by Bruce A. Borders
Not having a good Monday at work, I decided to cut my day short and head home. Home, my sanctuary. As a single guy, I often retreat to my sanctuary when things become intolerable, such as today.
Pulling into the drive, I noticed the yard and house really needed attention. I kept the lawn mowed, but the knee-high weeds were another matter. The house too had long been neglected. The loose siding and trim boards couldn’t be ignored much longer.
“Maybe next weekend,” I mused.
But then, I’d said that last week too. I’d only gotten as far as hauling out a garden rake and a tree trimmer before reconsidering and putting them back. Or, maybe I hadn’t put them away, I thought, seeing my rake in the yard.
Taking a minute to replace the rake in the tool shed, I wandered inside, intent on taking it easy for the rest of the afternoon. And I did. The next couple of hours were spent napping. Then, feeling slightly more energetic, I thought I’d give the yard work another try. And that’s when I found the body.
A male, early twenties, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, lay face down in the weeds, not ten feet from where I’d walked earlier. Good citizen that I am, I immediately called 911. Within minutes, my yard was swarming with cops and other emergency personnel.
After examining the body, one of the detectives walked over. “You discovered the body?”
I nodded, as another officer joined us.
“Tell me what led to your discovery.”
I related the gist of my activities of the day, such as they were.
Then began a series of inane questions. “You live alone here? Why’d you leave work early? What took you so long to call 911?”
“You’re acting like this guy was murdered or something.”
“We’re just trying to figure out the timeline and what happened,” one said.
“And to what extent you were involved,” his partner added.
I guess I’ve seen too many TV dramas because the first thing I said was, “So, do I need a lawyer?”
The cop shrugged. “Depends. Is there a reason you may need a lawyer?”
“I don’t know,” I stammered. “Don’t think so. Just don’t want to be blamed for this murder.”
“No one’s blaming you—yet.” The officer paused, whether for dramatic effect or to weigh his words, I wasn’t sure. “Should we be looking at you as a suspect?”
“Of course not.”
The detectives eyed me a moment. “We’ll be in touch,” one said as they turned away.
They’ll be in touch? What’s that supposed to mean? They’d said I wasn’t a suspect; was that just to keep me off-guard until they’d had time to gather enough evidence to build a case?
I shook my head. I must be crazy. There was no evidence. There was no case. I hadn’t done anything except find the body. I certainly hadn’t killed him.
But, they didn’t know that. And here I was acting all weird. Even I had to admit my strange behavior and ramblings appeared suspicious. The police likely thought so too.
And that’s how I ended up seeing a criminal defense attorney for a crime I hadn’t committed.
“Sounds like you’re a bit paranoid,” said the attorney after I’d filled him in.
“Paranoid, huh?” I said, somewhat sheepishly.
He smiled. “A little.”
I couldn’t think of an intelligent response, so I just sat there.
“Tell you what,” he said, breaking my uncomfortable abeyance. “I’ll keep my notes and if you’re arrested, call me.”
“Thanks. Hope I don’t need to.”
“If you didn’t commit the murder, they can’t exactly find any evidence. Although...”
I frowned. “Although what?”
They could always charge you with manslaughter if anything you’ve done, intentionally or unintentionally, contributed to the man’s death.”
“Right. I didn’t even know he was there until I found the body.”
“It’s most likely nothing to worry about. But you never know.”
As I stood to leave, he added, “If you are arrested, don’t say anything until I’m present. You’ve already given your statement. That’s all you’re obligated to do.”
Nodding, I left.
Just talking to the lawyer had helped. The anxiety I’d felt earlier was gone. Feeling better about my prospects, I drove home and was utterly shocked to find two police cars in my driveway, the officers knocking at my door.
As I parked, they came toward me. “Mr. Powell?”
“Can we come in and talk?”
I hesitated. The attorney had said to say nothing if I were arrested. He hadn’t mentioned anything about not being arrested. “Depends,” I finally managed. “Am I under arrest?”
“No,” the officer said. “We just want to clarify a few things with you.”
I repeated what the lawyer had told me. “I’ve already given my statement. That’s all I’m obligated to do.”
“You’re not interested in helping solve this murder?”
I certainly was interested in solving the murder, but something told me that “helping” might have an entirely different meaning to them. “I’ve already given my statement,” I said again.
The officers looked perturbed. “Well,” one said, reaching for his handcuffs. “You leave us no choice then. Mr. Powell, you are under arrest in connection with the murder of Vincent Dalhart.”
As the cop handcuffed me, I focused on what he’d said. I wasn’t being arrested for the murder but in connection with the murder. I wasn’t sure what that meant if anything. I hoped it meant they didn’t actually think I’d killed the man.
The next two days were a blur of numerous meetings with the detectives and my attorney. Through these conversations, I finally learned what had happened.
Vincent Dalhart had been stabbed to death. There were four puncture wounds, evenly spaced. Two had pierced a vital organ. The time of death was uncertain although, the medical examiner estimated it to be five hours before I, the only suspect, had stumbled onto the body.
Meanwhile, the police had executed a search warrant for my property, finding my rake, which they believed to be the murder weapon. Lab testing confirmed that blood present on the tines was that of the victim. Murder in the first degree was the charge.
To his credit, my lawyer seemed undaunted by the discovery. I told him about seeing the rake and putting it away. He seemed satisfied. “But the police will want to know how you didn’t notice any blood on the rake.”
“Yeah,” I sighed. “Not sure how I missed that.”
He shrugged. “Easy enough explanation. The blood was only on the tines—probably not a large amount. By the time you picked it up, the blood had likely dried. It would’ve been very difficult to see unless you were specifically looking for it.”
Unfortunately, the police were specifically looking for it, having determined a garden rake to be the likely murder weapon. And as my lawyer had predicted they weren’t exactly sold on my account of the events. Instead, they believed I’d used the rake to murder the man breaking into my house.
With no other options, we prepared to go to trial. My attorney seemed to like my chances. I wasn’t so confident. Here I was, a guy who’d never even been in a fight, charged with murder. It all felt so overwhelming.
Then, the next day, things took a surprising turn.
The guard came to escort me to the briefing room where my attorney waited.
“Good news,” he greeted me. “All charges have been dropped. You’ll be released within the hour.”
I was stunned. “That’s great, but... why? How?” With the direction things had been going, I found it hard to imagine the police had suddenly decided I was innocent.
“Turns out your neighbor saw the whole thing from across the street. Mr. Dalhart arrived at your house on foot, poked around; checking doors and windows, then went to the shed and retrieved the rake. Standing on your porch railing, he attempted to use the rake to pull himself up to an open second-story window. The window ledge gave way, and Mr. Dalhart fell to the ground, impaling himself on the rake.”
“But the rake was a good ten feet from the body.”
The attorney nodded. “Apparently, the would-be thief lived long enough to remove the rake and fling it away.”
I was frowning. “My neighbor watched all this and didn’t even try to help? Or, report it? Not that I care, really. The thief got what he deserved. But how does someone just watch all that and not do anything?”
The lawyer shrugged. “People are strange. Maybe he didn’t want to be involved. Who knows? He’s been arrested and faces legal troubles over his lack of humanity.”
“I would hope so.”
“Just be glad he eventually came forward.”
“I am.” I fell silent then.
The attorney noticed my gaze. “What is it?”
I smiled wryly. “Was just thinking... That window ledge has been loose for quite a while, banging in the wind. Been meaning to fix it for months, just hadn’t gotten around to it.”
Eyeing me a moment, the lawyer said, “You might want to keep that information to yourself.”