CHAPTER ONE


“Will the defendant please rise?” said the judge about to pass sentence on a burglar. Margold James, the lawyer, and the defendant to whom the judge referred, got to their feet. Six foot seven inch Margold stood, his fingertips touching the table, the defendant’s file open before him.

Today was a routine sentencing after a plea agreement had been reached, and nobody expected the lad to do any actual time. Even the officer from parole and probation who had prepared the pre-sentencing report for the judge recommended a suspended sentence and probation.

Margold had put on a dog-and-pony-show, parading the defendant’s mother, brother, and friends before the judge pleading for leniency for the poor misguided defendant who needed but one more chance. An otherwise fine young lad who transgressed only this once by burglarizing apartments. In contrast, the State presented testimony from the victims, who described in detail the horror and anguish they felt upon realizing they had been robbed. Those victims who could not come to court had written letters to the judge, which he considered silently, Margold having already seen them.

Margold reckoned everyone in the room, except for the lawyers, the judge, and the deputies, had cried during the hearing.  His job was over. All he had to do was hear the sentence and deal with the aftermath. His mind had already turned to the question of whether he would have two or three olives in his martini.

The judge, a man in his 60s known for leniency, gazed straight ahead while the defendant got to his feet. The prosecutor, a woman in her early 30s, plain of face, uninteresting of figure, and dressed in a black pantsuit, remained seated, eyed the defendant with disdain. 

The tired and shopworn courtroom smelled of mildew and disinfectant. The carpet was filthy, the tables scratched and marred, the chairs soiled by human grease. The judge’s bench, so far from the counsel tables it might as well have been on another planet, contributed to its black-robed occupant’s air of aloofness and superiority.

The defendant, a tall athletic college boy from a well-to-do but not rich family had been caught by the police crawling out of the window of someone else’s apartment. While in police custody, and without the benefit of counsel, he had had the wisdom to write out and sign confessions to several other unsolved burglaries in the same area. In the boy’s defense, he did so on the promise that he would not be charged. The cops only needed to clear the books with respect to some unsolved break-ins. On the basis of these confessions, however, the boy was charged with seventeen different crimes. Margold, seeing the error of the cops’ ways, had gotten all the charges arising from the confession dropped. The real problem he faced today, though, was that the boy and his family expected him to get off with a good scolding, and be sent home to smoke weed and jerk off in the comfort of his upper middle-class bedroom. The investigator for the pre-sentencing report reinforced that notion, and Margold knew even the State didn’t expect him to go to jail.

Nevertheless, the judge could give the boy a fair piece of the twenty-five years to which he was subject. Margold tried to prepare the lad and his family for this eventuality. After all, society frowns on breaking into other people’s houses and taking their stuff. The boy’s mother, however, was sure no judge would put her little William in prison, particularly once she had the chance to explain what a good and upstanding young man he was, and that none of what he did was his fault.

With lawyer and defendant standing, the judge lectured the boy at length, sometimes loudly and with great animation and pounding of bench. He made reference to the statements from the victims, how they were violated, and pointing out that the home is sacred. How would he feel? Margold took that as a good sign. Often a good public ass-chewing is followed by a lenient disposition. The prosecutor looked on with a smug grin, arms folded, legs crossed. Margold grew impatient. Even after twenty-five years, he still felt as though the judge addressed him personally when berating a client. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know what he did, all against the peace, dignity, and government of the State. Out with it.

The judge grew quiet, took a drink of water, and wrote something on a form. Two deputies moved in behind the defendant. 

In a calm voice, the judge addressed the boy. “Young man, you are an enigma to me. You come from a good home. Your parents care about you. You have many advantages and privileges that few enjoy. And yet—”

His mother stood. “Your honor?” 

Jesus.

“Please, ma’am,” the judge said, “don’t interrupt. You’ve had your say.”

“But—”

“But nothing. Kindly sit down and be quiet, or I’ll have to remove you from the courtroom.”

Margold turned to her and held up is hand for her to stay calm and sit down.

The judge continued. “And yet, you break into other peoples’ homes. I’ll never understand it.”

A terrible silence filled the room as the judge shuffled papers on the bench. 

“You are a very lucky man,” the judge said. “Mr. James has done an excellent job of protecting your rights and working to mitigate your punishment. But there has to be punishment. After considering arguments of counsel in mitigation, and after considering the pre-sentencing investigation, I hereby sentence you to five years in the penitentiary—”

His mother cried out.

“Silence!” the judge said. “All suspended but ninety days.”

Oh boy. The son-of-a-bitch had his pockets full of bullshit, wore a belt, carried a cell phone, and had a wallet the size of a Volkswagen, none of which was allowed in jail.

The boy’s mother began to scream and cry. The prosecutor watched the scene with her mouth open, as even she didn’t expect the little parasite to go to prison. The judge called for order. One of the deputies handed Margold all the boy’s horseshit, put the cuffs on him, and took him from the courtroom. Margold turned to face the unhappy family and handed them the boy’s belongings.