By Reason of Insanity


Quinn Newberg rose to face the jury one last time. The pressure of the case constricted his chest and pounded on his temples. He had to remind himself that he had done this more than eighty times before, with stellar results. "A legal magic act" was how one of the newspapers described him. Juries love me.

But he couldn't shake Dr. Rosemarie Mancini's words from the prior night, after his spunky expert witness had listened to a dry run of Quinn's closing. "The whole world hates the insanity plea," she said. "Ninety-five percent of these cases result in convictions." She forced a smile. "Including, believe it or not, even a few where I testified."

"Do you have any advice?" Quinn had asked. "Or just doomsday statistics?"

"Take the jury where the pain is," Rosemarie said softly. "Throw away your notes." She must have sensed Quinn's reluctance, noticed his unwillingness to even look at her as he considered this. Notes he could do without, but he had no desire to put Annie through her nightmare again. "It's our only chance," Rosemarie said.

Those words echoed in Quinn's ears as he approached the jury empty-handed, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes to gather his thoughts. He opened them again and looked at the jury--his jury. He heard the judge say his name--his honor's voice coming from the end of a long tunnel. Another moment passed, and the stillness of the courtroom became the stillness of that dank house on Bridge Street, over two decades earlier.

He started pacing even before he uttered his first word. Rosemarie was right--a good lawyer would start by describing this scene. But a great lawyer would do more. A great lawyer would take them there. . . .

By the time Annie turns thirteen, her father has been visiting her bed for nearly a year. Holidays are always the worst because they give Annie's father an excuse to drink. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, Memorial Day--they all end the same. Like this night undoubtedly would: July 4, 1986. Independence Day.

Annie goes to bed early--a holiday custom of her own--hoping she won't see her father come home. She leaves the light on in her room and prays for a miracle. A car accident. A heart attack. A mugger who goes too far.

She prays that tonight her father might die.

The answer to that prayer, the same answer she has received so many times before, arrives a few minutes after midnight. She hears the sound of car tires on the gravel drive. She listens through the thin walls of the small house as the engine stops and the driver's door thuds shut. Her father enters through the laundry room, his heavy footsteps taking him into the kitchen.

Petrified, Annie lies in bed and stares at the ceiling, the covers pulled tight to her chin. She hears the television. The sound of dishes. Murmured curses.

There is silence for an hour, her father probably sleeping in the recliner, but Annie does not sleep. Eventually he stirs and wakes. He trudges up the stairs, his footsteps and labored breathing magnified by the stillness of the house. She smells him. Though she knows it is impossible because the door to her room is closed and her father is only halfway up the steps, she smells him. Stale beer on her father's breath. The putrid odor of a grown man's sweat. The stench of cigarettes and a wisp of aftershave.

Sometimes he comes directly to Annie's room. If he does, Annie will not cry out for her mother. When Annie cried out in the past, her father would violate her mom first. When he returned to Annie, it would be worse.

Tonight he walks past Annie's door and into his own bedroom. Sometimes he will stay there. But sometimes, like tonight, there is muffled shouting. Her mother begs. Annie hears the sound of fist on bone. Annie wants to run to her mother's aid, but she has tried that before too. It only angers her father more. Once he threw Annie to the floor and made her watch as he beat her mother. He called it an obedience lesson. Another time, when Annie called the authorities, her mom defended her father. The bruises were an accident, her mom said. "I fell down the steps."

Tonight there is angry yelling until it abruptly stops. Her mother will be unconscious, oblivious to further pain. The silence hangs like the blade of a guillotine.

Moments later, Annie hears the door to her parents' room creak open. Stumbling footsteps