Read Sins of the Fathers Online

Authors: James Scott Bell

Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Suspense

Sins of the Fathers (18 page)

BOOK: Sins of the Fathers

Woodard smiled. He had always loved interplay, often vigorous, with his students. “Be my guest. But I warn you, I’ll fire back.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Lindy paced in front of Woodard, as she might in front of a jury.

“To be guilty of a crime means not just that you commit an act, but that you also have
mens rea
, a guilty mind.”

Woodard folded his arms across his chest. “Continue.”

“Because in this country, we only punish people who are
. That’s the basic premise of the criminal law.”

“You’re making a speech. Make your argument.”

“You can’t punish someone who is insane, because he doesn’t have a guilty mind.”

“That’s circular. Tell me
we can’t punish him.”

“Because it is immoral to punish someone without cause, and none of the justifications for punishment exist in the case of the insane person.”


“Let’s take a hypothetical. A two-year-old knows how to fire a gun. He’s seen it on TV. He finds his daddy’s gun and fires it at his daddy, killing him. Is he guilty of murder?”

“I concede that he is not.”

“Well, what if a baby in a thirteen-year-old body kills? We would say that a thirteen-year-old with a baby’s mind does not have criminal responsibility, wouldn’t we?”

“The line is very fine.”

“But there is a line. If there is no line, law loses meaning. We don’t punish people who are not responsible for their actions.”

“Tell me why not.”

“Because punishment without responsibility doesn’t fit with any theory of justice. Take retribution, the revenge theory. Someone must suffer for the purposeful harm they have done to others. But it is immoral to make someone suffer who does not deserve to suffer. Only a guilty mind justifies such suffering. Otherwise, punishment is merely torture.”

“What about other theories?”

“How about deterrence? We punish wrongdoers to send a message to potential wrongdoers. But those who are insane cannot process the message. Deterrence simply doesn’t apply to those who cannot be rational.”

Woodard nodded but kept his skeptical air. “There are still other theories.”

Lindy thrilled at being in the thick of an argument, just like when she’d been in his class, speaking with all her energy because the law

“Education. The punishment of criminals educates the public about what we consider good and evil. But if we punish the insane, are we not educating the public that inflicting pain on the mentally weak is good?”

“Any more?”

“Rehabilitation. Here, punishment is supposed to help the offender return to society. This theory has fallen on hard times, and no one buys it much anymore. But in the case of the insane, it fits perfectly. Because we
insane people in the hope that they can get better.”

“And what if they don’t?”

“They remain in a facility. But that facility is not a prison.”

“What about those who say the insanity defense should be abolished? It’s been abused.”

“Oh, really? When it works less than 1 percent of the time? How can you possibly call that abuse?”

“Because it’s the rich-man’s defense, effective only for the ones who can afford to hire top lawyers and experts.”

“That’s no reason to deny it to those who deserve it.”


“Yes!” Lindy was heated now, her argumentative furnace set on full. She was in the grip of something and let it have its way. “They deserve compassion, don’t they, if they’re mentally ill through no fault of their own? That’s what gets me about the mob mentality. Somebody kills; everybody wants to string him up! How is this different from the lynch mobs of a hundred years ago?”

Woodard, still playing the devil’s advocate, answered with commensurate heat. “People are sick and tired of criminals getting away with murder.”

“It’s not murder if they’re insane!”

“You’re arguing in circles again. These people are dangerous and shouldn’t be allowed on the street. If they go into a hospital they can get out, maybe kill again.”

“I’m not . . .” Breath left her, like she’d been punched. “Don’t you see what I’m saying? . . . I can’t lose him! I can’t . . .Wayne . . .”

“Lose him? You’re a lawyer not a—”

Lindy put her hand on her throat.

“What is it, Lindy?”

She couldn’t speak. She sat heavily in a chair, her mind swirling.

The name. She’d said the name.

“Lindy, what’s wrong?”

She didn’t answer.

“Let me get you a glass of water.”


“Who’s Wayne?”

“My brother,” she said.

“I didn’t know you had a brother.”

Lindy looked at her professor. “I lost him, see? I lost him.”

Woodard pulled up a chair near her and sat, silent,waiting for her to talk if she chose to.

She closed her eyes for a long moment.


“It was when my father’s drinking got bad,” Lindy said. “He was a ’Nam vet and came back changed. Was he a bad man? I don’t know. All I know is he got drunk all the time, and by the time I was fourteen he was beating up my mom, he would hit me, and sometimes he would hit my little brother.”

“Wayne,”Woodard said.

“Yes. When dad would come home, screaming drunk, I used to take Wayne and hide in the closet with him. We protected each other there. I’d say to him, ‘We’ll stay together, you and me.’ And he’d say it back. ‘Together, you and me.’”

She paused, letting the black memory out. Maybe in doing so, it would finally leave her alone.

“This one night, there was a storm, and we heard him yelling up the walk. Mom told us to get to our rooms. I took Wayne to the closet with me. But then I heard my mom scream in pain, and I couldn’t take it. I ran out. I saw him slapping her. I don’t know. I forgot everything and ran at him as fast as I could. I threw myself at him. We went down. I was on top of him. I smelled the whisky on him. I’ll never forget that smell.”

