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Chapter 14: Call Paul

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A novel about life behind the scenes for an evangelical pastor's family: in the church, the parsonage, the community.

© 1996 G. Edwin Lint
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On the way back to the parsonage from Patricia's house, Jim suddenly slammed the heel of his hand down on the steering wheel. "What'd you forget now?" Debra asked with a quizzical smile.

Jim wasn't close to smiling. "I've forgotten all about Tessa and the Stetsons. That's what! I got so involved with Patricia and Dave and getting Dave a good lawyer that I've completely ignored the victim and the family. Dave certainly didn't do it but somebody did, and that little girl may be hurting bad. I'm going to call right now," and he opened their cell phone which was jacked into the cigarette lighter.

"It's rather late, don't you think?" The Eagle Summit's dash clock showed ten minutes to midnight.

"And it won't get any earlier," said Jim in a funk of self-denunciation. "Do you know their number?" Debra had an uncanny ability to remember phone numbers of persons she called on even an infrequent basis. She rattled off seven digits and Jim keyed them into the phone and pressed SEND.

He remembered reading something years ago about the phone company suggesting that you should never hang up until the called number had rung at least ten times. Roy Stetson answered in the midst of the tenth ring with a terse "Hello."

"Hello, Pastor Jim here. I know it's very late but I wanted to call and see how things are going with Tessa."

Silence on the line. Jim wondered if he had been accidentally disconnected but the silence wasn't total. He thought he could detect the sounds of movement and even low voices in the background.

"Rev. Hogan, this is Mrs. Stetson," said Carla in a voice stripped of all inflection.

"Carla, we're so worried about Tessa and so sorry to hear about what happened. Is there anything Debra and I can do?"

"Yeah, there is something you can do. Leave us alone, that's what! Not that you haven't been doing a pretty good job of that already," continued Carla with tears and anger mingled in her voice. "This thing happened at four this afternoon and you're just now getting around to calling?"

"Carla, I am so sorry I haven't been available for your family in this terrible time for you. Things have been so hectic since we found out what happened less than an hour ago."

"Hectic! Oh, I know how hectic!" Carla screeched in uncontrolled anger. "We saw your car parked at the Court house just a little while ago when we were driving home from the hospital. Before that, you were probably down at the prison, kissing up to the kinky-headed freak who did this awful thing!"

"Carla, I know you're upset--"

"Upset? 'Upset' doesn't begin to express how I feel right now. My baby was raped in her own bed by this-- this kink-head, this weirdo of an adult, and then he left her to bleed to death. If Roy hadn't found her in time, we'd be talking about the electric chair for your kinko. And she was all torn up down there, inside too. The ambulance had to rush her to Harrisburg Hospital and give her blood on the way. And then it took sixty-five stitches to put her back together again. Can you imagine that! Sixty-five stitches. Probably never be normal down there!

"And where is my pastor who's supposed to lead my family through the valley of the shadow of death while all this is going on? Playing kissy-face with the creep who did it to her in the first place, that's where!"

"Carla, may Debra and I come over? We'd like to pray with you, pray for Tessa, too, that God will heal her of her injuries. I know it's very late but I feel we can be more helpful face to face rather than over the phone."

"Come if you want to but you'll spend the night on the stoop," Carla responded in something close to a snarl. "I hope to never see your face again, or your goody-goody wife, as long as I live. And that goes double for that snooty church of yours and everybody in it. And that goes triple for your God, a God who would stand by and let a sex maniac tie my baby's wrists and ankles to the bed posts with bare copper wire, and then let this full-grown adult tear her poor, little body all up like he did."

"I can understand your not wanting us to come over tonight. But I would like to pray with you over the phone. Let's ask God together to heal Tessa's body and mind, and to soothe your minds during this terrible time. Do you mind if I do that?"

Jim accepted Carla's silence as permission and started to pray. A dial tone interrupted him before the end of the first sentence.

