Curt's life takes a turn that he never expected, and he realizes that it's because he forgot something that didn't seem important at the time. He also discovers that others have forgotten things that are important and that turns out to both help him and hurt him.
Mature or distressing themes. This story deals with abuse.
Chapter 35 — Tom and Curt Testify
Beth Wolman stepped from the Prosecutors’ table and stood facing the three judges on the Judicial Panel who sat at a table in front of the jury box. She started the Prosecution’s opening statement outlining the case against Donovan Clarey. She didn’t say anything different than what I’d already told her and Mr. Williams and the police and just about everyone I knew.
I sort of zoned out, and Mr. Williams noticed. He nudged me and it sort of startled me. “You should pay attention, Curt,” he whispered. “If the Defense Attorney thinks you’re not paying attention he might ask you questions about what the Prosecutor said in her opening statement.”
I nodded a ‘yes’ in response and did pay attention to the rest of what she said. When she finished it was the turn for the Defense to explain why Don shouldn’t be prosecuted for what he did to me. In my opinion he should be persecuted for what he did to me.
Lawrence Wilde got up and said that Don had been sexually abused as a boy by his Sunday School teacher. I didn’t know that, and honestly I didn’t believe a word of what he said. He talked about Kyle and how he’d told Don he was gay and over his wife’s objections Don took him to an ex-gay organization to have him cured, but his wife removed him. Because Kyle didn’t complete the entire treatment he still believes that he’s gay. Don’s wife divorced him and he moved to California, met Virginia Fischer, and they were married. He was told by a neighbor that he’d seen me and another boy hugging and kissing on our driveway and he became distraught because I was gay. He was in a daze and remembered coming into the house but didn’t remember anything after that until he heard pounding at the front door and when he answered he saw two policemen who attacked him and knocked him to the floor.
I couldn’t believe the crap that Don’s attorney said in his opening statement. I assumed that Beth Wolman would be just about drooling to get going with her witnesses. That meant me, the second witness for the prosecution and the victim of Don’s attack.
Judge Young said, “The Prosecution can call their witnesses, if they please.”
Beth Wolman stood and walked to the front of the Prosecutors’ table. “I call Thomas Williams.”
The Bailiff called out, “Please bring Thomas Williams into the courtroom.” After a couple minutes Tom was led up the aisle by a guard. The Bailiff held the gate open for him, then led him to the witness stand and Tom sat down. The Bailiff whispered something to him and Tom stood up. He answered “Yes” to the oath then sat down.
Beth asked him for his name, age, and address like she’d done with me.
“My name is Thomas Williams, I’m sixteen years old. I live at 105 Penrose Court.”
Beth started her questioning. She asked what we’d been doing that Friday and he answered, “Curt and I were shooting hoops in his driveway.”
She got to the good part and asked him what Mr. Vanvelick said to him when he retrieved the basketball.
“He said that niggers like me didn’t belong in this neighborhood and that I should go back to the projects where I belong.”
“What did you say to him?”
“I was too shocked to say anything. I walked back to Curt’s driveway and about halfway there I turned around and gave him the finger then ran up to Curt and handed him the basketball.”
“How did being called a nigger make you feel?”
“I was pissed, sorry, I was mad. Curt asked me what old man Vanvelick said to me and I told him he called me the N-word and told me to go back to the projects. Then I told Curt that Vanvelick needed a good talking-to and I was just the one to do it.”
“What did you do next?”
“I turned around to go back across the street but Curt grabbed my arm and pulled me back. I started to pull away from him and he grabbed me and held me so I couldn’t pull away.”
“Did Curt say anything to you?”
“Yes, he said that Vanvelick wasn’t worth anything and I was a million time better than him. I could have pulled away, I mean Curt’s strong but I’m stronger, but he was right so I sort of gave up and stopped trying to pull away.”
“What did you do next?”
“Curt said we should go in the house and he’d make some meatloaf sandwiches and that’s what we did. They were great sandwiches, too.”
There was laughter from the spectators in the gallery, and Judge Young banged his gavel once but I saw he was smiling.
“Then what did you do?”
“After eating I looked at the time and had to get home, so I left. By then I’d forgotten about Mr. Vanvelick.”
