NOTE: THIS SECTION CONTAINS TRIGGER WARNINGS OF DOMESTIC ABUSE. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT READ IF THIS AFFECTS YOU, I AM HAPPY TO SUMMARIZE FOR ANYONE WHO WOULD STILL LIKE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WITHOUT READING.
The first day of the trial was long. The opening statements and arguments to the judge and jury were lengthy and over dramatic, hoping for first round points. Kelly had barely noticed the jury. She studied them now as casually as she could. She knew she’d seen some of them in the Goose, but others were strangers. “Interestin,” she thought to herself, “how they should call it a jury of my peers when I am not friends with any of them.”
The prosecution brought two witnesses: John’s father’s estate lawyer, and the medical examiner in charge of the autopsy. The lawyer stated unequivocally that the deceased’s money and assets went to his eldest son in full in the event of his death. The medical examiner’s assertion was that John’s death was not a self inflicted, and he had ruled it foul play.
The Admiral dealt his questions as smoothly as Sass poured beer. “My dear fellow,” he said chummily to the estate lawyer, “Would you then say that nothing at all went to the rest of his family? Well it was quite a lot of money, wouldn’t you agree?” The estate lawyer gulped and said it was. “Well then, is it possible that one of the family members not named in the will felt that they had been snubbed?”
“Allowed. Continue, Admiral.”
“Thank you, Judge.”
When the doctor took the stand, a similar scenario played out. “And you, my good doctor,” the Admiral said. “Would you please tell me what the wound looked like?”
“Objection,” Thomas’s lawyer bawled again. “The witness has already testified that the wound was the result of a gunshot.”
“Allow me to rephrase. Indeed, Doctor, could you describe the wound? We know it was from a gunshot, yes. But the size of the shot? The number of bullets? Any discoloration?”
The doctor glanced at the prosecution, then said, “It was a shotgun from close range. The pellets were small, even birdshot. No discoloration. A very wide dispersal for close range.”
“This birdshot?” The Admiral held up a tray with some cleaned and labelled birdshot.
“Yes that’s it.”
“No further questions, your honor.”
“What was the questionin about birdshot?” Kelly asked later. “It doesn’t disprove it was my shotgun, I also have birdshot.”
“Oh, but it will disprove it, my dear,” the admiral said. “Just you wait. Now, you had better tell me everything about this birdshot you use. Where do you buy it?” She told him, even down to the date. She wished she could scream this information from the witness stand, but that was flatly denied.
The next few days were much the same. The prosecution called friends of John’s, who painted Kelly as a nagging and jealous wife. They brought up the constant fights, the drinking on John’s part (which they attributed to Kelly’s temper), and Kelly’s flight from the law. Every one of them was matched by a witness from the Admiral stating that the fights had happened but they were of her husband’s initiation, and that he had told them he drank because of his leg. They said they believed Kelly ran because she was afraid. To Kelly herself, it seemed as though all they were doing was defending without proving anything. It was all difference of popular opinion. It was, despite the Admiral’s pleas for trust, tremendously disheartening. Though Kelly noticed that Thomas was getting more agitated as the trial went on. He was fidgety, jumping and twitching like a locust, and the day of the Admiral’s witnesses, he had a compress on his side. Kelly surmised he was suffering from opium withdraw. She had seen the men in the hospital in her old town, shivering and vomiting from lack of the drug.
His lawyer must have forced him to stay off of it for the trial, as it caused him to be extremely unreliable. As the trial progressed, Thomas was getting more and more distressed. By the time the Admiral called Kelly’s childhood friend to the stand, he was positively bouncing. Kelly would have laughed, but the Admiral had begun.
Had any of the onlookers thought to ask Kelly what she felt as Catherine Cummings opened her mouth and defended her friend, Kelly would have been speechless. Obviously people had responded to the Admiral’s letters and agreed to provide a good word on her character. Few had agreed to testify, and of those, she was most grateful to see Catherine. To see so familiar a face look her dead on, and say, “No Admiral, I find it absolutely beyond belief that Kelly murdered her husband,” Kelly could have burst into tears. She did not, of course, but it was a close thing.
Thomas’s lawyer stood to cross-examine. Catherine eyed him with a look of contempt.
