June 21, 2008, 22.30 hrs
“No, I did not kill her. Please, you have to listen to me. Why would I kill my own girlfriend? You have to trust me. Please, no I did not kill…..” I could not speak any further; my mouth was covered by a beefy looking policeman.
June 21, 2008, 23.00 hrs
These guys have got it all wrong. Why would I, of all people, have to kill someone I dearly loved and intended to marry pretty soon? As I walked through the much familiar San Diego Central Prison, I could not, but wonder, the countless times I have been here before, on behalf of clients involved in various crimes. The many deals I have struck with the police, the many more negotiations done, everything just flooded across my mind.
I, Michael Hilfiger, graduated from Law School in the summer of 2003. It was a given that I would take up criminal law as my forte. Yet, it had taken me close to three years to establish myself as a reliable lawyer. During the initial days of my career, when no potential client came to me, I sought them myself. Defending petty criminals involved in the most basic and dumbest of crimes, I slowly climbed up the ladder and by now, established a name in this city. I took up a two room office premises close to the prison. My staff count consists of two people other than myself – a blonde assistant with whom I used to flirt shamelessly before Amy came into my life; and a part time student of the university who helped me in maintaining the place clean. My setup was very modest.
Ah, Amy. The love of my life. It was a curious incident, how I got to know her. But the mere thought of it makes me want to seek her killer and end his life with my own bare hands. How can someone even imagine hurting her? She is the sweetest person in all of America; well, atleast all of San Diego. And she loved me much more than I could love myself. “Amy Roberts, will you marry me” – the countless times I had said these words over and over again in my head. I had thought of the perfect way to propose. Not anymore.
June 23, 2008, 10.30 hrs
Court Room two. Oh, the old block. That’s where my preliminary investigation was to begin. That’s where my fate, atleast for the next two months, would be decided.
Damn, it’s the judge Kirsten. The most arrogant among the judges in San Diego. What luck ! Thank you folks, this is just what I wanted.
“Mr Hilfiger, as you are aware, you have been charged with the murder of Amy Roberts, resident of 21 Sea View Drive, Whinging. Do you deny this accusation?” – the judge asked.
“Of course I do, your Honour. I did not kill Amy. She is the love of my life. I can never possibly think of hurting her in the remotest way possible. She is just too sweet..” – before I could complete my sentence, “Enough. We are not here to talk about how sweet your lover was. How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?”, pounded Kirsten.
“Not guilty, your Honour” – I quietly replied. I did not want to rub her on the wrong side that early in the morning.
“Well, in that case, we are left with no choice but to go to trial. I hereby declare that the case of Michael Hilfiger vs. The State of California, concerning the murder of Amy Roberts would begin on April 21, 2009. The court is adjourned” – the judge pronounced.
“April ’09? That’s insane. How can you set the trial date a good ten months from now. This is so unfair” – I exploded.
“Mr. Hilfiger, must I remind you, a criminal lawyer, that it is at the discretion of the presiding judge, when to set a trial date? Don’t you dare tell me what I must do in my own court. Now unless you have anything else to say, which would certainly make me hold you in contempt of court, I declare that the court is adjourned” – Kirsten threw me a very nasty look.
June 23, 2008 – April 21, 2009
No other suspects were rounded up. I was the sole accused in this case. The press made a huge cry of this case. The prosecution was only too happy to consent. As is usual with most high profile cases, by the time the trial had even begun, the media had pronounce me guilty. Eminent lawyers across the state were invited as guest speakers on CBS8 and other news channels. They gave their “expert opinion” on why it can be proved beyond doubt that I was the killer. One of them actually went on to say “If only there was a law that could nail Hilfiger without a trial…”. The ratings of that show shot up insanely over the next few days.
The autopsy report was prepared and a copy of it was passed on to the defense. The report claimed Amy had possibly been raped just before she was killed. Semen traces were found on her body. However, the report did not mention who it belonged to. The prosecution would gladly fill that up later.
