Sentencing

Emily Hipchen

The most terrible minutes of the trial pass while we look at the crime scene videotape. The lawyer for the prosecution tells us, as he fiddles with the buttons on the remote that lowers the video screen and darkens the lights in the room, that the investigators film everything whether or not it looks important, not knowing what might be useful later. Detectives decide that, and lawyers, and we ultimately, which is why we’re watching the tape in full, not just selected scenes. The courtroom goes almost black suddenly. Lighting near the floor shows us how to leave, though we can’t of course: we’re the jury. The rectangle of the screen to the right of the jury box shows black, a date, then flickers over to a still. We’re outside the front door of the old couple’s small apartment. The door has jalousie windows and is green. A used Kleenex sits on the window sill under a single, unglassed bulb that lights everything we can see. The prosecutor presses play.

On screen, it’s the night following the afternoon of the murder, it’s dark outside, grasshoppers sing. Traffic passes below, a steady stream through the busy intersection nearby. Inside, the apartment’s lit incandescently. Everything glows, throbs in and out of the light attached to the camera, in the light from lamps and florescent ceiling fixtures turned on full. The videographer, a careful man, first focuses on the door frame, shows us a splintered lock, then moves to the tchotchkes on the shelves right inside, then to the guns on the table, a pillow, a beaded doily, a huge spray of blood blooming across the wall, a carpet worn down the middle, a flower of blood on the floor, smears of it like long strands of red kelp in a wild sea along the hall where the murderer braced himself, having been shot by the victim and bleeding arching sprays of blood, nearly dying there himself. In the kitchen, the groceries are out still, milk gone sour, eggs rotting; in the Florida room, the furniture is a shambles, tumbled and incoherent. We pass through and over a heap of it, like a crane shot, into the bedroom, the darkest place yet. Here we see the telephone the victim had been using to dial 911, an old rotary phone, beige. It looks pleasant, homey, the right thing in the right spot. Then the camera focuses on the blood splashed across the dial. The dead man lies on the floor to the right. He wears an ankle brace under his rucked-up pants leg, it is the most pitiful sight I have seen yet, this brace, though I can’t tell why exactly that’s true. The foot is inert, seems never to have been alive. He is a slight man; his trousers are baggy, his shirt is baggy. His hands are bony and spotted and old. They lie discarded beside him, useless, too light. His wedding band weighs them down. He has been shot in the head and the contents of his life, all his memories, his thoughts, his laughter, his self-sufficiency, his pride—they’re puddled on the floor around him. He’s dead, his life is a blackness that seems shiny underneath what’s left of his head, like an oily halo. His eyes are dead, circled with darkness. Dead people, violently dead people, look nothing like TV versions of the violently dead. I knew that before I came to this jury, but I didn’t really understand until I saw this man this way what the difference is, how different it is. I don’t want to see this but I have to watch, I was chosen to.

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