New - 22 September 2008
We the Jury, a novel:
In the Sessions House, a Redcoat, Corporeal Lansing, was in the witness box. Howell was standing nearby with the presiding Justice, Lord Mayor, looking on approvingly. Mead seemed momentarily consigned to the charade, while Penn was ready to fairly leap out of his seat. Frustration can do that to a man.
Lansing was answering the last question. “It was nip and tuck for me, your honor. The only thing that kept me from firing into the… threatening mob was my military discipline… and me Sergeant Major.”
“The kind of discipline,” Howell said with a broad smile, “to which the Crown and the People of England owe you a great debt of gratitude. Thank you, Corporeal Lansing. You may step down.”
Penn was immediately on his feet. “Your honor! I must again request the opportunity to cross-examine...”
“And I,” yelled Starling, “must again refuse your insolence!”
“Your Honor,” Penn kept at it, “I beg of the Court to allow Mr. Mead and myself to present witnesses.”
“And I beg you, Sir, to obey the orders of this Court and sit down!”
Penn hesitated, then sat down and turned to look at Mead. Mead shook his head “yes”. Lansing was leaving the witness stand as Howell turned to the Justice.
“If it please the Court, these unimpeachable witnesses have clearly shown the guilt of both prisoners. They have made it...”
Howell hesitated as, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Penn standing up. Howell always believed in the adage that ‘tis far better to let the stooge hang himself, than to trouble one’s own self with such onerous tasks.’ Howell thereby turned to Penn, while Starling, with a heavy scowl, turned to stare down Penn.
Penn, however, was having nothing of such intimidation. Now that he had gotten their attention, he began to make his case, albeit not a particularly glorious legal defense.
“I desire, your Honor, that we may come close of the point. We confess ourselves to be unwilling to recant or decline to vindicate an assembly by ourselves to preach, pray, worship the eternal, holy just God. We further declare to all the world of our belief in our wholly indispensable duty to meet incessantly upon so good an account. And never shall any power upon this earth divert us from reverencing and adoring our God.”
Justice Robinson was quick to weigh in. “You are not on trial for worshipping God, but for breaking the law. You do yourself a disservice in going on with your discourse.”
“I affirm I have broken no law, nor am I guilty of the indictment that is my charge.”
“Not guilty?” Robinson appeared to be shocked and astounded at such a revelation. “The evidence is as clear as ever put forth to a jury. You seek now to justify yourselves, to declare that whatever laws the king and Parliament provide, you will ignore! What arrogance! Surely both king and Parliament will take notice of your arrogance in the next session!”
Suddenly, Mead was on his feet. “What are you doing, Sir? You are no justice if you seek to sway the jury. Come down off the bench!”
Oops. That might have been just a bit too much. From our modern vantage point, it might have seemed a wholly rational and logical remark. But throwing mud in the face of your judge… and without a small, heavily armed army at your back… is in general not conducive to swaying said justice to act on your behalf.
The critical question was whether or not the jury might be that small army.
The latter thought did not even momentarily occur to Robinson. “You impudent… fool! I am a justice of the Crown and I demand a retraction!”
Clearly the courtroom was getting out of control – at least in Starling’s mind. Chaos (and thus opportunity) was never to the advantage of the Court; nor were any tendencies to engage in emotional outbursts when the official, authorized interpretation of the law would suffice. Accordingly, Starling reasserted his control of the court, even if it involved ignoring the rage of his associate justice.
“The defendants will speak to the indictment or they will be silenced and taken from this court. You cannot violate the law and then find defense in disputing the law. The question here is whether you are guilty of the indictment.”
“On the contrary,” Penn immediately replied, “The question, your Honor, is whether the indictment be legal.”
That was too much for Lord Howell. “The indictment is based upon common law. Lex non scripta -- unwritten law, that which the justices of this court have studied thirty and forty years to know.”
Mead turned to Howell with undisguised contempt. “If the common law is so laborious to understand, it is far from being common.”
