Grayson stood there in shackles. His hands chained to his orange jumpsuit. The manacles on his ankles bit into his flesh each moment he tried to move his legs too far. Not more than five feet to his right stood Caleb’s mother. Tears streamed down her face. Between them stood his lawyer and the District Attorney. Sheriff deputies stood vigil around the group. Nobody knew what the judge would say.
The judge’s voice was firm, “Mrs. James. You may address the court, but not the defendant. The court is aware of your loss and has compassion for your situation, but I need to remind you that this is still a courtroom and we need to maintain order.”
“Thank you, your Honor,” said Mrs. James.
Time stood still for Grayson. Judge Webb was in his mid-sixties. He had been a fair judge throughout the trial. Grayson had only had a limited dialog with the judge, but the man always seemed respectful, even though he had every right not to be. Judge Webb turned his eyes towards Grayson, “Young man, the words I just spoke to the victim’s family apply to you too.”
Grayson shuffled his feet and said, “Yes, sir,” amid the rattling of this chains.
Although Mrs. James was supposed to address the court, she looked squarely at Grayson. Grayson could not stop himself from looking in her direction. Mrs. James’ long gray hair was frazzled and looked as though she had not taken a brush to it in days. Her kind blue eyes that had once looked upon him as a child pooled up with tears of sorrow. Black circles and sunken cheeks made Mrs. James appear older, sicker, closer to death. One good look and Grayson wanted to burst out with the truth, but he would not dare. He had given Caleb his solemn word. Some might call him innocent, but Grayson knew he was guilty.
“Why would you shoot him?” asked Mrs. James.
“Address the court,” said the judge.
Grayson looked up at the judge, “Please, your Honor, it’s okay. She has a right to ask me.”
Grayson turned back to Mrs. James. “Ma’am, your son was a brother to me. We had been together through school, the Army, the middle east, and back home again. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for your son.”
Mrs. James’ tired eyes narrowed as she spoke, “Then why would you kill him?”
Grayson sighed. He could feel the tears flowing down his cheeks. He wished he could reach his face to wipe them away. His defense attorney took a tissue from her purse and wiped them for him. “I wish I could tell you,” said Grayson, “I do, but I made a promise.”
“What kind of promise, Grayson? I thought we were like family.” Mrs. James voiced strained against her frustration and grief.
Grayson shook his head, “I’m sorry ma’am. It’s best if Y’all just put me down like Caleb.”
Mrs. James began to weep, and the judge interjected. “I think that’s enough of the victim statement.”
The judge’s voice deepened and projected farther as he took on a firm, magisterial tone. “Mr. Grayson, this court finds you,” suddenly the rear doors burst opened on the closed hearing. Two deputies stepped in front of a young lady who was smartly dressed and carrying a briefcase in one hand, and a piece of paper in another. The DA spoke up quickly. “I’m sorry, everyone. Your honor, she’s part of my staff.” The District Attorney looked towards the commotion at the rear of the courtroom and raised her voice, “Jenny, this had better be life and death.”
Jenny nodded her head furiously.
The DA turned back to the judge. “Please, if I might have the court’s indulgence, just five minutes. Jenny wouldn’t cause a scene if it weren’t important.”
“Five minutes,” said the judge.
Grayson was led back to his seat behind the defendant’s table. The DA walked to the back of the courtroom to meet with Jenny. Grayson sat quietly while his defense attorney, Kim reviewed some notes she had written in her plea to avoid the death penalty. Only a minute had passed when the DA asked Kim to join her in the back of the room.
The judge returned six minutes after leaving the courtroom. The attorneys were behind their respective tables, and Mrs. James sat behind the DA with Jenny consoling her. The DA remained standing as everyone sat down with the judge. “Your honor, if it pleases the court. Crucial evidence has come to our attention that we must share.”
Judge Webb raised an eyebrow and said, “I don’t think you need to add anything new to prove your case, Ms. Willis.”
“It’s not for my case, your Honor, it’s for the defense.”
Judge Webb paused, let out a breath and invited the lawyers to the bench.
Grayson began to tap his feet. Why don’t we end this? Haven’t I been tortured enough? Just convict me and put me away already, he thought to himself.
The attorneys returned, and Kim remained standing. She motioned for Grayson to stand up.
“Mr. Grayson Long, it has come to the court’s attention that you did not, in fact, shoot the defendant but attempted to stop him from shooting himself.”
A wave of nausea swept over Grayson. How could they have found out? He never said a word to anyone. “Who told you that?”
The judge frowned at Grayson, “Why does that matter young man?”
“I gave Caleb my word nobody would ever know. I couldn’t get to him in time to stop him, but I could at least keep his reputation intact. It’s the least I could do. I tried to stop him, but I was too slow getting the door opened. I should have been holding that stupid key. I should have known he would lock the door. I lost precious time having to dig through my pockets to find that apartment key. Seconds, I was only a few seconds too late. The only thing I could do was make him a promise to keep things a secret and tell him I loved him as he took his last breath.”
“You risked the gallows because you didn’t have a key in your hand? Young man, you could have been executed for something that isn’t your fault,” said Judge Webb.
Grayson shrugged, “Everybody dies sometime.”
Judge Webb thought for a moment and then nodded his head. His magisterial tone returned, “It is the order of this court, in agreement with the District Attorney, that this case is dismissed, and all documents and records of evidence associated with said case be sealed. Additionally, any arrests, fines or other items associated with this case and Mr. Grayson Long are to be expunged. We’re adjourned.”
“What about Caleb?” pleaded Grayson. “I made a promise!”
Kim put her arm on Caleb’s shoulder, “Don’t worry. We are going to say the weapon accidentally discharged moments before you arrived for a visit. We won’t release all the security camera footage the exterminator found when he was up in the attic. He was the person who found the hidden security camera with the memory stick still inside it.”
Mrs. James walked over. As soon as the chains were free, she threw her arms around Grayson and wept into his shoulder. Her muffled voice was barely audible through her sobbing. “Thank you. Thank you for honoring my son. I prayed you hadn’t done it. You were like a brother to Caleb and a son to me. I feared I had lost both my sons.”
Grayson began to cry, and he and Mrs. James held each other tight.
Author: “Joshua and the Shadow of Death”
- Releasing October 30, 2018
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/gmacwriter/