Authors: Delia Owens
“Yes, I have. She is a shy, gentle person, I believe. She prefers to be alone in the wilderness; it took some time for me to convince her to come to Greenville. Certainly she would avoid a crowd of people.”
“A crowd of people like one would encounter at a large hotel such as the Piedmont?”
“In fact, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Foster, that it is not surprising that Miss Clark—who likes to keep to herself—would choose a small,
rather remote motel over a large bustling hotel right in town? That this choice would fit her character?”
“Yes, I would say that.”
“Also, doesn’t it make sense if Miss Clark, who is not familiar with public transport and knew she had to walk from the bus station to her hotel and back again, carrying a suitcase, that she would select a hotel or motel closest to the station?”
“Thank you. That will be all.”
When Robert Foster left the witness stand, he sat with Tate, Scupper, Jodie, Jumpin’, and Mabel, behind Kya.
, Tom called the sheriff back as his next witness.
Kya knew from Tom’s list of witnesses that there weren’t many more to be called, and the thought sickened her. The closing arguments came next, then the verdict. As long as a stream of witnesses supported her, she could hope for acquittal or at least a delay of conviction. If the court proceedings trailed on forever, a judgment would never be handed down. She tried to lead her mind into fields-of-snow-geese distractions as she had since the trial began, but instead she saw only images of jail, bars, clammy cement walls. Mental inserts now and then of an electric chair. Lots of straps.
Suddenly, she felt she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t sit here any longer, her head too heavy to hold up. She sagged slightly, and Tom turned from the sheriff to Kya as her head dropped onto her hands. He rushed to her.
“Your Honor, I request a short recess. Miss Clark needs a break.”
“Granted. Court dismissed for a fifteen-minute recess.”
Tom helped her stand and whisked her out the side door and into the small conference room, where she sank into a chair. Sitting next to her, he said, “What is it? Kya, what’s wrong?”
She buried her head in her hands. “How can you ask that? Isn’t it obvious? How does anyone live through this? I feel too sick, too tired to sit there. Do I have to? Can’t the trial continue without me?” All she was capable of, all she wanted, was to return to her cell and curl up with Sunday Justice.
“No, I’m afraid not. In a capital case, such as this, the law requires your presence.”
“What if I can’t? What if I refuse? All they can do is throw me in jail.”
“Kya, it’s the law. You have to attend, and anyway, it’s better for you to be present. It’s easier for a jury to convict an absent defendant. But, Kya, it won’t be for much longer.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better, don’t you see? What comes next is worse than this.”
“We don’t know that. Don’t forget, we can appeal if this doesn’t go our way.”
Kya didn’t answer. Thoughts of an appeal sickened her more, the same forced march through different courtrooms, farther from the marsh. Probably large towns. Some gull-less sky. Tom stepped out of the room and returned with a glass of sweet iced tea and a package of salted peanuts. She sipped at the tea; refused the nuts. A few minutes later, the bailiff knocked on the door and led them back into court. Kya’s mind faded in and out of reality, catching only snippets of the testimony.
“Sheriff Jackson,” Tom said, “the prosecution is claiming that Miss Clark snuck out of her motel late at night and walked from the Three
Mountains Motel to the bus station—a trip of at least twenty minutes. That she then took the 11:50
night bus from Greenville to Barkley Cove, but the bus was late, so she couldn’t have arrived in Barkley until 1:40
They claim that from the Barkley bus stop, she walked to the town wharf—three or four minutes—then she boated to the cove near the water tower—at least twenty minutes—walked to the tower, another eight minutes; climbed it in pitch dark, say, four to five minutes at least; opened the grate, a few seconds; waited for Chase—no time estimate—and then all of this in reverse.
“Those actions would have taken one hour seven minutes minimum, and that does not count time supposedly waiting for Chase. But the bus back to Greenville, which she had to catch, departed only fifty minutes after she arrived. Therefore, it is a simple fact: there was not enough time for her to commit this alleged crime. Isn’t that correct, Sheriff?”
“It would’ve been tight, that’s true. But she could’ve jogged from her boat to the tower and back, she could’ve cut a minute here and there.”