Starling decided to take the high road, if only because that higher elevation was often advantageous when it came down to throwing stones. “This Court sees no merit in tolerating your insolence, your troublesome manner, your total disrespect…”
Penn raised a hand half way. “If I may ask one question of this court...”
Howell scoffed at the very idea. “If we should suffer you to ask questions until days hence, you would be no wiser.”
Penn glanced at the prosecutor, a wry grin on his face. “Such might be the value of your answers.”
Starling did not take lightly to that suggestion! It was time for plying the argument with guile and misdirection. “You cannot dispute the law until after you are found guilty of the fact. But your design to affront the Court and amuse the… spectators… constitutes an unseasonable discourse.”
Penn stared back. “If you deny me a hearing of the law which you suggest I have broken, you will have sacrificed the privileges of Englishmen to your sinister, arbitrary, and unjust designs. Where there is no law, there can be no transgression.”
Howell turned his attention to the Lord Mayor. “Take him away, my Lord. Nothing else will cause this pestilent fellow to stop his mouth and we shall be unable to do anything.”
‘Good idea,’ Starling thought. “Take him away! Bailiff!”
“Jurymen,” Penn pleaded, “You are the jury and my sole judges. I appeal to you to uphold the ancient and fundamental laws relating to liberty and honor. Laws that cannot be arbitrarily levied…”
Howell raised his arm to point at Penn. “Silence him,” he ordered.
Mead leaned forward to make his own appeal to the jury. “Men of the jury, I now stand to answer the indictment against me, a bundle of lies and falsehoods. I have preached, but I have broken no law under God. The question before you is the justice upon which the indictment is grounded. Is the law just?”
Penn, already encumbered by two bailiffs holding his arms, suddenly said, “I confess as well to preaching.”
Starling fairly leaped upon the admission. “You admit your guilt?”
“No, your Honor,” Penn replied. “We do not deny holding a Conventicle, but we do assert our right to religious freedom under the Magna Carta. We had assembled peacefully, the only disturbance being caused by the soldiers.”
“Silence!” Starling then stared Penn down. “Your contemptuous conduct has condemned you! You admit to breaking the law, and then you dare...”
“There is a higher law, your honor.”
This time Starling was screaming, standing and leaning forward. “Silence! Bailiff, remove the prisoners… now! If they attempt to speak further, silence them… even if you have to knock out their teeth to do so!”
Freddie and Jock Strong and two other bailiffs pulled at both men, with Penn and Mead holding up their hands and saying nothing, as if to refuse to resist by force. The two defendants were led away, as the jurors turned to look at one another or just stare open-mouthed at the proceedings.
In a variation on a theme, Pence was on the witness stand. Sophing stood nearby as if to remind everyone of his status as attorney for the defense, or else that he had asked just the right question for his client to answer. The good news was that Sophing was quietly allowing Pence to make his plea.
“The idea of going to Mars was secondary. All we were attempting was to do something so extraordinary that everyone on the planet would know about it prior to our work being outlawed or classified top secret or just being lost for another forty years. This technology should have been here in the sixties, when it was first discovered, but I think it’s clear that vested interests must have done everything they could...”
Howell didn’t even bother to rise to voice his contempt. “Objection. The witness is speculating on matters of which he has no knowledge.”
“Sustained,” Starling replied, in a bored tone. “The witness will confine himself to that of which he himself knows personally.” Starling had not even looked at the witness; this was all pretty much routine for the judge.
“Yes, Sir,” Pence replied. He then glanced at a silent Sophing before continuing. “Just let me say that for some reason the technology clearly had not surfaced forty years ago, that we had rediscovered it and that furthermore we knew without a doubt that it could be the most significant scientific breakthrough of this or any other century. The ramifications are immense. We’re talking about propulsion and energy systems that are sustainable for the long term, an energy resource that is virtually infinite, absolutely non-polluting, no waste products of any kind, and is simple enough to be used in everything from cars to homes to...”
This time, Howell rose to his feet, albeit wearily, as if he were a parent having to tell their child for the ten thousandth time… “Your Honor, I must object to this totally speculative, wishful description of some fantasy the defendant has concocted in order to sway the jury.”
