The Courtroom

07/02/2016 08:19

A new story in response to the latest prompt at Blackshop Books/ F3. Hope you enjoy.


The Judge banged her gavel. “Counsel for the Prosecution – please give us your summing up.”

Toby stood slowly, enjoying the feeling of being centre of attention, of having everyone's eyes fixed on him. “Madam Judge, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this is a very simple case; a case of murder, yes, but one in which all the facts point to only one conclusion.

“As we all know, in ancient times punishment was designed to fit the crime. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life...”

Counsel for the Defence leaped to her feet. “Objection! There will be no killing...”

The Judge banged her gavel again. “Order! Order! Counsel for the Defence, please restrain yourself. Counsel for the Prosecution, you know full well that there is no death penalty here.”

Toby bowed slightly. “I was not suggesting that there was, Madam Judge. I was merely pointing out that, in the past, death was punished by death.”

“Kindly contain yourself to the facts of the case or I shall hold you in contempt of court,” she replied with a sigh. “Now, please continue with your summing up. With no further interruptions!” and she glared at Counsel for the Defence, who returned to her seat.

“Now, where was I? Ah, yes! The facts of the case,” said Toby, without any sense of irony. He walked across the court to where the jury sat in two neat rows. They stared back at him coldly.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the young victim of this crime was an innocent, a free spirit. All Bertie ever did was sing. He sang morning, noon and night, giving pleasure to untold numbers of people. It was never his intention to hurt anyone. Indeed, it would have been against his nature to do so! All he wanted to do was sing.”

He paused for a moment to scan the courtroom. The Judge was sitting with her head bowed, a small smile playing across her lips, as though lost in some pleasant memory. Even the Defence Counsel was nodding a little. But then both became aware of his gaze and the spell was broken. The Judge was all impartiality and Counsel all moral outrage.

Allowing himself a small feeling of triumph, Toby began to walk back across the courtroom. “So, young Bertie was a singer. His days were carefree. He did not go out much but when he did, he really stretched his wings and flew!”

He paused for dramatic effect.

“But Bertie's life was blighted by one thing. He had an enemy, one who did not wish to hear his song. One whose only purpose was to snuff out his life. That...creature... is before you in the dock. Miss Mufty stalked Bertie on many occasions. We have heard many testimonies to that effect. No wonder Bertie stayed indoors.

“But one day, he did go out. There is some confusion, as you have heard, about exactly how that happened. However, there is no confusion over the outcome. Bertie was out enjoying some fresh air and exercise and Miss Mufty saw her chance and took it. She was actually found standing over Bertie's poor, broken body.”

His voice caught in his throat and he stopped for a moment to give himself time to recover. It did not escape his notice that the Judge was actually wiping tears from her eyes.

Turning sharply on his heel, he again faced the jury. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is your duty to weigh the facts of this case. As I have shown, the facts are very simple and the conclusion they point to is clear. Miss Mufty is guilty as charged of Bertie's murder.” With these words, he returned to his seat.

The Judge cleared her throat. “Thank you, Counsel. Now, Counsel for the Defence; please give us your summing up.”

Defence Counsel rose slowly, gathering her thoughts. She gave the dock a reassuring pat as she passed it. Miss Muftie spat. Standing in front of the jury, she met their steady eyes.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you have heard my broth... learned colleague's words, and I can see that you were moved by them. Indeed, who could not be? There are tears in my eyes, too!

“Bertie was, as you have heard, a free spirit. His singing was, indeed, a pleasure. But were his intentions towards my client really so innocent as the Counsel for the Prosecution would have us believe? We have also heard testimony that his actions might be seen as deliberately provoking my client.

“He may have stayed inside but he was in full view of my client at all times. His preening and strutting, even his singing, may all have been calculated to drive Miss Muftie to distraction. Indeed, you have heard that she often lashed out at him whilst in the presence of others, just for him to hop away just beyond her reach. To quote one witness, 'As though he was taunting her.'.

“I contend that there was, indeed, an on-going campaign of torture being committed, but that it was Bertie who was the torturer and that he ultimately got his just desserts!”

The courtroom exploded at this, with Toby again on his feet shouting objections and the witnesses cheering or booing depending on whether they were on the side of the prosecution or defence. The Judge had to bang her gavel many times before order was restored.

“Counsel for the Prosecution, please resume your seat. Any witnesses who cannot behave themselves will be removed from the court. Thank you! Now, Counsel for the Defence, kindly refrain from any further emotional outbursts. And please also get a move on. Mum will be calling us in for lunch in about fifteen minutes!”

The Defence Counsel, also known as Sally, nodded to the Judge, who was her older sister, Claire. She turned once more to the jury, a hurriedly gathered collection of dolls belonging to herself and Claire, and also to one of the witnesses, Nicola, who appeared for the prosecution.

“Toby has outlined the facts. Bertie was a bird who loved to sing. He usually lived safe in his cage but, occasionally, he was allowed out. On these occasions, Miss Mufty was not allowed in the room for obvious reasons.”

She glanced at the prisoner's dock, Miss Muftie's cat carrier. Her pet was bathing, apparently without a care in the world.

“Somehow, though, she did get in. And now, Bertie is dead. And my brother, Toby, is understandably upset. I am upset! I loved to listen to Bertie singing, too.

“But there is no proof that Miss Muftie actually killed Bertie. It is true that she was found standing over his body but we have heard sworn testimony that, whilst she often stalked birds in the garden, she had never been known to actually catch one. Also, as I mentioned earlier, Bertie had always seemed capable of keeping out of her way in the past.

“It is my contention that Miss Mufty is innocent of Bertie's murder and that any evidence to the contrary is merely circumstantial.”

As she sat, the tiny mound of earth that covered Bertie's body caught her eye.

Claire now spoke. “Thank you both for summing up your cases. I will now ask the jury to retire to reach their verdict.”

In actual fact, it was Claire who retired for a few minutes to consider the evidence. There was silence from the other children while they waited for her to return. When she did, both of her siblings tried to guess from her face which way her decision had fallen.

“The jury has given a unanimous verdict of... Not guilty!”

Sally cheered but Toby stormed off in tears. Quickly, Claire went after him.

“How could you do that?” he yelled at her as soon as she reached him. “That horrid cat was always after Bertie. You know she was.”

“Yes, but think about it, Toby. She never once caught him. There were no loose feathers, no marks on his body. I think he just died.”

“She still wanted to eat him.”

“Probably, yes. Thankfully we got there in time. Oh, there's Mum calling us in. Dry your eyes, now. We can get a new bird at the weekend.”

“It won't be Bertie.”

“Of course not! It'll be a whole new pet to love.”

Comments for 'The Courtroom'

Blame the Victim?

Date: 15/02/2016 | By: Joyce Juzwik

I didn't see that ending coming. Love the lead in to who was really holding court -- smooth and sneaky. Great job with this, Rose.

This presentation was so realistic, like on TV or in movies, where instead of defending their client, they blame the victim. I pictured an old man, alone and broken, and a woman, hateful and vindictive, who begrudged him a song now and then. Then 'Mum will be calling us in for lunch...'

Poor Bertie. Perhaps he was simply an 'old man' after all. I'm glad Miss Mutfie's name has been cleared, and hopefully, she'll behave when her new 'friend' arrives.

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