Back in the Eagle, Jim folded his arms on the steering wheel and bowed his head to weep quietly. Debra prayed in her spirit as Jim's tears flowed for Tessa, and for Dave, and for Patricia, and for Roy and Carla. So many hurting people, physically as well as spiritually and psychologically.

Finally he lifted his head and Debra handed him several clean tissues. "I know two things for certain in this whole mess. First, Dave is innocent and second, this is all the direct and carefully focused work of Satan and his demons," the sorrowful pastor said. "Things have just been going along too smoothly. The church is growing with new people accepting Jesus as their Savior every Sunday. The people seem to have accepted their new parsonage family. Jessi and her Ivory Club seem to be doing great in school. Satan can't stand such progress in God's work. He has to figure out how to throw a monkey wrench in the works. Carla is very bitter towards everyone connected with what happened to Tessa, and my guess is others will be feeling the same way, more or less. She's especially angry at me for having spent time with Patricia-- and she thinks Dave, too-- before I called her."

"Did you tell her you didn't know a thing about any of this until Patricia called you?" Jim shook his head like a wounded bear, saying nothing.

"Debra, I'm going to run you home and then I'm going up to Harrisburg Hospital."

"Don't you think you're overcompensating? I know you have guilt feelings about not having called the Stetsons sooner or gone to the hospital. But you can't change anything by racing up there at this hour."

"You're right when you say I can't change anything. But God can. I'm going to get as close to that little torn body as I can get and then I'm going to pray like I've never prayed before. Since Satan caused this mess, it's going to take the power of the Holy Spirit to clean it up."

Debra started to remind her husband that God could hear prayers originating from the parsonage as well as the hospital, but she changed her mind and asked instead, "What about Paul? Want me to call him?"

"Would you? That would be a big load off my mind and you know him as well as I do anyway."

Jim entered the hospital at a trot and flashed his clergyman's ID to the receptionist. Then he went straight up to pediatrics and showed his ID again, this time at the nurse's station. A large black woman with an LPN badge was apparently in charge.

"I'd like to pray for Tessa Stetson," he said breathlessly. "Can you tell me where she is and how she's doing?"

"She's right next door. She's on our critical list but her vital signs are within normal limits. She's heavily sedated but I'd like you to be very quiet for the sake of the other children. Isn't this an unusual time for a pastoral call?" Then she answered her own question by softly singing "He never sleeps, He never slumbers. . ."

Next door, Tessa was the sole occupant of a semi-private room. A blue night light bathed the bed in a near-eerie glow. Tessa looked so tiny in the full-sized bed with its sides up. At first Jim thought she was in traction but then he realized that her legs were elevated with bolsters and somewhat spread. Probably because of all the repair work which had been done. He also saw she was restrained at the waist and the wrists. In IV bottle was dripping into her left wrist and there was another tube from her lower abdomen which terminated in a catheter bag hanging on the side of her bed.

I know we're not supposed to ask You why but I have to ask You anyway. Why? Why? Why? Why did this sweet little girl who loved nothing more in all the world than to play horsey with her Unca Dave have to be subjected to this hideous abuse?

Then a murky thought entered his mind. Could Dave be guilty after all? Had his attraction for this cute little girl really been sexual instead of fatherly? Could he have raped her in a demonic surge of lust?

But then the Holy Spirit broke through with a renewed conviction that Dave was completely innocent. No matter what the evidence said, and even if a jury found him guilty as charged, Dave was innocent. The condition of poor little Tessa was the direct work of Satan and his demons, even if the complete truth in the matter was never known in this life.

"You Rev. Hogan?" asked the nurse from the doorway.

Jim looked up and nodded.

"Just got a call from the mother to check on the little girl. She got very upset when I told her a preacher was visiting. Said that if your name was Hogan, you was to get away from her baby and stay away."

Jim sighed and turned from the bed to leave the room, deeply grieved at what this tragedy was doing to Carla. He walked down the hall to a waiting room and dropped on his knees at a plastic-upholstered chair.

