being surrounded by the press anyway.

Ashland turned around and rested his arms on the ledge that separated the room in half. “Where’s Detective Munch?” Although his tone held no malice, she still stiffened at the question.

“Back at the precinct.”

“Listen, Casey, I’m sorry for the way I acted last week. Your relationship is nobody’s business but yours and his, and, well, I’m sorry.”

“Thank you, Jay.”

“And you’re right, this job is … not for me. When Baker testified to the ring, I heard Marianne’s sister sob. I don’t know how you do it. I go home at night, and I’m haunted by these dreams that I can’t shake. I woke up screaming Friday night.” He looked into her eyes, and she saw pain, sadness, fear. “How do you do it? I mean, how can you?”

“I don’t know,” she answered truthfully. Then she reached out and covered his hand with hers.

He nodded for a long moment, tricking himself into believing that everything would be okay once the trial was over. She had tried that herself once. She didn’t have the heart to tell him that the dreams were just beginning, that it could be years from now and a scent or a sound would bring them back as clearly as they were now.

“I’m going to call you back up to the stand after the recess. You were the one to positively identify the ring, and we need that on the record. Are you okay with that?”

“Of course.”

“Baker said both you and Detective Munch came to the lab. Why?”

“I was with him when Andy paged him.”

Ashland looked at her wearily. “I hate to ask you this, given the fact that it’s not my business, but was there anything … going on … at the time?”

“Not yet.” His face burned red, and she chuckled. “He stopped by my apartment to give me some information on a case.”

“Which case?”

“That’s confidential,” she replied.

“Fair enough.” He noticed Leonard return to the courtroom and raised his eyebrows. “Showtime.”

Carly sat beside Casey in the seat closest to the aisle. “Is it all right if I sit here?”

“Yes, of course.”

She folded one long leg over the other and leaned back in the chair. Her eyes shifted to Leonard more than once, but she said nothing.

Casey was recalled, and Ashland had a few short questions for her. She felt more at ease this time, and when Leonard stood up to examine her, her pulse remained steady.

“Ms. Novak, what was Detective Munch doing at your apartment?”

“He had some information for me regarding a case.”

“At midnight?”

“Yes.”

He scoffed a little. “Now you can’t tell me that’s common practice. Was this a work-only visit or a personal visit or a bit of both?”

“Objection.” Ashland rose from his seat. “Your Honor, Ms. Novak is on the stand purely to testify as to her identification of the ring found at the crime scene. Mr. Leonard’s line of questioning is a non-issue.”

“I agree,” Petrovsky said. “Objection sustained. Find a new topic or the witness will be excused.”

A flicker of irritation passed over his face, but he did as he was told. “How did you know that this ring allegedly belonged to me?”

“I’ve seen it many times,” Casey said. “You and I would meet at the practice fields, and we would share a locker. You always removed your ring, and I put it in the locker.”

“When is the last time you saw me wearing this ring?”

“I don’t recall.”

“Did you see it the last time we were at the fields together?”

“I believe so.”

“And how about the time we passed each other at the batting cages? You were leaving, I was coming in. Did you see it then?”

“I don’t recall.”

“When you’ve been in my courtroom, have you seen it?”

Somehow, Casey knew what was coming. “I don’t recall.”

“How about when you and another attorney came to my chambers to arrange for scheduling after Marianne Woodward’s death? Do you recall me wearing the ring then?”

“No.”

“So between the last time we were at the fields together — do you have an estimate as to when that was, by the way?”

“Early August, maybe.”

“So between early August and today, have you seen that ring on my hand?”

“Not to my recollection.” Here it came…

“Would it be possible that I lost the ring and that you didn’t notice it because it wasn’t there?”

She heard Ashland’s objection based on speculation, but she didn’t hear Petrovsky’s ruling. Her eyes were locked with Leonard’s, and for a moment, she thought he might be pleading with her to believe him.

***

Casey stared blankly at the document in front of her. She’d been reading it for the last ten minutes, although she had no idea as to the contents. Her mind kept returning to Leonard’s admission that he’d lost the ring. Had she seen the ring and forgotten? She tried to remember his hands during every encounter with him, working backwards, and she couldn’t picture the ring. It wasn’t something that she paid attention to, and that made her feel guilty.

“You okay, Case?” Munch appeared from nowhere, holding a white paper bag and a cup with a straw poking through the lid. He put the items on her desk and gave her a kiss.

She looked at the door to her office then back at him. “What are you doing here?”

“I was planning on surprising you with lunch anyway, but then Ashland called me and told me what happened in court today.”