Amidst all this, Amy was laid to rest. I requested permission to attend the funeral, which was quickly turned down. I cried that entire week. In a world full of humans, I felt I was the only one alive. Alive and crying. The trauma I went through during the initial days can never be explained. Nightmare after nightmare, Amy haunted every single thought of mine. I simply could not get her out of my mind. Well, why should I? Is she not the rightful claimant of every single inch of my mind, my heart, my body, my soul? What right do I have to even think otherwise? Yet, it pained. I was pained by the fact that while I lived, however miserably, Amy was no more. How cruel can this get? What did she do, that she deserved such an end? Perhaps, I should have asked her to marry me sooner. That way, she need not have walked near that spot on that dreadful day. Oh Amy, I am so sorry my love. It is entirely my fault. I blame myself for your death. Forgive me, my princess.
Yet, at long last, sometime around four months after my arrest, reality did dawn on me. Amy was still in my thoughts. No doubt about that. But there was work that needed to be done. I had to clear Amy’s good name first. She deserved much better. Besides, that is the least I can do for her.
I have to prove my innocence. Not because I was in prison. Not because I was called a criminal. No, certainly none of these reasons. Clearing Amy’s name took a straight path right up to me. Our destinies were intertwined. If one had to be set right, it is but natural, that the other has to be set right too. That is how the world works. I did not care much for myself. Heck, I did not even bother whether I existed or not. But I had to. For Amy’s sake.
It was this one single thought that made me continue. My desire to fight was born out of this. I immediately set about working. Earlier, when the court had asked me if I required a lawyer to be assigned on my behalf, I plainly refused the offer and requested the judge (again, the very same Kirsten) to allow me to argue my own case. I was sure she would refuse by quoting some unheard of rule. Yet, the lady surprised me and said yes.
The San Diego Central prison had one of the best prison libraries in the country. I exploited that to the maximum extent. Day after day, I poured over huge volumes of books, past case histories, charge sheets; well basically anything that would help me. I prepared a list of key questions, mapped them against potential prosecution witnesses. I tried to identify a weak spot for every witness. This would prove to be useful, later on.
Meticulously, I built my case. Everything was arranged perfectly. I prayed that the trial would take this exact same course. I did not care much for the selection of the jury, but made just one request that a black man be included in that. This might have a bit of a racist colour, but all was fair under the eyes of the law.
Around eight months after my arrest, I was done. I felt I was prepared to take up the battle. I was confident I would clear Amy’s name. With about two months to go before trial commenced, I was back to my old self – The Curious Case of the Hopeless Lunatic.
April 22, 2009, 15.30 hrs
The trial had begun the previous day. After the prosecution’s opening statements, I was called upon to present the defence’s statement. My speech was rather short, in fact it barely lasted for ten minutes. After this, the court was adjourned for the day.
The prosecution’s first witness was Molly Roberts, Amy’s mother. Thompson questioned her about how much she had loved her daughter, how this loss had affected her. Sympathy, the best way to capture the ladies in the jury. Molly kept looking at one of the ladies in the jury in particular and the lady reciprocated by nodding on every single word. After a good fifteen minutes, Thompson stopped, turned to me and said “yours”.
I did not wish to cross examine Molly just yet. Still, I asked her only one question.
“Mrs Roberts, had I proposed to your daughter and had she said yes, would you have accepted our marriage?” – I asked.
“But of course. She loved you so much”, Molly replied, before Thompson could stop her. The first mistake. I smiled at Thompson.
“Your Honour, would you be agreeable if we call it a day here?” – Thompson asked nervously
Nodding, Kirsten pounded the gravel, “The next hearing of this case would resume on April 27. The court is now adjourned”
April 27, 2009 – May 20, 2009
Over the next few weeks, Thompson proceeded to many other witnesses who also included two of Amy’s cousins who swore they saw her near the spot around 16.30 hrs; a domestic help who claimed he saw me walking down the path a few minutes after 16.30 hrs; the medical examiner who had performed the autopsy; a former classmate of Amy, who admitted to have had intercourse with her a few hours prior to it and that they did not use any protection, “so stupid of us, eh”, as he called it.
I certainly cross examined these people, but that did not yield anything useful. Of course, I did get the help admit it might not have been me who he claimed to have seen, given that the distance from his room to the spot was a good 350 m and that his eyesight might indeed have fooled him. This was a fairly significant point to be noted, although it certainly did not help me much in clearing my name off the whole mess. I chose to ignore the former classmate.
