Although relatively new to freelance writing, Lisandra Bergey’s article “He is Not Removed From Us” was published online for CampusCrosswalk.org, a magazine aimed for campus ministries and Christian college students, particularly within the Churches of Christ denomination. She holds a BA in Journalism-Professional Writing from the University of Oklahoma and a Master of Science in Bible and Ministry from Lubbock Christian University. A true Sooner at heart, Lisandra was born and raised in Norman, Oklahoma, where she lives today. She is currently writing her debut novel.
“Did you kill your wife, Clark?” Katheryn stared at him, awaiting his response.
The question clearly flustered Clark. “No! Of course not. I wanted out of my marriage, but I didn’t want her dead.”
Miles circled him, watching the mock testimony. “I understand your indignation, but I still don’t see you connecting with Elle. You may have wanted out of the marriage, but a jury will want to see that you still cared for her on some level.”
“He’s right.” Katheryn toyed with the edges of the deposition. “It looks bad that you stood to gain financially from the split, not to mention that you have a mistress. It’s textbook as far as the prosecution is concerned.”
“She had a heart attack three weeks after I filed. How did I still get charged with murder?” Clark looked like a deer caught in headlights. “The doctor said it was this rare thing called takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Some kind of heart thing.”
“Broken heart syndrome,” Miles said, reading the autopsy. “It’s rarely lethal, but it happens. We could argue for suicide, since she had antidepressants in her system and in her mouth.
“No,” Clark said flatly. “Elle was a Christian. She didn’t believe in suicide.”
“Apparently prosecution’s case boils down to the money, the mistress, and this.” Katheryn played a DVD of video surveillance from inside the home.
In one frame, shortly before her death, Elle and Clark were eating breakfast. A few moments into the meal, Elle’s face scrunched in discomfort.
“What’s wrong?” Concern etched Clark’s face.
“This doesn’t taste good.” Elle stumbled to the sink and scraped the food down the disposal.
“Want some cinnamon toast? It’s your favorite.”
“My head hurts. I’m going back to bed.” The stairs and bedroom cameras recorded her shuffling to the bed, and soon after to the bathroom, clearly ill.
Assistant District Attorney Alex Monroe paused the video. “This is a daily occurrence. Note that Clark Barton does the cooking, and his wife is continually sick. Coincidence? Not likely. It is clear, ladies and gentleman, that Clark Barton had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit murder.
“He played on his wife’s desire to reconcile by remaining in the home. He put on an act of salvaging his marriage.
“This video shows a heartbreaking murder in progress. Clark Barton knew that he would gain nothing if his wife let him go. The value of the estate, business, and life insurance policy would make Barton a millionaire. And he could finally propose to his mistress. It’s a tragically classic case of murder.”
Katheryn stood before the jury and began her opening statement. “My esteemed legal colleague failed to mention a few facts. Upon learning of Clark’s divorce plans, Elle changed her will, leaving her assets to her brother, who is also the beneficiary for the life insurance policy. Elle installed surveillance cameras when she suspected Clark of adultery. Yet not one frame depicts any malicious act of his slipping anything into her food or drink. Many of us have survived a broken heart, but as our experts will testify, broken heart syndrome is tragically lethal in rare cases, especially when coupled with an underlying heart condition. In addition to heart medication, Elle was taking antidepressants without her doctor’s knowledge. This is a sad case of woman who died broken hearted, not at the hand of her husband. You have no choice but to find Clark Barton not guilty.”
“Mr. Boyd,” Alex leaned casually on the podium. “Where did you install the cameras on the Barton property?”
Roscoe Boyd aimed the pointer at diagram of the home. “All outside and inside perimeters, particularly high-traffic areas.”
“But not in the garage?”
“Correct. It wouldn’t hold a signal, shut off sometimes. Mrs. Barton decided do away with it.”
“Curious that she’d have a camera on the stairs, yet the garage, where people come and go, remains unobserved. Isn’t that where the laundry is located?”
Katheryn made a note to search the Barton’s laundry for any poisons before the prosecution got there first.
A few days later, Dr. Samuels testified for the defense that Elle indeed died a natural death of a broken heart, brought on by emotional trauma and complicated by an underlying heart condition.
Miles asked him about the side effects of the anti-depressant medicine. “Sometimes vomiting, dizziness? Headaches?”
“That is correct,” Dr. Samuels concurred.
“So the symptoms Elle displays on camera are side effects?”
“It appears they are symptomatic of her heart condition or they are side effects.”
“If in the process of taking her medicine Elle suffers a cardiac event, could that explain why some of it was in her system and some was protruding from her mouth?”
Dr. Samuels grimaced. “It’s possible.”
“Thank you, Doctor. No further questions.”
“That was promising,” Miles said, breezing into the office.
“We still have to get past this.” Katheryn tossed a report to him.
Miles studied the papers. “Alex searched the house first. Is that arsenic?”
“Yep. It matched some traces found in a cinnamon bottle and laundry soap.”
“Simple. How do we bring groceries in?”
Miles paled. “From the car in the garage. But that doesn’t prove he mixed it there or brought in the groceries or did anything. Was his car clean during the investigation?”
“Prosecution has the burden of proof, but they’ve got the science on their side. I hate to say it, but that’s gonna be hard to get around.”
Miles drummed his fingers as he thought. “They went there without waiting for us to have a shot. And did you know that Clark dumped Charlee to date Elle?”
Katheryn’s brows shot up. “Charlee Gordon? The D.A?”
“That’s why Alex is prosecuting.”
“Can we argue a bias?”
Five days later, Judge Cromwell ruled that there was no evidence for bias. In full disclosure, the prosecution was justified and the trial resumed and progressed rapidly.
Katheryn, her heart thudding, stood with Clark as the verdict was read.
“We find the defendant …”
Katheryn heard Clark repeating, “Elle.” She turned to him, worried that he may be going into shock. The gavel sounded in the courtroom. The repetition of Elle’s name grew stronger.
Elle heard someone call her from a distance.
“Elle, honey, wake up. You fell asleep watching the Court channel again,” Clark whispered. “How’s the novel coming?”
“Um, good, I think.” Her mind was still fuzzy.
Clark beamed as he held up two tickets for a sea cruise. “Saturday, we’re leaving for Mexico. The perfect chance to take a break.”
Recollection struck Elle like a fresh breeze. “Our anniversary! You remembered!” Last week over dinner, she’d aired some of her grievances, namely that they did not have time for each other anymore. Now she was touched that he’d remembered.
“Of course! Listen, honey, I don’t ever want you to feel like you’re taken for granted. Finish your deadline so we can enjoy the trip.” He kissed her lightly. “By the way, how does it end? Is your guy a killer?”
Elle smiled and turned to her laptop screen. “The jury hasn’t come back yet, but it’s going to be a shocker.”