“Did you and Curt kiss each other while he was holding you to keep you from going to have a discussion with Mr. Vanvelick?”
Tom made a face. “No!”
“Did Curt kiss you?”
“Did you kiss Curt?”
“No.” Tom shook his head when he said that.
“Did you hold hands as you walked into Curt’s house?”
“Have you ever had sex with Curtis Fischer?”
“Curtis Fischer is temporarily living at your home. Is that correct?”
“Was that arranged by your father?”
“Is your father Curtis Fischer’s attorney?”
“Do you and Curtis Fischer sleep together?”
“Does Curtis Fischer share your bedroom?”
“Does Curtis Fischer have his own bedroom at your house?”
“Curtis Fischer had an aluminum baseball bat. Did he trade that baseball bat to you for a CD?”
“What’s the title of that CD?”
“The Very Best of Supertramp.”
“Why did you trade that CD to Curtis Fischer for an aluminum baseball bat?”
“I got two of those CDs for my birthday and didn’t need both of them. Curt said he’d trade an aluminum baseball bat he got for Christmas and never used for one of those CDs. It sounded like a good deal for me and for Curt. I’m on the baseball team at Los Arcos High and I could use an aluminum bat for pick-up games. It’s the same kind that the teams use for our games.”
“Couldn’t you have taken the extra CD to the store and exchanged it for something else?”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Because an aluminum baseball bat was worth a lot more than a CD.”
“When did Curtis Fischer trade the aluminum baseball bat for your CD?”
“That same day, when my birthday party was over.”
“When was that?”
“Wednesday, the fourth of July. My birthday is on the fourth of July.”
“So Curtis Fischer’s aluminum baseball bat has been in your possession from the fourth of July until now?”
“Not the entire time. The police took it away from me on July fourteenth and returned it to me on the twentieth. But other than that, my answer is yes.”
“Did they tell you why they wanted it?”
“They said it was evidence.”
Beth Wolman smiled. “Thank you, Tom. Those are all the questions that I have for you at this time.”
She turned to Judge Young. “I reserve the right to recall Mr. Thomas Williams for redirect.”
Judge Young responded, “So noted.” He turned to look at Tom. “Mr. Williams, because you might be recalled, after your current testimony you will return to a witness waiting room. Do you understand?”
“Yes, your honor.”
“Mr. Wilde, do you have any questions for this witness?”
“No, your honor.”
Tom stood, left the witness stand, and left the courtroom.
I whispered to Mr. Williams, “Tom was a good witness, wasn’t he.”
He replied, “Yes, he was.”
Beth called my name. For some reason a thought crossed my mind, ‘It’s show time!’ I avoided grinning; I knew that wouldn’t go over well at all. I stood up and the Bailiff opened the little gate to let me into the court area from the gallery where I’d been sitting. I walked into the witness stand, turned around, and stayed standing. The Bailiff stated the oath, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the entire truth, and nothing but the truth?” I answered, “Yes,” and sat down. I glanced at the judges sitting as the Judicial Panel. These two women and one man would decide Don’s fate. And maybe mine as well.
Beth asked my name, age, and address.
“My name is Curtis Fischer. I’m fifteen years old. I lived at 216 Pauley Court, but I’m temporarily living at 105 Penrose Court.”
Beth began her questioning. She asked direct questions that were easy for me to answer. She started, “Curt, Do you see the defendant, Donovan Clarey who was your stepfather, in this courtroom?”
“Yes, over there,” I pointed to Don. “I see him sitting there at the Defense table.”
“Is Donovan Clarey the person who attacked you and caused your injuries on the thirteenth of July of this year?”
“Curt, what were you doing just after noon on Friday, July the thirteenth of this year?”
“Tom Williams and I were shooting baskets in my driveway.”
“Did you see any of your neighbors while you were shooting baskets?”
“Yes. The basketball rolled across the street and ended up in the gutter in front of Mr. Vanvelick’s house. He was outside in his front yard.”
“What happened then?”
“Tom crossed the street to get the basketball. Mr. Vanvelick said something to Tom and Tom gave him the finger and ran back to our driveway with the basketball.”
“Did you hear what Mr. Vanvelick said to Tom Williams?”
