The usual caveats. Stream of consciousness, unedited…
Comments/recommendations appreciated. And I’m about 1/4 of the way done!
Edit- This is why I love my readers! They point out errors at least politely, in public anyway… RC- Thanks for the reminder on the Exclusion Rule. I flat missed that, and I know better.
Revised chapter below, and I ‘think’ I fixed everything noted thus far.
Back in Harness
The old man walked into Aaron’s office, and Aaron looked up in surprise, “You want your desk back, John?”
“Oh hell no! It’s all yours. I just need to hide out in here and review my notes for the Ramirez murder trial.”
“I thought that wasn’t until later in the week.”
“Thursday is when the DA expects to call me, but I want to go back over the whole thing now. Get it set in my mind, and try to pull all those strings together again.”
As the old man pulled a four inch thick file out of the cabinet, Aaron asked curiously, “Isn’t this the second trial? Didn’t Obregon get eighty years? That was, what, two years ago?”
The old man dropped the file on the table and sat slowly. “Yeah. He was the actual shooter. Ramirez had the drugs, and he also had a gun, but he never got it into action.”
“Wasn’t there a third player?”
The old man chuckled, “The Lolita. Mercedes Santiago. She was the go between. She set up the deal, and was in the back seat. She actually grabbed Hernandez when he tried to take off with the drugs. Obregon shot right by her head. Miracle he didn’t kill her.”
The old man shuffled through the file, finally finding the copies of his wheel book, “There you are. I knew you were in there somewhere.” He looked up. “Aaron, don’t know if I told you this before, but here’s a trick.” Aaron walked over and the old man pointed, “Any time you start a new investigation, start on a blank page, and make sure the back side of the previous page is blank. That way, when the defense subpoenas your notes, you’re not giving them anything else to question you on.” He flipped through five pages of wheel book notes. “And end it the same way.”
Aaron nodded. “That’s a good idea, and no, you never told me that. Good thing I haven’t had to testify yet in a major case.”
“Then you need to sit in on this one. You were still on the street when the Obregon trial went down.”
“Who’s the judge?”
“Cotton. The judge got tired of Ramirez’s games, and set the trial date. Ramirez had been vacillating between representing himself and a court appointed lawyer, then dumping the lawyers and starting over. That’s why it’s now almost three years later. That, and I think he’s hoping witnesses won’t show up.” He chuckled, “But I’ll guarantee that Hernandez’s family will be there. He was a local boy, football star. He was also a known jacker.”
“Steal the drugs and run. He was a good runner apparently.”
“Oh. Hadn’t heard that before.” The phone rang and Aaron went back to the desk as the old man settled back and started rereading his notes. What really broke this one was the new camera the bank had installed on the corner. It captured the whole thing on video. Really helped the investigation too. That, and Obregon being too attached to the pistol he used. Keeping it was beyond stupid and he paid for it. That and Hernandez falling on the drugs, which kept Obregon from recovering them, so we got a nice set of Ramirez prints off the baggie.
An hour later, he groaned, got up and stretched, “Coffee?”
Aaron nodded. “Sure. Going through these state alerts and messages are enough to put anybody to sleep.”
The old man laughed. “Oh yeah, pain in the ass. Just don’t ever miss an important one!”
“Speaking of important, is the DA going to bring Obregon back to testify against Ramirez? If he does, I’m guessing we’d have to house him, right?”
As they walked toward the break room, the old man said, “He’s on list, but I don’t think the DA is going to call him. There’s enough to hang his ass without Obregon, unless something goes wrong.”
The sheriff walked in as they got cups of coffee and asked, “You prepping, John?”
“Yep. Who’s going to actually try the case?”
“I hear the DA is going to do it personally, with Meredith as his second. She’ll question the…Santiago girl. If Ramirez is stupid enough to get on the stand, she’ll question him too.”
“Oh, if there is a God, let that happen,” the old man growled.
“You need to talk to Sergeant Kamp too. I think Ramirez is still trying to communicate instructions to Santiago.”
“I thought we broke him of that after we used those messages in the Obregon trial.”
“Okay, I’ll go see her.”