“A minute here and there won’t do it. She would have needed twenty extra minutes. At least. How could she have saved twenty minutes?”
“Well, maybe she didn’t go in her boat at all; maybe she walked or ran from the bus stop on Main, down the sandy track to the tower. That would be much quicker than going by sea.” From his seat at the prosecution table, Eric Chastain glared at the sheriff. He had convinced the jury there was enough time for Kya to commit the crime and return to the bus. They didn’t need much convincing. In addition, they had a superior witness, the shrimper, who testified that he had seen Miss Clark headed to the tower by boat.
“Do you have any evidence whatsoever that Miss Clark went by land to the tower, Sheriff?”
“No. But going by land is a good theory.”
Tom turned to the jury. “The time for
was before you arrested Miss Clark, before you held her in jail for two months. The fact is you cannot prove that she went by land, and there was not enough time for her to go by sea. No more questions.”
Eric faced the sheriff for the cross. “Sheriff, isn’t it true that the waters near Barkley Cove are subjected to strong currents, riptides, and undertows that can influence the speed of a boat?”
“Yeah, that’s true. Everybody lives here knows that.”
“Someone who knew how to take advantage of such a current could boat very quickly to the tower from the harbor. In such a case, it would be very feasible to cut twenty minutes off the round trip. Isn’t that correct?” Eric was annoyed that he had to suggest yet another theory, but all he needed was some plausible concept the jurors could latch on to and pull them in.
“Yeah, that’s correct.”
“Thank you.” As soon as Eric turned from the witness stand, Tom stood for the redirect.
“Sheriff, yes or no, do you have any evidence that a current, riptide, or strong wind occurred on the night of October 29 to the 30 that could have decreased the time for someone to boat from the Barkley Cove Harbor to the fire tower, or any evidence that Miss Clark went to the tower by land?”
“No, but I’m sure there—”
“Sheriff, it doesn’t make any difference what you’re sure of or not. Do you have any evidence that a strong riptide was flowing the night of October 29, 1969?”
“No, I don’t.”
The next morning, Tom had only one more witness. His last card.
He called Tim O’Neal, who had operated his own shrimping boat in the waters off Barkley Cove for thirty-eight years. Tim, nearing sixty-five, tall yet stout, had thick brown hair with only whispers of gray, yet a full beard, nearly white. Folks knew him to be quiet and serious, honest and gracious, always opening doors for ladies. The perfect last witness.
“Tim, is it correct that on the night of October 29 to the 30 of last year, you were skippering your boat into Barkley Cove Harbor at approximately 1:45 to 2:00
“Two of your crew members, Mr. Hal Miller, who testified here, and Mr. Allen Hunt, who signed an affidavit, both claim they saw Miss Clark motoring north past the harbor in her boat at approximately the times mentioned. Are you aware of their declarations?”
“Did you see the same boat, at that time and place, that both Mr. Miller and Mr. Hunt saw?”
“Yes, I did.”
“And do you agree with their statements that it was Miss Clark in her boat that you saw motoring north?”
“No. I do not.”
“It was dark. There was no moon until later. And that boat was too far away to recognize with any certainty. I know everybody ’round here with that kinda boat, and I’ve seen Miss Clark in hers plenty a’ times, and known right away it was her. But that night, it was too dark to recognize that boat or who was in it.”
“Thank you, Tim. No more questions.”
Eric walked up close to the witness stand. “Tim, even if you could not identify that boat, or who exactly was in it, do you agree that a rig about the same size and shape as Miss Clark’s boat was headed toward the Barkley Cove Fire Tower at approximately 1:45
the night Chase Andrews died at the fire tower around that time?”
“Yes, I can say the boat was a similar shape and size as Miss Clark’s.”
“Thank you very much.”
On redirect, Tom rose and spoke from where he stood. “Tim, to confirm, you testified that you have recognized Miss Clark in her boat many times, but on that evening, you saw nothing at all to identify that boat or boater to be Miss Clark in her rig. Correct?”