“Did Tom Williams tell you what Mr. Vanvelick said to him?”
“What did he tell you?”
Lawrence Wilde stood up and said, “I object. This is hearsay evidence and should not be admitted.”
“Your Honor, Curtis Fischer’s testimony regarding what he understood Thomas Williams told him about his conversation with Otto Vanvelick is necessary. I will show that Curtis Fischer’s actions were a direct result of what he understood.”
“Alright. I will allow this testimony with the understanding that you will show how it connects to further actions by or including Curtis Fischer. The objection is overruled.”
Lawrence Wilde sat down, and did not look pleased.
Beth said, “I would like the Court Reporter to read back my questions starting with my question about whether he heard what Otto Vanvelick said to Thomas Williams.”
The court reporter read back that part of the questioning.
“Alright, Curt, what did Tom Williams tell you?”
“He said that Mr. Vanvelick called him the N-word and that he should go back to the projects.”
“What did Tom do next?”
“He said he was going to go back across the street to give Mr. Vanvelick a talking-to.”
“What did you do?”
“I grabbed him and held him to keep him from getting in a fight with Mr. Vanvelick.”
“How did you hold him?”
“In a tight hug, from his back.”
“Then what did you do?”
“I told Tom he was a million times better than Mr. Vanvelick and to ignore him.”
“Then what did you do?”
“I told Tom that I was going to make meat loaf sandwiches for the two of us. We went into the house, I made the sandwiches, we ate them, and Tom went home.”
“What were you doing just before you saw the defendant on the afternoon of July the thirteenth?”
“I was doing my Algebra 2 homework.”
“You were taking Algebra 2 during the summer? Why was that?”
“I wanted to get ahead in math so I can take Pre-Calculus next semester.”
“Are you a good student, Curt?”
Lawrence Wilde stood once again. “Your Honor! I object. This is immaterial.”
Judge Young looked at Beth Wolman. “Ms. Wolman?”
“Your Honor, this goes to establish the background and personality of the victim, Curtis Fischer.”
“I’ll allow this line of questioning. Objection is overruled.”
“Are you a good student, Curt?”
“Yes. My grades have been straight A’s ever since elementary school.”
“What do you want to do after you graduate from high school?”
“I want to go to the University of California Berkeley and get a degree in Computer Science.”
The questioning went on about old man Vanvelick talking to Don, then Don coming in and yelling at me that I was a faggot and hitting me in the eye and knocking me down, then dragging me out of my bedroom and pushing me down the stairs into the living room and slugging me in my chest, knocking me into the end table and breaking my arm, then grabbing my broken arm and pulling me up and I screamed.
“Then what happened, Curt?”
“I heard the doorbell and Don ignored it. Then there was loud pounding so Don went to the door. I could hear it was the police because Don said the word ‘officer’ so I started yelling and calling for help and shouting that Don was trying to kill me. The police came in and I remember seeing this big, wonderful cop looking down at me. He asked if Don had done this to me and I said ‘Yes’ and I passed out.”
“You said that you shouted that Don was trying to kill you. Did you believe that?”
“Yes. He kept telling me to shut up and that my arm wasn’t broken and that I was a pansy faggot and couldn’t take a couple bruises like a man. He’s huge and he played football in college at Duke University, I’m only fifteen years old and weigh one hundred fifty five pounds. I believe that if he’d hit me a couple more times he could have killed me.”
Then she asked about the hospital and being interviewed by the police and talking to my mom. She asked about the baseball bat and I told how my mom said Don told her that I’d hit him with it, and it turned out to be a lie because I’d traded the bat to Tom for a CD.
Finally Beth Wolman finished questioning me. She turned to Judge Young and said, “I reserve the right to recall this witness.” He nodded, and it was Lawrence Wilde’s turn.
“Are you gay, Curtis?”
“Have you ever had sex with another boy?”
“Never?” He asked that question like he implied that I was lying.
Beth Wolman stood up. “Your Honor, Mr. Wilde is badgering the witness. Curtis has answered his question, and that answer was ‘No’ so there’s no reason to ask the same question a different way.”
“I don’t believe that asking a second time, in a different way, is badgering the witness. The objection is overruled.”
“Well?” Lawrence Wilde asked.