Back in the office, the old man went back through the file, pulling out the copies of the messages and transcripts of the phone calls Ramirez had made, including the ones to his wife directing her to get rid of evidence and the money he’d hidden in the house. Fifty thousand in cash, two kilos of hydroponic marijuana fresh from Colorado and his other cell phone. If she’d gone straight home rather than going shopping, we probably wouldn’t have gotten any of that. And when he found out we’d gotten it, I’m glad there was glass between him and the wife. I have no doubt he would have killed her.
Another hour of reviewing, and he got up, “Going over to see Kamp. I’ll be back.”
Aaron nodded and kept typing as the old man walked out. He put his gun, spare mag, and knives in an open locker outside the jail and got buzzed in. He walked through, waved at the officers working book in, and found Sergeant Kamp in her office. He knocked, “Hey, Sarge.”
Kamp looked up and did a double take, “Cap’n! What brings you back here?”
Kamp grinned, “I heard his ass is finally going to trial. ‘Bout damn time!”
“It is. I had to come back and testify, since I was the lead investigator. Wanted to check with you if he’s still trying to pass notes and direction to Santiago?”
Kamp spun her chair around, opened a file drawer, and pulled a half inch thick folder out. “Oh hell yes. He’s tried multiple ways, using other inmate’s names and SO numbers, had cell mates trying to pass messages, and on and on. Hell, he even tried to have her boyfriend pass her a message on a visit!”
The old man laughed. “So you’re saying you’ve got plenty of dope on him.”
“Yes we do. A couple of the detention officers are now taking pleasure in making sure his little games get stopped short.” The old man cocked his head, “Remember Detention Officer Franco?” He nodded and she continued, “Well, his cousin is going to be one of the witnesses, so Ramirez is filing grievances left and right against Franco, trying to get him fired. So far Franco hasn’t retaliated, which amazes me. I’m afraid if he pulled that shit on me, he’d be slipping and falling in the shower on a regular basis.”
The old man smiled, “I take it he’s still spending considerable time in segregation?”
It was Kemp’s turn to laugh, “What makes you think that, Cap’n.”
“Because he alienates every set of cellmates when you put him back in gen pop, and his keep away list so long there are only about two cells he can go into?”
“Actually, his keep away list is long enough we could spread them around, and he could never get back in general population.”
The old man held up the folder. “Can I make copies and get this back to you later?”
Kemp waved airily. “Those are copies. Well, copies of copies. I figured somebody would want them sooner or later.”
“Thanks! ‘Preciate your good work as always Sarge.”
“No problem, Cap’n. Good to see you. Say hi to Jesse for me.”
Thursday morning dawned clear and cold, and the old man was wide awake when he came in from the porch. It’s not fair. Yogi and Boo Boo have fur coats, and they run around enough to keep warm. All I had was a cup of coffee. He took a quick shower and grinned as he pulled the pressed grey Dickies on, stomping his feet into what he thought of as his number two set of boots. Starting the oven, he pulled a can of whomp biscuits out of the fridge, along with a couple of eggs, and four slices of bacon. He put the skillet on the stove, spread the bacon in it, and poured a cup of coffee as he waited on the oven. As soon as it beeped, he plunked the whomp biscuits in, They don’t taste as good as real biscuits, but at least they’re quick. As soon as the bacon was done and draining, he cracked the eggs in the bacon grease, watching them closely. He flipped them, checked on the biscuits, and poured another cup of coffee as he waited. The oven beeped again, and he pulled the pan of biscuits out, setting them on the side of the stove and served up the two eggs. He took a couple of biscuits, buttered them and poured a little honey in each, then ate standing at the center island. When the skillet had cooled, he put dogfood in the bowls for Yogi and Boo Boo, and poured the remaining bacon grease over it. Good for their coats, and they seem to scratch less, whether the vet likes it or not.
He finished cleaning up the detritus of his breakfast, poured coffee into his go cup, and walked into the office. He swung his gun belt around his waist, buckling it and drew the 1911, press checked it to make sure there was a round in the chamber, and put the safety back on. He reached up on the bookshelf and took down the five pointed deputy sheriffs badge, looked critically at it, and pinned it to his shirt. Haven’t worn this one much. I don’t know why. Never could understand why we have two badges, one with five points, and the garish one with six points. Not my circus, not my monkeys. He took his hat off the hat rack, put it on, and picked up the cup.
Just as he stepped into the hall, Jesse asked, “Where are you off to this early, Papa?”
