Authors: Stephen Penner
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #United States, #Native American, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers, #Legal
David Brunelle Legal Thriller #2
©2013 Stephen Penner. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity with real persons or events is purely coincidental. Persons, events, and locations are either the product of the author's imagination, or used fictitiously.
Cover images by B. Franklin and Sascha Burkard.
Cover design by Stephen Penner.
DAVID BRUNELLE LEGAL THRILLERS
A Prosecutor for the Defense (coming Fall 2013)
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
ALSO BY STEPHEN PENNER
Table of Contents
It is a defense to a charge of murder that the homicide was justifiable.
The State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the homicide was not justifiable. If you find that the State has not proved the absence of this defense beyond a reasonable doubt, it will be your duty to return a verdict of not guilty.
—State of Washington Pattern Criminal Jury Instruction 16.01
"Don't you hate it when the victim kinda deserved it?"
Seattle Police detective Larry Chen crossed his thick arms under his police-issue raincoat and looked to his friend for a reply. Dave Brunelle, King County homicide prosecutor, didn't look up from the dead body splayed at their feet. Instead he nodded and pushed his hands deeper into his own raincoat—thrown on at one in the morning when he got Chen's call.
"Just try not to say that on the stand," he said.
The murder victim was a man, late forties, overweight, and most definitely dead. His blood glistened black in the cracks between the cobblestones of Founder's Park in Seattle's Pioneer Square district. He was on his back, arms sprawled, shirt cut away by the same paramedics who left behind the adhesive chest pads they'd used to attempt resuscitation despite the multiple stab wounds to his chest. The rain was coating his face in droplets that trickled into his ear and the folds of his neck. He lay at the base of the plaza's 56-foot totem pole, like an offering to the spirits represented in the carvings, their faces made all the more grotesque by the forensic team's floodlights and the red and blue strobe of the cop cars clogging the narrow streets surrounding the square.
"So why did he deserve it?" Brunelle asked, more concerned with the potential jury nullification issues than the justness of the man's death. "Was it self defense?"
"No," Chen was quick to answer. "Witnesses said there was an argument, but nothing physical until the killer pulled out the knife and stuck it into our guy's chest."
Chen extracted his notebook from his damp pocket. "It's not what he did. It's who he was."
Brunelle finally looked up from the corpse. "Who was he?"
"George Traver," Chen read from the latest page of his running notebook. "Child molester. Registered sex offender. Failed to update his registration six months ago. Last known address was a trailer down near Tacoma. Had a warrant out for that, plus two more for shoplifting and drunk in public."
"Ah," replied Brunelle, wiping some rain from his nose. "Still, not exactly worthy of a knife in the chest."
"He was the suspect in two more child luring and indecent exposure cases."
"Okay," Brunelle agreed. "That might do it. Kind of a community service killing, huh?"
"Exactly," Chen confirmed.
Brunelle peered around the plaza. It was almost closing time. Intoxicated gawkers stumbled past the crime scene tape trying to get a glimpse of what lay at the base of the totem pole. "So where was he living?"
"He was homeless," Chen answered. "Sleeping on benches downtown mostly."
"Probably why he didn't register," Brunelle observed.
"Probably," Chen agreed, "although they're allowed to register as 'homeless.'"
Brunelle frowned. "I always thought that was stupid. It kind of defeats the purpose"
"So, who's our suspect?" Brunelle asked. He needed a suspect before he could get involved. Unsolved would mean no defendant to charge. "Another homeless guy?"
"Nope, the homeless guys liked him," Chen answered. "I sent two patrol guys to interview some of them. Most scattered, but the few who stayed said ol' George here was a great guy. Salt of the earth."
"I'm sure," Brunelle scoffed. "What's the suspect description?"
Chen looked down at his notepad. "Male, twenty-something, Hispanic or Native."
"Wow, not very helpful," Brunelle observed. "That describes about twenty-five percent of the people in Pioneer Square tonight."
"Maybe," Chen shrugged, "if you include Hispanics. But if you limit it to Natives, then it's probably one, maybe two percent."
