The Price of Justice 14/14

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.


Casey Novak’s Office
Wednesday, December 15

Munch did what appeared to be a gymnast’s pre-routine workout, stretching his arms across his torso and over his head before shaking them out at his side. He looked at himself in Casey’s small hand mirror then breathed into his hand and inhaled.

“Are you primping?” Casey asked, peering at him from over the edge of a newsletter.

“No,” he replied before turning his back to her. He licked his fingertips and straightened down an unruly piece of hair.

“Just because the press said that they received word that the jury reached a verdict doesn’t mean it’s true.” He began picking off lint and stray hairs from his suit, and she sighed. “You’re worse than a woman.”

He ignored her comment as he took one last, long look in the mirror. Not perfect, but presentable at least.

She finished the last of her turkey sandwich then rummaged through her desk drawer until she found her toothbrush. “I’ll be right back.” She hadn’t reached the door when her phone rang. “Casey Novak.” Her brows lifted. “Okay, thanks.” She replaced the receiver and looked at Munch evenly.

“What?”

“That was Jay. The jury has returned with a verdict.” There was a pause. “Does my hair look okay? Do I need to reapply my lipstick?”

He laughed. “Who’s worse than a woman?”

“I am a woman; I’m entitled.”

“That you are.” He gave her a long kiss. “Hair looks okay, but you might want to put on more lipstick.”

She handed him a tissue. “And you might want to wipe yours off.”

***

“Mr. Ashland!”

“Mr. Ashland, can we get a statement?”

“Do you think the jury ruled in your favor?”

Ashland paused amidst blinking flashbulbs, and the reporters grew still. He hadn’t made many statements during the trial. Casey and Munch stood with him, as if coaxing him to make a comment. “I think…” Everyone leaned forward, straining to hear despite the fact that his voice naturally boomed. “The jury will find justice for Marianne Woodward. Thank you.”

He walked away despite the continued storm of questioning. Casey and Munch hesitated a moment too long and found themselves surrounded. “Ms. Novak, what do you think about the outcome of the trial?”

“I don’t know,” she answered truthfully. “I think the People have met their burden of proof, but it was a tough trial. One thing’s for certain, though.” A sad smile appeared on her face, and she felt Munch squeeze her hand. “Marianne would’ve loved it.”

Inside the courtroom, anticipation buzzed. Journalists were giving live reports with an empty backdrop. Elliot and Olivia were waiting in the first row with the last of the empty seats. Carly sat in the chair closest to the aisle, her hands folded in what looked like a silent prayer. They all exchanged pleasantries but kept conversation to a minimum.

Leonard was speaking quietly to his cousin Cynthia, looking as cool as ever. The jury was about to determine how he was going to spend the rest of his life, and he didn’t seem phased at all. Did he really think the jury was going to rule in his favor? Perhaps he was anticipating a hung jury.

The back door opened, and like a stadium full of sports fans doing the Wave, everyone stood as the jury entered the room and took their seats. Casey watched them carefully. Most juries communicated with their eyes, looking at the prosecutor if their finding was guilty and the defense attorney if it was not guilty. This jury, however, avoided all eye contact, staring at the wall or the floor.

In her experience, that meant ‘not guilty.’ She glanced at Leonard; he seemed to be thinking the same thing, the smugness apparent on his face. He began to turn in her direction, and she looked away.

Munch’s grip on her hand tightened. “You okay?”

“You know, whatever happens, he’s got grounds for an appeal. But then again, so do we. This could go on forever. Poor Marianne.”

He was about to speak when the bailiff announced, “All rise for the Honorable Lena Petrovsky.”

Petrovsky walked very carefully to her position and said, “You may be seated.” She sat as well and turned her attention to the twelve jurists. The bailiff brought the verdict form from the foreperson to the judge, and she read over it briefly, her expression blank. She returned it to the bailiff who then gave it back to the foreperson. “Has the jury reached a verdict?”

The foreperson was a middle-aged Latin teacher at one of the high schools, Casey recalled. The woman nodded to Petrovsky. “We have, Your Honor.”

“How do you find?”