“Jay called you?”

“Yeah, imagine that. Now instead of despising him, I just don’t like him.” He kissed her again then pulled another chair around to her side of the desk to sit on. “Everything okay?”

“It’s better.” She smiled. “How goes the paperwork?”

He made a grunt of displeasure. “Fin gave me most of it, said it was penance for taking a few days off.”

“You seem like you’re in a good mood anyway.” She peeked in the lunch bag and laughed. “Oh, John…” She withdrew a large chocolate chip cookie with a frosting face: big, googly eyes, a yellow button nose, and an orange squiggle for a smile. “It’s adorable. I don’t want to eat it.”

He took it from her, removed the wrapping, and broke the cookie in half. “No, you have to eat it. It’s symbolic.”

“Oh, really?” She looked at the broken face.

“It represents Martin Leonard and how we’re going to wipe the grin off his face when we win.” With one swipe, he removed the orange icing from his half of the cookie. “Now he’s just a bug-eyed, big-headed prison inmate.” He licked the frosting from his finger and nodded with approval. “Tasty, though.”

The silliness of the cookie metaphor, coupled with the stress of the trial and tumultuous mixture of emotions that swelled inside her, sent her over the proverbial edge. She began to chuckle first, but that gave way to giggles, followed by loud peals of laughter. Her head rolled back, and she directed her voice toward the ceiling. It seemed to echo in the room. Soon, tears were streaming down her face, and her laughs were interrupted by an occasional snort, which made her laugh even harder.

Munch watched her with awe. He knew his jokes were corny and sometimes worthy of an appreciative chuckle, but he’d never witnessed this response before. While he was somewhat flattered, he was also worried. He even had to take her cookie away from her so she didn’t drop it on the floor or fling it across the room.

“Casey? You okay?”

Her laughter died down, and she looked at him with wet cheeks and red eyes. She nodded, sniffed a few times, then wiped her face. He tucked her hair behind her ears. “Thank you,” she said. “I needed that. This.” She squeezed his hand. “You — stupid cookie jokes and all.”

He was sure this was one of those moments in life where no words were needed, where the entire conversation took place with gazes alone. Even if he had been willing to say those three little words aloud, it wouldn’t have been necessary. She knew and he knew, and that was all they needed.

***

Monday night brought a foot of snow, but that didn’t stop the press or spectators from attending the trial. Martin Leonard was scheduled to give his testimony first thing, and nobody wanted to miss a sound byte. When they walked into the courtroom, Munch and Elliot wondered if they’d be able to find a seat. Casey waved them to the front row, where four empty chairs waited. “Isn’t Olivia coming?” she asked.

Elliot shook his head. “She thought it might be best if she avoided the courthouse, given her testimony last week.”

“Oh. I had forgotten about that.” Her eyes lit up at the sight of Munch, but she didn’t reach out. “Hi.”

“Hi.” He stood an arm’s length from her to avoid any telling photographs, and it took all of his willpower not to take a step forward, closer to her. Elliot’s hand clamped down on his shoulder, and he jumped.

“Sit.”

Munch gave a low ‘woof’ but did as he was told. Casey took the chair next to him, and Elliot sat on her other side. Out of casual habit, he glanced to his right, and it took him a moment to realize that he was seated beside Carly Summers. She wore her hair down this time as opposed to in a bun or twist, and it was beautiful. Silky, smooth — she could have been modeling a shampoo. “Ms. Summers.”

She glanced up and for a moment was without her trademark sneer. When she realized who had spoken, it returned as if it had never left. “Detective Stabler. I am surprised to see you here. Do you often attend the trials of the victims?”

“Whenever I can.”

She raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Elliot sat uncomfortably between the stoic wall of Carly and the private conversation of Munch and Casey. He looked at his watch and wondered why Judge Petrovsky and the jury couldn’t be early for once.

At last, the parade began. Everyone rose, the jury filed in, Judge Petrovsky took her seat, and everyone sat again. Then Ashland stood and said the words that everyone had been waiting to hear since day one: “The People call Martin Leonard to the stand.”

***

“Three hours and it’s not over yet? How much more does Ashland prepare on asking? I’m exhausted just listening to him.”

Casey shrugged at Elliot’s question as she finished chewing her food. “Some people testify for days. I don’t think Jay’s planning on that, but I don’t know. I suspect he’ll be done by the end of the day, maybe tomorrow morning.”

A young news reporter came over to their table, and her cameraman shined lights in their faces. She wasn’t from one of the stations that had secured a place in the coveted back row of the courtroom. “Ms. Novak, Detective Stabler, can we get a statement for our early news?”

