Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Sentence

Copyright © 2003 Jonathan Plowman

"Will the defendant please rise." It was a statement, not a question.
He heard the voice, but he realised that his body wasn’t reacting. Instead he sat still, and only managed to force himself shakily to his feet when the advocate touched his shoulder. His ears were singing, a faint high-pitched whistle.
There was a pause while the judge reviewed the paper lying in front of him. He looked up.

"Foreman of the jury, have you reached a verdict?"
"We have, my lord."
Time became very precise. A fly walked across the glass in front of him. He felt a trickle of cold sweat run down his spine. He focused on the juror, who stood at parade rest as he recited, "We the jury, having reviewed the evidence presented here in this case, hereby declare a verdict. We find the defendant guilty on all counts." The man sat down so fast he almost fell.

He felt all the blood drain from his face. Guilty. But ... of course, guilty. Of course. So then why was he so shocked? He knew, had known all along what the verdict would be. Would have to be. He knew the only sentence it carried. There could only be one such, only one acceptable to the jaded moral standards he hated. Deep inside, he was aware of a sense of rightness. He found himself straightening where he stood. It didn’t matter. He had made his point. The world knew. That alone made it worthwhile.
The judge’s voice recalled him to the moment at hand.
"Given the nature-no, what I can only describe as the heinous nature-of these crimes, I am well aware of the sole sentence I can hand down that is both right and morally acceptable. The behaviour that resulted in this judgement, the gross perversions that have been committed, can only have one fair and acceptable result."
He paused, looking long and slow at the defendant.
"I have no doubt of your intelligence. I’m aware of how ably you communicate and how you build a rapport with anyone you meet. You obviously were happy before this. Even now something tells me that still you are happy. Yet all the evidence points to an unnatural series of acts; acts which are illegal, and deemed so morally corrupt as to be punishable to the fullest extent of the law. Acts unprecedented for you. You have a very highly developed awareness of right and wrong. You know what you have done, and you know what the sentence is for such a deviation-it’s evident, perhaps even probable, that you always knew these things, were aware before these events had so much as taken place. Yet you chose to ignore the risk inherent in such blatant disregard of the law, and therefore you made a mistake. You broke your own moral code in order to teach others a lesson you felt they deserved.
"We have seen here the known facts of these crimes as accurately as can be derived in their aftermath. We have seen those same facts sorted and filed and cross-referenced and finally regurgitated here in all their sordid glory. They are undeniable. They are inexcusable. They have convinced both the jury and myself of the fact that you are their sole perpetrator.
"Accordingly, with the power invested in myself and my office, I declare you guilty of all charges, those same charges being presented here before me and proven beyond all doubt or dispute.
"Furthermore, it is my duty to pass sentence on you. It is with absolute confidence of the fact of your guilt that I am imposing the maximum punishment permissible under law. You are hereby sentenced to life, without parole, suspension or remission, and are hereby to be taken from this place to begin said sentence immediately.
"The court is dismissed."
He stood up and turned away.
The defendant was in a daze, walking like a man concussed. He hardly noticed where he was being lead, or what they did to him. He was only dimly aware of the clang of the chamber door closing behind him. There was silence, then the lights went out and suddenly the claustrophobia gripped him. No! Not this! He struggled, unable to breathe, unable to scream, wanting to beg for mercy, finding his mouth and nose full of warm, acrid fluid. His heart was hammering, a thunderous beat filling his ears. He kicked out and tried to twist around, then suddenly the light blazed and vertigo seized him and he screamed.

A voice pitched over his wails said, "Congratulations! It’s a boy!", and so he began his sentence.

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