“Court. Testifying in the Ramirez case today. Want to get there early and get the one comfortable chair in the witness waiting room.”
Jesse yawned. “Guess I better kick Aaron out too. I know he wanted to go with you.”
“Tell him to meet me at the courthouse at eight thirty. I told the DA I’d meet him for coffee at seven thirty.”
“Okay.” She padded down the hall and looked him up and down critically, “You look good, Papa. And you’re smiling. That’s good.”
“Another chance to put a bad guy away. I like doing that,” he said with a laugh. He hugged her quickly. “Go kick your hubby out.”
Aaron pulled into the back lot at the courthouse at seven forty-five and spent five more minutes finishing up a call with Deputy Ortiz on the crash house they’d taken down at five am. “Okay Danny, take the pictures, and file the report then go home. I’ll get with you in the morning and we’ll review everything, but it sounds like this one went by the book.” A rap on the window startled him, and he glanced up seeing the old man standing there. “Gotta go, Danny. Heading to court.” He quickly ended the call, shoved the cell in its holster and got out, “Sorry, dealing with Danny O on a crash house they took down this morning.”
“Let’s go. I want you to get in and sit in the back. I told the DA you were observing, so he’s good with it. You’ve never actually sat through a full trial have you?”
“No, at least not out here.”
“Well, I guess a day is better than nothing. Since I’m a witness, I’m excluded till I’m called. But you go ahead and take notes if you see something you’ve got questions about.”
They started up the walk and Aaron said, “Okay by me.”
On a break from the trial at nine thirty, they stood out front in the sun and the old man laughed as Aaron told him about Ramirez’s appearance, “Can’t believe Ramirez and the beard. He looks like a third rate hit man from a bad B movie.”
The old man asked, “Did you notice the response from the jurors?”
Aaron nodded, “They didn’t look impressed. And I didn’t see his wife there, either. That second guy they called had me itching to shake him down. I’m betting he had dope on him.”
“If he’s the one I think you’re talking about, probably. He probably had to take a hit or two just to get up the gumption to testify. The DA gave him limited immunity for his testimony, and he’s should have put a few more nails in Ramirez coffin.
Aaron nodded. “Especially tying him to carrying a gun all the time. That’s a felony right there, and it can be considered at sentencing. Too bad you never found Ramirez’s gun”
The old man shrugged. “No, we didn’t. Apparently Lolita convinced him to ditch it, she alleged she told him to put it in a can of paint and throw it in the river. Whether he did or not, who knows, but it was never located.”
Aaron glanced at his watch, “You should be coming up, right?”
“I should be next. The run through with the DA and ADA took about an hour, including possible questions from the defense counsel.” The old man walked back up the steps, held the door for two ladies, and said sotto voice, “Two of Martinez family. The aunt and grandmother. I don’t know where the others are.”
Aaron nodded as he went back in and sat down in the back of the courtroom. Judge Cotton came back in, and the DA got up, “The state calls Captain John Cronin to the stand.”
The old man was escorted in by the bailiff and mouthed, “Here we go,” as he walked by Aaron.
He went through the barrier and took the stand, gave his oath, and the DA walked him through his experience and qualifications, then started questioning him. Aaron watched as the old man gave very short, unambiguous answers, and never expanded on them. Gotta remember that. Say what you gotta say, and nothing else. John’s got a hellva memory! He did that investigation three plus years ago, but the way he’s rattling off answers, you’d think it was yesterday.
The DA walked him through the on scene investigation, including finding the drugs, observing the fingerprints being lifted and compared to both the state and federal databases, tracking down the video, and the identification of Obregon from that video. He also showed the old man stills from the video, including the hand out the window and Obregon’s shooting of Hernandez. He heard sobbing from the front of the courtroom, and assumed it was some of the Hernandez clan.
Next up was the initial interview with Obregon where he admitted Ramirez had told him to shoot Hernandez, and the inevitable objections from the defense counsel. Then the DA led him through the hunt for Ramirez, and locating him in Santa Fe by tracking his family connections down and the sale of the Suburban registered to him at the same time. I really need to broaden my connections, not just here in Texas, but obviously in other states. I gotta remember to ask him how he did that. I guess some of that was conventions, but there have to be…National Academy? I’ll bet that’s part of it too!