For a solid hour, Jim stayed on his knees in the darkened waiting room. Praying for Tessa. Father, heal her mind as well as her body. Praying for Carla and Roy. Help them to yield to You in this time of trouble instead of being hard and rebellious. Praying for Dave and for Patricia. Oh God, encourage them both right now! Praying for Debra and her call to Paul Donaldson. God, I know he's busy but we need him here and now. Please make a way.

Finally Jim rose, wiped his face with his handkerchief, and wiped up the sizable wet spot his tears had made on the cushion. Wearily he went down to his car and drove home.

Paul Donaldson was sitting in his home office reading a brief when the phone rang. Without glancing at his watch, he picked up the receiver. Lawyers in his kind of work were accustomed to their home phones ringing at all hours of the day and part way into the night.

"Y'all called Paul," he drawled in an unvarnished North Carolina accent.

"Paul, you old hillbilly how're you doing? This is Debbie Hogan calling."

"Not so well as I was before the phone rang," chuckled the lawyer. "Yourself?"

"Jim and the family are fine, but a man in our church has been arrested and is being charged with sexually assaulting a minor. We need your help. Got any time?"

"Any chance he's guilty?"

"None whatsoever. His wife directs our day care program and he serves part time as her assistant."

"Day care program? Y'all still at Ashtabula?"

"No, we took a church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Started there March eighteenth."

"How'd the kids feel about moving to Pennsylvania?" pronouncing it "keeds".

"Just fine. I hate to press but do you think you can squeeze another case into your busy schedule?"

"Well, I'm not doing too much with criminal cases these days. Mostly First Amendment stuff, you know. This boy a born-again Christian is he?"

"Absolutely! Solid as a rock. Just loves kids, and they love him, too."

"How old's the victim?"

Debra hesitated, hating to answer this question. "Going on three."

Paul grunted. "Penetration part of the charge?"

"I believe so. His wife just talked to him a minute or two after he was taken to the prison so we don't know all the allegations yet. We won't be able to see him until the morning."

There was silence on the line for a while and Debra knew from experience what was going on. Paul was weighing the pros and cons of taking a case like this, and was taking his time doing it. "How far are you folks from Philly?"

"Little over an hour and a half."

"Going to be honest with you, Debbie. Judges and juries have been mighty hard on defendants in cases like this lately, especially when the DA's pumped up with physical evidence of some kind. No chance of demonic involvement on the part of the suspect, is there?"

Debra hesitated for just a millisecond. "I'm sure there's no chance of that."

"If there was, Jim would be the best guy to spot it. How about harassment by some special-interest group because of his religion?"

"That's doubtful, too. The child's mother is a member of the church and the father comes quite a bit, too."

"Tell you what, Debbie, your friend has two things going for him. One, case I've been working on here in DC just got a change of venue with a continuance of forty-five days. And two, boy I went to law school with is working out of Valley Forge and got himself tangled up with the Philly school board in a separation case. Been bugging me to come up and work with him some on it. Will I be getting some of your great cooking?"

"You'll be staying at the parsonage any time you're in town, so you'll be getting as much as you can hold." Debra said emphatically.

"I'll do it," Paul said with finality. "Forty-five days ought to give us a good start. On days when your trial is in recess, I'll just zip down the turnpike and bang some heads in Philly. Tell me where and when."

"Tomorrow morning at nine o'clock, Cumberland County Court House in Carlisle." Debra gave him directions to the court house.

The brilliant October sun was brighter than the Hogans' spirits when they stopped to pick up Patricia for the trip to the prison in Carlisle. The events of the preceding evening seemed unreal and far away. Jim remembered from a pastoral counseling seminar that the human organism is equipped with an emotional circuit breaker. When physical or mental trauma becomes too great, that circuit breaker provides a sense of numb calmness until the mind and body have had a chance to regroup. Jim felt that the circuit breaker had been tripped for all three of them.

During the thirty-minute drive to Carlisle, each took a turn at praying for Dave and for the legal aspects of what this day would hold. They pulled into a parking space at eight-forty-five and a spotless 1972 Matador station wagon pulled up right beside them.