“It’s not a fantasy,” Pence replied. “We’ve done it!”
“Yes, Sir,” Howell suddenly turned on Pence. “You certainly have. And we have the body count to prove it.”
“That’s enough,” Starling ordered. “I must again caution the…”
Pence had turned in his chair to appeal to the judge. “Your Honor, with all due respect, how can I defend myself and my friend without making it clear that there are vested interests in this world that do not want this technology to see the light of day, that they will do anything to prevent…”
“Objection!” This time Howell was far more aggressive. “Your Honor, the witness seems intent upon injecting fanciful conspiracies, wild scenarios of bad guys around every corner, and sinister, evil forces all bent upon enslaving mankind and preventing the defendant’s so-called technology from...”
“But that’s exactly the point! They don’t want to see any new technology on which they cannot make huge profits. The oil companies…”
“Sir,” Howell interrupted the witness… again, “No one but you and your co-conspirator are on trial here?
Starling finally used his gavel. “Silence,” he ordered. “Mr. Pence, I will direct you once again not to attempt to suggest alternative perpetrators of the crime for which you are charged. These alleged instigators are not on trial here. You will cease with such attempts, or you will be held in contempt of Court. Do you understand?”
Pence looked at the judge, and then turned back to face the jury. With a note of tactical defeat, he replied, “Yes, your Honor. I do understand.”
“Are there any more questions?” Starling was ready to dispense with this aspect of the trial. It served no useful, official purpose.
Sophing, on cue, answered. “No, your Honor.” To Howell, he added, “Your witness.”
“Wait a minute,” Pence exclaimed. “I’m still trying to explain why we were working on this technology.”
“Sir,” the judge noted, “Your intentions are irrelevant!”
“But we’re talking about things, about a technology that could revolutionize the world for the better! It’s why we were…”
Howell was again on his feet. “Please, your Honor… I must object. This is a trial, not a public relations ploy to garner possible investors in speculative, dangerous ventures …”
“Yes, yes, Mr. Howell,” Starling replied. “Mr. Pence, you are not on trial for your intentions. You are not on trial for what you hoped to accomplish, or for what you allege to be a significant scientific accomplishment. You are on trial for causing the deaths of 36 individuals. Is that absolutely clear?”
“I’m simply asking for justice,” Pence replied.
“And you are about to receive it!”
“If I may, your Honor,” Howell interjected, “be allowed to cross examine the witness.”
Pence frowned. This was the part to which they had not been looking forward when they had decided to try and defend themselves.
Billy Matson was taking his turn on the stand, only now in the sights of the prosecutor’s cross examination.
“Are we correct in assuming,” Howell began, “That you are the… what we might generously call… the brains of the outfit… while Mr. Pence was the one providing the funds to carry on your… alleged scientific experiments?”
“Yes, Sir,” Matson answered. “Although I must acknowledge a debt of scientific gratitude to William Davis, G. Harry Stine, and…”
“Yes, yes,” Howell interrupted, “Your long deceased mentors, who happen to be conveniently unable to verify any of your wild claims. Accordingly, I think we can dispense with your attempts to blame others.”
“I was not blaming anyone!
“Where exactly is your laboratory located?”
“1305 Tesla Avenue.”
“And is this an industrial neighborhood?”
“Was it instead, a residential neighborhood where you were conducting your dangerous so-called science?
“It was not dangerous.”
Howell suddenly looked gullible. “Was it totally safe?”
“Any science experiment can fail, and some times cause some damage...”
Returning to his true, adversarial form, Howell interrupted. “Like the deaths of…” emphasizing each word, “thirty six innocent people, the wounding and maiming of over a hundred others…”
“It couldn’t have caused an explosion of the kind that happened! It’s against the laws of physics.”
Howell scoffed. “You’re saying it could not have caused what happened? Are you serious? Or just insane?”
Matson scowled. “We are not insane. We did not cause any explosion.”
“You were building a rocket ship, were you not?”
