Read Brain Storm Online

Authors: Richard Dooling

Tags: #Suspense

Brain Storm (8 page)

“We were discussing weighty legal matters relative to the subject of beheadings,” said Arthur with a half laugh, motioning her into a chair and summoning Watson to join them.

“Frequently a symbol for castration, according to Freud,” she said, wrinkling an eyebrow and mocking her own erudition with a lilting chuckle. “The eyes stand in for the testicles, or so the psychoanalysts say. I once wrote a paper on it. I think you should hire me as an expert on beheadings. I’m quite knowledgeable on the subject.”

“You don’t say,” said Arthur, retreating to the safety of his desk and lining up a few pencils that were already lined up. “How about that, Joe?” Arthur joshed. “An expert on beheadings and castration.”

“Very Oedipal,” said Rachel. “Freud gets into it with the usual Greek myths. Oedipus rips out his eyes instead of castrating himself, because he has seen the forbidden sight of his mother’s genitals, Medusa’s head—that which no man may look upon and live.”

Watson held in a smirk and watched Arthur become nonplussed at the discussion of maternal genitals. She had a dreamy, vacant look about her, until she opened her mouth and made like Dr. Knowledge. And her limbs seemed to be loose in overlubricated sockets, off on their own, until she needed them. Head? Eyes? Watson had heard them called everything from Big Sam and the Twins to the Devil banging two bowling balls on the gates of Hell, but this cephalopeniform, oculotesticular eyewash was a new one on him. She was having the old guy on, and Arthur didn’t even know it.

Another gander at the nylons made Watson a little goosey and short of breath. Under orders to kick in his own doors and arrest himself for discrimination of any kind, he knew he would never inventory the wardrobe of any male professional he met in the course of a day’s business, which meant—what?

“Astonishing,” Arthur said. “We were just discussing Medusa’s beheading the other day. But in the context of these blasted computer games.”

“Greek SlaughterHouse?” said Rachel. “Are you guys into Greek SlaughterHouse? My nieces and nephews love it.”

Arthur looked from Rachel to Watson and back again. “You see what an old man misses when he won’t sit down in front of a computer.”

Watson mentally ticked off the forbidden categories to which she did not belong: she was not a secretary, not a client, not a Stern, Pale & Covin associate. He was the one mired in forbidden categories: marriage, commitment, wife, son, daughter; at least this was happening in Arthur’s office, so he wouldn’t have to show her a photo of the wife and kids.

He knew his boss and the firm well enough to know that Arthur would immediately segue out of the discussion of Greek SlaughterHouse, even though the chance of a breach of client confidentiality was minuscule. It was part of the Stern, Pale code. (“You get paid well for your legal skills,” Arthur had once advised him. “You get paid very well for keeping your mouth shut.”)

“Enough about games,” said Arthur. “Just now our problem is defending a young man whose own head sits somewhat ticklishly on his shoulders because the federal government, speaking figuratively, wants to cut it off.”

“I’ve read the papers,” said Palmquist. “And the materials you sent me.”

“What materials?” Watson asked. It was his case! What was Arthur doing sending his client’s shit to people without asking him first?

“The police reports came in,” said Arthur, without looking away from Dr. Palmquist. “I faxed them to her,” he said, with a single glance at Watson.

“I’m sorry,” Watson said, “I must have been distracted by the précis on castration. What is it you’re an expert in?”

“I’m a neuroscientist,” said Dr. Palmquist.

“She’s a brain scientist,” said Arthur.

“Oh,” said Watson, wondering how she went about studying brains.

“I’m especially interested in forensic neuropsychology. In criminal cases we are sometimes called to testify at sentencing hearings as mitigation specialists, or sometimes at trial we are expert witnesses on the
subject of the behavioral implications of neurological disorders. I’m part of a team. Have you heard of the Gage Institute? Ignatius University Medical Center Campus? We study the neurophysiology of violent criminal behavior. We are trying to find out if there are anatomical, neurochemical, metabolic, magnetic, or electrical differences between the brains of violent criminals and normal brains.”

“She called me,” inserted Arthur.

