Bryson City Tales — The “Expert” (Part 2)

This is from the tenth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Tales. I hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends to join us.

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THE “EXPERT” (PART 2)

When I arrived at his office—its walls covered with bookshelves crammed with law books and diplomas—he immediately put me at ease. “Walt, your part will be the easiest part of the entire trial. First, the district attorney will qualify you as an expert. Walt, by now everyone in town knows about your training and expertise. Even I won’t be able to fight that motion.”

He smiled, then continued. “Once the judge certifies you as an expert, then the DA will question you about your investiga- tion—what you saw and what you concluded. The main fact to which he’ll want you to attest is the cause of death. Since both you and the pathologist who did the autopsy have certified that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head, that should be easy.”

“Is that all?”

“Well, then I’ll get a chance to cross-examine you, Walt.”

I felt my eyes narrow. “What will that be like?”

“Well, I expect I’ll be brutal. The questions will be tough and medically demanding. I’ll put you to the test, for sure.” He paused—his face serious but his eyes smiling.

“Are you kidding?”

Then he broke into a smile. “Yeah.”

He became serious again. “Actually, I’ll have a lot of other work ahead of me before and during this trial. I can’t imagine that I’ll have any cross-examination of you at all.” He smiled again. My mistake was assuming it was the smile of someone who was actually on my side.

“Now, some of my predecessors, they would have grilled you. No doubt about it.”

“Who are you talking about, Fred?”

“Walt, I’m just the tail end of a line of simple attorneys here in Swain County. But I tell you, there have been some mighty good ones. The older folks around the courthouse all talk about Fred Fisher. He tutored a fellow named A. J. Franklin, who was licensed to practice law in 1899. R. L. Leatherwood and A. M. Frye, who built the Fryemont Inn, had excellent reputations. Another fellow who tutored here in town before obtaining his law license was S. W. Black, who was educated by T. K. Bryson himself—who was kin to Colonel Thaddeus Dillard Bryson, the namesake of our fair village.”

I was impressed by Fred’s command of local history.

“So, Walt, I’m just carrying on the proud tradition of coun- try lawyers. We don’t know a whole lot, but we try to do a whole lot of good.” He laughed. I liked Fred.

Several weeks before the trial, two young attorneys from the district attorney’s office called. They wanted to visit me to pre- pare me for trial. They covered the basics of being a witness for the state. They covered what I should wear to the trial—professional suit, not showy or gaudy or loud. They covered how I should address the jury—as a teacher and as an expert, never defensive or aloof. They instructed me in how to answer ques- tions and how to swear in—they actually taught me how to stand and place my right hand on the Bible and how to hold my left hand and how to look the jurors in the eye as I say, “I do.” My goodness, I didn’t get this much preparation for marriage or for performing surgery.

They spent nearly two hours rehearsing questions and answers, examination and cross-examination. They reviewed every trick question in the book, except one—one they and I should have expected but did not.

For what seemed like an eternity, they covered detail after detail. Then, to cap off the day, they spent time reviewing the many mistakes made by other doctors in my position. Toward the end of the meeting, something came to the forefront that turned my stomach.

“Doctor,” intoned one of the DA’s staff, “are you aware that the DA is planning to run for the state senate?”

“No, I didn’t know that.”

“Well, he is considering it. And, Doctor, we’re planning this trial to be one of his showpieces for the year. It’s real important to the DA that he look good. Real good. We want to help you help him. Understand?”

I nodded my head affirmatively, although not really sure what I might do or say in a small-town murder trial that could have anything at all to do with a race for the senate. Silly me, I thought this trial might be about justice and truth—about proving the facts. After all, one man was dead and another was on trial for his life.

Then I found myself getting angry. Finally I lost my cool. “Gentlemen, I don’t really give a hoot about your boss’s political career. I don’t really care how he looks at this trial. I will testify honestly and forthrightly that it is my personal and professional opinion that this was a crime of passion, but not premeditated murder—certainly not worthy of the death penalty. I’ll testify about the little bit of investigation I did and I’ll testify as to the cause of death. But my role ends there. That you would even begin to think that my testimony might swing the senate race seems grandiose at best—or ludicrous at the very least. I find it highly insulting.”

I stood to leave. They seemed stunned. “Good day.”

I left the room. I was angry and disillusioned. I was nervous about participating in this trial, but I was determined to be pre- pared and do my job. If only I had known that I’d end up looking like a fool …

(TO BE CONTINUED NEXT FRIDAY)

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© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2016. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.