May 22, 2009, 11.30 hrs
Next came Inspector Peter. Thompson questioned him for more than two hours. Various aspects were probed. Relevance of an abandoned bike, the times noted in police records, the reason why I was the sole suspect, the autopsy report, DNA analysis, the weapon used to kill, the search party arranged, the calls made to Amy’s home – the questions went on and on. My stomach was grumbling. It was way past lunch time, but Thompson fired away. At long last he did. It was my turn now.
Getting up, I spoke to the judge. “Judge Kirsten, can we break up for lunch now? I am sure everyone is too hungry to care for my defence, right now. Besides, at this rate, even I might be convinced that I killed Amy”. This drew a round of laughter. Even Kirsten smiled, before she replied “The court shall resume at 16.30 PM”.
May 22, 2009, 16.30 hrs
“Mr Peter. My first question to you is, right from the outset, I have been the only accused. Have you thought of the possibility that there might be other suspects?”
“We did consider it initially, sir. Yet, there seems to be no motive for anyone else to have committed this murder” – Peter replied.
“So what do you think mine is?” – I asked.
“Objection, your Honour. The question involves more of probabilistic ….”, Thompson jumped. The judge cut him off by saying “Oh come on Mr. Thompson. I am sure Mr. Hilfiger was only referring to what is in police records. Weren’t you, Michael?”
“Of course, my Lord. So, Mr. Peter, what do you think my motive was?” – I continued.
“Well, as per the prosecution’s claim, you got into an argument behind the V shaped gap on the path. Amy did not consent to your wanting to have intercourse. This argument turned violent and physical. In the end, you ended up killing her by strangling her and then slashing all across her body with the knife” – Peter stopped to take a breath.
“You seem almost certain about it. Were you, by any chance, behind the gap?” – I piped, before Judge Kirsten warned me. I apologized and continued with the questioning. The question, however, had an impact, also drew some laughter from the jury.
“Mr. Peter, my next question is regarding the autopsy report and the DNA analysis. According to the police, traces of semen were found on Amy’s body. Can you elaborate further on this, bearing in mind that the DNA analysis performed revealed that these traces did not match mine? What was the significance of this?” – I asked.
“Yes, we did find traces of semen on Amy’s body, which could only mean she had had intercourse sometime before she was murdered” – Peter stopped at that.
“But my question, Mr. Peter is, how could this possibly happen, considering the statement made earlier by Amy’s mother, that prior to this time, Amy was out shopping with a couple of her girlfriends” – I had nailed him.
“I… I think she… she was not sure about what Amy was doing” – Peter stumbled.
“You mean to say that Mrs Roberts was lying?” – I said, before Thompson jumped up shouting “Objection Your Honour. Hilfiger is leading the witness..” and Kirsten sustained the judge.
“Sorry, Your Honour. Let me rephrase that. This could only have one logical explanation. No one exactly knows what Amy did, before she was murdered. In other words, there is no proof to Amy having had intercourse before her murder. So we cannot entirely depend on the autopsy report claiming traces of semen were found. Am I right Peter?” – I smiled to myself.
“Well, I think that the report is authentic. But… “, before he could proceed, I cut him across and said “But, you cannot be absolutely sure. In other words, the semen report may not be completely authentic. Rather, the whole thing can possibly have been framed. Thank You Mr. Robert” – I glanced at a shocked Thompson.
“Moving on, the police report, Peter, claims that Amy was stripped after her throat was slit and her body inflicted of all the ghastly knife strikes. Also, her trousers were said to be used to tie her hands behind. If that were the case, I am sure her trousers would certainly have some blood stains around the knotted part. But that is not the case. Are you sure that the trousers were indeed tied after she was killed?” – I explained the simple logic.
Peter was speechless. I let the silence continue for a few more minutes, mainly for the benefit of the jury members. One of them was actually shaking his head vigorously. I made a mental note to focus on him more, during my closing remarks. Kirsten adjourned the court.
May 25, 2009, 10.00 hrs
Peter was once again sworn in. I questioned him some more aspects of the police report, to which he answered very carefully. I made him feel at ease.
