© 2012 Mick Circeo
FOUR: THE LAST WITNESS
(May 1865, U.S. Courthouse, District of Columbia)
Rubinstein rose from his leather chair, low and slow, and stood at the prosecution table, palms flat on the wood-grain surface. “Your honor, we call our final witness: Major Daniel Ruggles.” Smoke and pretense flowed from the chattering courtroom packed with journalists and curious politicians.
“Very well. Bailiff, please fetch Major Ruggles.” Judge Mayhew bent her pince-nez down and looked over the lawyers and others, to the back of the courtroom, hushed in anticipation of the doors swinging open. “Is he there? Where is he?”
Defense counsel wrote deliberately at his table, disinterested and carefully so, posturing not only for opposing counsel and Judge Mayhew, but also for the benefit of the throng behind them. Wilkes followed suit per his counsel’s guidance.
Mayhew was motionless, aside from a darting glance at the prosecution. “Mr. Rubinstein, care to disclose what is going on, or is this going to be yet another government mystery?”
“We fully expected him to be here, Judge.” He looked for an answer from Mayhew. He got none.
“Ruggles was your last witness. Since he is unavailable, is that your case?”
“If you would just allow us a brief recess, Your Honor, to locate the witness.”
“No sir. Request denied. Is that your case then?”
Rubinstein staggered. “That is our case, Judge.”
“All right,” Mayhew shifted toward the defense, “Mr. Sorrick, have you anything to say?”
John Wilkes Booth’s counsel looked up with no visible change in countenance. “We do, Judge. We do.”
“Go on then.”
“Well Judge,” Sorrick stood, crooked, as though it grieved him to do so, “we feel that Mr. Rubinstein has not made out a prima facie case against Mr. Booth.”
“Objection, Your Honor.”
“Sit down, Jack. Please continue, Mr. Sorrick.”
“Is that a ruling? I made an objection.”
“On what grounds? Sit down and let Mr. Sorrick finish his motion.”
Rubinstein remained standing.
“Jack, if you fail to sit – now – you will be held in Contempt. Understand?”
“You’re going to put me in jail for objecting?”
“You bet I am.” She pointed at defense counsel. “Sorrick, continue sir.”
“Yes ma’am. As I was saying, there is nothing to indicate that all of the elements in the government’s Bill of Particulars have been established –”
“I tend to agree.”
“Bailiff, please secure Mr. Rubinstein in his comfortable chair. Jack, you are in Contempt of Court. Mr. Sorrick, go on.”
“If I have to forcibly gag you, Jack, I will. Now settle down.”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
Sorrick, still painfully on his feet, cleared his throat. “Judge, Mr. Rubinstein did not produce half of the witnesses on his witness list – and aside from that, not a single credible eyewitness against Mr. Booth was produced. Moreover, no other direct evidence has been proved against my client that would indicate his guilt as a matter of law.”
“You will allow me to decide that, yes?”
“Obviously, Judge, indeed that is your province. I was just saying that, in conclusion –”
“There is no need. I am ready to rule. Jack, you will spend ten days in jail, and if I hear another peep, I will add a day for each syllable. And I pride myself on being an exceptional count. Understood? I will assess your Contempt fine upon your release.”
Rubinstein opened his mouth as if to answer, and silently nodded his head in agreement.
“Mr. Booth, please stand.”
Sorrick motioned to Booth, who rose -- hopeful and doubtful -- with the aid of his prison crutch, shackles clanking, jet-black mane mussed.
Mayhew evaluated the audience and the jury for threats. “Everyone in attendance, hear me now. We will have order in my courtroom, is that understood, people? No talking, no outbursts. I want silence, regardless of what I am about to say.”
Journalists remained seated, squinting away the stench, red cedar pencils in hand. Politicians studied each other with suspicion.
“Mr. Sorrick. Mr. Booth.” The Judge looked each man in the eye. “Here is my ruling: The government’s case against Mr. Booth is hereby dismissed with prejudice. The Court apologizes to you personally, Mr. Booth, for this profound waste of your time and ours. The Court further issues a heart-felt apology to the Citizens of this Country. Bailiff, do your duty and remove Mr. Booth’s chains, and place them on Mr. Rubinstein. Mr. Booth, would you like to address the Court before you go?”