[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] “Thank you,” the crown prosecutor continued, expressing gratitude in words only. “Your brother, the accused, is older than you by a few years,” she looked at her notes. “By just under three years, correct?”
“A little over two years, actually.”
“Right. He’s older than you. Would you say you are close to your brother?”
Nathalie looked at Marc, as if to ask him whether there was anything he could do to stop that torture, but alas. She tried not to look at Jeff. She could tell he was looking at her.
“That’s a hard question to answer, given what he’s accused of. How should I put this? Jeff was always a little bit different than the rest of us, since he left for college. He went to study English literature at Cornell, and we used to comment, my mother and I, on how those five years he spent there seemed to have changed him.”
“In what way?”
“He seemed to be more withdrawn, less communicative. Not that he was a chatterbox before, but he was definitely more in his shell afterwards.”
“And he’s been that way ever since?”
It was an amazing display of courtroom freedom, some legal minds thought when they observed the proceedings. They wondered why the lawyer for the defence didn’t try to object, why he didn’t try to stop this attempt to psychoanalyze his client. Paul Smith wondered the same thing himself. But he was under strict instructions from his client not to object to anything his sister said, even if she accused him of being the Loch Ness Monster. Jeff Toussignant had his reasons for doing that, he’d explained to Smith without expanding on them, and no, he wasn’t going to change his mind.
“You realize I may have to say something at some point to the judge about that, right?” Smith had asked him.
“Why is that?”
“Because you’re effectively giving up a big part of your defence rights. This might scare the judge; judges don’t like it when a defendant doesn’t produce a strong defence. It opens things up to an appeal, and judges hate having their cases appealed.”
“Who said I wasn’t going to produce a strong defence?”
“Well, I didn’t say that. But if the judge fears you are failing to defend yourself, she might worry and call me in to discuss this. If that happens, I will have to tell her the truth, that I am advising you against giving up the privilege of calling for objections if and when needed.”
“Understood. Tell the judge what you need to say. But don’t object to anything Nathalie says. Do we have a deal?”
“I would say yes,” Nathalie answered after taking about half a minute to search her memory for historical data. “He’s been withdrawn and in his shell ever since he came back from Cornell. He wasn’t particularly unpleasant or anything. It’s just that we never felt like he wanted to spend time with us.”
“Would you go so far as to say he was hostile?”
“Not with me, no, he wasn’t. He’s just always been distant.”
By this point it’s fair to say the crown prosecutor had noticed the defence wasn’t objecting to her line of questioning, so she kept going.
“Do you know if he displayed any kind of animosity towards your parents?”
Oh boy, Nathalie thought, here we go.
“What exactly do you mean by animosity?”
“Let me be very specific. Did your brother, to your knowledge, ever hit either of your parents?”
“No, to my knowledge he never did anything like that.”
“Did he ever shout at them?”
“Well, yes. It did happen a few times. But sometimes I shouted at them, too. I mean, this happens in most families, right? People lose their temper and say nasty things to each other?”
The crown prosecutor smiled. “Yes, I suppose it happens in most families. Would you say the incidents that you are aware of where your brother shouted at your parents were within the realm of what we shall call normal family relationships?”
“Oh yes! For sure. In fact, as far as I know, he didn’t shout at them very often. He tended to react differently when he was really mad or upset.”
Nathalie decided to chance a quick look in the direction of her brother. She was mightily surprised to find him sitting comfortably, seemingly relaxed, looking at her with very gentle eyes.
“Well, when he was really mad or upset Jeff tended to disappear for a while.”
“You mean he would go away?”
“Well, probably not literally, no. I mean he’d just go silent for a while – a week sometimes, two weeks when he was really steamed. He would just stop answering his phone, he’d ignore emails and texts, and wouldn’t visit.”
“Did you ever worry he was at risk of becoming dangerous to you or your parents or anyone else?”
