Steven leaned his shoulders against the vertical steel bars, the weight of the world squarely on his shoulders. He was the definition of melancholy.
No, Steven thought, I know why I’m sad, I just can’t do anything about it.
He clutched his blanket and pillow to his chest and stared at the eight-foot by ten-foot cell. The guard that had escorted him didn’t say anything, just guided Steven with his baton. As the cell door clinked shut behind him and the guard walked away, Steven heard him whistle a cheery ditty.
Of course, he’s happy, Steven thought, he’s on the other side of these bars.
Steven’s eyes scanned the cramped cell. Toilet; sink; bunk. Steven’s only solace was that he was alone in the cell. Steven would’ve thanked God for the small miracles, but then again, if God cared about him, he wouldn’t be there in the first place. He tried to remember the opaque language the corrections officers used while processing him into the facility. Rules; expectations; punishments. They were spoken by his new benevolent tyrant – the uncaring justice system.
He took a step forward and allowed his bedding to fall onto the thin mattress. He sunk to the floor and leaned his back against the vertical frame of the bunk, his head in his hands. Now, more than ever, he willed himself not to cry. He began to shake as the sting of unwanted tears betrayed his eyes.
Why is this happening to me? he asked silently. Why am I being punished for something I didn’t do?
Steven drew his knees to his chest, squeezed his eyes closed, and silently wept until an uneasy sleep overcame him, his dreams were of events that happened only hours before.
* * *
Steven sat staring straight ahead. His ears burned when he caught snippets of conversation in the gallery. David and Leonard sat in the row directly behind the Defendant’s table. They were happily discussing all the things that they hoped would happen to Steven when he got his life sentence.
Steven didn’t know if Robert’s presence a few rows behind the dickhead duo was a good thing or bad thing. Steven and Robert were the only friends Lindsay had. When Steven was escorted into the courtroom, his eyes immediately fell on Robert, fidgeting with this pressed shirt and tie. Robert refused to make eye contact.
If Robert thinks I’m guilty, Steven thought, then I’m doomed. The damned media keeps planting seeds of guilt with every story they air.
Steven sat ramrod-straight in his chair. His tie hung at an odd angle. The public defender shuffled papers to Steven’s right. He shifted his eyes slightly to the Prosecution table and made eye contact with Lindsay’s mother. She looked away, and Steven had no problems detecting the anger and rage behind her eyes. The Assistant District Attorney placed his fingers lightly on her arm, and Lindsay’s mother stared stoically toward the judge’s dais.
The judge slowly turned page after page of a stack of papers in front of him. He would occasionally pause to check a piece of paper in another pile, or to look at Steven or at Lindsay’s mother.
The judge cleared his throat and banged his gavel against the dais. The gallery was suddenly quiet; the only sound Steven heard was an occasional cough and his own heart thundering in his chest.
“Steven Bass,” the judge began, “you are being charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Lindsay Breneman. I have reviewed the documents relating to the case, and I find sufficient evidence to proceed with a trial. I have entered a plea of not guilty on your behalf, and I am ordering that you be tried as a youthful offender.”
“Your Honor!” Steven’s attorney pleaded. “There is no evidence of any encouragement by my client in this case. Miss Breneman made her own conscious decision to take her own life. Steven Bass has already been convicted in the court of public opinion, based on zero evidence. Lindsay Breneman’s death is a tragedy, not a crime. Trying my client as a youthful offender allows harsher punishment than the typical juvenile case, and allows the trial to be open to the public. My client cannot possibly get a fair trial in these circumstances.”
“Councilor,” the judge replied, “this preliminary hearing is neither the time nor the place for you to be arguing the case. You have been awarded ample time to not only respond to the Assistant District Attorney but to argue the merit of the charge of involuntary manslaughter.”
The judge looked to the Prosecution’s table, and his eyes met Lindsay’s mother’s. He continued, “We owe the victim in this case a swift trial based on the facts.” He steepled his fingers and returned his attention to the Public Defender. “Steven Bass will be remanded to the Verde Detention Center. Jury selection and the trial will begin on…” The judge adjusted the screen to a laptop on his dais and leaned forward to consult it. “…Friday morning and eight AM. This proceeding is adjourned.” He struck the gavel to the dais and stood to leave the courtroom.
The gallery stood, and nervous chatter permeated.
“I hope they give you the chair, sicko,” a voice intoned behind Steven. He didn’t need to turn to recognize Leonard’s voice.
“We don’t have an electric chair, idiot.” David’s voice was just as recognizable.
“Well then, I hope he enjoys his stay at Verde.” The malice in Leonard’s words was easily detected, as he turned on nimble feet and hurried out of the gallery.
The Public Defender closed Steven’s folder and placed it into an accordion file on the floor next to his chair. He pulled out another folder and began meticulously arranging the papers for the next case. Steven looked to him for support, but all Steven got was a pair of hunched shoulders, intent on preparing for the next case. A court bailiff escorted Steven out another door, and to a complement of Sherriff’s Office deputies, who placed handcuffs on Steven’s wrists. They led him to a van and began the journey to the Verde Detention Center.