I turned to the Court Recorder and asked, “Would you read Mr. Wilde’s question back, please?”
I saw her try to suppress a grin. “The question that Mr. Wilde asked Curtis Fischer was, ‘Never?’”
“Never,” I answered.
“So, at no time, in your entire life, did you have sex with another boy?”
Beth Wolman stood up. “Your Honor, I object. Now Mr. Wilde is badgering this witness.”
“Objection sustained. Mr. Wilde, you will not badger this witness. The next time I won’t wait for the Prosecutor to raise an objection. Do you understand?”
“Yes… Your Honor.”
He almost forgot the ‘Your Honor’ part. He continued his cross-examination.
“Why were you hugging Thomas Williams in your driveway shortly past noon on July the thirteenth?”
“I was holding him to prevent him from running across the street and getting into a fight with Mr. Vanvelick.”
Mr. Wilde surprised me.
“I have no further questions for this witness. I reserve the right to recall Curtis Fischer to the stand for further cross-examination”
I stood up and walked back through the gate and sat down next to Mr. Williams.
Beth Wolman stood and called Officer John Brady to the witness stand. He gave his name, age, and the police department address. I guess that police officers don’t have to give their home address for security reasons. She asked how he had been called to my house and what occurred when they arrived.
“There was a 9-1-1 call about someone screaming at the residence at 216 Pauley Court that sounded like a juvenile in distress. We were about two blocks from that location. When we arrived we heard yelling and what sounded like a juvenile screaming and crying. We rang the doorbell and there was no response. We pounded on the door and called out that we were the police. The defendant opened the door and said there was nothing wrong. We heard a juvenile yelling for help. Following protocol and standard police procedure we entered the premises and the defendant, Donovan Clarey, attempted to block our access. He was restrained and handcuffed by my partner, Officer David Johnson. I entered the premises and the victim, Curtis Fischer, was lying on the floor holding his left arm. He had a large bruise and some cuts that were bleeding around his left eye. He was yelling and crying. I asked if the defendant had attacked him, and he said yes. He then passed out and I called for an ambulance. Officer Johnson was restraining the defendant who continued to resist. The ambulance arrived in four minutes and after assessing his condition transported Curtis Fischer to Valley Medical Center. We arrested and Marandiized the defendant and transported him to County Jail.”
“Thank you, Officer Brady,” Beth Wolman said. She turned and looked at Lawrence Wilde, “I have no additional questions for this witness.”
Judge Young asked Lawrence Wilde, “Do you have any questions for this witness?”
“Yes, Your Honor, I do. Officer Brady, you said you called out that you were the police when you pounded on the door. Did you identify yourselves when Mr. Clarey opened the door?”
“Yes, we identified ourselves as police officers and Officer Johnson identified himself by name. He said that we were responding to a call that a juvenile was in distress. Donovan Clarey said he was sorry that we’d been called because it was a family matter. We could hear Curtis Fischer crying and yelling for help from inside the premises. I told Donovan Clarey that there were cries for help and that was sufficient reason for us to investigate. In addition to identifying ourselves, we were in uniform with our badges visible.”
“And even though Donovan Clarey said the situation was a family matter you felt you should force your way into his home, physically restrain Mr. Clarey, and intrude even though you hadn’t received a telephone call from anyone at Mr. Clarey’s home?”
“Is this normal police procedure?”
“Yes, when an individual in a premises is hollering for help normal police procedure is for us to enter, assess the situation, and take appropriate action. That is in the Police Manual in section one-oh-six point one-seven.”
“Even though you didn’t receive a telephone call by someone in that premises?”
“Patrol cars don’t receive telephone calls. We were called over our two-way radio by Dispatch. We weren’t told the source of the call to Dispatch.”
“Is that usual? That you’re not told of the source of a call to Dispatch?”
“It is not unusual.”
“Why is that?”
“I’m not able answer that question because I don’t know. You’d have to ask someone from the Dispatch Department.”
Mr. Wilde shook his head and returned to his seat at the Defense table and didn’t say anything.
Judge Young stared at Mr. Wilde for about fifteen seconds. When he still didn’t say anything Judge Young asked, “Counselor, do you have any additional questions for this witness?”