The defense counsel’s strident objection snapped him back to paying attention, “Those pieces of mail weren’t written by my client, your honor.”
The DA rebutted, “Your honor,” holding up an inch thick stack of papers, “they were either written by, or dictated by the defendant, your honor. They were directed at one or both of the co-defendants since they have been incarcerated. The defendant was trying to orchestrate a united front ahead of any questioning, and these last ones are a combination of directions and threats to the female co-defendant in this case.”
Judge Cotton looked down at the old man, “Captain, did you collect these?”
“Yes, sir. Myself and the shift sergeants in the jail. All of the defendant’s mail was copied by my request, based on transcripts of telephone calls between the defendant and his wife during visitations, and his phone calls to others threatening various persons who might be called as witnesses.”
The judge looked at the DA and the defense counsel, “Very well. Overruled counsellor. You may proceed.”
The DA led the old man through the bits of mail and transcripts, and Aaron could see the back of Ramirez neck getting redder and redder as he snapped at his defense counsel. Aaron almost laughed as he watched the lawyer trying to calm Ramirez down without appearing to do so. That’s a tell right there. He knows all his plans went to shit, and the county was on to him.
The DA wrapped up his questioning, and the defense counsel started his cross-examination, immediately trying to paint the old man as a racist, targeting Ramirez because he was Hispanic. The DA quickly objected, and the judge agreed, as Aaron shook his head. Really? Does he not know John, and how well he’s respected in the Hispanic community? Or is it, yeah, it’s trying to put doubt in the minds of the jury.
The defense counsel started asking multipart questions, then rapid follow-ups, sometimes restating what the old man had said, and finally he’d had enough. The defense counsel misquoted him and the old man said, “Counsellor, you know damn well that was not what I said. Please have the court reporter read back my actual words. If you try to put words in my mouth, I will call you on it.”
He started in again, and the old man calmly said, “I need to review my notes. Judge may I refer to my notes as entered in evidence?”
Judge Cotton coughed, covering what looked suspiciously like a grin, and said, “Witness may refer to his notes entered into evidence. Bailiff, would you please provide…exhibit sixty-four to the witness, please?” The bailiff brought them over, and the old man said, straight faced, “Can you repeat the first part of your question, please?”
The defense counsel must have been close enough to see the old man’s face, because he quickly backed off and finally ended his cross-examination. The DA did a re-cross, clearing up a few points that the defense had tried to muddy, and had the old man’s exact words read from the record. The DA finally dismissed him, but asked him to remain available for possible recall, and the old man nodded with a smile. “Gladly.” He glanced at Ramirez as he walked by Ramirez and smiled at him, causing Ramirez to snarl and grab the arms of his chair.
Judge Cotton called a recess for lunch, and they went down to Miguel’s for a quick lunch. Miguel came out and sat down with them, “I hear Ramirez is finally on trial. It is about time. The community can do without his kind.”
The old man nodded. “Very true, Miguel. He should be going away for a long time. Have you heard anything about his wife and kids?”
Miguel shrugged. “Her family is apparently paying her rent. I think she will leave as soon as he goes to prison. She cannot get a good job, so barely makes enough to keep them in food.”
“That’s sad. Especially for the kids. They are too young to understand, but I hope they don’t try to follow in daddy’s footsteps.”
“It’s easy money, John. We know that. This younger generation sees the drug money as a way to get what they want without work. It starts with a little use, then more, then heavier drugs, then become a mule to pay back debts, then they try dealing, or worse.”
Aaron said, “I’ve seen that. Looking at the frequent fliers that seems to be the profile, regardless of ethnicity. Marijuana as a teen becomes coke, becomes robbery, or aggravated assault, then Meth, then producing or dealing meth. Then it’s murder or something similar. And sometimes it almost seems like a family business, if you will.”
The old man nodded. “Yeah, there are a few of those in the county. Smiths were that way. At one point, the grandfather, son, and grandson were all in jail on various drug charges.”
Miguel got up. “The usual for each of you?”
The both nodded, and Aaron waited until Miguel had walked off. “That was educational. One of the things I need to do is make more contacts, that’s obvious. But how did you make so many?”
“Years of being a cop, Aaron. And DEA, working with the Rangers and U.S. Marshal’s service.”