“My dear,” the lawyer said silkily, “You and the defendant are close, are you not?”
“What was she like, after she married?”
“They were very happy for a very short time. Kelly was hurt when he took a mistress, but always forgave him because she had this utterly silly notion that love was always stronger than his weaknesses.”
“So she forgave him? Why?”
“I always thought her husband was…well, I never liked him. She would tell me he always came back to her. She knew that he knew she was the most capable, beautiful, intelligent woman who would put up with him.”
“But they fought?”
Catherine narrowed her eyes. “You’re not married, are you?”
The lawyer smiled. “No, I have not found the right lady.”
“A blessing,” Catherine sniffed. “Wedded couples argue, sir. It is practically in the sacred vows. But I tell you, those fights were not equal. There was yelling to be sure, but it was all his. Kelly would object to something small; the price of some stirrups, say, or lament over forgetting to buy some eggs. John would lose his head. It’s a wonder he didn’t shoot her.”
“What did they fight over most?”
Catherine looked at the Admiral, who nodded. “Money, the inheritance. They disagreed over John lending to his brother.”
The lawyer paused, then smiled wider. The Admiral chuckled.
“So, Miss Rose disapproved of her husband loaning my client money?”
“What? No, quite the opposite. She was quite wary of Thomas, told me he was unstable. She wanted John to give his brother more in the hopes that he would leave them alone. John would pay him, but never enough, and it terrified her.”
The lawyer spun to look at his client. Thomas was pale with rage.
“Do you have any further questions, councillor?” Judge Fauna asked briskly, as the courtroom murmured.
“No, Your Honor,” the lawyer snapped.
“In that case, ma’am, you may step down.”
Catherine gave Kelly a helpless look, then hurried out the side door of the courtroom. “I call my next witness,” the Admiral announced. He gestured to the door, opened by a guard. “Miss Annie Stafford.”
Kelly did not know Miss Annie Stafford, but Thomas apparently did. He roared and leapt to his feet, sending the compress flying. “How dare you?! She has nothing to do with Miss Rose!”
“Sheriff, please sit down, before I have you removed from my courtroom!” The judge smashed her gavel. The guard advanced until Thomas sat.
A young woman, was brought up to the stand. She had straight brown hair, was petite, and very pretty, under her absolute terror. Her wide brown eyes darted from Kelly to Thomas and back again. She took her oath and sat in the witness box, facing the court fully. Gasps echoed around the room.
Annie Stafford’s face was severely bruised. One eye was blackened. She was heavily pregnant, and clutching at her ribs as though they hurt. Kelly stared at Thomas, choked with horror. Annie Stafford was Thomas’s mistress, she realized.
The Admiral approached the stand. “Annie,” he said kindly, “my colleague there is going to ask you some questions, alright?” She nodded. “Very good. Councillor, you have the floor.”
The lawyer barely rose from his seat, unwilling to go near the shaking woman. “Miss Stafford, do you know the defendant?”
“No sir,” she said in a high, cracking voice.
“Have you ever met her?”
“Have you ever met her deceased husband?”
“Your Honor,” the lawyer said. “This woman is simply a distraction. She is obviously in no condition to -”
“Your Honor, she is a material witness and she shows great mettle in appearing here, whatever her condition. Her grievous injuries are relevant to her statement.” The Admiral said, for the first time with a forceful tone. “I submit her entrance as a key part of my client’s case.”
The judge was quiet for a moment. Kelly’s heart was in her throat. Thomas was gripping the desk so hard his fingers were white. Both councillors leaned toward the bench.
“Admiral,” the judge finally declared, “You may proceed with your witness, provided your line of questioning pertains to your client’s case only.”
“Agreeable, your Honor.”
“Your Honor, I must object -”
“Must you, councillor?” Judge Fauna said with an air of finality. “Any further questions?”
Recognizing a dismissal, the lawyer growled, “No further questions,” and crossed his arms.
“Miss Stafford,” the Admiral began. “Have you ever heard of my client?”
A complete hush fell.
“In what capacity?” Annie shifted uncomfortably. “It’s alright, Miss Stafford.”
“My acquaintance, Sheriff Thomas, spoke of her as his brother’s wife, and then as his murderess.”