“It had nothing to do with rockets! That’s the whole point. The science we were dealing with did not involve explosions, even the kind of controlled explosions that NASA uses to power its space program. There are no rockets of any kind. Everything we worked with is based on inertia, Newton’s laws of mechanics, Mach’s Principle…”
“Laws?” Howell asked unbelievingly. “Laws which you… I believe the way you said it was… laws which you ‘extended’ and ‘developed further’… beyond all of traditional science.”
“Yes,” Matson replied. “But it was still science. It was like adding relativity to Newton’s laws for special circumstances. The only thing we did was to add a third order differential to Newton’s laws.”
“Which no one else had ever thought of… not in the… what is it… four hundred and fifty years since the time of Newton?”
“Others had… Davis and Stine, for example… possibly many others. It’s like they and we finally got out of the box.”
Howell was now genuinely taken back. “The what?”
“We had a different paradigm, a different belief structure. It allowed us to see the trees and the forest.”
“New paradigm? Is this some sort of new age religion?”
“No. It has nothing to do with religion.”
“I think we can all attest to that the fact that your views have nothing to do with any religion, at least any religion where the lives of others are not sacrificed to your arrogance.”
“It’s not about philosophy.”
“But it is nevertheless, shall we say, a very explosive belief structure?”
“It cannot blow up. It’s impossible.”
“But it did blow up. We have it on film. We saw it: The explosion, the stones falling on innocent people. Perhaps you weren’t watching… from high above in your safe perch.”
“We did not cause…”
Howell held up his hand, causing Matson to hesitate just long enough for Howell to go off on a different tangent.
“Let us review for just a moment. You were conducting a series of highly dangerous experiments in what you knew to be a residential neighborhood, experiments that you claim were not rocket science, but which had the same goals as NASA...”
Matson was quick to interrupt. “Not the same goals. We were far more interested in the science and the truth.”
“Ah, yes! Only you know the truth; only you can accomplish real science.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Tell me, were your highly dangerous experiments condoned or approved by other scientists or what you’ve termed as mainstream science?”
“Our experiments weren’t dangerous… at least not to others.”
“I think I know of several score of others who would disagree with you of the dangerous nature of your experiments -- if they were still alive. Mr. Matson, couldn’t you have accomplished your work in a laboratory far from the residential neighborhood on Tesla Street? Perhaps at a university or industrial research lab. Surely they would have been delighted by the promises of your “technology.”
“I’ve already told you. We’re in a different paradigm. Universities are extremely conservative. They object violently to anyone who might rock the boat. They have some of the least open minds on the planet.”
“Ah… you’re all for rocking the boat, aren’t you, sir? Even when innocent victims are thrown overboard in the process!”
“We didn’t cause any explosions.”
“But you just said that no university would allow your experiments, that no scientist would accept your ideas!”
“They are not willing to risk their status for truth. We have our own science, our own beliefs…”
“And which are deadly to others, isn’t that so, Mr. Matson?”
“We may not be part of mainstream science, we may not be part of the predominant belief structure of the times we live in, but we were not trying to go against nature. We weren’t there to destroy Newton’s laws, but to fulfill their potential. We were trying to increase the physics.”
“And damn the people who get in your way, right?”
“We didn’t kill anyone. We did not damn anyone.”
“But your laboratory, your mission-to-Mars unguided missile science, you did in fact cause the death and injury of hundreds!”
“No we did not. There was no rocket, no missile!”
“But it blew up, didn’t it? That’s what rockets do: they blow up! Do you deny the destruction of your laboratory and the surrounding buildings?”
“Of course not. There was an explosion. People did die. But it was not because of our work. Someone else must have done it! NASA and its contractors would have lost billions if we had been successful!”
“Objection,” Howell quickly inserted into the record. “Move that the witness’s last remark be stricken from the record.”
“Your Honor,” Sophing began half-heartedly.