“We have no comment at this time,” Casey said.

“Oh, come on. There’s got to be something you can say about Leonard’s testimony so far.”

“No.”

The woman was undaunted. “How about your slander suit against Scorpion Jack?”

“I have no comment about that either.” Before she could interrupt, Casey said, “The file is public record, and I have nothing to say that isn’t already documented in the court file.”

She waved to her cameraman to stop recording then knelt beside the table. “Listen, Ms. Novak, from one woman to another–”

Elliot chuckled, which drew a dirty look from the reporter.

“From one woman to another, you know how hard it is to make it in a man’s world. Please. Just give me anything.”

“If you want a statement about the trial, you need to speak to Jeremiah Ashland. He’s handling it. I have nothing to say.”

With a overly dramatic sigh, the reporter walked away just as Munch sat down. “What’d I miss?”

“Casey shot down a reporter,” Elliot said with a grin.

“I thought I was very nice about it.”

Munch nodded. “If she’d been mean, she would’ve used a baseball bat.”

“Never gonna live that down, am I?”

“People are always worried about disgruntled postal employees with semi-automatic rifles when they should be worried about bat-wielding attorneys.” The rest of the joke died on his lips at the sight of a man entering the restaurant, followed by several reporters. “So much for a quiet lunch.”

Casey and Elliot followed his eyes. Martin Leonard was trying to get in line to order lunch, but the reporters refused to budge, and he was swallowed by the crowd. Voices started to rise.

Munch and Elliot stood up at the same time and hurried to the growing mob. They drilled open an empty space and began separating the reporters from Leonard. The man took a deep breath as if his oxygen supply had been cut off for almost too long. Elliot waved his badge in the air. “Unless you are a patron of this establishment, please wait outside.”

There was a collective groan from the press, and one of them hollered, “You can’t do that! How about our rights to freedom of the press?”

“How about we arrest you for disorderly conduct?” Munch countered. “Tack on inciting a riot and assault, and you might spend a few nights in jail.”

Swayed by the thought of jail time, the reporters shuffled out of the restaurant with a few groans and grumbles. One remained for a few moments, glaring at them, before making a sound of disgust. He shoved the front door open and stormed outside.

Elliot looked in Leonard’s general direction but didn’t make eye contact. “If you wish to press charges, you can do so at the station.”

Leonard straightened. “No, that won’t be necessary. Thank you, Detectives.”

They both nodded before turning around and walking away.

***

Ashland looked refreshed, but Elliot knew he had spent his entire lunch break preparing more questions. On the stand, Leonard seemed calm, like the incident at the restaurant had never occurred. “Mr. Leonard, I’d like to touch on some things we discussed before the recess if that’s all right. Now, you had testified that you had been to Marianne Woodward’s apartment prior to her death. Had you been there more than once?”

“Yes.”

“When was the last time?”

“Oh, I suppose it was earlier that October.”

“Would you consider yourself familiar with her apartment?”

“I would call it more of a penthouse, sir, but yes, I was familiar.”

“You knew the layout?”

“Yes.”

“Had you been in the living room?”

“Yes”

“Kitchen?”

“Yes.”

“Bedroom?”

There was a slight hesitation. “Yes.”

“When?”

“August … sometime in August.”

“For what reason?”

Leonard cleared his throat. Elliot watched him carefully. “She, uh … I came by to help her clean out a closet. She was going to give her husband’s things to the Salvation Army.”

Ashland paused. He asked his next question as if it had never occurred to him before. It probably hadn’t. “Did you have sex with Marianne Woodward?” There was silence from the witness box. Leonard stared at his hands. “Mr. Leonard?”

“Yes.”

The spectators burst into gasps and whispers, and Petrovsky, looking a little peaked, tapped her gavel. Carly Summers bolted from the courtroom, hand clamped over her mouth. Cynthia Gray appeared sad but not surprised. Ashland leaned on the prosecutor’s table and looked at the audience with an unseeing eye. His image would probably grace the front page of every newspaper in the morning.

“We had agreed never to talk about it,” Leonard continued, breaking one of the rules of giving testimony: never volunteer information. “We were packing up the last box, and she just … cried. Marianne was always so strong, and to see her cry like that — a friend, a colleague, I just…” Although his body was in the witness box, his mind was trapped months in the past, and a pang of sadness touched his eyes. “I remember wishing that I could do something to ease her pain.” Everyone stared at him, breaths held in anticipation of his next words. “It was a need: a need to be held, a need to be loved, even if it couldn’t be by the one she wanted. She even called me Chester.” Leonard took a breath, exhaled, smiled just a little. “She could chew you up and spit you out before you had a chance to beg for mercy, but so help me, God … I would have done anything for her.”