It came back to her, turning her stomach again.

“He was strong. Even with his beer belly and war wounds, he had iron hands. He grabbed me by the throat. He lifted me off him like I was a pillow. He got on his knees, holding me. I couldn’t breathe. He slapped my face with his other hand. My mother screamed and tried to pry his hand off my neck. I was sure I was dead.”

Lindy spoke with a distant voice now, almost as if she were hearing this account for the first time.

“He didn’t let go, and I was starting to fade. And then, suddenly, his hand left me. I fell on the floor. And then he fell next to me. And I saw blood on the floor. I thought it was mine. But it wasn’t. It was my father’s. I looked up and saw Wayne standing there. He was ten years old. He had this look on his face . . .”

Lindy felt tears coming and bit her lip. She had to finish.

“He was scared. And I saw what he’d done. He’d taken a kitchen knife and stabbed my father in the side.”

The blackness in her mind deepened. “My father made an animal sound, an awful animal scream, and he got up and hit Wayne in the face. He hit so hard . . . it was like hitting a soft melon. The sound of it . . .Wayne went down. He went down . . .” Lindy slumped in her chair.

Woodard touched her arm. “You don’t have to say more.”

“Wait.” She straightened up, her vision blurred by tears. “My father saw what he’d done and he ran out of the house. Wayne was on the floor. He wasn’t moving. I went to him and my mom was screaming and crying. I called 911. I was aware enough to do that. They found my father in his car, dead. He ran into a telephone pole across from my elementary school. They said it was drunk driving, pure and simple, but I wonder if he ran into it on purpose. I think he wanted to kill himself for a long time.”

She took a moment to gather herself for the hardest part.

“Wayne never came out of it. He hung on in a coma for a week.

But he never came out of it. I lost him, see? I was the one who was supposed to protect him, and I lost him . . .” She was starting to choke on words, sobs coming up like irregular beats of her heart.

“When they buried him I didn’t go . . . I couldn’t take it . . . I didn’t go. I stayed in the closet . . .”


She buried her face in his shoulder and he held her, the way her father never had.



Sunday, Lindy turned to Roxy just outside the church doors. “I have this terrible feeling I don’t belong here.”

Lindy’s stomach actually roiled, the way Dorothy’s must have when she stepped out of the farmhouse into the land of Oz. Last time she’d been to church with Roxy, Lindy came as a one-time visitor. This time, she was here not just because Roxy wanted her to be, but also because some restless need beckoned her. God ideas had been klunking around in her head. The DiCinni defense had something to do with it, but even apart from that, she realized she wanted to

After talking about Wayne to Everett Woodard, her need to know had grown into an insatiable hunger.

Even so, she felt like an imposter.

“This is church.” Roxy took Lindy’s arm as they joined the crowd entering the front doors. “Everybody belongs here.”

“You sound like an advertisement.”

“You going to be a poop about this or what?”

“Much better.”

Roxy punched her in the shoulder.

Inside the auditorium, the worship team was pounding out a song, the congregation standing and clapping. The atmosphere was sort of fun, which was a shock to Lindy’s system. Church, fun? Well, why not?

At least she could relax a little. Recharge. Let her brain rest. This was Sunday, the big day of rest, right? Relax and forget, for just a little while, about the case everyone was talking about. And no cameras. She could be anonymous in a crowd for a change.

They found seats on the outer edge of the human sea, which was fine with Lindy. Travis Kellman joined them.

There was more upbeat music, some announcements, a soloist—a girl of about eighteen who could really belt out a song—then the featured attraction. That’s the way Lindy thought of it, anyway.

The big preacher. The sermonator.

Pastor Clark (as Roxy called him) still had the stage presence that had previously impressed her. This morning, though, he didn’t have that glint in his eye, or the energy. He looked serious, which made Lindy all the more interested in what he was going to say.

“As we all know, for over a month this community has been reflecting on a terrible tragedy,” he said. “Six innocent people, five of them children, gunned down in an act of senseless violence.”

An electric jolt shot through Lindy.

“When such things happen, right in our own backyard, we can’t help but be affected. Here in our own congregation, one family was affected directly. And as the church, we must be ready to be there for them.”

Heat filled Lindy’s head.

Pastor Clark said. “I can’t help but ask, Where was God? I know many of you ask the same question. It’s human. It’s understandable.”

“You all right?” Roxy whispered.

Lindy rubbed her temples. “No.”


Seated in the far left corner, Mona thought,
Yeah. Where? You got an
answer for me? It better be good.

She tried to ignore the heads that turned her way. Friends, mostly. Well-intentioned people. But she did not want their looks right now. Why hadn’t Pastor Clark cleared this with her first if he was so concerned about her?

And then it hit her, the reason Brad insisted she come to church this morning. Pastor Clark had called Brad. She was sure of it. And Brad hadn’t told her. So it was a conspiracy.

She almost walked out then, but Brad deserved at least this much time. He sat silently next to her, his nose still red from her right cross with the cookbook.

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