A case of Capital Punishment
With jitteriness, I made way through the large gated courthouse on 57th street. Its aura, palpable in the pious air, welcomed me with a wooden tone of aristocracy and Astraea-sculpted marble. The halls seemed infinite, and though their distant ends were filled with light, handcuffs paraded in every direction, holding one arm in one cuff, and all hope in the other. This was the first time I had ever set foot in a court of law, let alone assist as an expert witness in a high-profile case. Innumerable doors and passageways stood before me, and I, already delayed, approached the security guard near one aisle to seek help. I showed him the slip, which I had only received a few days before: Courthouse 4, entrance A-1C, 10:00 am.
“Over there.” – he replied, pointing with his hand in the right direction. “You’ll have to go through security first, sir, so make sure you’ve removed all metallic items on you.”
After I thanked him, I took a brisk step towards the security lines, which only aggravated my pulse. As I waited, my mind began racing again, drowning in despair at the uncertainty that was about to take place. While the chief had asked me personally to attend this hearing, he had not disclosed the entire nature of the trial. I only had a vague idea of what this case was about. Yet, the notion that a person’s life hung in the balance of my testimony had not sunk in; a person I did not yet know.
After I got the full-body pat down, I arrived at entrance A-1C. The large mahogany doors were guarded by two hefty men who seemed tired of standing there motionless. I heard mumbled noises coming from within, like gasps from an impressed audience. “How dramatic!” – I thought to myself. I wiped the sweat off my face with the handkerchief I was hiding in my pocket, as I paced on the spot.
“First time here, eh?” – asked the guard on the left.
“Is it that obvious? I don’t even know why I am here.” – I joked.
“Boss’ orders I bet?”
“You got it.”
He turned to his fellow guard, who seemed distracted. “Hey Marty, we got a newbie here, any advice?”
“Just don’t lie man, not here. If you ain’t up for conviction, don’t go lyin’ or nothin’.” – he answered.
Nervous, I replied – “Right, thanks.”
I crunched my fists and moved my head at random, when a distinct hammering sound was overheard, and the doors suddenly opened.
A tall, well-suited man appeared to lead scene, drawing all attention from the middle of the room. “Your Honor, the State would like to call Dr. Benjamin Adrien Boyd to the stand.”
As one of the guards pushed my back through the child-like gates that separated the door from the crowd, I took a moment to absorb the splendor of the room, and the numerous faces that had suddenly turned in my direction.
“Dr. Boyd, please come up to the witness stand and raise your right hand.” – said the judge, whose distinctive black robe sat higher than the rest of the room. I was approached by a clerk who looked like the security guards I had just seen outside. With a piercing stare, he attempted to address me, only really yelling in my direction:
“Remain standing. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
“I do.” – I replied.
“Please state your name and age for the record.”
In an noticeably quieter tone, I replied – “My name is Benjamin Adrien Boyd, and I am 36 years old.”
“Thank you. Please be seated.”
Calmly, I proceeded towards the witness stand, and found my place next to the judge’s bench. Before the questioning began, the chief justice leaned over to my side and whispered – “Stay calm and you’ll do just fine. Ready?”
“Is the prosecution ready to examine the witness?”
“We are, your honor.”
“Very well, go ahead.”
The same sharply dressed man approached the stand, and introduced himself.
“Dr. Boyd. My name is Charles Quinn. I am an attorney for the State office, representing the state of Pennsylvania in the case against Shirley Watkins. Thank you for being here today.”
“Not at all. Anything I can do to help.” – I replied.
“Dr. Boyd, please answer the following questions. Can you tell the jury what today’s date is?”
“Certainly. Today is December 15th, 2011.”
“Very well. Can you please state for the record what you do for a living?”
“Yes. I am a perinatologist.”
“And what exactly does a perinatologist do?” – he asked.
Though his attitude was somewhat condescending, I gathered he was trying to make a point, perhaps even dramatize matters for the purpose of the trial.
“A perinatologist is a medical doctor that first undergoes training as an obstetrician-gynecologist and then undergoes additional specialized training in the assessment and management of high-risk pregnancies.”
“So what you’re saying is that as far as medical professionals go, perinatologists are by definition the pregnancy experts?”
“I guess you could say that, yes.”
“Now,” – he proceeded, as his tone became more poignant – “I will let you in on a few details of the case which has now reached the stage of appeal. What that means is that while Ms. Watkins has already been sentenced, newly arising circumstances make it such that the details of her conviction could change, and she’s now therefore appealing the original decision reached. Do you follow?”
“Yes.” – I answered hesitantly, even lying in a way.
“You see Dr. Boyd, Ms. Watkins was sentenced to death by lethal injection for the aggravated first degree murders of Quincy Jones and Lisa Smith on the 17th of July, 2007. Ms. Watkins has been on death row for the last 41 months, and was scheduled to be executed in 3 months time; that is, March 15th, 2012. You with me so far?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“You might be asking yourself as to the reasons why you’re here. It’s rather simple; There have seem some improprieties at the state penitentiary as of late. They revolve around a guard who was found to be sexually involved with several of the inmates, one of which is Ms. Watkins. Since they began having these inappropriate exchanges, Ms. Watkins has become pregnant, and is now asking for an extension on her death row in order to meet her child. Based on that argument alone, the request has been denied by the court. However, her defence is now arguing that her unborn child should be spared the dead sentence, and that her execution should be delayed only so that the child may live.”
I tried my best to hide my bewilderment, but ultimately failed.
“I’m sorry, but I fail to see the difference. Wouldn’t both cases lead to Ms. Watkins giving birth, and meeting her child? I mean, whether the execution is delayed to spare the child’s life or simply for Ms. Watkins to meet such child, both scenarios are mutually inclusive, are they not?”.
“Glad you follow.” – smiled Mr. Quinn. – “and that leads us to the real reason as to why we’ve asked you here today.”
“Okay?” – I replied in obvious confusion.
“The state is arguing that given the current state of her pregnancy, a mere 6 weeks, her fetus cannot yet be considered a person, and therefore should not play part in the decision to postpone her execution. The state is also arguing that in 3 months time, when her fetus is 18 weeks, he still won’t have crossed the viability threshold and therefore Ms. Watkins should be executed as per the original plan.”