"There's Paul, johnny on the spot!" said Jim. Everyone got out of the cars and there was a round of hand-shaking and introductions.

Patricia was impressed with Dave's lawyer, even though Paul was not impressive on the surface. He was at least six-six but thin as a post. A thatch of unruly red hair was now blowing in the wind and his suit was rumpled from travel. But his eyes were clear, his gaze level, and his grip firm. She had a strange sense of inner peace, feeling deep in her heart that Dave would be in good hands with this drawling man from North Carolina.

"Let's get to work," said Paul as he yanked a battered briefcase off the back seat of the Matador. "First thing we need to do is get our boy out on bail."

They met the case's first road block in the person of a burly desk sergeant. "No bail for Court," he said briefly. "Says here on the arrest warrant that bail may not be discussed until the arraignment."

"I'm representing Mr. Court," said Paul. "May I see the warrant?"

Paul read it silently and then shared the comment about bail. "Due to the seriousness of this charge and apparent physical and circumstantial evidence, bail shall not be considered until the arraignment."

"When will that be?" asked Patricia dolefully.

"Have to check with the DA's office. Probably tomorrow or the next day."

"Not until then!" exclaimed Patricia tearfully. "Can I see him now?"

"Visiting hours are two till four," replied the sergeant briefly.

"I'd like to see Mr. Court right now," said Paul, "and his pastor, Jim Hogan, will be going in with me."

"You can. He can't." They were up against a strong-willed person with the authority to say no but not to say yes.

Paul turned to Patricia. "How far are you from home?"

"Less than half an hour," Jim answered for her.

Paul moved a little farther from the sergeant's station. "I don't think we'll be able to do anything about the visiting hours thing. Why don't y'all just go back home for now. I want to check out the charges a little more and then I'll go in and talk to Dave. And I want to talk to the DA, too. Then, if I have time, I'll meet you all for lunch. Any place good between here and the church?"

Jim suggested the Holiday Inn, just north of Carlisle on Route 11.

"If I'm not there by noon, go ahead and order without me. Oh, by the way. do you have a fax at the church?" Jim nodded and Paul jotted the number in his pocket notebook.

The county sheriff's office, the court house, and the prison were all within easy walking distance of each other. Typical small town convenience. First, Paul went to the sheriff's office and read the arrest and preliminary investigation reports. A medical report was not available so he called Harrisburg Hospital. Pediatrics would release no information so he asked for the administrator. When Paul met resistance in an organization, he rarely struggled up through layers of bureaucracy. Instead he vaulted to the top and then worked down. In a few moments, an intern was on the line who had been working the ER last night when Tessa was brought in. Paul didn't shock easily but his face was white when he hung up the phone.

Next, he walked over to the court house and asked for the DA. He was out but a receptionist informed him that an assistant would be taking the Court case. When Paul asked for his name, he learned it was Priscilla Lane. However, Ms. Lane was in court so he'd have to check back later.

The Cumberland County Prison was dreary and depressing as most prisons are. Even though Paul had been in and out of many of them, he never really got used to the clanging and reverberating. And of course there was the pine-oil antiseptic odor tinged with urine which seemed to prevail, no matter which prison he was visiting. The desk sergeant remained true to form when he realized Dave had not called for him specifically.

"Since we have no record that you're representing the suspect, and since you're not a court-appointed attorney, I'm going to need something in writing."

"Give me something to write on." Paul scrawled a brief note to Dave on the back of a county requisition form which introduced himself as a lawyer Jim Hogan had called last night at the request of his wife, Patricia. At the bottom, he printed: "I hereby authorize Paul Donaldson to represent me in matters pertaining to my recent arrest."

"Take me to his cell and let him read this. If he signs it, I'm his attorney." The sergeant nodded and the clanging began which would lead to Dave Court.

