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Authors: Allison Leotta

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense, #Contemporary, #Romance

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BOOK: Law of Attraction
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“The government calls Laprea Johnson,” Anna said. Grace sat at the prosecution table next to Anna. She was on the record as cocounsel, but she was really just there for moral support. She smiled encouragingly at her friend.

Laprea climbed to the witness chair, raised her right hand, and swore to tell the truth. Anna led Laprea through the preliminary questions. Yes, Laprea knew a man named D’marco Davis. He was the father of her four-year-old twins. They had been seeing each other romantically, on and off, for the last five years. Yes, she saw Mr. Davis in the courtroom. Yes, she could identify him: there he was, sitting in the orange jumpsuit next to his lawyer. Laprea looked right at D’marco as she was asked to point him out. They smiled at each other across the courtroom. Anna should have known what would come next.

“Ms. Johnson, did something unusual happen between you and Mr. Davis on the morning after Valentine’s Day this year?”

“Yes, it did.”

“Please describe what happened.”

Laprea paused for a few seconds before answering. She looked down at the microphone in front of her. D’marco stared at her intently. Nick was writing something on his legal pad.

“Well . . . we had plans for Valentine’s Day, the night before. He was gonna take me out, but he never came around. I thought he was out
with another woman. So when he came by my house the next morning, I was angry. We got to fighting. I grabbed a butcher knife and I said I was gonna kill him. He ran out the house and I chased after him with the knife. I caught up to him in the front yard and I tried to stab him. That’s when he hit me, to stop me from stabbing him. I fell down and scraped my face on the ground.”

Anna stood there, stunned. Although she hadn’t expected happy cooperation, she hadn’t expected Laprea to lie. Anna stared at Laprea. The young woman couldn’t meet her eyes.

Anna looked around the courtroom, gauging everyone else’s reaction. D’marco sat back in his chair, trying to conceal his glee. The judge looked unsurprised; this sort of thing happened in the DV courtroom all the time. Grace grimaced and shook her head. Nick continued writing.

Anna cleared her throat. Maybe she could still save the case. She would have to impeach her own witness. “Ms. Johnson, didn’t you tell me and Officer Bradley Green, right after that incident, that you had not raised a hand to D’marco?”

“I made up that story because I was mad at D’marco. I was trying to get back at him because I thought he been with another woman. I lied to you.”

Anna inhaled sharply. That answer wouldn’t just tank this case, it would forever taint Laprea’s credibility. If she were ever a victim again, a good defense attorney would obtain a copy of this testimony to show that she was an admitted liar.

Anna switched tacks. She wouldn’t ask about the assault anymore, because Laprea would just continue lying. But Anna could still get D’marco on the contempt charge.

“Has the defendant been in touch with you since he went to jail in this case?”

Laprea looked at Anna, considering the question for a moment. There were some facts Laprea knew she couldn’t avoid. D’marco’s calls from jail were taped.

“Yes.”

“And has he tried to get back together with you?”

“It’s not just him. We
both
interested in working things out. For our kids.”

“So, you want to continue your relationship with the defendant?”

“Yes.”

“You love him.”

Laprea looked at D’marco and smiled. “Yes, I do.”

“You don’t want to see him go to jail, right?”

“That’s right.”

“And you’d do whatever you could to help get him out of these charges?”

“I wouldn’t lie.”

Grace shook her head; Anna had gone one question too far.

“Ms. Johnson, the defendant called you from jail about a month ago, correct?” Anna was asking leading questions, which were usually prohibited during direct examination, but Nick wasn’t objecting. Things were going too well for the defense.

“That’s right.”

“And you spoke to him for several minutes that day, isn’t that right?”

“Yes.”

Anna opened the case jacket and rummaged through the papers until she found the envelope containing the recording of the jail call. Her hands shook as she inserted the cassette into the tape recorder and hit Play.

D’marco looked amused as his voice saying, “Hey, baby,” came out of the machine. The judge glared at him as his recorded voice tried to wheedle his way back into Laprea’s heart. On the tape, Laprea was ambivalent. From the witness stand, she looked at her boyfriend tenderly, as his promises of love and devotion purred from the tape recorder.

