A Killing at the Creek: An Ozarks Mystery: Chapter 26

THE MONTH OF July dragged along, sucking Elsie’s energy like a massive tick. On a busy morning in Associate Circuit 3, she was pining for a cold drink; Judge Carter had given her a rough time on a DWI trial, sustaining so many defense objections to her direct exam of the arresting officer that she suspected the defendant must be a lodge buddy of the judge’s.

When at last he declared a recess, she slogged down the stairs to the Prosecutor’s Office. A can of Diet Coke was chilling in her miniature refrigerator; she fancied she could almost taste it.

But as she stepped into the reception area, Stacie gestured to her from the computer. “I’ve got something for you.”

Reluctantly, Elsie paused, with a put-­upon look. She had only ten minutes to relax and recuperate; and she did not relish sacrificing any of those minutes on a new wrinkle in some case.

“What?”

“It’s a motion. Billy Yocum dropped it off about an hour ago.”

“Has Billy ever heard of e-­filing?” McCown County, along with the rest of the state, had finally adopted electronic filing of court documents; however, some of the older attorneys were slow to embrace the new technology.

“He said he was bringing it by so you wouldn’t overlook it. If you were working on something else.”

Waving a hand in dismissal, Elsie said, “Give it to Chuck. He’s not assigned to court this morning. I’m up to my eyeballs in shit.” She headed to her office, key in hand, but Stacie’s voice stopped her.

“He said to give it to you,” Stacie said, raising her voice to a higher pitch. “He said you needed to see it.”

Turning back to the entryway, Elsie tried to keep her temper in check. The only advantage to being second chair, she thought, was that she should shoulder less responsibility for the case, rather than more. But everything about the case of State v. Tanner Monroe seemed out of balance. As Stacie tossed the hard copy of the motion onto the counter, Elsie snatched it up, flipping through the pages as she made her way to her own office.

A speedy review of the second page stopped her cold. “Oh Lord,” she whispered, as anxiety formed a knot in her chest. “Oh Jesus.”

She bypassed her office door, fairly running down the hall to find Chuck. Without knocking, she flung his door open.

Chuck was turned to face his computer screen, but when Elsie appeared, he looked over his shoulder, affronted. “Ever hear of knocking?”

She tossed the motion onto his desk. “You’re not going to believe this. Jesus.”

Chuck picked the motion up with a long-­suffering sigh. Examining the first page, he observed, “Motion to suppress. No big surprise. Yocum’s just doing his job. He wants to shut down the kid’s statement at Juvenile Hall; maybe it doesn’t mesh with his defense theory.”

“Turn the page,” Elsie said tersely. The knot of panic had expanded, and felt like an elephant was sitting on her chest. Her head started sweating at the hairline; when she felt it trickle down her neck, she grabbed a Kleenex from a box on Chuck’s desk.

With a countenance of exaggerated patience, Chuck turned to the second page; but his expression changed as he read. Dropping the paper as if it had burned his fingers, he whispered, “Shit.”

Elsie nodded. “Yeah.” She reached back to rub her neck, where the muscles were stiff. Her collar was wet.

Spinning in his chair, Chuck started to rise. “I’ve got to show this to Madeleine.”

Elsie groaned, her feeling of dread increasing as she watched him scan a copy of the document on the printer beside his desk. When he handed her the copy, the pages felt hot in her cold hands.

Hesitantly, she rose. “I’m on recess in Carter’s court. I only have a minute.”

Laughing without amusement, he replied, “I wasn’t going to invite you along. This won’t be happy time.”

Stepping into the hallway, she watched him enter Madeleine’s office. Behind the closed door, she could make out the murmurs of their exchange. Then silence, followed by a shriek.

Leaning against the wall, Elsie sent up a petition for strength. “Here we go again,” she whispered.

By the time she reached the third floor courtroom, the bailiff was trolling the hallway, looking for her.

“Where’d you run off to?” Eldon barked.

Mute, Elsie shook her head.

“Well, you better hustle into court, and fast. Judge Carter don’t like to be kept waiting.”

Slipping inside the courtroom door, she observed that the judge hadn’t waited on her after all. A young woman was on the witness stand, complaining about an infestation of brown recluse spiders; it appeared to be a landlord-­tenant matter.

Elsie took a seat in the back row. With trepidation, she unfolded Yocum’s defense motion and smoothed it on her lap. Under the case title, it said: “Motion to Suppress.” She read:

Comes now Defendant, by and through his undersigned counsel of record, and hereby prays the court for its order, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 24.05, suppressing the following evidence from the state’s case in chief in the above-­captioned matter: any and all statements elicited from Defendant arising out of his detention by police, and including, but not limited to, the interrogation of Defendant at Juvenile Hall.

The printed words blurred before her eyes. Blindly, she turned the page, and with a shaking hand, ran her finger down the list of allegations. The early paragraphs contained standard language: that Tanner Monroe was the named Defendant in the case of State of Missouri v. Tanner Monroe; that in June, he had been detained in Oklahoma and placed under full-­custodial arrest, and transferred to Juvenile Hall in McCown County.

Those recitations were typical; they were not the cause of her anxiety. She read on.

Defendant hereby challenges the legality of the custodial interrogation on the following grounds: Defendant did not knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda rights prior to being interrogated by Chief Detective Robert Ashlock of the Barton, Missouri, police department.

Pinching her lips together, she tried to think: did he have a valid basis for that argument? She had reviewed the Missouri cases the night before they interrogated Monroe at Juvenile Hall. She could not recall a direct prohibition against their actions; still, the circumstances of the statement had made her uncomfortable at the time. Had they violated the appearance of propriety? That was the cardinal rule for attorneys in Missouri.

Her eyes dropped down to paragraph ten. A flush crept up her chest, reddening her neck as she read Yocum’s claims.

And petitioner further alleges that the interrogator and the assistant prosecutor in charge of the case, to wit: Detective Bob Ashlock and Elsie Arnold, were engaging in a sexual relationship when the defendant’s statement was taken, which affected the impartiality of the investigation; and that said sexual and romantic relationship has and will continue to influence the investigation and prosecution of this case.

The motion to suppress was a public record. Anyone could access it: other attorneys, law enforcement, the press, the public. Even Elsie’s mother and father.

I feel sick, she thought. I want to throw up.

A voice broke her concentration. “Ms. Arnold.”

She folded the pages before she looked up.

“Ms. Arnold,” the judge repeated, with a waspish look.

Lifting her chin, she focused on the judge. “Your honor?”

“Do you have a recommendation?”

She gazed up at the ­people standing before the bench. The tenant and her lawyer were gone, replaced by a tattooed man in the orange scrubs of the McCown County jail. All eyes were on Elsie: she was the focus of the judge, the defendant, the bailiff.

It’s an arraignment, she thought, scrambling to assess the situation. Rising from her seat, she said, “Beg pardon, your honor; can you repeat the charge?”

“Robbery in the first degree. Bond recommendation?”

“Fifty thousand dollars,” she replied automatically. As she took her place at the counsel table, Elsie crumpled the motion in her hand, clutching the pages so tightly that they cut the flesh of her palm.

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