It was Brunelle's turn to shrug. "And if we reduce it to Native men with one testicle and a prosthetic elbow, we can really start to narrow it down."
Chen cocked his head at his friend. "One testicle?"
Brunelle threw up his hands. "I'm just saying, you can always narrow it down. Why would you limit the description just to Natives if the witnesses said Native or Hispanic?"
Chen looked down at the lifeless body before them. "Our victim is Native."
Brunelle pursed his lips. "I don't see why that matters. It's not like murder stays in one race. If somebody killed you, I wouldn't assume the murderer was Chinese."
Chen smirked. "You should. If I wind up murdered, you can be pretty sure it was my wife."
"Oh yeah?" Brunelle laughed.
"Yeah," Chen laughed too, but it faded and he shoved his hands in his pockets. He pushed a foot out toward the dead man splayed out at the base of the totem pole. "You gotta know someone to hate them enough to kill them."
A set of fingernails dug into Brunelle's back. "Hey there, Mr. Brunelle," came a sweet female voice from behind him. Assistant Medical Examiner Kat Anderson had arrived. She pulled her nails down the length of Brunelle's back as she walked past him. "Long time, no call."
Brunelle stiffened at the voice, then relaxed slightly as she passed him and knelt next to the corpse. He knew she was right. "Yeah," he offered. "Sorry about that. Been busy."
She turned and smiled at him. Her smile held warmth, but other thoughts too. "Of course you have. Me too."
She returned to her examination of the murder victim. She wore a long raincoat that covered her curves, but the hood was pushed back, leaving her black hair and soft face exposed to the rain. He supposed her knees were getting wet and cold from the rain-drenched cobblestones. He remembered the last time they'd really talked and he regretted not having called her since then. Their last case together had ended badly. Or at least, it had almost ended badly, and he'd been reluctant to draw Kat, or her daughter, into danger again. He knew he'd been distant for the right reasons; he just didn't know if she knew it.
"A-hem," Chen cleared his throat. Then he took Brunelle by the elbow. "Why don't we step over here and discuss next steps."
Brunelle looked up sharply, then nodded. He allowed Chen to lead him toward the street. "Right. Next steps. What are the next steps?"
"The next steps are you stepping away from her while she does her job," Chen said. "I thought you two were an item or something, but it sure doesn't seem like it now."
Brunelle shrugged. "I think maybe we were going to be, but I haven't followed up. I don't like what happened on the Karpati case. I don't want to let that happen again."
Chen looked over his shoulder at Anderson. She had pulled on her latex gloves and was palpating the corpse's neck. "I'm pretty sure she can take care of herself."
Brunelle looked too. He sighed. "Yeah, I know."
"Maybe this has more to do with you," Chen started, but before he could say more, Anderson stood up and stepped over to them.
"No mysteries here," she announced as she pulled her gloves off. "Two stab wounds. One to the stomach, ruptured his small intestine. That would have been survivable, with prompt medical intervention, but the second one was directly to his heart. I'll need to do a full autopsy to determine where exactly it struck, but he was dead as soon as the blade went in."
"Sounds intentional," Brunelle replied.
"Maybe even premeditated," Anderson answered. "Murder one?"
Brunelle allowed a grin. "That's what we'll charge. Just don't let Larry on the stand. He thinks it's justifiable."
cocked her head at the detective. The motion sent rain drops cascading off her thick hair. Brunelle wished he hadn't noticed, and pretended the sight didn't send his heart racing.
"Justifiable?" she asked.
Chen shrugged. "Community service killing. Guy was a child molester."
frowned. She looked back at the body. "Did I say murder? I meant suicide. Obvious suicide."
Brunelle shook his head and laughed. "Great. Lead detective says it's justified and the M.E. says it's suicide. No way I get a conviction now."
"Lighten up," Chen slapped his back. "You need a defendant first anyway. Hopefully one that's even worse that ol' George there."
Just then a patrol officer hurried over to them. "We located the suspect," she announced. "Down on Alaska Way. Still had the blood on his hands. They're taking him to the precinct right now."
Chen turned to Brunelle. "You coming to watch the interrogation?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," he answered, both relieved and saddened to have an excuse to escape from Kat.