Drafting–Hearing on District Attorney’s motion to revoke Colton & Sandy’s bonds

“The court calls The State of Illinois vs. Colton Lee Atwood.” The bailiff announced with a deep voice, scanning the courtroom, and registering four people present other than himself, the judge, and the court reporter. Three of the four were attorneys, two sitting to his right at the defense table, the other was the assistant district attorney, looming large at the prosecutor’s table to his left. The fourth was Andrew Spivey in the galley, the Chicago Tribune reporter who was always present for the criminal motions docket.

The bailiff handed the court file to the judge who started slowly reading the incident and offense reports, and the indictment.

Assistant District Attorney George Hooks stood from the prosecutor’s table. “Your honor, the State asks this case and the case of State of Illinois vs. J. Sanford Brown be heard together. They’re companion cases and are both set for today on the State’s motions to revoke bond. And, as the file indicates, Judge Stewart granted my office’s joinder motion.” Hooks was a giant, six foot seven, and had played center for the national champion Kentucky Wildcats in the late nineties; his weight now approached three-hundred pounds. His bald head, long neck, and appetite for devouring defendants, most of whom suffer from the delusion they are still alive, had earned him the nickname, the vulture. His eighty-six inch wingspan and octupus-like fingers intimidated the toughest defense attorney, not only when standing next to him before the bench, but also by teasing their heads with the metaphorical thought Hooks could secretly reach inside the inner pages of their files and strategies.

“I’ll allow it.” Judge Joe Rhodes, a thick man with a mass of thick gray curls hanging to his shoulders and concealing much of his face, was sitting on his perch fiddling with his glasses, and sucking on an unlit cigar.

The court reporter handed the Brown file to the bailiff who handed it to the judge.

Defense attorney Cliff Blackwell leaned toward Sandy’s attorney, Patrick Meyers, and whispered. “Where in hell are these bastards?” Earlier today, both defense attorneys had attempted to call their clients to remind them their appearance in court this morning was mandatory. The two calls had gone to voicemail. And, late Saturday afternoon, and three times yesterday, Blackwell had dialed Millie Anderson’s cell. These calls too had gone to voicemail. He had wanted her in court as a backup strategy, knowing she was the key to Atwood’s hope of surviving the indictment but also knowing that revealing her as an alibi at this stage would take away the benefit of surprise she would be at the actual trial, and give ADA Hooks and his investigative team ample time to microscopically inspect the truth or falseness of Millie’s statement.

The judge looked toward the defense table and saw two familiar faces, but not the defendants. Quickly, he asked the bailiff to summon the court clerk from her office, who, after appearing, assured the judge written notices had been mailed to both defendant’s. He dismissed her and said, “Mr. Hooks, I see we’re here today on your motion to revoke bond. What say you?” Rhodes was newly appointed and had spent the prior twenty-years as a prosecutor, often trying cases in this very courtroom.

Hooks stood. “Your Honor, it should be clear why the defendants aren’t here this morning. They know they’ve been skating on thin ice every since Judge Stewart granted their bond for $50,000. With no disrespect for your predecessor, the horror of these crimes mandates one response: jail, without bail.” Hooks paused, not wanting to get long-winded without Judge Rhoades permission.

The judge inhaled a long draw of his unlit cigar. “Continue.”

Hooks glanced at the defense table and then back to Judge Rhoades. “The defendants kidnapped and raped two University of Chicago students, and in an effort to destroy evidence torched the young ladies’ home. One victim, Ms. Ellen Heppner, died in the fire. The other, Ms. Gina Patton, barely escaped and still suffers greatly, including having to quit school. She’s now undergoing deep therapy and living with her parents. We ask this court to revoke the defendants’ bond and incarcerate them until trial.” The ADA sat, then quickly re-stood. “One final thing your honor, our investigation has revealed that defendant Atwood has on more than one occasion, one within the past six weeks, physically abused the woman he lives with. Plus, she has a twelve-year-old daughter living in the same household. The State contends Atwood is a threat to not only to his girlfriend, Ms. Millie Anderson, and her daughter, but potentially to Ms. Patton herself since her testimony is critical to this case. Thank you your honor.”

Attorney Meyers continued to doodle on his yellow legal pad, thankful Blackwell had agreed to take the lead and speak on behalf of both defendants. It was good Colton hadn’t confessed, unlike Sandy. “I’m limited in what I can say on my client’s behalf,” is all Meyers had relayed to Blackwell when they’d received copies of the State’s motion to revoke bond. Now, drawing a hangman’s noose, he swore to himself he would never accept another murder case. And, it wasn’t for lack of financial resources. Both Sandy and his sister had signed promissory notes, and pledged their grandfather’s estate as collateral. Plus, the sister had paid twenty thousand dollars toward the fifty-thousand retainer. Meyers problem was the approaching storm. Blackwell was a good friend but that didn’t dissipate the duty to represent his client. At some point, Meyers knew he had to negotiate a deal on behalf of Brown. This meant offering Brown’s testimony of Colton’s guilt in exchange for a lesser sentence. This would have been so much easier if Brown hadn’t described in detail what had gone that horrible night. It would have been easier if he hadn’t revealed that he and Colton had no alibi, that he was forcing Millie Anderson to testify falsely. Meyers drew a larger noose underneath the small one at the top of the page, wondering if his client and Colton were now on the run, and, for the second time today, wondered if Colton was a physical threat to his client.

“I assume the defendants have something to say.” Judge Rhoades lay his unlit cigar aside and poured himself a cup of coffee from an old green thermos.