The old man nodded. “That helped across state lines. Taking classes, going to statewide and regional conventions. Jose is good about that. So is the DA, and Mrs. Randall. The more training you get, the more convictions they get, and you can keep the office out of trouble.”
“You didn’t mention the FBI.”
The old man chuckled. “I’m always of two minds about them. I know some good ones, but a lot of the ones down at our level want to be somewhere else. They either want to be closer to the throne, or in a big city.”
Miguel brought their taco plates and they dug in, eating quickly. As they drove back, Aaron asked, “What was that with the defense attorney? It looked like you got pissed at him.”
“Yep. That’s a typical trick. Multipart, rapid questions, slightly different, and misstating what you say. What they are trying to do is to trick you into contradicting yourself or the evidence. Once they do that, then they can call your whole testimony into question, or get it thrown out completely. What they want is to get you for lying under oath. That gets a Brady letter entered in your file, it’s from the 1963 Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland. Look it up when you get back to the office. You get one, and you’re done as an expert or any kind of witness in court, and pretty much done in law enforcement.”
They pulled back into the parking lot and got out, and the old man said, “C’mon. The Lolita is testifying next, and she might put the last nail in the coffin. She did Obregon in, and the DA wants me to hang around anyway.”
“Sure, why not.”
The DA called Mercedes Santiago and she was brought in wearing regular clothes, with her hair in a ponytail. Aaron leaned over, saying softly, “She’s a little cutie, even after three years in jail.”
The old man nodded. “She was a stripper over in El Paso at a high end club. Apparently fell in lust with a guy named Sanchez and he didn’t want her dancing. Convinced her to come back here. She was working down in Alpine, hostess at a restaurant and bartending at another one. But she liked the money. Got into setting up drug deals as the middle man, well woman, for ten percent. She was a distraction factor, but not a user. Personally I think she believed Ramirez was ripping her off, which is why she came along on this one.”
Meredith, the ADA got up and led her through her testimony, that she had not been offered any deals by the DA, and she was testifying of her own free will. She walked her through the events including setting up the drug deal, her participation, and her statement that she heard Ramirez tell Obregon to shoot Hernandez.
The defense counsel got up and asked, “You aren’t being offered any deals? No plea bargains, nothing?”
Santiago shook her head, and Judge Cotton said, “You must answer the question, young lady.”
“No sir. I haven’t been offered anything.”
He questioned her repeatedly on why she hadn’t come forward, if, as he sarcastically said, “You’re wanting to do the right thing now? Why not then?”
She looked at him, then the jury. “Well, I just heard him tell Obregon to kill a man. That kinda, you know, fucked with my head.”
The defense counsel gulped like a fish out of water, and it took him about thirty seconds to recover. The old man smiled. “That did it. Ramirez is toast. And she played him like a fish, right along with all the men on the jury.”
Aaron just shook his head. “Reminds me…never mind.”
The old man looked at him and a grin spread across his face. “Seen something like that somewhere else, maybe?”
Aaron blushed, “Not saying a word.”
Ramirez was found guilty the next day, and four days later, even though he spoke at his sentencing saying he was not a killer, merely a dope dealer and a family man, just trying to provide for his wife and kids, the jury gave him fifty years. Aaron called the old man, and his response was, “Two down, one to go. I just hope the DA doesn’t let Lolita skate, but he damn sure better get as many females on that jury as he can, and let Meredith do her prosecution.”
Aaron could only agree after what he’d seen. At dinner, the four of them discussed the case, and its impact on the local Hispanic community. Felix had come by the gun store that afternoon, and was pleased that Ramirez had been convicted, but sorry he didn’t get more time. He also told them the ‘council’ had met at lunch, and the entire community was in agreement that he’d needed to be taken off the street, along with Obregon, and they were glad both of them were gone. LT Alvarez had also attended the council meeting, which surprised Jesse, and she had asked Felix if there were some changes in the offing. Felix had told her the community was tired of not only the drug dealers, but the illegals that were coming through and either begging or threatening the locals. They were working with LT Alvarez on something similar to the community watch the county had already put in place to protect and assist the ranchers out on their ranches.
And I was ‘reminded’ I need to state this is copyrighted work, so…
(C) 2019 JL Curtis All Rights Reserved