Mr. Wilde still didn’t say anything. Judge Young banged his gavel. Counselor, I want you to join me in my chambers, now! Bailiff, please accompany Mr. Wilde.”
That got Mr. Wilde’s attention and he stood up, and the Bailiff took his arm and walked him into Judge Young’s chambers.
I turned to Mr. Williams. “What’s that about? Why would he ignore the Judge?”
“I have no idea, Curt. It’s very unprofessional and discourteous to Judge Young.”
“What do you think Judge Young is telling Mr. Wilde?”
“My guess is that he is telling him that he’s skirting on the edge of contempt of court, and one more misstep like leaving a witness sitting in the witness stand or ignoring the Judge and he will be charged with contempt and maybe even have to spend a time in jail after the trial is over.”
I shook my head. “Why does Don always seem to get such idiots as his attorney?”
“I don’t know, Curt, I just don’t know.”
After a few minutes Lawrence Wilde returned to the courtroom and stood in front of the Defense table. Judge Young returned and sat down.
“Do you have any additional questions for this witness?”
“No, Your Honor. I apologize to Office Brady and to you for the delay in releasing him from the witness stand.”
Officer Brady stood and left the courtroom. He looked at me on his way out and I’m sure that he winked, and I grinned in return.
Beth Wolman called Mrs. Hutchins as the next Prosecution witness.
“My name is Andrea Hutchins. I’m sixty two years old. I live at 218 Pauley Court.”
“Is that next door to the house at 216 Pauley Court where Curtis Fischer lived at the time he was attacked?”
She testified that she and her grandson Mark Hutchins heard screaming and shouting from next door, from my house, and she called 9-1-1 from her cellphone, and that she was in her kitchen when this happened.
Beth said she had no additional questions for Mrs. Hutchins.
Lawrence Wilde said that he would question the witness.
“Mrs. Hutchins, do you often call the police when you hear a child crying in a neighbor’s house?”
“Why did you decide to call the police this time?”
“Because the child was screaming and seemed to be in what I would consider as pain.”
“So you’re a trained professional who can tell when a child is screaming in pain?”
“Then what made you decide that the child, in this case, was calling out in pain and not just yelling because they were playing a game?”
“I decided the child was screaming in pain because I’ve raised four children of my own and I know the difference between screaming in pain and the kind of hollering that children do when they are playing a game. Also, this sounded like an older child, a teenager, and I can make that distinction again because of my experience raising four children who as they grew became teenagers.”
“Did you observe the police arrive at the Clarey home?”
“Did you see them go to the front door of the Clarey home?”
“Where were you at this time?”
“In my home.”
“What room in your home?”
“I don’t know what room I was in because I don’t know when the police went to the front door of the Clarey home.”
Lawrence Wilde shook his head. That seemed to be a habit of his. He said, “I have no further questions for this witness.”
Judge Young asked Beth Wolman, “Will the Prosecution please call your next witness.”
Beth said, “I call Doctor John Leonard.”
That surprised me. I’d thought that there had been an agreement that the doctor wouldn’t have to testify. But here he was.
He told his name, age, and gave Valley Medical Center as his address. I guessed he didn’t give his home address for the same reason as Officer Brady.
Beth asked Dr. Leonard about the extent of my injuries and he showed the X-rays and photographs of my arm and photographs of the bruises on my face, my back, and on my chest as he talked about them. Beth took them to the Judicial Panel and handed them to Judge Ann Rae. The Judges handed the X-rays and photographs around and looked at them. Judge August Carmichael handed them back to Beth. She turned to look at Judge Young.
“I would like to recall Curtis Fischer at this time. I want the Judicial Panel to view the extent of his injuries.”
Lawrence Wilde stood and yelled “I object!” Then he said, “The description by Doctor Leonard should be sufficient. In addition, I don’t see any reason to expose this child to scrutiny by the press and others in this courtroom.”
Judge Young responded, “Objection overruled.”
“Your Honor, please?” Lawrence Wilde said. “If this is allowed, I request that it be held in your chambers to protect Curtis Fischer, a minor.”
Judge Young addressed Beth. “Ms. Wolman, please have Curtis Fischer approach the Bench.”
I knew what was coming, so I stood and moved to the aisle.
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