Another Tale Out Of Court
by John Davis Collins.....© 2001 by John F. Clennan, All Rights Reserved
The military judge looked up reflecting in the midst of his standard charge to the court-martial panel. "Words poorly measure the intensity of belief," the judge wiped his eyes, "or the certainty of conviction."
From the defense bench, I glanced toward the judge. I poked the defendant to make sure he didn't ruin this grave moment by nodding out.
The case was explosive: a brazen robbery of a Px post exchange in uniform. When the accused first told me of his defense, I laughed at it. "Most defendants regard lying as a sport. I'd prefer to restore 'the dock' and 'the stand' to test their physical stamina as well as their creativity."
Only moments had passed before the court martial panel resolved its uncertainties. The military judge impassively examined the verdict sheet before declaring 'the findings are in proper form and may be published to the accused."
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I was relieved. The daring robbery had attracted unusual attention in the local press in the nowheresville beyond the post gates. Red-faced the Army wanted blood. My client told me of an alibi witness, no name, some one as old as Santa Claus.
Yet, the accused had an unlikely supporter in the form of Captain Edwards, who is an Army accent that came from everywhere told me. "Charlie rob the Px! He's too simple, too stupid, too naïve, too innocent."
"Smart enough," I snapped, "to feed me the near legendary story of the wistful, phantom alibi."
The bailiff, some cherub faced, 18 year old kid detailed by the accused's company solemnly carried the verdict sheet to the jury.
When Captain Edwards lobbied with me to make greater efforts in defense, I exclaimed. "I have a client who says he was playing bingo with an unnamed white man as old as Santa and as bony as the grim reaper." I signed. "An alibi without a name is a likely fairly tale."
Posturing with a booted foot on a chair, Edwards retorted. "Charlie, your client hasn't the guile to indulge you in fantasy."
When the verdict sheet was returned to the president of the court, seated in the middle of the light wood veneered jury box, the military judge ordered. "Accused and counsel will present themselves to the panel and report."
I had been emphatic with Captain Edwards. "I visited the club. Monday night 7 p.m. bingo and guess what I didn't find Santa Claus. What more can be done?"
The accused stood beside me in front of the president of the court. We mechanically saluted. I looked to Captain Edwards in the front row of the spectator gallery, on hand to return the accused to the stockade, the end of most court-martials, particularly those with public notoriety.
Captain Edwards begged me to execute an order the General signed releasing the accused to my custody to locate the alibi witness.
"The General," I held up the order, "decreed that since I believed the accused was innocent, no armed guard was necessary."
Captain Edwards snatched the order from my hands and read it with self-satisfaction. "No armed guards." Edwards raised his eyebrows, "what about unarmed guards?"
The accused and I held the salute as the president of the court bowed before us, intent on the precise words of the ritualistic formula of the military verdict.
The text of the general's order appeared in the local paper. I showed the article to Captain Edwards as we walked up to the gate of the stockade to execute the mandate.
"No one expects you to enforce the order." Edwards commented.
"There is no magic," I replied, "to underscore the commitment to face down a dare to those in the right or the extent of the disaster if we're wrong."
My salute and the salute of the accused remained stiff as the president of the court stumbled over the prescribed words.
Escorted into the club, the accused strolled through the bingo room examining every face. By the drapery at the far wall, the accused stopped. "Not here Charlie?" I asked in an impersonal, officious voice. Silence answered my question. I was about ready to signal the burly sergeants Edwards had brought to remove the prisoner as quickly and quietly as possible. The prisoner pointed to a mature gentleman nursing a beer at a table along the wall. Bony talons clutched the glass
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