Chapter 29

Dr. Martin Simmons is Chief of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. He’s a handsome man in his mid-sixties, with salt-and-pepper hair, a friendly manner, and a build that suggests he takes good care of himself. More important, he’s an intelligent, compassionate person. His sympathy for Buck and Patty is genuine.

The doctor has spent a lot of time with Buck, more hours than necessary for trial purposes. Buck said he didn’t mind those hours; he sort of liked thinking about the doctor’s questions. He told me he felt a little better after each session with Dr. Simmons. Buck surprised himself, I think, when he said that.

Harry marched through the preliminaries-the doctor’s education and professional experience-quickly. He wants to get to the point before Stanley-and Beatrice-start interrupting.

Dr. Simmons just told the panel that Buck was in the midst of a psychotic episode when he shot Hector Monteros.

Harry pauses to let the jurors absorb the doctor’s testimony. A few jot quick notes.

“Tell us, Dr. Simmons, what is a psychotic episode?”

The doctor nods and turns toward the jury, his expression animated. He’s eager to share the specifics of his field with people who are interested. But I’m not sure these people are. The jurors are all listening, that much is clear. But most of their faces are blank. A few look downright skeptical.

“An individual suffering a psychotic episode experiences impaired contact with reality during a specific period of time. The duration of a psychotic episode varies from patient to patient, as does the degree of impairment. If impairment is limited, the individual loses contact with a fragment of reality but retains clarity with regard to other facets of life. In serious cases, impairment can be complete. The individual’s mind is severed from the real world.”

“Before we get into the specifics of Mr. Hammond’s diagnosis, Doctor, can you tell the jury what precipitated his psychotic episode?”

Stanley stands, clears his throat. “Your Honor, please, we’ve heard all this before.”

“Approach.” Judge Nolan sighs and shakes her head at Harry as he and Stanley near the bench. She leans toward them, lips pursed, eyes narrowed. Her pinched expression says it all. She doesn’t know what Harry’s up to, but she’s sure it’s nothing good.

“Mr. Madigan, where are you going with this?”

I wonder why the judge bothered to call a sidebar. She hasn’t lowered her voice at all. If I can hear her, then the jurors can too. And the press, no doubt, isn’t missing a word. We’ll hear this exchange again-more than once-on the evening news.

“Where am I going?” Harry doesn’t lower his voice either. In fact, he’s louder. “My client has raised a temporary insanity defense, Your Honor. This is our expert psychiatrist. I’m going into the relevant facts.” Harry’s volume has amped up another notch. If old Beatrice plans to shut him down, everyone in the room is going to hear his protests.

Stanley clears his throat again; he wants a turn. “Your Honor, the Chief of Police testified at considerable length about the boy. We don’t need to hear it again.” Stanley shakes his head. “Besides, it’s inflammatory.”

“Inflammatory?” Harry’s shouting now, his hands in the air. “Of course it’s inflammatory.”

Harry wheels around and points at Buck, then looks straight at the jury. He’s not even pretending to address the judge. “This man’s son-an innocent seven-year-old child-was raped and murdered. You bet it’s inflammatory. Inflammatory enough to push a reasonable man over the edge, make him snap. That, Judge”-Harry turns and glares at Beatrice again-“is the point.”

Judge Nolan sits up straight, her nostrils flaring. She’s not happy about Harry’s speech. And she agrees with Stanley. She’d agree with Satan if he were arguing with Harry.

“You will lower your voice, Counsel.” Judge Nolan actually puckers her lips when she says this, but it’s pretty clear she doesn’t plan to kiss anyone.

“I’ll do no such thing, Judge.” Harry turns and points at Buck again. “You have no right to shut down this man’s defense.”

Now he’s done it.

The judge holds up both hands, palms out, to call for silence. She removes her bifocals and sets them carefully on the bench. She leans on her elbows, eyes closed, and massages first the bridge of her nose, then her right temple. Her message wouldn’t be any clearer if it were flashing in neon: Harry Madigan, not ten minutes into his direct, has given her a migraine.

Finally the judge opens her eyes. She takes a deep breath, folds her thin arms across her black robe, and tucks her hands inside its wide sleeves. “Mr. Madigan,” she says, her voice lower but still perfectly audible, “no one is shutting down this man’s defense. But I will shut you down, sir, if you get on your soapbox again.”

She keeps her eyes on Harry and points at Dr. Simmons. “If your witness has a medical opinion, Mr. Madigan, you’d better get to it. This case is about the shooting death of Hector Monteros. We’re not here to belabor the details of an unrelated murder.”

“Belabor the details? Unrelated murder?” Harry’s bellowing now, again directing his words to the panel, not Beatrice.

The jurors’ gazes move between Harry and the judge, question marks on their faces. They seem unsure what to make of this shouting match. The elderly schoolteacher watches Beatrice carefully. I’m worried about her.

Harry turns to look at me and it’s my turn to give him a sign-an index finger pressed vertically against my lips. It means shut up and go where she’s pushing you; we need the medical opinion. Continue this argument later.

Telling Harry to let go of a fight with Beatrice is like asking a hungry dog to abandon a ham bone. He frowns at my signal and clenches his teeth. After a moment, though, he nods and sighs. We do need the medical opinion. He may as well get it into evidence. He could land in a jail cell anytime now.

Harry turns his back on Beatrice and Stanley, dismissing them both, and walks toward the witness box. Stanley stands alone by the bench, looking stranded for a moment, before returning to his seat. Beatrice, of course, looks perturbed.

“Dr. Simmons, did you examine Mr. Hammond at my request?” Harry’s voice is almost normal now; he’s working at it. His fists are clenched but he’s trying hard to appear relaxed, as if the verbal sparring of the past few minutes never happened, as if his prior question isn’t begging for an answer.