“And can you tell us, are there very many boats the same size and shape as Miss Clark’s boat operating in this area?”
“Oh yes, hers is one of the most common types of boat around. There’s lots of boats just like hers operating here.”
“So the boater you saw that night could have been any number of other persons in a similar boat?”
“Thank you. Your Honor, the defense rests.”
Judge Sims said, “We’ll recess for twenty minutes. Court dismissed.”
OR HIS CLOSING
, Eric wore a tie with wide gold and burgundy stripes. The gallery was quietly expectant as he approached the jury and stood at the railing, passing his eyes deliberately from one to the next.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you are members of a community, of a proud and unique town. Last year you lost one of your own sons. A young man, a shining star of your neighborhood, looking forward to a long life with his beautiful . . .”
Kya barely heard him as he repeated his account of how she murdered Chase Andrews. She sat, elbows on the table, her head in her hands, catching only fragments of his discourse.
“. . . Two well-known men in this community saw Miss Clark and Chase in the woods . . . heard her saying the words
I will kill you!
. . . a red wool cap that left fibers on his denim jacket . . . Who else would want to remove that necklace . . . you know these currents and winds can drastically increase the speed . . .
“We know from her lifestyle that she is very capable of boating at night, of climbing the tower in the dark. It all fits together like clockwork. Every single move she made that night is clear. You can and must find that the defendant is guilty of first-degree murder. Thank you for doing your duty.”
MS NODDED AT
, who approached the jury box.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I grew up in Barkley Cove, and when I was a younger man I heard the tall tales about the Marsh Girl. Yes, let’s just get this out in the open. We called her the Marsh Girl. Many still call her that. Some people whispered that she was part wolf or the missing link between ape and man. That her eyes glowed in the dark. Yet in reality, she was only an abandoned child, a little girl surviving on her own in a swamp, hungry and cold, but we didn’t help her. Except for one of her only friends, Jumpin’, not one of our churches or community groups offered her food or clothes. Instead we labeled and rejected her because we thought she was different. But, ladies and gentlemen, did we exclude Miss Clark because she was different, or was she different because we excluded her? If we had taken her in as one of our own—I think that is what she would be today. If we had fed, clothed, and loved her, invited her into our churches and homes, we wouldn’t be prejudiced against her. And I believe she would not be sitting here today accused of a crime.
“The job of judging this shy, rejected young woman has fallen on your shoulders, but you must base that judgment on the facts presented in this case, in this courtroom, not on rumors or feelings from the past twenty-four years.
“What are the true and solid facts?” Just as with the prosecution, Kya’s mind caught only snippets. “. . . the prosecution has not even proved that this incident was indeed a murder and not simply a tragic accident. No murder weapon, no wounds from being pushed, no witnesses, no fingerprints . . .
“One of the most important and proven facts is that Miss Clark has a sound alibi. We know she was in Greenville the night Chase died . . .
no evidence that she dressed as a man, bused to Barkley . . . In fact, the prosecution has failed to prove that she was in Barkley Cove that night at all, failed to prove that she went to the tower. I say again: there is not one single piece of evidence that proves Miss Clark was on the fire tower, in Barkley Cove, or killed Chase Andrews.
“. . . and the skipper, Mr. O’Neal, who has operated his own shrimp boat for thirty-eight years, testified that it was too dark to identify that boat.
“. . . fibers on his jacket, which could have been there for four years . . . These are uncontested facts . . .
“Not one of the witnesses for the prosecution was sure of what they saw, not one. Yet in her defense, every witness is one hundred percent certain . . .”
Tom stood for a moment in front of the jury. “I know most of you very well, and I know you can set aside any former prejudices against Miss Clark. Even though she only went to school one day in her life—because the other children harassed her—she educated herself and became a well-known naturalist and author. We called her the Marsh Girl; now scientific institutions recognize her as the Marsh Expert.
“I believe you can put all of the rumors and tall tales aside. I believe you will come to a judgment based on the facts you heard in this courtroom, not the false rumors you have heard for years.
“It is time, at last, for us to be fair to the Marsh Girl.”