“We find the defendant guilty, your Honor.”
The gavel shattered the stillness like a gunshot at midnight. I was probably more stunned than my client.
Migraine-like arrows pierced my temples. “Guilty?”
Franklin announced clearly. “But I wasn’t even there.”
I’d gone over Franklin’s testimony a hundred times looking for weaknesses in his alibi. I’d reviewed the evidence so much I’d lost a year of sleep time. Our final appeal now resembled the last gasps of a shooting star sizzling into the sea.
Courtney, Franklin’s wife, had a vice grip on my right bicep. “Make them stop, Travis. Make them stop.”
I watched Judge Guernsey slip through the door behind his bench. The deputy grabbed Franklin’s arm and pulled him away. The Prosecutor pumped my hand and I responded like a dead fish. Rubbery knees collapsed as I slumped onto a chair.
Courtney was shrieking as a brother wrapped the distraught woman in his arms and walked her out. She’d given up her life sitting through four years of court appearances. She’d emptied her bank account and called on every resource she had. It hadn’t been enough.
Bernie, an associate, put the squeeze on my shoulder. “You gave it everything you had. The frame on him was a little too tight.”
My forehead hit my wrists hard as I careened forward onto the desktop. “I know Franklin inside out. He wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like that.”
“The witnesses were convincing. They plugged all the holes you found. You know how easy it is to fake reality. The jury wanted to finish this.”
“But he didn’t even know any of the pastors. They’d never met.”
“I know… The Feds needed to clean this up. Calm everyone down. Take the heat off themselves.”
“We’ve got to call the Governor. There’s got to be another way.”
“It’s a dead end, Travis. The media has this one front page. It’s not going away. The pay cheques are done.”
I stumbled out of the courthouse and through the crowds to our favorite coffee shop. We’d worked out dozens and dozens of scenarios from this corner booth. The documents and motions filled boxes and boxes. We had lived on hope as much as we had lived on caffeine.
Our last conversation with Courtney still haunted me.
“Did you ever see him pray?”
“Did you ever see him read a Bible?”
“Did you ever see him in church?”
“Never! Not even for a wedding or a funeral. He’s just a delivery man.”
“Tell me again why the GPS on his van shows that he was always within a block of the shootings.”
“He was set up.”
“What about his baptismal certificate?”
“It’s a forgery.”
“Why is the government trying to claim he’s an angry Christian taking it out on pastors all across this country.”
“I’ve told you a dozen times. He used to be an auditor. He was called in to investigate some unusual payments for the governor. They pressured him to ignore the entries. The payments were for the hits put out on the pastors. He refused. They fired him. All he could get was a job delivering.”
For some reason the records of Franklin’s deliveries all showed adjusted times which gave him the margin he needed to have committed the crimes. Most of the secretaries receiving parcels were no longer working on location and the others couldn’t remember four years back. Everything seemed a little too neat but what could I do if the governor was in on it?
My grandfather was a lawyer and years ago he told me this day would come. Apparently, pastoring had been an honorable profession where shepherds railed against injustice as if they were representatives of the divine. This serial killing of clergy had taken out fourteen of the key radicals and almost silenced those who still valued their souls.
Framing Franklin was a desperate ploy to distract the media, quiet the public, and reassure the powers that be. The governor, and even the president, had taken great pains to assure other religious leaders that it was only pastors being targeted. No one else.
During this investigation I’d secretly contacted several pastors to find out what scared our leaders so much. The message they preached was radical. A dead man had come alive and changed the world. I’ve been reading their book. A dead end proved to be the beginning of new life. I wonder if that message might change me.
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