“Silence!” Starling again ordered. “I’ve warned you, Mr. Sophing, and now you, Mr. Matson. You and Mr. Pence are the only ones on trial here. I will not allow irresponsible and crazy alternative theories to be presented here. You will not defend yourself by obfuscating the truth with wild imaginings!”
Matson shrugged his shoulders, “But NASA does have a vested interest...”
“Silence! Or I’ll have your removed!”
Matson was incredulous, “But it’s my trial!”
“And you will obey the law of this Court.”
Starling was suddenly perplexed. His voice became quieter. “What?”
“Why must we obey the law of this particular Court... your Court? What about the Constitution? Aren’t you required…”
“The Constitution be hanged! You are the only one on trial! No one else! Do you understand?”
Matson stared back for just a moment. “Yes, I think I do.”
“Thank you, your Honor,” Howell began. “Mr. Matson, let’s make this very, very simple for you. Did you acquire… or even attempt to acquire… a license to launch a space ship from the Secretary of Transportation as required by law?”
Matson, for the first time, looked unsure of himself. “No, Sir.”
“Did you seek to obtain liability insurance, again as required by law?”
“Did you seek any approval of any authority, as required by law?”
“I didn’t know about any of those laws.”
“Did you know that ignorance of the law is not a defense?”
“That I’ve heard of. However, I question the right of a judge to demand that an accused be as cognizant of the law as any attorney, particularly one who must specialize in some rather exotic subjects to be properly aware of such laws. Furthermore, the idea that you need a license or insurance or anything else to do science is crazy. Those laws were from the sixties and obviously intended to apply to rocket science.”
“We will neglect for the moment that you, Sir, are not qualified to comment on the intentions of the law.”
“Did Lindbergh need a license?”
“Lindbergh didn’t kill anyone. He was not obsessed with secrecy. Lindbergh was a national hero. Is that what you aspired to be, Mr. Matson, in your prideful, egocentric manner?”
“I didn’t kill anyone. I was trying to make things better. It could have been, can still be, a major revolution in science.”
“So, you’re saying that you were attempting to initiate a revolution?”
“No, no. Don’t be absurd. A scientific revolution.”
“But of course, thirty six innocent people died in your aborted revolution. But wait! That’s no longer quite accurate, is it, Mr. Matson? As you may or may not have heard, another of your victims died a few hours ago. That now makes thirty seven!”
Howell turned and walked away from a horrified Matson, who could only stare in stunned disbelief.
Howell, Gerry Mander, and Sophing were standing across a table and putting papers into their respective briefcases when Sophing’s paralegal, Lisa, arrived. She announced, “Mr. Sophing, the jury’s on the way.”
“Thank you, Lisa. We’re ready,” her boss replied. Standing up, he smiled at Lisa, who quickly returned the smile.
Howell glanced at the two people. It had become clear to Howell – a man who had become a dedicated observer of people… if only in order to better manipulate them – that Sophing and his paralegal had an obvious affection for each other (and one above and beyond any professional necessity). Howell could not help but smile cynically. It was time to pay the piper, he decided.
“You’ve done good work, Counselor… a credit to your profession.”
Sophing turned red, as Lisa looked incredulously at the prosecutor, before turning with a hurt, bewildered expression toward Sophing. Sophing could not meet her eyes. Howell started to chuckle to himself as he turned and left. Gerry was also smiling mischievously. Sophing suddenly turned grim, watching the back of the departing Howell.
“Wait until you hear my summation,” he called out.
Howell was still smiling, and threw his answer over his shoulder. “I’m sure it will be equal to everything else you’ve done here.”
As Howell left the room, followed by Mander, Sophing glanced first at Lisa’s intense appraisal of him, before turning to stare intently at the closed door. “It might surprise you, my dear Thomas,” he added.
Lisa continued to look at Sophing, her bewilderment slowly turning to an encouraging smile. Sophing looked at her, his face beginning to beam courage and determination.
There’s really very little advantage to rubbing people’s face in the mud. It tends to encourage a far more intense yearning for good, old fashioned revenge. That had been Howell’s mistake… the sin of unbridled arrogance, and the wrath it engendered.
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