Attorney Cliff Blackwell stood, glancing down at the two nooses Meyers had drawn. Blackwell comes from a long line of lawyers. His grandfather had started the firm in 1925. His father had joined the firm in 1954, after Harvard law school, and a two-year stint in the Army. Cliff had become a partner in 1984 after graduating Harvard Law School, clerking at the U.S. Supreme Court, and five years as an FBI agent. “Thank you your Honor. I admit I do not know where the defendants are at the present moment but there are certain things in their favor we do know. First, there isn’t a shred of physical evidence tying my client or Mr. Meyers’ client to the charged crimes. We’re here because of the slender reed of Ms. Patton’s testimony. In that, she admits the perpetrators wore masks. At best, she contends her and Ms. Heffener’s attackers could have been the men they partied with at Mitchell’s Tab. As to Mr. Hooks’ allegation my client has abused his girlfriend, unsurprisingly, there’s no evidence for that either, no police reports, no eyewitness testimony. Further, the defendant’s are both gainfully employed and have deep ties to the community, both having lived in Chicago all their lives. They have no reason to avoid the workings of this court. In the event this Court grants the State’s motion I would ask on behalf of both defendants that it be a conditional order, that Mr. Meyers and I be given ten business days to present them to this court, and, in that event, the Court would void it’s order. Finally, Mr. Meyers and I need easy and frequent access to our clients to assist in the preparation of their defense. Thank you your Honor.”

Judge Rhoades used both hands to push back his gray curls from his narrow face. “Let’s take a fifteen minute break while I ponder my ruling.” The three attorneys stood while the judge and the court reporter retreated to chambers. Blackwell and Meyers stared at each other and shook their heads, knowing what was coming. ADA Hooks turned and raced outside the courtroom with iPhone to his ear, and motioning Reporter Spivey to join him.

After the courtroom emptied, Meyers decided there would be no better time than the present to tell Blackwell what he’d decided. “Cliff, I have no choice but to file a motion to sever.” Severance is a legal term and is used to separate defendants, giving them each their own trial, their own jury, their own opportunity to defend themselves without appearing as one with their co-defendant. For one less guilty, it provides a way to remove the taint of association with one more likely to be convicted.

Cliff took the news better than Patrick imagined. “Do what you got to do. As you know, my client has an alibi, he has never wavered from that.” Cliff personally believed his client had lied to him but since he didn’t have contradictory proof, he had a legal obligation to go forward with his client’s set of facts. “And, don’t worry about cutting a deal with the vulpine Hooks. Just remember, I’ll cross-examine your client if he testifies against mine.”

Meyers sat, picked up his pencil, and started writing something on his legal pad. “Vulpine?” How do you spell that. Blackwell responded, saying the letters slowly. “Never heard that word. What does it mean?”

“Relates to a fox. In our context, it means Hooks is clever, cunning, shrewd, wily. You know, wily as a fox.”

Just then Judge Rhoades, his court reporter, and the bailiff rushed back into the courtroom from chambers. Patrick joined Cliff in standing. “I have a family emergency so let’s make this quick. Where’s Hooks?”

It took less than a minute for the bailiff to retrieve Hooks from the hallway. “Sorry, your honor.” Cliff sighed to himself, and whispered, “the bastard is always sucking up to the judge.”

“Gentlemen, I’ve made my ruling. I hereby revoke the defendants’ bond and order warrants for their immediate arrest. They will be incarcerated until trial.” The bailiff walked up the steps toward the judge and handed him a note. He paused and read for ten seconds. “I have an update. The clerk has sent word that neither defendant showed for work today. But, I will say this. If either defense attorney can provide me a justifiable reason his client could not be here, for example, they were in a car wreck with injuries and taken to the hospital, I will rescind my order, at least temporarily. Now, I have to go. This hearing is adjourned.”

Cliff replayed in his head what the judge had just said. He couldn’t make sense of it. If good cause for not appearing was presented why not rescind the revocation order entirely. The only thing Cliff could figure was the judge believed the defendants were dangerous and belonged in jail. The damn judge was simply trying to placate, trying to appear fair to both sides. To Cliff, nothing was further from the truth. Judge Rhoades was a diehard pro-prosecution judge.

Reporter Spivey followed ADA Hooks outside the George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building. “Mr. Hooks, may I have a quick word?” The ADA was in a hurry to return to his office to meet with Todd Lacey his chief investigator.

“You have as long as it takes for me to hail a cab.” Hooks hated driving, always preferring to work on cases, either reading files or talking on his cell with investigators, witnesses, and associates.

Spivey stood beside Hooks on South California Avenue feeling like a midget. Although he was a little over six feet tall himself, the ADA’s height and heft flooded his mind with a wave of weakness. “Let’s deal. I get the inside scoop on the Atwood & Brown case and I’ll keep you up-to-date on Millie Anderson.”
“Who?” Hooks temporarily forgot the name of Defendant Atwood’s girlfriend.
“I guess you know she’s left town.” Spivey had interviewed Sandy Brown shortly after the indictments were released. He’d let it slip that he and Atwood had an alibi.

“How the hell do you know that?” Hooks waved a long arm toward a passing cab. To no avail.

“I’ve been stalking her. Legally. My sources say she was seen last Friday morning, along with her daughter, heading east on I-90. Plus, I’ve verified she wasn’t at work that day, nor has she been seen coming or going from her house on Princeton Avenue since early Friday morning. I suspect there’s a story there.”

A cab stopped and Hooks opened the door. Before contorting his huge frame into the back seat he looked down at Spivey. “You got a deal but I warn you. No bullshit.”

As the cab drove away, the reporter clinched his right hand into a fist and quickly pulled it to his side. “Yes.”

Author: Richard L. Fricks

Former CPA, attorney, and lifelong wanderer. I'm now a full-time skeptic and part-time novelist. The rest of my time I spend biking, gardening, meditating, photographing, reading, writing, and encouraging others to adopt The Pencil Driven Life.

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