***

“What a great actor.” Olivia took a swig of her beer and gestured to the pool table. “Your turn.”

Fin rounded the corner and considered his options. “I don’t know, Olivia.” He bent over the table, lined up his shot, and took it. One solid slid into the pocket. He chuckled. “You’re gonna lose this one.”

“What do you mean, ‘I don’t know’?”

“What?”

“You think Leonard was being sincere about his feeling for Marianne?” The nightly news report was over, but she still stared at the television. They had showed Leonard’s confession about having sex with Marianne twice, from start to finish. “‘I don’t know,'” she repeated.

“I think he loved her.”

“Fin, this is the same guy who said she had been gently raped. What makes you think he has any feelings whatsoever?”

“He has feelings. Not guilt or remorse like normal people, but anger and passion on a very extreme scale. For instance, if you win this game and I have to pay you another ten bucks, I’m going to be angry. Would I kill you?” He paused as if in serious consideration. “Probably not.”

“That’s comforting.” Fin missed his next shot, and she took her turn. “Personally, I think he’s playing it a little over the top. But then again, like you said, he works on an extreme scale. Tomorrow will be the deciding factor; Ashland still has some questions.” She made another successful shot. “Looks like you’re going to be angry.”

“Damn. I need another opponent.”

“No such luck. Elliot’s with the family, Munch and Casey are who-knows-where. That leaves you and me.”

“And Cragen.”

“Are you kidding? He’d beat you blindfolded.”

“Not much different than right now.”

“That is true. Get your money ready, Fin.” She aimed for the eight ball, shot, and sank it. Her satisfied smirk was evident. “I think that’s game. Again.”

***

Ashland sat at the head of the table, waiting for the conversations to die down before speaking. “We’re done. Now it’s Leonard’s turn to ask the questions. He may call you to the stand, he may not. You’re all on his list of witnesses, so be prepared. We may have gotten off to a slow start, but we went out with a bang. Congratulations are in order.”

The remainder of Leonard’s testimony lasted until lunch, and Jenny Ashland brought another round of ham sandwiches and potato salad. Munch and Casey sat on one side of the table, facing Elliot, Olivia, and Fin. Casey picked at her sandwich while she listened to Jay explain to the detectives who weren’t present at trial how Leonard ‘lost’ his ring.

“He said it was the day after Marianne reported her rape, that Tuesday. It disappeared from his locker at the batting cages.”

“Convenient,” Olivia said.

Elliot dabbed at the corner of his mouth with a napkin. “I thought it was an odd thing to say. If he lost the ring after the rape, and he’s innocent–”

Ashland was already shaking his head. “That’s a dangerous path, Elliot. Leonard is guilty, and I’m convinced that the jury thinks so, too.”

“Yeah, but why not say he lost it before the rape? I mean, perjury’s perjury. It doesn’t matter how much of a lie it is, just that it’s a lie.” He leaned forward. “In a sense, he’s trying to convince the jury that someone planted the evidence. And if that’s the case, the ‘real’ killer would’ve had to get a sample of Leonard’s blood without his knowledge, take it to Woodward’s apartment, kill her, then put the blood on the fork. That’s so far-fetched that it’s crazy.”

“Even crazier than Munch’s dead drug dealer hitman theory,” Olivia teased.

Once the words settled in, Munch stared at his partner. “You told her?”

“What was I supposed to do? She was beating my ass in pool, I was out of cash. I had to give her something better than beer.”

“It’s okay, Munch,” Elliot said. “It was a great angle. I’m impressed.”

His eyes turned to Olivia. “You told him?”

She chuckled. “Munch, the bottom line is we’ve checked a hundred different theories, and only one still fits. Martin Leonard is guilty.”

***

Criminal Court of New York City
100 Centre Street
Friday, December 10

Dressed in a navy Armani suit that cost him a big chunk of his salary, Jeremiah Ashland took several deep breaths. Although he initially joined yoga classes to seek out potential dates, they actually had other benefits as well. His closing argument was written, and it was brilliant. Of course, it wasn’t his argument that would win; it was his rebuttal. He was good at thinking on the fly, so if Leonard gave an impassioned speech, he was confident that he could counter it.