“Mr. Peter, my next question to you is this. The FIR claimed that Amy was murdered anytime between 17.00 hrs and 17.10 hrs. However, a later report claimed she was kill somewhere around 16.35 – 16.40 hrs. Can you tell me why this ambiguity cropped up?” – I enquired.
“Well, the FIR is always a report filed initially, to register the case. It is quite possible that certain aspects maybe reported incorrectly. It is always the final report submitted before the trial that matters” – Peter replied nervously. Out of the corner of my eye, I could sense Thompson swearing to himself.
“That may well be the case, Peter. Let us, for a moment, say you are right. We will go with your theory of Amy being killed around 16.40 hrs. Can you tell the court the approximate time it would take to walk from my home to the spot where Amy’s body was found?”
“Around 30 minutes by walk, I am told” – Peter responded.
“Correct. The last call I made to Amy’s mobile, which her mother answered, was at 16.24 hrs. Your Honour, evidence for this has already been submitted to the court, which I believe, my learned colleague Thompson seems to have miscalculated. Anyway, the last call made to Amy’s mobile around 16.24 hrs lasted for around four minutes. As has already been pointed out, Mrs. Roberts informed me that Amy had indeed left the house to meet me. Add four minutes to 16.24 and a few more for me to get ready, lock my house and move out. Let’s give that say five minutes? So, I was out of my house around 16.30. Taking your word of twenty minutes, it is extremely unlikely that I reached the spot before 16.50 hrs. Am I right, Peter?” – I looked at him.
“Well, you might have borrowed a cycle from your neighbor or chose to run, right?” – Peter gave me a sheepish smile.
“Mr. Peter, you must have asked me this during your investigation at the police station” – I shot back, before I continued “Let us look at that, Peter. I cannot possibly have borrowed a cycle from my neighbor considering she was out of town on the day in question. In any case, she does not own a cycle. As for running, even if I were to do that, it certainly is not possible for me to reach the spot before 16.45 hrs. Trust me, I am not that good a runner. Going by the laws of physics, this absolutely is not possible” – I paused. By now, Peter was sweating profusely. I gave him a warm smile.
I questioned Peter for another half an hour, before I turned to the judge.
“Your Honour, I am done questioning Mr. Peter” – I informed Kirsten.
“Mr. Hilfiger, do you have any witnesses that you would like to question?” – the judge asked me.
“None, Your Honour” – I responded.
“In that case, I believe the examination and the cross examination of all witnesses is now complete. The next hearing of this case will be held on May 29, when the prosecution and the defense attorneys can make their closing comments. My dear members of the jury, let me remind you once again not to be bound by emotions or not to show favoritism of any sort. The facts of the case have been presented to you. Be fair in your analysis of the evidence at hand. I hope you would be able to make a seasoned decision, for you must remember – a man’s life is at stake. Court adjourned” – Kirsten pounded the gravel.
May 27, 2009, 11.00 hrs
Thompson was making his closing remarks. He was actually drooling. The only time when I found his speech mildly interesting was, when he listed out a few points (from way back in school days), which, according to him, are crucial to understand why I was the killer. I could not, but fail to laugh. The judge looked towards me threateningly. Mumbling a silent apology, I looked down. Soon, I was lost in thoughts.
May 27, 2009, 13.30 hrs
Thompson had sat down after having presented the prosecution’s closing statement. I must admit, the man has a flair for language. I could see some of the jury members nodding their heads at every word he said, smirk when he smirked, laughed when he laughed, throw me a look of disgust when he did. I remained emotionless, all throughout. At long last, my turn came. I rose.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury. As you might now have realized, this case is rather different in a lot of ways. I believe I need not remind you of the trauma that I have undergone in the last ten months. Yet, I have chosen to fight it for two reasons – one, to clear my name of all charges; two, uphold Amy’s honour, which by now, has been stamped upon dirtily, and her family seems quite fine with it. I believe this case has been messed up right from the start.
For starters, the trial began a good ten months after Amy was killed. The press was being fed (mis)information in these ten months. The police seemed quite confident that the autopsy report and DNA analysis would prove their point. However, during cross examination, this has been proven wrong. The time in question; when Amy left her house to meet me, when the murder took place etc. are highly misleading. In fact, Inspector Peter has actually gone on to say not to rely on the FIR. With such goof ups, how would one be in a position to believe what is true?
