The Sleeping Beauty Killer
Will the defendant please rise?
Casey’s knees wobbled as she rose from her chair. She stood with perfect posture—shoulders back, gaze ahead—but her feet felt unsteady beneath her.
The defendant. For three weeks, everyone in this courtroom had referred to her as “the defendant.” Not Casey. Not her given name, Katherine Carter. Certainly not Mrs. Hunter Raleigh III, the name she would have taken by now if everything had been different.
In this room, she’d been treated as a legal term, not as a real person, a person who had loved Hunter more deeply than she’d ever thought possible.
When the judge gazed down from the bench, Casey suddenly felt smaller than her five-foot-seven frame. She was a terrified child in a bad dream, staring up at an all-powerful wizard.
The judge’s next words sent a chill through her entire body. Madame Foreperson, have you agreed upon a unanimous verdict?
A woman’s voice responded. “Yes, Your Honor.”
The big moment was finally here. Three weeks ago, twelve residents of Fairfield County had been selected to decide whether Casey would go free or spend the rest of her life in prison. Either way, she’d never have the future she’d envisioned. She would never
be married to Hunter. Hunter was gone. Casey could still see the blood when she closed her eyes at night.
Casey’s lawyer, Janice Marwood, had warned her against trying to read anything into the jurors’ facial expressions, but Casey could not resist. She stole a glance at the forewoman, who was short and plump with a soft, gentle face. She looked like someone Casey’s mother would sit next to at church picnics. Casey remembered from voir dire that the woman had two daughters and a son. She was a new grandmother.
Surely a mother and grandmother would see Casey as a human being, not simply a defendant.
Casey searched the forewoman’s face for some sign of hope, but saw nothing but a blank expression.
The judge spoke again. Madame Foreperson, would you please read the verdict into the record?
The pause that followed felt like an eternity. Casey craned her neck to scan the crowd seated in the courtroom. Directly behind the prosecution table sat Hunter’s father and brother. A little less than a year ago, she was going to join their family. Now they stared at her like a sworn enemy.
She quickly looked away to “her” row, where she immediately locked onto one set of eyes, bright blue like her own and almost as fearful. Of course her cousin Angela was here. Angela had been there for Casey since day one.
Holding Angela’s hand was Casey’s mother, Paula. Her skin was pale, and she was ten pounds lighter than when Casey was first arrested. Casey expected to see her mother’s other hand also being held, but the next person on the bench was a stranger with a notepad and pen. Yet another reporter. Where was Casey’s father? Her eyes scanned the courtroom wildly for his face, hoping that somehow she had missed him.
No, her eyes hadn’t let her down. Her father wasn’t here. How could he not be here, of all days?
He warned me, Casey thought. “Take the deal,” he said. “You’ll have time for another life. I’ll still get to walk you down the aisle and meet my grandchildren.” He wanted the babies to call him El Jefe, the Boss.
The instant she realized her father was absent from the courtroom, Casey believed she knew exactly what was about to happen to her. The jury was going to convict her. No one believed she was innocent, not even Daddy.
The woman with the gentle face and the verdict slip finally spoke. “On Count One, the charge of murder, the jury finds the defendant . . .” The forewoman coughed at that very moment, and Casey heard a groan from the gallery.
Casey held her face in her hands. It was over. Eight months after she had said good-bye to Hunter, at last she could begin to envision tomorrow. She could go home. She wouldn’t have the future she’d planned with Hunter, but she would sleep in her own bed, take a shower by herself, and eat what she wanted to eat. She’d be free. Tomorrow, a new future would start. Maybe she would get a puppy, something she could take care of, that would love her even after everything that had been said about her. Then maybe next year, she’d go back to school to get her PhD. She wiped away tears of relief.
But then she remembered she wasn’t done yet.
The forewoman cleared her throat and continued. “On the alternative charge of manslaughter, the jury finds the defendant guilty.”
For a second, Casey thought she might have misheard. But when she turned toward the jury box, the forewoman’s expression was no longer unreadable, her face no longer soft. She had joined the Ra
leigh family in staring at Casey with condemnation. Crazy Casey, just like the papers called her.
Casey heard a sob behind her and turned to see her mother making the sign of the cross. Angela had both hands on her head in utter dismay.
At least one person believed me, Casey thought. At least Angela believes I’m innocent. But I’m going to prison anyway, for a long time, just as the prosecutor promised. My life is over.