“I did,” she said. “A so-called hate crime presents certain issues of motive and intent, or what you lawyers call mens rea, the mental state necessary to find a person guilty of committing a crime, issues that are of particular interest to neuroscience. I can send you abstracts from some of the studies we’re doing on automaticity, neuropathologies, violence, and neural networks.”

“Suppose your boy has a mental defect of some kind,” urged Arthur. “Seizures, schizophrenia, psychosis, or some other organic malfunction. Suppose Rachel could find something like that for you. Wouldn’t that operate in his defense?”

“The defendant has a history of impulsive behavior, if you believe the newspapers,” she said with a smile. “We don’t know if there’s a history of drug or alcohol abuse. If we’re lucky there’s a history of epilepsy or seizure activity—which sometimes manifests itself in impulsive or violent behavior. There’s a report that he’s had at least one episode of antisocial behavior in the past, for which he received psychiatric counseling.”

“What report?” blurted Watson.

“But it’s the hate business that’s earning him a death sentence,” interrupted Arthur.

“We don’t know if we have deliberation or premeditation,” said Rachel. “And then there’s the question of the hate motivation.” She nodded at Arthur. “The government seems to be trying out a mixed-motive argument. They want to enhance the penalties here because the defendant was motivated in whole or in part by ill will, hatred, or bias because of the race or disability of the victim. So proving the defendant was enraged by sexual jealousy doesn’t help us. Under the law, they have the burden of proof, but in fact we do. We’re forced to prove a negative. That he was not also motivated by bias, despite his remarks. If he is a bigot, we have to prove that he was not motivated in whole or in part by bigotry in committing the crime.”

Watson hadn’t been a lawyer for very long, but he had deposed enough doctors to recognize Palmquist’s syndrome: She was a doctor whose favorite hobby was being a lawyer.

“Isn’t a question like that beyond the realm of medical science?” asked Watson. “I mean, are you suggesting you can test the guy and tell us whether he’s a bigot?” He laughed.

“No,” she said, without smiling. “But I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the prosecution tried just that. They have a brand-new Bias Crimes Unit set up over there—investigators, hate psychologists, prosecutors, expert witnesses—just waiting for cases. The new testing techniques combine standard behavioral testing for automaticity and unconscious bias with functional neurological scans to produce a personality and neurofunctional profile of the defendant. Then you combine the profile results with all the other evidence of bias—comments at the scene, membership in hate organizations, earlier threats against protected minority groups—and you make a case that the crime was bias-motivated.

“It used to be that these neurological workups were used mainly in the sentencing phase. Lately, both sides have been trying to sneak them in at trial, either to prove a mental defect, or to suggest to the jury that the defendant is a remorseless bigot and an incorrigible criminal. In this case, the charge has more to do with the U.S. Attorney’s mental state than your client’s. Black votes for next year’s Senate elections. African-Americans are sick and tired of seeing these bias-crime statutes used on people of color who intentionally pick white victims. Remember the U.S. Supreme Court case of Wisconsin versus Mitchell?” she asked.

Arthur stared blankly.

“I wrote an article about that case,” said Watson. “Wisconsin doubled the sentence of a black kid because he intentionally picked a white victim and assaulted him.”

She nodded. “And here’s a chance to get a white guy for using the n-word during a violent crime.”

Her neurolegalistic bafflegab was impressive, but he remained skeptical; he took notes and tried to get enough of it down, so he could look it up in the privacy of the library or find a relevant Web site. He wrote “Wisconsin v. Mitchell” “automaticity,” and “neurofunctional profile” on his notepad.

“You get a full, free medical workup on your man,” said Arthur. “The newest and best scans. Have you seen the pictures they’re taking of the brain? Why, you can almost reach out and touch it. Rachel tells me these
devices are so sensitive and sophisticated—it’s to the point where she can scan you and see if you’re full of hate or sexual deviance.”

“Arthur,” she said with a laugh.

“I’m not saying your man is full of those,” he continued. “What if he’s schizophrenic? Suppose he has some kind of malignant, hate-bias, antisocial deviation syndrome?”

“Suppose he has,” Watson said, perhaps a bit too curtly. He wasn’t sure he could stomach another enthusiastic denunciation of his client from Arthur. He wanted to suggest that he meet with Dr. Palmquist somewhere outside of the firm and away from Arthur, where he could maybe learn a little bit more about sexual deviance.

