Publish Novellas 25 September 2022
EPISODE 8 – TRIBUNAL
With felony criminal charges looming, an attorney strategizes a long-game chess defense that lands Mark behind bars without bail in this dramatic conclusion.
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Mark and his attorney are unable to answer incriminating questions from Detective Lawrence. A short time is granted at police headquarters to present a reply.
In private, the attorney expresses frustration. “I expected questioning to be problematic. I told you that withholding information would draw suspicion. Then five minutes into questioning, I am blindsided with your advance knowledge about the cause of death! Where did that come from?”
“My Jewish father was very upset when I introduced him to my Islamic wife. While he was shouting, my mother was serving tea to Laila. I made a bad joke to her that my mother probably poisoned the tea.”
“So, do you think your mother killed the woman in your house?”
“It was just a passing thought that became audible in the presence of the detective.”
“Is there a chance that there could be any merit to that theory?”
“I don’t think so. But my father called Laila a terrorist and later the word was painted on my garage.”
“Implicating your parents would require thorough investigation. If the detective did not mirandize you and there were no other witnesses, your comment may not be admissible. Now, is there any chance that Laila might have been switched in Germany or later here in the States?”
“No… Well… I don’t think so. But she wasn’t isolated from the general population between initial identification and extraction in Germany.”
“So that’s a yes. We don’t have much time. Share any suspicions you have.”
“Laila wore a niqab that only exposed her eyes. But she revealed her face for a refugee identification photo. Her face was also visible during the wedding…”
“Though wearing heavy makeup,” the attorney adds.
“Yes, that’s true,” Mark concedes.
“But prior to Germany you knew her well, so you could make a positive identification, right?”
“Not exactly. When we met in Afghanistan, she wore a niqab.”
“So you can’t be certain that the person you married is the same woman you met years earlier. In chess terms, this is a discovered check.”
“I admit that initial visual identification was flawed. But during our conversation, we knew things about each other. It was her. I have other defensive pieces on the board, right?”
“Not many. Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I will describe a plausible scenario and, using your chess skills, you tell me how I can prove it wrong.”
“Okay, let me hear it,” Mark says, while taking a deep breath.
The attorney then explains, “You had a brief acquaintance with a masked woman during military service in Afghanistan. Following the Kabul airlift, you located someone that you believed to be this person in Germany and proposed to her.
“She shared the news of her imminent marriage to an American soldier with other refugees. One promised her freedom and valuables in exchange for switching her out with a similar Taliban operative prior to your wedding. This operative assumed the identity of Laila. Likely, she drew your attention away from her facial features to her body. Seducing you with her feminine wiles, you were caught in her snare.
“At a convenient moment, the operative copied data from your laptop to a USB drive. With alterations of this information, others—perhaps the original Laila—came into the United States. The original woman may also have been a spy or she hoped to fulfill the longterm marriage relationship with you. Regardless, the two Afghanistan women met at your home while you were away on assignment. The operative killed the original Laila before fleeing back to the Taliban or her next assignment.”
“You have a vivid imagination,” Mark replies.
“Without being an imaginative chess opponent, I wouldn’t be a good attorney. My chess-playing mind thinks several moves ahead. What evidence disproves this hypothesis?”
“In this scenario, you seem to have captured my queen, rook, and other valuable pieces. So Laila could actually be dead?” Mark mutters. “I don’t want to believe it. But it’s entirely plausible.”
“If this is true, and circumstances support it, a data breech could allow terrorists to come into the country. You might be facing espionage charges. Hopefully, she did not plant an incriminating money trail.”
“So do you think this is what the police will try to prove?”
“The local prosecutor does not have the jurisdiction to bring charges against a citizen in another country. You are the most vulnerable suspect. Likely, the prosecutor will endeavor to convince jurors that you killed your wife after discovering she was a terrorist.
“Perhaps the confrontation occurred following the conversation with your parents or after finding graffiti on your garage. A nationalistic jury may side with this simpler theory.”
“What happens now?” asks Mark.
“I’m not going to lie. A spouse is always a number-one suspect. This and other circumstantial evidence puts you in serious danger of a checkmate. I understand that you barely knew your new bride who came here with nothing.