Anna switched off the tape before it got to the part where Rose chewed him out. That wasn’t relevant. “Ms. Johnson, at your request, there was a restraining order against the defendant, right?” Anna held a copy of the order up, so Laprea could see there was no getting out of this one.

“Yeah, that’s true.”

Anna read from the papers. “And that order said that he couldn’t contact you ‘in any way,’ correct?”

“It did say that. But, actually, I wanted him to be able to call me. I missed him. So I visited D’marco in jail and told him the order had been lifted. It wasn’t his fault. It was mine.”

Anna felt as though the wind had been knocked out of her. She looked at Grace helplessly. They both knew that Laprea’s testimony wasn’t true, but there was no way to disprove it now. Grace motioned
her hand in a slicing horizontal move: cut your losses. Every time Laprea opened her mouth, things got worse. “Nothing further.” Anna sat down, defeated.

The defense had no cross-examination. Why would they? Everything they could have possibly wanted Laprea to say had come out during the prosecution’s own questions.

Anna tried to salvage the trial, but it was a futile effort. Laprea’s testimony had destroyed any chance of a conviction. Anna called Officer Green to the stand, but he couldn’t say whether Laprea had pulled a knife or not. Although he could testify that she had told him a different story the day she received her injuries, he had no personal knowledge of what had actually happened.

With no other witnesses to call, Anna rested her case. Before Nick could even start his, the judge interrupted. The defense didn’t need to put on any witnesses, she said. The prosecution couldn’t possibly meet its burden of proof. There was no evidence to contradict Laprea Johnson’s testimony. Based on that, the assault was in self-defense, there were no threats, and the defendant did not have the
mens rea,
the intent, to violate the restraining order because he reasonably thought it had been vacated.

Anna nodded miserably. This kind of ruling was not uncommon in a bench trial, where the case was decided by a judge rather than a jury. After hearing all the government’s evidence, Judge Spiegel had concluded—reasonably, Anna had to admit—that there was no way the government could win. The court still had three more trials to get through today, so she was cutting this one off now.

“As such,” Judge Spiegel concluded, “I have to find the defendant not guilty of the crimes charged.” The judge looked at Anna. “Ms. Johnson’s testimony today is obviously not what you believe to be the truth, but it leaves me no choice. Deputy, please return the defendant’s personal belongings to him and release him immediately.”

•  •  •

Anna splashed cold water onto her neck and looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. Pull it together, Curtis. She wouldn’t let herself cry, but she needed a minute to calm down. She went into the only stall with a working lock and sat on the toilet, fully clothed. She rested her elbows on her knees, her head in her hands. She’d come so far—all that education, all that time preparing to be in a position where she could
finally help—and she was still powerless.

After a few minutes, the restroom door opened and Anna heard the familiar clack of designer heels.

“Anna?” Grace called, concerned.

“I’ll be right out.” Anna tried to sound chipper. She flushed the toilet to make it sound like she’d been engaged in legitimate bathroom business. She stepped out and tried to smile at Grace. “What a mess, eh?”

“Total train wreck,” Grace agreed sympathetically. “I have to hand it to your victim, though. That was some clever exculpatory testimony. Someone’s been coaching her.” She squeezed Anna’s arm. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Women around here were built Ford tough; Anna would not admit that she’d come in here because she was too upset to stay in the courtroom. She headed to the door.

“Good. But do me a favor and fix your hair before we go out there.”

Anna stopped and looked at herself in the mirror. No wonder she wasn’t fooling Grace. Her hair stuck out like pieces of straw from her ponytail, and her forehead had two red marks where it had rested in her hands. She pulled out her hair band and shook her hair out. Grace chatted while Anna redid her ponytail.

“You know this was not your fault.” Grace’s voice was briskly soothing. “Eighty percent of domestic violence victims get back together with their boyfriends by the time of trial and recant their testimony.”

Anna nodded wearily. She should have seen this coming.

She took one last look at herself in the mirror. Her hair was neat but there was nothing she could do about the pink marks on her forehead, like a steer that had just been dehorned. She turned to Grace, palms up.

“You look great,” Grace lied soothingly.

They headed back to the courtroom, where they still had to handle three remaining trials.