Nathalie bristled. “Oh no! I never thought that, at all! I know he has some difficulty sometimes dealing with other people, he’s not a social person at all, but that’s not a crime, is it? Many people are like that; they prefer to be left alone. That doesn’t make them dangerous to anyone!”
“Quite so,” the prosecutor agreed. “But your brother is on trial for the first-degree murder of both your parents. This means we believe he not only killed them – or, more accurately, hired someone who would kill them in exchange for money – but that he planned to kill them. That he did so consciously, knowing very well what he was doing. We furthermore believe that he understands the difference between right and wrong, that he understood that difference at the time the murders were planned and executed, and that he deliberately and consciously chose to murder your parents with the knowledge that if he were ever caught, he’d find himself right where he is today. Do you find anything in what I just told you that you disagree with?”
It was all Marc could do not to jump out of his seat, scoop up his sweet partner and carry her away from this ordeal, right then and there. Instead he sent her a telepathic hug, hoping it would help her.
Nathalie was looking at the floor. “You don’t ask easy questions,” she mumbled.
“I’m sorry,” the prosecutor asked, trying to be reasonably gentle but firm at the same time. “We didn’t hear what you said. Could you repeat, please?”
“I said,” Nathalie repeated, looking up this time, “you don’t ask easy questions.”
“I am aware of that. But unfortunately they are necessary ones.”
Like hell, they are, Marc thought.
“Well, your evidence that my brother hired the men who poisoned my parents is difficult to doubt.”
“OK, do you believe your brother knew what the people he had hired were going to do?”
“You mean, do I think Jeff understood the nature of the services he was paying for?”
“Yes, do you think your brother understood he was hiring people who would kill your parents?”
“Yes, I do. I see very little point in hiring people who do this sort of work and not pay attention to what services they provide.”
“So you have no doubt in your mind that your brother knew that the men he hired would kill your parents.”
Nathalie smirked. “To be perfectly honest, part of me hopes he somehow goofed and hired them by mistake, but I don’t really believe that’s what happened, no. My brother has his faults, but he is a smart man.”
“I’m sure he is. I realize you are not a professional psychologist, but in your opinion as his sister, would you say your brother understands the difference between right and wrong?”
“Yes, he does. No doubt about that.”
“Would you say he always understood this?”
“Well, I wouldn’t guarantee he always did when he was a little kid, but certainly as an adult, yes, he has always been, as far as I can tell, of sound mind.”
“So, just to be very clear, Ms. Toussignant, do you believe your brother knew what he was doing when he hired those men who killed your parents?”
This is it, Nathalie thought. With my words I will end up convicting my brother of double murder and he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison. Which is horrible. But at the same time I can’t lie and say I think he was crazy when he hired the hit men, because I don’t believe he was. Shit, this is hard.
Nathalie took a deep breath, and looked at the jurors one by one. “Look. I don’t want to be here right now. I don’t want to answer this question. I love my brother. I loved my parents. I am torn apart by what has happened to my family.” She was crying freely now, but she made it through the rest of the statement she’d been wanting to make since she was sworn in. “I realize that my answer to this question has the potential to impact your verdict. I realize that I might end up responsible for my only brother being sent to jail for the rest of his life. But here I am, bound to say the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Which so far I’ve tried very hard to do. The truth is, I wish there was some kind of way to explain what has happened that doesn’t involve my brother being guilty of murder. I wish I could say he was crazy at the time of the events, that somehow he had blacked out, didn’t understand what he was doing, was under some kind of delusion, I don’t know, anything. I wish I could tell you I didn’t believe the evidence showing my brother ordering the deaths of my parents. But I can’t tell you this. The evidence is clear. He did hire the men who killed my parents, and I cannot say I believe my brother is crazy, therefore I must reluctantly say, yes, I believe my brother knew what he was doing when he hired the men who killed my parents, and I hope he forgives me for telling you this, but it is the truth.”
“I have no further questions, Your Honour.”