Casey closed her eyes.

“Under Count I, first degree rape of Marianne Woodward, we find the defendant, Martin Leonard, guilty.” The foreperson was forced into a pause as the spectators began chattering. Petrovsky’s gavel silenced them, and the foreperson continued. “Under Count II, first degree murder of Marianne Woodward, we find the defendant, Martin Leonard, guilty.”

She heard whispers of excitement, gasps of relief. And when she looked at Leonard, she saw his expression of complete surprise. “Your Honor, please poll the jury.”

Petrovksy nodded. “Juror number one, on the charge of rape in the first degree, how do you find?”

“Guilty.”

“Juror number two, on the charge of rape in the first degree, how do you find?”

“Guilty.”

“Juror number three…”

Leonard’s shoulders hunched forward like that of an old man as he listened to guilty, guilty, guilty from each of the jurors. When they were finished, his gaze turned toward Petrovsky.

She looked at her colleague, her friend, with compassion. “Martin Leonard, you are to be remanded to a state penitentiary until your sentencing. Bailiff, please escort the defendant from the courtroom.”

No.” Cynthia Gray’s eyes brimmed with tears. “No. Martin.”

He turned toward his cousin one last time and gave her a comforting smile. “It’s okay, Cynthia.”

“Please–” Her fragile voice cracked and shook. “What am I going to do without you?”

He bent over the railing and kissed her on the top of her head. His gaze swept over the courtroom, at the press, the prosecution, and the exiting jury. He looked at Casey for an instant — or maybe she just imagined it — before finishing his circle and facing the bailiff. Over Cynthia’s maudlin sobs, Martin Leonard was led from the courtroom.

“It’s over,” Munch said to Casey, but he knew she was thinking the same thing: was it?

***

Café Au Lait
Manhattan, New York
Sunday, December 19

Elliot hesitated outside of Café Au Lait, peering through the window. The cold wind whipped around him, but he couldn’t bring himself to actually open the door and step into the warmth. His attention was fixed on the giggling couple inside who were oblivious to everything but each other.

Olivia jogged to him, teeth chattering. “Why are you standing outside? Hot chocolate awaits.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. Three months and it’s still … bizarre to me.”

She knew what he meant, but she looked anyway. Munch and Casey sat at a four-person table in the café, sharing some sort of pastry. At first glance, one might mistake them for friends or business partners, unless he happened to notice their casually intertwined fingers beneath the table. While they were open about the nature of their relationship, they were very private when it came to physical displays. Olivia had yet to see them kiss beyond a simple peck on the cheek.

“The early stages of courtship,” Elliot continued with a grin. “I remember those days — vaguely. They gave way to making out in the backseat of the family car.”

With a groan, she opened the door and entered the café, Elliot snickering behind her. Munch and Casey waved them over, and they sat in the remaining two chairs. Elliot ordered coffee, while Olivia asked for hot chocolate.

“So have you heard from Ashland?” Elliot asked, rubbing his hands together. His coffee arrived, and he wrapped them around his cup instead.

“Yeah, he’s down in Miami now.” Casey took another bite of her half of the chocolate eclair that she and Munch had been sharing. “Said he saw that it snowed for a week straight in New York and had to call and gloat.”

Olivia smiled. “What’s he been doing?”

“Working in a surf shop, for now.”

“I can’t believe he did it,” Elliot said. “Gave up his job, moved to Florida, started all over.”

“Marianne’s case really got to him,” Casey replied. “I didn’t realize how much until he told me he was leaving.” She looked at Munch and smiled faintly. “He did great at trial, it was just … too much.”

Elliot drained the rest of his coffee and ordered a refill. “When’s Leonard’s sentencing, Casey?”

“The first Tuesday of the new year. Judge Petrovsky wanted to wait until after the holidays. She authorized a day pass so he can spend Christmas with his cousin — supervised, of course.”

While Elliot knew Leonard was guilty as hell, echoes of Cynthia Gray’s pleas when the guilty verdict was announced still reverberated in his mind. Ashland wasn’t the only one who was haunted by the trial. “Now don’t forget, Christmas Eve, dinner at my house. You’ll be there, right?”