When he walked into the courtroom for the last time, his breath caught in his throat. One person had already arrived, despite the security guards outside the door. Carly Summers sat in the front row, occupying the seat normally taken by Casey, the seat directly behind him. Damn. His chest tightened, and he wondered if perhaps he was going to have a heart attack.

Ashland sat down and opened his portfolio, but he couldn’t focus. He could feel Carly’s brown eyes on him, but she never spoke. Another time and place, he might have asked her on a date. She was attractive — okay, gorgeous — and he was certain that he could’ve worked up enough charm to at least get her to accept a drink. But here, she was a victim’s sister, a constant reminder that what he did and said affected a living person.

He hated it.

He hadn’t told anyone yet, but after this trial, he was planning to retire — at the ripe age of twenty-nine. The practice of law was a love of his father’s, not his. He’d had no direction in college and selected law to appease his family. Now he wanted out. Maybe go somewhere where the sun shined every day and he could escape the darkness he was living in now.

The courtroom began to fill, and Ashland read his argument once more before putting it away. He heard Casey exchange greetings with Carly. “You ready?” she whispered to him.

“Yep.”

“Good luck.”

He needed it.

When the official proceedings were over, Ashland gave his argument. The jury remained attentive throughout the entire speech. When he was finished, he sat, and Leonard began his final plea. His acting skills were worthy of an Oscar as he begged the jury to listen to reason — his reason.

“The prosecution selected me as their suspect because of something as circumstantial as a quote from an eighties television series. They had no other suspects, and they desperately needed one. They ignored the fact that someone stole my ring. They ignored the fact that the blood on the fork wasn’t a perfect match to mine, that there were no puncture wounds on my body from the fork which I was allegedly stabbed with. The photograph taken in the stairwell is inconclusive. There is no way to determine when the cat hairs from my cousin’s cat were brought over from her apartment. There is no way to determine which judge’s robe the black fiber found in Marianne’s bed came from.

“Now consider these facts,” he continued, “facts which the prosecution have swept under a rug. You have heard no viable answer as to why Daniel Groth was determined not to be a suspect. Detective Benson was found guilty of contempt for refusing to answer that question. No one has been able to properly explain to you why Casey Novak’s window was open when there were only three people in her apartment and none of the three opened it. And you have not heard one reason why I would rape and subsequently kill a fellow judge, a colleague, a friend.”

Leonard dipped his chin and adopted a gentler tone. “Marianne Woodward was a fine woman, a fantastic judge. I cared for her, more than I should have.” He paused. “I can’t explain what happened those two nights to Marianne. I don’t know who did it or why. I can only tell you that her rapist, her murderer, is still out there. Convict me, and you would be putting an innocent man behind bars and letting a guilty one go free. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is not justice.”

“Rebuttal, Your Honor?” Ashland stood, ready to give his own Oscar-worthy performance. “Justice,” he repeated. “A noble concept. Well, someone once told me that the purpose of a trial is to bring justice to the victim, and after hearing Mr. Leonard’s speech, I am left wondering who he thinks the victim really is. Marianne Woodward? Or himself?” He walked toward the jury box, making eye contact with each of the twelve individuals sitting there. “This is a case about who raped and murdered Marianne Woodward. You heard testimony from the police who investigated every angle, every suspect, but in the end, only Martin Leonard fit their evidence. You also heard from the crime scene investigators, the lab technicians, the medical examiner — they found cat hairs, blood, a ring, and all of these things could be traced back to Martin Leonard. He would like you to believe wild theories that his ring was stolen, his blood was stolen, he was in love with the victim, but ladies and gentlemen, what he’s trying to do is blind you. You’ve heard the truth. There was no botched investigation, no invisible perpetrator. There was only a long-held grudge by an aging man who was upstaged by a younger, more driven woman.”

He took a breath, paused for the perfect length of time. “As you have heard by virtually every witness, including the defendant himself, Marianne Woodward was an excellent judge and an excellent person. Her life’s work was putting rapists, child molesters, and other sexual offenders behind bars, where they could never hurt another person. She dedicated herself to this cause both in and out of court. She fell victim to the very thing she was trying to prevent, and this man–” He jabbed a finger in Leonard’s direction. “–was responsible for that. Not the detectives assigned to the case or their attorney, not the crime scene technicians or the ME or Marianne’s family. He is. She did nothing to deserve the brutality of her rape or murder. Justice, true justice, would be to bring Marianne Woodward back from the dead, but unfortunately, that isn’t possible. And that is where you come in, ladies and gentlemen. Only you can convict Martin Leonard. Only you can give Marianne Woodward the justice she deserves.”

End of part thirteen

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