The correction officer passed Paul's note through the bars, along with the stub of a pencil. After reading the note, Dave signed it readily. Then the lawyer was escorted to a single cell at the end of the block where they could have some privacy. Dave and Paul entered and the door clanged shut behind them. Paul introduced himself and the men shook hands. Dave sat on the cot and Paul sat on a folding wooden chair facing him. Paul was favorably impressed with his new client. Articulate, intelligent, a strong stereotype of the all-American boy, and very, very convincing in proclaiming his innocence.

"Mr. Donaldson, as God is my witness, I did not hurt that child. I love her as a daughter. If we-- if Patty and I have a little girl, I want her to be exactly like Tessa Stetson. Patty feels the same way." Dave leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and his intense blue eyes bored into Paul's serious brown ones. The lawyer was the first to look away, and he heard a very faint but very distinct warning bell chime just once, far back in the recesses of his memory. Have to think about that more later. "You have to believe me. I am totally innocent of this charge. Totally!"

"I do believe you, Dave. If I didn't I wouldn't take your case. I'm far too busy to work with a client who can't convince me of innocence. By the way, call me Paul. Mr. Donaldson is my father."

Dave nodded with a smile. "How soon will I be out on bail?"

Paul winced. "I hate to have to say this but it's better that you know the facts up front. I wouldn't count on bail at all."

Dave exploded off his cot. "What! Do you mean I have to stay here? For a false arrest?" Dave's fists were clenched at his sides and his face was red with anger.

"I understand exactly how you feel and I came here this morning prepared to arrange bail. Trouble is, when the judge issued the warrant for your arrest yesterday evening, he put in a stipulation that no bail could be granted until after the arraignment."

"This stinks! Drug dealers are arrested and out within the hour, and they're guilty as sin. How could the judge do that when he hasn't even heard the facts."

"The facts as he understands them at this point are exactly why he said no bail. The medical report is pretty rough and some potentially damaging physical evidence was discovered during the preliminary investigation. Apparently the DA claimed you could be a clear and present danger to the community and the judge wasn't willing to take any chances. I told Debbie on the phone last night, in child molestation cases like this where there is pretty strong physical evidence, judges and juries are really coming down hard on defendants."

"Yeah, but what about me being innocent until proven guilty?"

"Presumption of innocence is a Constitutional guarantee. But in the criminal justice system overall, that concept tends to be limited to what happens while you're in the courtroom. Like in your case, you haven't been proven guilty yet, but the DA is convinced you are and the judge is playing it safe, in case you are. In the meantime, you'll be treated in here just like you are guilty."

"Tell me about it. Just what is an arraignment, anyway, and when's it going to be?"

"It's scheduled for tomorrow morning at ten, over in the court house. At that time, the judge will explain the charges against you, tell you about your rights under the constitution, and ask for your plea. Your choices are guilty, not guilty, or not guilty by reason of insanity."

"Some choices," grunted Dave. "Of course I'm going to plead not guilty. Can we ask about bail then?"

"I'm going to press for that, of course. But between you, me, and the proverbial gate post, that's going to be a lost cause, like I told you before."

"Then what?"

"You'll appear at a preliminary hearing, again over in the court house, probably in another day or two. At that time, the prosecution will show that a crime was committed and that there is reasonable and probably cause to keep you in jail, or on bail, as the one who did it."

"Who's the prosecutor going to be. The DA?"

"One of his assistants, a woman by the name of Priscilla Lane."

"Does the fact she's a woman help or hurt."

Paul stroked his jaw. "Probably doesn't make a difference. The word around the court house is that she's very sharp, so don't be misled by the fact she's a woman. The judge is a man, though, and that's a definite plus. Judge Amos Schwartz. What a name."

"When do I get tried?"

"That date will be set after you go before the Grand Jury?"

Dave was clearly exasperated. "And what, may I ask, do they do?"

"The Grand Jury is a group of citizens from your community, probably fifteen or so, who look at all felony cases up front and make sure tax money isn't being wasted by taking someone to trial without cause."

Dave leaned forward on his elbows, head bowed. "How's Patty doing? he asked, looking up at Paul.