“It’s a badge of honor in some neighborhoods for a woman to lie for her boyfriend, to show how much she loves him,” Grace mused as they walked. “Once Laprea decided to do that, there wasn’t much you could do. She wanted him to get a walkaway.”

“It’s not what she’ll want next time he uses her as a punching bag.”

Nick was coming down the hall toward them. He wore a victorious grin. Great, Anna thought, I can watch him gloat. But when he saw Anna, Nick’s smile disappeared. He walked over and stood in front of
her like a schoolboy with an apple for the teacher.

“You did a good job,” Nick said. “It takes guts to go forward with a recanting victim. Most prosecutors would have dismissed the case without trying.”

“Thanks.” She nodded at him and kept walking. She wasn’t sure what was worse, Nick gloating or Nick politely not gloating. Either way, she couldn’t talk to him now.

When Anna and Grace reached the lobby, Anna could see Laprea standing outside the glass entranceway, in the brick plaza in front of the courthouse. Anna froze midstride. D’marco, looking relaxed and confident, was walking out of the side door where prisoners were released. He had on the street clothes he’d worn the day he was arrested: a black North Face jacket, baggy jeans, and Timberland boots. Anna could see some dark stains on his jeans—dried blood from Laprea’s face, Anna realized. But Laprea didn’t seem to notice it. She smiled as her children’s father sauntered over and embraced her. He held her for a long time, stroking her braids.

Grace shook her head. “Poor girl. The cycle of violence continues. I hate to say it, but you’ll get him next time.”

“I just hope next time isn’t too late.” Anna stood watching the couple, worst-case scenarios playing out in her head. “I should’ve found a way to protect her.”

Laprea and D’marco turned together and walked toward the Metro, his arm draped around her shoulders, her arm hugging his waist. They looked like a nice couple. She gazed up into his face with hope; he looked down at her tiny figure with tenderness and gratitude. It was the last time Anna would see Laprea Johnson alive.

7

T
iny white lights twinkled from the trees inside the cavernous atrium, casting a warm glow on the white marble floor and pillars. An enormous bouquet of exotic flowers towered in the center of the lobby. The arrangement alone probably cost more than Anna’s monthly rent. Scattered tables held silver warming dishes filled with miniature lamb chops and grilled asparagus, while white-gloved waiters walked through the crowd offering trays of hors d’oeuvres and glasses of wine. The lobby echoed with hundreds of well-bred voices, as young lawyers clustered in small groups to describe the powerful coattails they were riding. The Harvard Law School recent-grads happy hour was well under way.

Anna stood in a group of women, twirling her glass of white wine. She was half listening to a stunning redheaded lobbyist describe the advances of a lascivious congressman, and half gawking at her surroundings. The law firm of Arnold & Porter was hosting the happy hour, giving HLS alumni an opportunity to be impressed with their luxurious digs. Six blocks away from D.C. Superior Court, this was a different universe.

A waiter came up behind her and offered a tray of sushi. As Anna turned to take a piece of spicy tuna roll, she saw a familiar face. Nick Wagner stood one group away, smiling tentatively at her. Anna couldn’t pretend not to see him. She raised her piece of maki in a fishy salute and turned back to her group. He had called her a few times since the trial, but she had ignored his voice-mail messages. She wasn’t ready to talk to him. Moments later, he was standing behind her. Anna’s chest tightened when she felt his presence.

“I was hoping I’d see you here,” Nick said.

“Why?” She turned slightly to face him, but didn’t move to allow him into her circle.

“I need someone to remind me why we work in Superior Court
instead of signing on with Arnold and Porter. I don’t know about you, but I could get used to sushi every night.”

She didn’t crack a smile. “Something about doing justice and serving the public, I think. Or, in your case, doing injustice and endangering the public.”

Nick laughed. “I hope you’re not still mad about that case, Anna. You did a great job. Laprea just didn’t want her boyfriend to go to jail. She made that decision—it wasn’t a decision you or I could make for her.”

“How’s D’marco Davis doing?” Anna asked sharply. She’d tried calling Laprea a few times since the trial, two months ago, but Laprea wasn’t taking her calls. Laprea had no interest in talking to her.

BOOK: Law of Attraction
6.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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