”Our best option is to gather enough information to force a stalemate, preventing prosecution. Physical attraction made you gullible to devious plans. We must establish that you unknowingly married a modern-day Mata Hari from Afghanistan. This will require a legal defense team and international investigators.”
“I can’t afford that. Will the military pay for it?”
“We need to move the venue to a military court. Considering the number of military personnel involved, it should not be difficult.
”Your commanding officer will issue a written charge sheet, subject to a preliminary hearing, which is similar to a grand jury. Once investigators gather evidence and the inquiry is complete, the commander can choose to dispose of the charges by (1) taking no action, (2) initiating administrative action, (3) imposing non-judicial punishment, (4) preferring charges, or (5) forwarding to a higher authority for preferral of charges.
“For now, I would not answer any more questions from the detective. He will take you into custody. I can ask the judge to release you on bail. Siting you as a flight risk, having been in several states and countries within the past month, the request will likely be denied.”
Mark acknowledges understanding by saying, “So I’ll be arrested without further response to questions.”
“Yes. I will apprise your commanding officer in an effort to transfer the venue to a military court. There, we can call witnesses like the chaplain that married you two and the officer that debriefed you upon return from Germany, if necessary.”
Detective Lawrence knocks on the door. From the other side, he announces, “Time’s up!”
“You may enter,” the attorney says.
“Great. Do you have some answers for me?” asks Lawrence.
“My client maintains his innocence. But pending further investigation, we will not be responding to your questions at this time.”
“In that case, we will take him into custody on the charge of murder. Officer Anthony O’Riley, mirandize him in his attorney’s presence.”
Later, the attorney confers with Mark’s commanding officer. He agrees that military justice should prevail over juris prudence in the civilian courts. Based on the Military Justice Act of 2016, military police take Mark into custody for preliminary inquiry.
Autopsy results, toxicology, fingerprints, crime scene photos, Mark’s computer, cellphone, and other evidence are confiscated for the commanding officer. He sends additional investigators to Mark’s home. They interview neighbors and retrace the newlywed couple’s journey from Germany.
Lieutenant Terrance uncovers two irregularities. (1) Although he authorized Mark to develop the program for documenting Afghanistan refugees in Germany, it was in response to Mark’s requests. (2) Security footage and flight manifest show Laila departing the United States on a private jet shortly after Mark left to fulfill a request from the Lieutenant.
Mark admits his Germany deployment request was motivated by alluring eyes. He did not thoroughly vet Laila when making the identification.
The death appears to be by the hands of a foreign agent. There is no evidence of suspicious communication on Mark’s laptop or phone. He has no irregular payments to his bank accounts.
Assuming the foreign agent was able to decrypt the file, what she obtained via Mark’s laptop was personal information about the evacuees in Germany. This includes their names, photos, ages, and places of birth. The cyber crimes department will see if it is possible to obfuscate the data on the server.
The seduction of soldiers to extract information has been an effective tactic for centuries. After listening to the attorney’s theory, Lieutenant Terrance agrees there is sufficient evidence to support the Mata Hari scenario. He also recognizes that a court-martial could implicate himself as complicit. In other words, prosecution efforts result in a stalemate.
Mata Hari, was a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan who was convicted of being a spy for Germany during World War I.
As the commanding officer, he decides against a court-martial and dishonorable discharge. So Mark retains veteran’s benefits. Instead, he recommends Mark’s early retirement from the reserve forces. The chaplain annuls the marriage of deception.
Lieutenant Terrance sends a memo to his superior for circulation to armed forces working with evacuated Afghanistans. It pairs a warning for thorough vetting with a caution to be on guard against seduction tactics.
Mark accepts his commander’s decision and moves from the Virginia home to his parents’ house in California. The ensuing weeks of ridicule are more endurable than a prison sentence. Not trusting his own judgment, Mark acquiesces to parental matchmaking.
Things get awkward when this Jewish virgin asks whether Mark was ever married. He simply replies that his prior newlywed bride died in a military operation. After a Jewish wedding ceremony, Mark accepts work in his father’s accounting practice to support her. While this marriage lacks the excitement of the first, he resolves to be content with tradition.
Hindsight brings missteps into focus. Can you relate to Mark being guided by desires of his heart? Was he duped by Laila or did he only imagine the reunion with the woman of his dreams? Will he find happiness in his marriage of compromise? Please share your thoughts. —Proverbs 6:16–19.