“Miss Stafford, do you have an idea of what happened that night?”
Anni stafford had begun to shake even more. She kept glancing at Thomas. She put trembling hands to her mouth, taking deep breaths.
“It’s alright, Annie,” the Admiral said soothingly. “Take your time.”
“Annie.” Thomas’s voice sounded cracked, like he was fracturing on the inside.
At his voice, Anni began to change. She looked angry, and she stilled a little.
“Yes sir. I know exactly what happened that night.”
“Annie!” Thomas cried.
“What?!” Annie suddenly shrieked. Everyone jumped. “You have ruined us, Thomas. This baby and I will not be fallin with you!”
“Order!” The judge shacked her gavel repeatedly. “Miss Stafford, please continue your testimony, as calmly as possible if you would.”
“That night of the murder, Thomas was drinkin so he didn’t have any wits. He came to my cottage far after dark, only just able to walk. He said his brother refused him any more money. Thomas has dreadful debts, and there was me and our baby. I am a widow now, but when Thomas and I first met, my husband was alive. There is no use in shamin me, and I pray he never knew while he lived. In any case, I have no money and no family, but I was beggin Thomas to leave his brother and wife alone. He was in such a rage that night, so angry, as I’d never seen. He said his brother would give him the money, or he’d pry it from his cold dead hands. Then he went very still, and he smiled. He turned to me, as if in a dream. I was tryin to keep him there, tryin to reason, but he pushed me away. He pulled down my husband’s shotgun, and a sack of birdshot from the closet, and got back on his horse and rode away. I hurried to grab a shawl, and followed him on my own horse.”
“Why did you follow him?”
Annie’s lip trembled. “Whatever he was about to do, I felt it was my fault. It is my fault. It was in the name of me and the baby.” She took a deep breath. “I found his horse outside a big house in town. I tied my horse up and hurried inside, as the door was already open. I heard some mighty shoutin and screamin. I hurried up the stairs, and into a closet I could peek out of down the hall. I saw Thomas with the shotgun, pointed at his brother, Miss Rose screamin behind them.”
“Annie! God damn you, Annie, please!” Thomas bellowed.
“Your honor,” Annie said, in a voice that was strong but shaking, “I saw Sheriff Thomas shoot his brother full of birdshot, and he would’ve got Miss Rose too if she weren’t so quick. She knocked him over, grabbed some things, and ran right past my closet. I ran out after her, waited until she disappeared, and raced home. Thomas came to see me a few days later. He told me Miss Rose had killed her husband, and was on the run, and as soon as he could prove it, the inheritance was ours. He did not know I’d been there. He was a violent man now; it had changed him. He started…” Annie gestured to her face. “Well, you can see.”
“Miss Stafford, is this the birdshot?” The Admiral showed her the same evidence tray. Annie recoiled.
“How can you be sure?”
“I make it, sir. My late husband, rest his soul, had bad eyesight. I made his shot for him, I’d know it anywhere.”
“May I present to the jury bills to my client from Kunzman’s Gunshop, where she bought her birdshot made of lead. Lead birdshot discolors the flesh of its target, and Mr. Kunzman was so good as to give us a list of components in the example birdshot here. There is no lead, nor was there any discoloration. Neither my client nor the victim had any other shot in the house, and never used any other shop than Kunzman’s. My client’s shotgun, as seen here shot from ten paces (he held up a piece of butcher’s paper with pellet holes) has a very tight pattern, and the good autopsy doctor already testified to a wide pattern. I move to dismiss this trial and have this man arrested for the murder of his brother!” The Admiral spun to point at Thomas, his voice ringing through the courtroom with victory.
Thomas screamed. He howled, on his feet. The onlookers gasped, and began to hurry for the back doors.
“You!” he screeched at Kelly, his eyes bulging. “I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you like your snivelling husband, and send you straight to hell!”
His face contorted. He flung his chair at the audience, causing a rush en masse for the doors. He was quite unhinged. Two guards hustled Annie and Judge Fauna out the side doors, Annie sobbing. A third jumped Thomas from behind, and as the Admiral pulled Kelly out after Annie, she saw Thomas grab the man’s gun and shoot him.
It was the signal.