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Published by: stumbleupon on Aug 21, 2012
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THE TORTURER’S DAUGTHER by Roni Keller CHAPTER ONE: THE GOOD FAMILYEleven days into my new job I get my first shaken-baby case. Babies should not beshaken. Their neck muscles are not strong enough to handle it. Their brains slam upagainst the inside of their skulls leaving them brain-dead or dead. All babies can do is cryand hope someone guesses what they need. People forget how hard it is to be a baby andget frustrated trying to deal with them. Situations escalate. A baby could get shaken. Inevery household, a baby needs an advocate – a good parent or, failing that, a good attorney.Anyway, it’s late on Friday. The judge is keeping us after hours because she has been having a hard time getting through her cases. We are down to our last case, twins,one of them now brain-dead. The diagnosis is shaken-baby syndrome. The air conditioning in the rest of the courthouse groans off.“Are we going to settle it or try it?” says the judge. Of everyone, the judge wants togo home most of all. She has her own new baby at home and all day long her breasts achewith milk.“Ask the County,” says the father’s attorney. I realize he is talking about me. I amthe County. I have no idea.“It depends,” I say. Everyone groans.“Let’s take a recess,” the judge says and leaves the room. The men have alreadyloosened their ties. Sweat soaks into their wrinkled shirts. The women kick off their highheels.The attorneys for the father and the mother flank me. The attorney for the father is atall sandy haired man with a congenial smile. His name is Dick. In a few years he will run1
for the local Congressional seat and win. “Do you want my advice?” he says.“Your advice? Aren’t we opposing counsel?” I say.“I’ve tried thousands of these cases. You want my advice or not?”I want his advice. I do not want to ask for it. “Tell me what it would be if I did wantit,” I say.“Okay look,” Dick says. “You are never going to be able to prove who shook the baby. It could have been the mother, the father, the babysitter. It could have been a friend,a relative.”“It could have been the milkman,” interjects the mother’s attorney, trying to befunny. Dick shoots him a look. Abashed, the mother’s attorney downs the last of hiscoffee and crumples the stained paper cup. Dick turns to me.“This baby is lucky,” says Dick. “It has both parents, the parents are married, and both parents have jobs. And it is never alone, never neglected. It has a lot of people whocare.” This baby has neighbors, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, a priest and some parishioners, even a babysitter. They are in the hallway speaking with each other in their native Slavic language. I cannot understand what they are saying but they sound sincereand concerned. They have trooped down to court to show their moral support of the parents, these good parents with the broken baby.“One of them almost killed it,” I say. I notice that in our speaking the baby has nogender.“But the point is we don’t know who,” he says. “And whoever it was, is never goingto do it again. The family is all broke up about it.”“Don’t I have to try and find out who it was?” I ask. I had no business asking him2
this question, but I was new and it was late and hot.“You think the judge is going to let you call them to the stand, one by one, so youcan try and crack them with your brilliant cross-examination? This is the real world,Janey,” he says. It was the first time anyone had called me Janey in open court. It wasn’tthe last. The name caught on. It made me feel like a little girl. “The judge is not going tolet you go on a fishing expedition, not with the court calendar in the mess it’s in,” he says.“So what would your clients plead to?” I ask. I am not sure what the plea would beif no one will admit to shaking the baby. I look past Dick and accidentally make eyecontact with the father of the babies. He runs the fingers of one hand through his ash blonde hair. He holds a Styrofoam cup of coffee and a lit cigarette in the other hand.“That the baby was injured, that someone did it,” Dick says.“Someone who?” I ask.Dick shrugs.The mother’s attorney shrugs.“What’s the point then?” I ask.“You can add that they all knew or should have known that it would happen. Thatthey should have protected the baby,” Dick says.“Is that true?” I say. “How could they have known that one of them was going tohurt the baby if no one knows who did it now?” My head hurts.“Some people don’t know that shaking a baby can hurt it. Maybe they think thatshaking a baby is a good way to get it to be quiet,” says the mother’s attorney. “Maybenobody did it.”“Shut up, dirt bag,” says Dick to his co-counsel. I’ve heard guys talk to each other 3

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