“I did.” The doctor looks puzzled, then relieved. He doesn’t know why the battle ended, but he’s glad it did.

“When did you examine him, sir?”

“On four separate occasions.” The doctor opens his chart on the ledge of the witness box and pulls a pair of glasses from his jacket pocket. He settles them on the edge of his nose and looks down to read. “September tenth, sixteenth, and twenty-fourth of this year, for about two hours each time. Again on October eighth, a little longer that day.”

“More than eight hours of clinical evaluation?”

“That’s right.” The doctor leans back in the chair, glasses once again in his hands.

“And did you reach a conclusion, Doctor, about Mr. Hammond’s mental state on the morning of June twenty-first, the morning of the shooting?”

Dr. Simmons is a seasoned witness. He knows the drill. Answer only the question asked.

“I did.”

“Can you state that conclusion to a reasonable degree of medical certainty?”

“I can.”

Harry pauses and turns, beaming at Beatrice. “Judge Nolan is awfully eager for you to share your opinion with us.”

Dr. Simmons looks up at the judge, unsure. She glares back at him, arms still folded across her chest, hands still tucked in her sleeves. After a moment, the doctor gives up on her and turns back to the jurors. They assess him critically.

It’s plain to everyone in the room that Beatrice doesn’t like this doctor and, for the jurors, that makes him suspect. Beatrice is, after all, the judge. The robe imparts a great deal of authority, commands a great deal of respect. No matter who’s wearing it.

“As I said, Mr. Hammond suffered a psychotic episode that morning. It was a limited episode in that he lost contact with a fragment of reality-and had a jumbled perspective on other fragments-but he didn’t lose everything. He was still functioning.”

“Which fragment did he lose?”

“His son’s death. Mr. Hammond’s mind rejected it outright.”

“Denial?”

Dr. Simmons shakes his head. “No. It wasn’t that. Denial is a normal reaction to death-particularly a death so unexpected. What Mr. Hammond experienced that morning was an actual break from reality. In his world-in his mental universe, if you will-the boy’s death hadn’t happened. It wasn’t a fact he rejected; it was a fact that didn’t exist in the first place.”

“And which fragments were jumbled?”

“The events of the prior forty hours. With the exception of his son’s death, every event was clear in Mr. Hammond’s mind when he stood beside the airport hangar that morning. But the timeline was mixed up; the occurrences were out of order.”

“For example?”

“The most obvious example was also the most significant: his son’s abduction. Mr. Hammond knew Billy had been grabbed by a dangerous man. He knew his boy’s life was in jeopardy. But he had no handle on how long the boy had been gone.”

“And he didn’t know his son was dead?”

“No.” Dr. Simmons turns from Harry to the panel and takes a deep breath. “When Mr. Hammond raised his rifle that morning, he believed he was fighting for his son’s life.” The doctor shakes his head. “It’s hard to understand. I know that.” He gestures toward the defense table, as if the best evidence of what he’s telling them is seated here. The jurors’ eyes follow, settle on Buck.

He’s sitting upright, dry-eyed, staring straight ahead. He looks like a man whose mental universe is nowhere near this courtroom.

Harry paces in front of the witness box, one fist against his mouth, the other in his pants pocket. I recognize the expression on his face and it worries me. If I’m reading him correctly, he’s about to buy a one-way ticket to lockup. And I don’t want to have to finish this trial alone.

He stops pacing and his face registers a decision. He hasn’t looked in my direction. This isn’t good.

“Doctor, you say Mr. Hammond knew the man who abducted his son was dangerous. Can you be more specific?”

Beatrice is unaware of what’s coming. She wasn’t the judge when we tried to get it in the first time. At the moment, even Stanley seems not to realize.

Dr. Simmons looks surprised. He wasn’t in the courtroom when Judge Long excluded the evidence. He assumed the jury already knew. “The police told him,” he says.

Stanley rouses, but not fast enough.

“They told him they’d traced the van’s license plate to a Hector Monteros. They told him Monteros was a violent sex offender.”

Stanley erupts. “Objection, Your Honor! Objection!”

The doctor keeps talking. “On the mandatory registry. A repeat pedophile.”

“Your Honor! Objection!” Stanley stamps both feet repeatedly on the worn carpeting of the courtroom floor. A bona fide temper tantrum.

Everyone else in the room is quiet. The jurors appear frozen, their eyes locked on the witness box.

Beatrice pounds her gavel. Its thuds and Stanley’s sputtering are the only sounds in the room. Stanley is ballistic. His blue forehead vein is pounding. He’s shrieking at Beatrice, his voice an octave higher than usual. But Beatrice isn’t listening. She’s on her feet now, pointing her gavel at Harry.

“Mr. Madigan, your examination of this witness is over. One more word and I’ll hold you in contempt. You can spend Christmas behind bars as far as I’m concerned. And if I were you, sir, I wouldn’t make plans for New Year’s Eve.”

The judge turns her icy stare-and her gavel-on Dr. Simmons. “The county can provide accommodations for you as well, Doctor, if need be.”

The doctor’s eyes grow wide. He’s speechless for a moment, then recovers. “Me? What did I do?”

This is a first. Beatrice sends Harry to the pokey with a great deal of ease, but as far as I know she’s never threatened to throw his witness in with him. I’m surprised she’d allow him the company.

The jurors still haven’t moved, but their eyes have. A few stare at Judge Nolan. Most focus on Buck. He’s motionless.

Harry finally looks at me-that look that always takes my breath away-as he takes his seat. He’s satisfied, happy even. He’ll gladly serve whatever time Beatrice metes out, holidays or not. I can take it from here.

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