“You better,” Olivia added. “Kathy’s a great cook.”

Munch nodded. “Absolutely. We’re both culinarily challenged.”

“I don’t think culinarily is a word,” Casey pointed out.

He gave a shrug. “I figured it was a nicer thing to say than we’re coming for the free food.”

“Oh, good,” Elliot said with an evil grin. “I was wondering who would be bringing the wine.”

Munch rolled his eyes, and Olivia chuckled. “But you did so well last year, John. You are a true connossieur of wine.”

“Which is a nicer thing to say than he’s an alcoholic,” Elliot muttered, hiding his smile by taking another sip of coffee.

“A regular comedic duo, aren’t they?”

Casey brushed his hand with her thumb. “We should get going.”

“Big plans this afternoon?” Olivia asked.

“Remember my lawsuit against Scorpion Jack? The settlement offer came Friday morning, and the checks were hand-delivered to me that afternoon.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No. Honestly, I expected the suit to be dismissed.”

“What are you going to do with the money?” Elliot asked.

“I’m going to donate it to the Marianne Woodward Women’s Center.” When Marianne’s Will was opened and read, it gave fifty percent to Carly, twenty-five percent to Elena, and twenty-five percent to be split evenly between five of the largest rape crisis centers in Manhattan. Carly took her fifty percent and founded the Women’s Center in her sister’s honor.

“And then what?” Munch prompted.

“They’re having a soup line. We volunteered to wash dishes.”

“And then?” he repeated. He looked almost giddy.

Casey sighed and shifted her weight to the other foot. “And then … we’re going to Rockefeller Center.”

“Oh, skating?” Olivia asked. “Sounds fun.”

She nodded a little. “Right. Anyway, got to go. See you tomorrow.”

“But definitely Friday,” Elliot called out after them. “And don’t forget the wine!”

***

“…still can’t believe you talked me into this,” Novak says as she walks out of the café, pulling her coat collar up around her ears. “I know I’ll break my ankle or my arm — or your teeth.”

“Such violence!” Detective Munch teases back.

She stops walking and looks at him. “I’d just feel more comfortable if we went to a private rink, not right in the heart of the city.”

He takes her hand and guides her down the sidewalk. “There’s nothing private in New York City. We’re probably being watched right now.”

“Well, sure — Big Brother and all.”

He decides to wrap his arm around her waist and says something I can’t hear. I smile to myself and watch them walk around the corner on their way to the Women’s Center. The detective was right about being watched, but it wasn’t for control. It was for gratitude. They were pivotal in sending Martin Leonard to jail.

Marianne didn’t know Leonard had raped her, but I did. I knew. His stupid little catchphrase, I remembered it all too well. I heard it every day for a month as he sat at his throne and glared down at me like it was my fault. That phrase played every day like a broken record, like it continues to play, unending. Then I learned that was what he told her before he violated her. Then it was all too clear.

But there was no proof. He was much too crafty for the police and left no evidence, so I had to help them. Getting his ring from the locker room at the batting cages was too easy. Of course, the crime scene technicians didn’t find it until it was almost too late. The police were no closer to figuring out that he did it, and there was only one way left to prove it to them.

Marianne was surprised when she opened the door and saw me on the other side. I was surprised myself. I almost held back, almost didn’t go through with my plan. It may not make much sense, but I did it for her. He would have killed her, one way or the other. This was for mercy.

The café door opens, and the other two detectives walk out. Stabler is polite enough to hold the door open for his partner, who is still fumbling with the buttons on her coat. He says something, and her reply is a gentle swat on his arm. They begin the long walk to their vehicle. I pull my car into an opening in traffic and drive on.

Martin Leonard deserves whatever sentence is going to be handed to him next year. He deserves more than he’s going to get; he deserves the death penalty, but this little state has done away with that form of justice. I take a breath to calm myself because in reality, I am happy. Martin Leonard is going to jail, where he belongs. He will have to live with the sins of his crimes for the rest of his life, and that’s punishment enough for me.

I only wish it hadn’t been at the expense of my sister.

The End

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