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Detective Tess Jacoby stood in the entryway of the special events room at the Pritchard Gallery located in Restin, New York, looking at the portraits of women and children who lost their lives to the depravity of the world. Her eyes finally rested on the family of Dana Stratton, who all stood holding hands in front of Dana’s portrait. When she saw the mother, Fran, reach up to touch the portrait, Tess diverted her gaze. It was a private moment that didn’t include her. Tess’s meandering thoughts came back to the present when she heard a soft voice speak.


“Thank you for coming, Detective,” Fran Stratton said. “The family appreciates all the time you’ve given us over the last year.”


With a nod and a slight smile, Tess gave Dana’s mother her undivided attention. “Tomorrow is the trial and I wanted to speak with you—the family—if you have time.”


“Certainly,” Fran said with melancholy lacing her voice. “I’ll get the others.”


Tess led the group to a small alcove where Dana’s sister, Sara, and the sleeping baby, Miranda, now a year old, could sit on a marble bench. She looked at the family and could still see the pain and sadness etched on each face. Clearing her throat, Tess collected her thoughts. “As you know, the jury has been picked and the trial will begin tomorrow.” She saw the expectant eyes of Bob and Fran Stratton, along with Sara and Jeff Macintosh, focused on her. “I know the DA has spoken with you about what will happen.”


The brow of Dana’s father creased. “Is there something more that we should know?”


Tess’s eyes looked at them with compassion. “The job of the defense is to win their client’s freedom. I’ve seen this defense attorney in action, so I know he will do everything possible to see that happens.”


“In what way?” Fran asked.


“By discrediting Dana—making her look guilty—like she was asking for it.”


Fran’s eyes opened wide. “No, that’s a lie.”


“I know that, Mrs. Stratton. He won’t come out and say that directly but he will ask his questions in a way that insinuates that Dana was somehow responsible. All he needs to do is plant one seed of doubt in one juror’s mind. That’s his job.” When the group in front of her said nothing, Tess continued, “Did the DA speak to you about the crime scene photos?”


Bob Stratton nodded. “Yes, he said he’d warn us when he was going to show them so we could leave the courtroom.”


“Most jurors will look at the pictures, then at the family and the defendant for their reactions.” Tess lifted one shoulder. “If you can, I think you should stay in the courtroom for them,” she said softly. “You can cover your eyes or look away.”


“So that the jury will see our reactions?” Sara asked


“Exactly. The news surrounding the murder was front page around here and that’s why the defense attorney fought so hard to get a jury from three hundred miles away.” Tess reached out and touched the visibly shaken Fran’s arm lightly. “The jury will be looking at Dana’s family and friends and, in a way that will shape their opinion of her.”


Fran reached into a bag, took out a t-shirt, and handed it to Tess. “We had these made to wear at the trial,” she said. “It is the same shirt Dana was wearing that night.”


Unfolding the shirt, Tess saw a basketball with the words reach higher to win ringing the ball. “Thank you.” She steeled her emotions. “You should tell everyone who’ll be wearing the shirt to bring a back-up.”


“Why?” Fran asked.


“Because, the defense attorney will object.” Tess focused on the family in front of her with a sympathetic gaze.


“That’s ridiculous,” Bob ground out through gritted teeth. “He can’t dictate what people wear.”


“In the courtroom he can,” Tess said evenly. “The shirt, the pins you’re wearing and anything else that reflects on Dana will be sighted by the defense attorney as prejudicial to his client. Even before the jury enters, the judge will most likely rule in the defense’s favor.”


Fran bristled with anger. “No. I will not listen to the judge and wear it anyway.”


Tess moved closer and touched Fran’s hand. “Justice is supposed to be blind. If you don’t follow the judge’s rulings, he won’t let you stay in the courtroom or cite you for contempt. All I’m saying is to be prepared to wear something else,” she said softly. “You don’t want to jeopardize the trial over a shirt or a pin do you?”


“There’s always a chance that the defense attorney will say nothing. Right” Dana’s sister asked.


Tess shrugged. “There’s always that possibility but I wouldn’t count on it. You need to remember that the defense attorney is doing what is necessary to prove his client’s innocence.”


“But that monster isn’t innocent,” Fran whispered.


“I know,” Tess said.


The group fell into a long silence until the baby, Miranda, began to fuss.


Bob smiled fondly at the baby then looked at Tess. “That’s all then?”




Fran stood. “Will you be in the courtroom for the trial, Detective?”


“Only when I’m called to testify. I can’t be there before that.”


Bob held out his hand. “Thank you, Detective, for all your hard work and support.”


Tess shook each person”s hand before she moved toward the exit.





Rain was threatening as Tess left the gallery. She raised the collar of her black leather jacket as a sudden gust of cold wind swirled around her. Walking quickly to her car and getting in, her thoughts turned to a year earlier when the Dana Stratton case changed her life.


As she pushed the key into the ignition, a bright bolt of lightning fractured the black sky.


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