Sugar Free Page 31

I’m led into the courtroom of the Marin County Courthouse in cuffs, but I’m spared the khaki-colored jumpsuit I was given last night to sleep in while I enjoyed overnight accommodations at the Marin County Sheriff’s Department. Sela had brought one of my suits to Doug, who met with me in a private counseling room just off the courtroom where my arraignment would be held. He went through the process again of what would happen, although he’d talked to me about it briefly last night after I’d been booked.

He tried to be reassuring, telling me the evidence was all circumstantial, but I was not reassured, since he told me just a few days prior that most convictions were based purely on circumstantial evidence. The arrest warrant was lean on details, but he said it met the probable cause standards. Motive and DNA were mentioned, but none of that surprised me. The police had made it clear they felt I had plenty of motive in the questions they’d asked me, and like I told them, I’m sure my DNA was all over JT’s house, since I’d been there numerous times in the past.

My eyes immediately go to the front row behind the defendant’s table, where I’ll be sitting with Doug, and I can feel my body swell with confidence when I see Sela and Caroline sitting side by side. I give them an encouraging smile but they’re hard-pressed to give it back. I can see terror in both their eyes.

Just behind them, I see Linda sitting there, her gaze holding me solidly with support and sympathy. She presses her fingertips to her lips, kisses them, and sends it to me with a subtle blowing of her breath. I smile differently for her; it’s one of gratitude for her being here. I have to assume my arrest was all over the news and I’m worried sick about the stability of The Sugar Bowl, but I’m going to have to assume our VP of operations will be working closely with all departments to keep things running. That’s her job on any given day.

The deputy leads me over to the table I’m to sit at, and I note Doug is bent over at the table set about ten feet from ours, talking quietly with ADA Hammond. She has a stubborn set to her chin as he motions toward a file she has sitting before her and shakes her head to deny whatever he’s asking. He straightens up and turns to me, and after the deputy removes the handcuffs, he walks over and gives a hard squeeze to my shoulder.

“Can I say hi to Sela and Caroline?” I ask him, as it’s driving me crazy to have them both sitting not five feet away.

He shakes his head and pulls his chair out from the table. “Sorry. Those cuffs only come off for you to sit at counsel table, so go ahead and take a seat.”

With a sigh, I look over my shoulder at my lover and my sister and give them a small smile before I sit down beside Doug. The courtroom is abuzz with idle chatter. It’s filled to almost capacity and I’m wondering how many of those people are reporters versus perhaps family members of other defendants who are awaiting arraignment. Or maybe even family members of victims.

My head snaps to the right and I look over my shoulder at the rows of benches behind the district attorney’s table. And sure enough, Candace and Colin Townsend are sitting there, both of them staring straight at me with cold, hard eyes. My chest squeezes painfully, because while I’m not exceptionally close to them, I’d been fond of them just from years of knowing them, despite Candace’s illicit relationship with my father. They’ve never looked at me with anything but the same fondness coupled with respect for my achievements.

I almost half expect my parents to be close to the Townsends, so my eyes scan the rest of the seats, but I don’t see them. Never in a million years would I expect them to be sitting on my side of the courtroom in support of their son, and I can’t really expect differently. In the past two days, I’d cut both of them out of my life, and I’m still fine with that decision.

Besides, had they shown up for me, that would have just been all kinds of awkward. My guess is they’re both holed up in the house right now probably cowering in shame over what their son has allegedly done.

“All rise,” I hear as a door behind the judge’s bench swings open and a bailiff steps through calling the room to order. I stand along with every other person in the courtroom. Judge Reyes—the man who apparently signed my arrest warrant—walks up the dais in a swirl of black robes. He’s a small man with ink-black hair and caramel-colored skin, and I would have thought he was Latino, but Doug told me last night he was actually from the Philippines but had dual citizenship.

Doug and I discussed Judge Reyes at length last night, because it seems that is the one good thing that has happened to me since I was arrested. Judge Reyes used to be a criminal defense attorney, and while judges are supposed to be impartial, he has a slight bend in favor of the defense side. It’s not to say he’s going to wave a magic wand and release me, but Doug assured me I couldn’t have landed a judge more devoted to ensure the prosecution plays nicely by the rules.

He also told me that nothing much was going to happen today. The arraignment was nothing more than to advise me of my constitutional rights, read the charges against me, and give me the opportunity to plead guilty or not. Then Doug will have a slight battle on his hands to try to get me released on bail.

“All right,” Judge Reyes says as he picks up a file from his raised desk. He opens it, peruses a document. “We have the matter of the State versus Beckett North before us.”

The judge looks up from the document to me, and Doug stands from his chair and I follow suit. “Mr. North…you’ve been charged with first-degree murder by the state of California. It’s my job to advise you of your constitutional rights. First, you have the right to an attorney, and if you cannot afford one, the state will appoint one to you at no cost. I see you’re represented by Mr. Doug Shriver though, so that’s a moot point. Second, you have the right against self-incrimination. That means at no point can you be compelled to give testimony that could implicate you in this crime. You are also entitled to a speedy trial as well as a trial by a jury of your peers. Now, I’m sure your attorney has gone over these with you, but do you understand these rights as I’ve just read them?”

“I do, Your Honor,” I say confidently, although quite frankly, my knees are shaking.

“And how would you like to plead to these charges, Mr. North?” he asks.

“Not guilty,” I reply with even more strength in my voice.

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