Ideally, in any case involving rape and murder, the first accused would be the person whose blood/semen traces are found on the victim’s body. With Amy, semen traces of her former classmate were found. In fact, he himself admitted to have had intercourse with her. Yet, he is not one of the suspects. Ask yourself why.
Another crucial point to consider is the spot where Amy’s body was found. There has been no evidence provided by the prosecution to prove that Amy had indeed gone through the gap in the wall. Further, the prosecution ‘proved’ I got into an argument with Amy, shouted at her and that I had assaulted her before killing her eventually. If I did shout at her, wouldn’t the domestic help have heard it? He has not mentioned anything to that regard.
My colleague here Thompson stressed on my fascination for knives as a very important lead towards the case. However, he carefully chose not to highlight one important fact. When Amy’s body was found, no murder weapon was found. However, the police later came up with a knife which they claimed was similar to a knife I had owned and lost sometime back. This knife was retrieved from a somewhat closed pit thirty feet away. If that were the case, ladies and gentlemen, atleast a few traces of blood ought to have been found on the ground nearby. But no, the ground was as bloodless as it can be.
Also, as pointed out earlier, going by the telephonic records of my conversation with Mrs. Roberts, it is humanly impossible for me to be at both places at the same time. Further, the search party that went about looked only along the path connecting our houses. This is certainly not how a search operation would go about. The prosecution has failed to explain the reason behind this.
Amy was killed on February 19, 2008. Her body was released after autopsy in three weeks and she was buried. Yet, I was arrested only on June 21, 2008 – a good four months after the murder. In the intermediate time, there was no ‘defense’ per se. By the time the trial began, it was a good fourteen months since Amy’s funeral. Consequently, the defense could not do anything about the autopsy report.
My dear members of the jury, many points brought forward by the prosecution seem to be highly flawed. Let me remind you that many of the witnesses retracted their statements during the cross examination. In fact, I went on to prove that one of the witnesses was actually lying. Ask yourselves why.
As the esteemed judge Kirsten pointed out earlier, I implore upon you to tag along the middle path. On the one side, you have heard the prosecution trying to prove that I killed Amy. On the other hand, you have me, the defendant-cum-defense, who claims to be innocent. Analyze both arguements, scrutinize all available evidence but ensure that justice is served. Not just to me, but also to Amy. On that note, I wish to take leave of you”
Turning to Judge Kirsten, I informed, “The defense rests, Your Honour”. She nodded.
“Members of the jury, the closing comments are done with. Your duty starts now. Weigh both sides of the argument neutrally, before you make the final decision. Remember, the life of a potentially innocent man hangs in the balance. Kindly inform me once you have reached a decision”. The jury resigned to the adjoining room. Time finally came to a standstill, atleast to me. The clock above Kirsten’s head seemed to have stopped working.
An hour later, one of the members of the jury walked up to Kirsten and spoke hurriedly. Following this, Kirsten spoke. “The jury has just informed me that they require further time to reach a decision. Consenting to this, I now adjourn the court and we shall resume tomorrow”.
May 28, 2009, 15.00 hrs
The jury began their deliberations way back at 10.00 hrs in the morning. They did not even break for lunch. Judge Kirsten actually sent up some cookies and sandwiches to the room. Coming from her, this was too much, I must admit.
At long last, the jury returned.
“Would the foreman of the jury kindly rise?” – Kirsten spoke. A middle aged black man stood up, while looking straight at me. I smiled at him.
“Does the jury seek any clarification on any aspect of the trial?” – the judge asked.
“No, Your Honour” – the foreman replied.
“Has the jury reached a verdict?” – Kirsten looked tensed.
“Yes, Your Honour, we have” – the foreman was calm.
“Kindly approach the bench” - the judge said.
The slip was passed on to Kirsten and she took her took staring at it.
“Thank You jury, for all your effort. As the jury has reached a verdict, ladies and gentlemen, I hereby dismiss the jury council” – Kirsten announced.
“Mr. Michael Hilfiger, you have been ….” – Judge Kirsten pronounced her verdict.
At the exact same time, one person in the courtroom heaved a sigh of relief, and another person banged his fist against the table.
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