"Met her briefly this morning. She was really upset when they told her she wouldn't be able to see you until two this afternoon. Other than that, she seems to be holding up fairly well." Paul mentioned the lunch plans with Patricia and the Hogans and the fact that all three would be down to see Dave during the two-to-four visiting hours.

"Did Patty say anything about her doctor's appointment last night?" Paul looked blank. "Never mind, I'll wait and talk to her at two.

"Paul, you've been referring to some pretty heavy information about me which you know so far. Would I be out of line in asking just what that is?"

"Not at all. You have every right to know the kind of thing you're up against. The state is going to try to prove that you took Tessa home from school yesterday, went inside with her, and, while her father was asleep on the living room couch, took her into the back bedroom and raped her with the shaved-down handle of a wooden baseball bat."

Dave had been pacing the length of his cell but when he heard about the baseball bat, he sat down hard on the cot. His eyes were glazed with stress and pain.

"They think it's my bat?"

"Your name's burned on the tip of the barrel end with a hot tool of some kind."

"You know, I lost that bat at our softball tournament down in York. That was back on Memorial Day weekend. I use an aluminum bat at the plate. But for years, I've been carrying on old Hillerich & Bradsby-- an old Louisville Slugger to ball games, kind of like a souvenir."

"The one the police found was modified. The handle end was turned on a lathe and then sanded down so it came to a fairly sharp tip."

Dave felt bile rise in his throat. "Paul, I don't own a lathe and if I did, I wouldn't know how to use it. The last time I saw that bat, it was standing against a back stop down at the York Sports Complex. And it was normal size and weight."

"Your ball cap was found in her bed, too."

"I can probably explain that. She wanted to wear it home from school yesterday. She does that every once in a while, especially if I have a new cap. Brings it back to school the next day and gives it to Patty. What I can't understand is where Roy, her dad, where Roy Stetson was while all this was going on. What's his story?"

"He says he slept through the whole thing and didn't wake up until his wife started screaming for him to call 911. Did you see Mr. Stetson when you dropped Tessa off?"

"Well, I didn't exactly see him but his car was parked out front and I did ask Tessa to check and make sure her daddy was home before I drove away. She yelled out the door that he was there and so I took off."

"Can you tell me where you went and what you did after you dropped Tessa off?"

"I headed down towards Shippensburg because I had a class last night at the University. There was some reading I needed to do for the class so I stopped at that rest area along I-81 and read till it got dark. Then I drove on down to Shippensburg."

"Did you talk to anyone at that rest area, or did anyone see you while you were there?"

"I didn't talk to a soul. Used the rest room once but it was empty at the time."

"What were you driving?"

"New Mazda Miata. Red."

"Red Miata," mused Paul as he stroked his jaw. "That particular car might catch someone's attention but finding such a person would be pretty tough, especially if they're from out of state."

"What you're really saying is that I don't have anything even close to an alibi. Right?"

Paul nodded and then rose to stand beside the cot and rest his hand on Dave's shoulder. "Dave, I'd like to pray with you before we talk about the extent of Tessa's injuries. I'm afraid this next part is going to be pretty rough on you." The lawyer used conversational inflection and phrases to ask God to sustain Dave during this bad time and to heal little Tessa. Then he said amen.

"How-- how-- how bad is she?" Dave choked out through a throat constricted with emotion.

"Some of this comes from the police report, some from the 911 operator, and the rest from the hospital. When Mrs. Stetson got home, Tessa had lost consciousness from loss of blood. She used warm compresses to control the bleeding until the ambulance got there. Fortunately Carla knew Tessa's blood type so the EMTs were able to start whole blood while they were still in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. The intern I talked to thinks that may have saved her life. Both the vagina and the rectum have been seriously damaged. She was in the operating room three hours. They repaired the vagina and rectum. But they had to install a temporary urethra and they performed a temporary colostomy, also.

Dave rushed to the commode and vomited violently until nothing was left but dry heaves.

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