A Killing at the Creek: An Ozarks Mystery: Chapter 32

“WE’RE GOING TO trial.”

Chuck had been lounging in his office, his feet propped on his desk, but Elsie’s announcement made him twist sideways in his chair.

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Yocum. I just came from his office. He dropped the bomb.” She leaned against the door frame of Chuck’s office, pressing her hot face against the wood. “You want to hear about it?”

When Chuck nodded, she walked to the air-­conditioning unit under his window and sat on it, grateful for the cold air shooting up her back.

“It’s too early,” Chuck said. He picked up the receiver of his landline phone, and stared at it; then with a grimace, set the phone in its cradle.

“Too early for who? Yocum says the defense is ready to go.”

“So what’s the defense, then? ODDI? Yocum hasn’t even taken depositions. He’d have to notify us.”

“Maybe he’s not taking depos. Too expensive, maybe; who knows if the state would pick up the tab on the court reporter? He could be taking statements over the phone; he has all the contact information on our Oklahoma witnesses from discovery. Or he might’ve sent an investigator to Oklahoma; who knows? But he’s got a new angle now. MD or D.”

Chuck gaped at her. “Insanity?” When she nodded, he asked, “Says who?”

“Billy.”

“No, I mean—­who’s the expert?”

Elsie pulled a face. “That quack from Springfield: Dr. Boone. Have you heard of him?”

Chuck didn’t answer the question, asking instead, “What’s the mental disease or defect? Did Billy say?”

“Antisocial personality disorder.”

Chuck spun his chair around and pulled a thick volume from the credenza behind his desk. “That sounds bad. Serious.”

“Oh, Chuck. Please. Everybody in prison probably qualifies as antisocial personality disorder.”

“Are you listening to yourself? I think you’re missing a key point. It engenders sympathy for the defendant. ­People feel sorry for a person with a mental disorder.”

“Where? In Kansas City?” Elsie scoffed in dismissal. “The ­people in this county won’t buy into an insanity plea unless a guy actually thinks he’s Napoleon. Or Elvis. We never see a ‘Not Guilty’ for insanity in McCown County. They consider an NGI verdict to be an easy out for the criminal element. Like getting off on a technicality.”

Chuck wheeled to the computer and clicked his mouse. “I’ll Google it.”

While he toyed with the computer, Elsie crossed over to the chair facing his desk. “Chuck, have you ever tried a case with an MD or D defense?”

He didn’t answer, just continued scanning the computer screen.

“Chuck, I don’t mean to dog you about this, but I need to know where we stand. Have you done it before?”

At length, without looking her way, he said shortly: “No.”

She let out a long breath. “But you’re from that huge Jackson County office. Seems like KC would have had insanity cases—­”

“There was a woman on our staff: Mary Birmingham. She handled all the insanity trials.” He scrabbled the computer mouse around the pad, as if it would help him uncover the answers he sought. “But it sounds like a major problem. Shit—­we have to prove that he’s sane.”

“Well, not exactly. We have the burden of proving that he committed the crime—­the murder. But if Yocum and Tanner Monroe claim insanity, they have the burden of proof on that defense. He has to prove to the jury that he was insane when he killed her.”

Chuck’s face took on a resentful look; Elsie knew he didn’t like to be corrected by her. She was, after all, his assistant.

Stacie appeared in the doorway. “Chuck, got something for you.”

He turned a baleful eye on the receptionist. “I’m busy,” he said.

Stacie’s mouth thinned to a lip-­glossed line. “That’s a nice way to thank me for my trouble. Next time, I’ll just let you come to me. You can wear your shoes out walking down by the reception area.” She slapped a manila envelope on his desk and turned on her heel.

With an impatient hand, Chuck tossed the envelope onto an in-­box on his desk; but then he gave it a second glance. Picking the envelope back off the stack, Chuck examined it.

“This is from Billy Yocum,” he said.

“What the fuck? I was just over at his office. What’s in it?”

Elsie watched Chuck tear into the correspondence; he ripped the envelope with such ferocity, she worried that he might tear the document it contained. She stood and walked over to his side at the desk, so she could see what Yocum sent.

“The doctor’s mental evaluation of Monroe. Dr. Boone,” he said.

She let out her breath with a hiss. “That old shithead. He wouldn’t give it to me. I was sitting right there in his office; I asked him for it.”

“Maybe he wanted to deliver it to the attorney in charge of the case.” Chuck flipped through the pages. “There’s a second document. It’s a motion. He wants the case set for trial. Jesus.”

Elsie sat on the edge of the desk, facing Chuck. “Chuck, I think we’ll be okay if he goes with the mental disease defense. I’ve only done it once, but I saved everything; I have the jury instructions and voir dire questions and the doctor’s examination. And I just don’t believe he’ll get off, if his mental disease is antisocial personality disorder. It’s too common. It’s not the kind of defect that will convince a jury that he didn’t know what he was doing, couldn’t control his behavior, doesn’t know right from wrong. I don’t think the jury will believe he’s incapable of obeying the law.”

“Would you get your butt off my desk? If you don’t mind?”

Elsie stood; disgruntled, she walked back to the chair, but she pressed on. “Really, Chuck. He may have a personality disorder, but he’s not insane enough to be found NGI. Just not crazy enough.”

Chuck didn’t appear to be listening; he was studying the report. He threw his head back and groaned.

“What?” Elsie said.

“He’s crazy. Batshit crazy.”

“What? What is it?”

Chuck snatched up a highlighter and started marking on the page. “He thinks his body has been invaded at the jail.”

“Oh Jesus,” Elsie whispered, with a sinking feeling in her stomach. “Chuck, has he been raped?” The stomach knot gave way to a tide of panic. Surely, she thought—­surely Vernon Wantuck wouldn’t let that happen. Elsie could hear her mother’s voice: A boy of fifteen is not a man.

“No, that’s not it. He doesn’t say anything about being assaulted. He says,” and Chuck stopped to run a hand over his face, as if to wipe sweat away, though Elsie couldn’t see a telltale sheen, “he told the shrink that spiders have invaded his body. They crawled up his anus and laid their eggs.” He flipped to the next page. “When he defecates, he sees spiderwebs spinning out of his rectum.”

Elsie looked away, stunned. “Oh my Lord.”

Chuck tossed the report onto his desk. “How the fuck will we counter that?”

Elsie exhaled, her breath coming out in a long sigh. “Maybe he’s faking?” she offered feebly.

“Spiderwebs out the ass? You can’t make shit like that up.”

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