“Try this,” she interjected. “You stop by the lab next week, and I’ll show you what we do, and the potential relevance of a workup for your client’s defense. If you don’t like the looks of it, or if he doesn’t want to try us, then forget we ever met.”

Not likely
, he thought. “I’ll stop by,” he said.

“Excellent,” said Arthur.

“I know you gentlemen are busy with decapitations,” she said playfully, “and I’ve got to get back to the lab and study some heads which are still attached to bodies.”

Arthur reached for another pencil. Watson took another eyeful and wondered how she got interested in brains, and if heads are penises and eyes are testicles, then brains are—what?

Serried, leather-bound spines loomed behind her. Her chest expanded and shimmered with another laugh. Against the backdrop of inert volumes filled with symbols, the flesh of her face and hands seemed at once transcendent and delightfully corporeal.

Arthur came out from behind his desk—a little boy seeking more affection, a look of sad longing at the last glimpse of her leaving. His phone trilled.

“Uh, Doctor,” said Watson, deciding to make a move while Arthur was admiring her exit and feeling for his phone.

She turned on a heel and smiled.

“This report you mentioned,” he said, continuing to move past her and leading her out of Arthur’s office. “And the history of impulsive behavior. Is that from a medical report? What kind of impulsive or antisocial behavior are we talking about?”

She laughed as they moved down the hallway. “You’ve been reading the
Post-Dispatch
,” she said. “If you want unreliable dirt in St. Louis, you
need to read the
River City News.
They claim that your client had a few run-ins with the law and was tossed out of college five years ago after he painted a swastika on a water tower in southern Missouri. Sounds like a fraternity prank, but unfortunately it also fits right into his hate crime résumé.”

They stopped outside Watson’s office, where she noticed the name plaque. “Your place?”

“My place.”

“Could we?” she said with one glance at her watch and another one into his office.

“Sure,” he said.

Once inside, she closed the door. The place felt like a closet after Arthur’s corner-office real estate.

“Shall we sit?” she suggested, showing him one of two hard-back chairs in front of his desk.

Watson pointedly did not look at her legs when she crossed them.

“I’ve been an expert witness often enough to know how these appointed cases work,” she said. “Your job is to look the case over and then plea-bargain. Maybe the government would agree to drop the hate crime charge, if you’ll agree to murder one. But natural life without parole for plain old manslaughter?”

“Sounds like he needs a good criminal lawyer,” said Watson. “Maybe you and I could hold a bake sale and raise enough for a retainer fee.”

“I’ll be straight with you,” she said. “I want your client. I want to scan him. I want to map his neural networks. Some of the other people I work with want to administer certain neuropsychiatric batteries. It’s research.”

“And if we plead him out,” said Watson, “you won’t get to do that?” He was relieved to discover a self-interested motive—it made her more trustworthy.

“I’ve done a decade of research on violent criminals,” she explained, “but so far it’s been mostly postconviction—sentencing and mitigation reports. The neurosciences are finding their way into the courtroom. But nobody wants to invest time and money in a neuropsychological defense until it impacts on a few high-profile verdicts. How long has DNA been admissible evidence in criminal trials?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Less than twenty years,” she said. “And it came in the first time only because a lawyer got together with a scientist and tried it. Do you follow
me? I study criminal brains, including what motivates criminals, and in this case motive is an essential element. Modern crimes, especially these new hate crimes, require proof of the defendant’s mental state—mens rea, motive, whatever you want to call it. Was there deliberation? Intent? Was there hatred against a protected group? Just plain hatred? How about hatred against an unprotected group—ugly people or fat people, stupid people or lawyers? Is there a mental disease or defect? Modern neuroscience is increasingly able to provide objective data about mental states, and the law is increasingly interested in that data. At some point, the two fields will intersect.” She smiled, as if she would be proud to be directing the traffic at such an intersection.

“What do you need me for?” he asked.

“I need a lawyer willing to try something new in defending a high-profile case,” she said. “I think the science is there, and it can be used to convict, acquit, or mitigate sentencing. I need a lawyer to get the client’s consent and file the necessary motions. If we find anything, I need to be called as a witness.”

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