The sunlight stretched like fingers through the wooden
window blinds, and the day was new, like a bruise that wasn't there the night
before. Between the snips of her pruning shears, next door I heard Mrs.
McCullough explaining to that ball of fur and teeth she calls "FiFi" why it
must have been the Van Sant boy who trampled her petunias. It was Sunday, I was
running out of time; in the morning Jason Bartelli would go on trial for
murder. I kicked the covers off and stumbled
toward the kitchen, and a song I hadn't heard in years came on the radio...
...and they can see no reasons, 'cause there are no reasons—what
reasons do you need ...Tell
me why, I don't like Mondays...
you heard the story once it wasn't likely you'd forget: home from school that
day, 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer took a rifle from the closet, aimed it out
the window, and fired; with two men dead and nine children bleeding on a
playground, they asked her why and Brenda Spencer said, I don't like Mondays... I
stood there in my not-so-tidy kitchen and watched the coffee sloshing on the
countertop as I stirred it with the wrong end of a spoon...there were other
crimes that needed my attention...and there were other reasons I didn't want to
hear that song. I threw my coffee spoon down hard against the sink—just next
door, everything was simple enough to explain to a puppy dog.
Saturday night for the last five years, I spoke at a battered women's shelter,
and with the fervor of a prophet, every week I said there was never—never—any
circumstance where abuse was justified; now every time I said those words I
thought about the girl in the photograph with the sagging ponytail. And every
time some woman with those same black circles under her eyes shook my hand and
thanked me, I wondered what her
circumstances really were.
trial was the first thing I thought of every morning and the last thing in my
head as I fell asleep at night. I would have to be persuasive—beyond that I had
no idea of what to do. At work, I eavesdropped on any conversation within
earshot, and pored through every document I could find, I barely ate and barely
slept—six months went by and still it all seemed futile. This was Homicide's case—by sticking my nose
into it, I could easily wind up spending the rest of my career reminding
so-and-so about the call on line three. And the DA wasn't going to waste his
time on a case he couldn't win. Jason had the best defense attorney in town,
but with no proof to speak of, even if I made the career-ending move of going to
Stephen Ballard, what was I going to say— what was he going to
say—"Salamanders, eh ? Well thanks for stopping by, Miss..." Even if he believed
me, the "information" I had meant everything and nothing to the case. I worked
hard to get where I was and I could lose it all, for what—to be a crusader, to
make a point...to help a man I never even met ?
Besides, I told myself, I don't know exactly what Jason Bartelli
I knew exactly what Jason Bartelli didn't do; I understand there are
certain realities in law enforcement and in the justice system as a whole, but
aside from what I knew about Mary Ellen Bartelli, there were one or two other
things surrounding this case which gave me pause, ironically, in that same
ill-defined way Mary Ellen had that first day.
this is a very high profile case, and I know I haven't been in SA long—but I've
seen Detective Morrow in interviews before, and suffice it to say, the seven
hours he spent going 'round in circles with Bartelli were not his finest ones.
No one mirandized Bartelli, no one gave him a phone to call his lawyer, basic
things any cop knows to do to keep sharp-eyed lawyers like Steven Ballard from
making an end run around justice on appeal, and after seven hours of tactics
Detective Morrow knows better than to try with a guy like Bartelli, he came
away from the interview with seven hours of "no comment". I could only see two reasons why a man like
Morrow doesn't pitch his best game—either he doesn't want to win, which in this
case simply wasn't possible, or, he already knows he's won.
then last week, in what was hardly a coincidence, the DA announced that
"pursuant to the interests of justice" Bartelli would go to trial separately on
the rape and murder charges, or put more simply--Jason Bartelli was going to trial
for murder first.
Justice notwithstanding, it's easier to win convictions on a multitude of rape
charges if you already have the murder conviction cinched. This late-breaking announcement from the DA
made it appear the decision to separate the charges and hence the trials, had
been reached with considerable difficulty, while it neatly obscured the fact we
didn't have a speck of DNA. No one wants to seem soft on crime in an election
year, and whatever else Bartelli might be guilty of wouldn't bring a lynch mob
out to vote like an execution would...
reasons do you need..."
could not get that song out of my head.
seemed safe to assume, given what I had
to say about Mary Ellen, that I would only get one shot at this and that's if I
was lucky; another sleepless night went by with hours spent going over all the
"besides..." and "even ifs", and finally I decided all I could do for now was go
to Bartelli's trial on Monday morning; maybe there I'd find the reason that I needed.
was raining and I got there late and stepped on people's toes until I found a
seat. It was warm inside the courtroom and after so many sleepless nights, I
almost nodded off a time or two; a real jury trial is nothing like you see it
on TV or in a movie. A lot of it's pretty tedious and despite all the
hullabaloo over the Bartelli case, this was no exception. Thankfully it wasn't
long before the judge called morning recess, and everyone stretched and mumbled
and began to file out slowly, and just as I was wondering if the coffee machine
was still on the third floor, a giggle that I wouldn't soon forget erased all
thoughts of coffee.
Ballard must have thought I lost my mind as I leaned across the rail and poked
him with my badge. "It's about Mrs. Bartelli", I whispered. Apparently
convinced that I was harmless if not sane, he chuckled when he said, "Her name
is not Bartelli anymore, Detective."
never known a lawyer who was prone to offhand comments, and ignoring for the
moment Ballard's little dig at my detective skills, I pushed my way past all
the people whose toes I had already stepped once before: I found her in the
hallway just outside the courtroom and when I saw her standing there, all of my
"besides" and "even ifs" were gone.
witness for the prosecution was still five foot nothing and as manicured as
ever—but now with her belly round and firm beneath her yellow dress, the former
Mrs. Bartelli had a special glow that wasn't there six months before. Mary
Ellen stood talking with a small group of maternity-wear clad women, her
polished, sculpted nails flashing as she spoke: I watched the hands that would rock a cradle
soon and saw nine children bleeding on a playground, heard them scream
as rifle fire exploded in their backs. In Stephen Ballard's office,
stretched like fingers through the window blinds that Monday
everything was simple enough to explain to a puppy dog.