Why I Stayed – Part 19

The detective poked a finger at a piece of paper in front of him. I couldn’t make out the text from where I sat but I recognized the emblem at the top of the page as the seal for the city of Kiln Valley. There was a large signature at the bottom of the page.

“So far,” Demarco cleared his throat. “So far, you have been detained under suspicion of the murder of Jerrad Griffith. The next thing that will happen is that I will put you under arrest. Then, I will read you your rights. Before I do either of those things, is there anything you would like to tell me?”

Demarco looked at me with one black eyebrow raised. His eyes were a deep brown and his skin was the color coffee-stained paper. Black hair was combed back from his forehead and held in place by some sort of a shiny hair product. I could smell cologne but it was not a brand I could recognize. I looked him in his chocolate-colored eyes and slowly shook my head.

“You would be making it much easier on yourself if you talked to me, you know that?”

I shook my head again.

“Suit yourself,” he said. “Nicole Miller, you are hereby under arrest for the murder of Jerrad Griffith.” He reached into his suit coat and pulled out a card.

He placed the card on the table and turned the words so I could read them. I looked at the card and but could not understand the content. I gave him a quizzical look. He glanced at the card and winced. Demarco flipped the card over so the English language side was up and pushed it back towards me. He recited the words from the card perfectly.

“You have the right to remain silent and to refuse to answer questions. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to consult an attorney at a later time.”

Something didn’t seem right. The words he spoke sounded official but they were not what I expected. Decades of watching television and movies had prepared me for the script most often read to perpetrators as they are cuffed and stuffed into the back of a squad car. The setting was wrong and the words were so different that I was momentarily confused.

A similar thing happened to me as a little girl. My family was not very religious but my mom made sure to take me to the Lutheran church she attended as a child once in a while. I had experienced enough masses and Sunday schools that I had memorized the lord’s prayer and the Apostle’s Creed well enough to recite it with the rest of the congregation when the time came. One spring, a girl from my fourth grade class invited me for a sleepover on a Saturday night. Her mother had called my mother to iron out all the details. While I listened from a phone in another room, my friend’s mother asked if it would be okay to bring me to their church on Sunday morning. My mother told her that she didn’t see any harm in it.

Saturday night my friend and I stayed up really late playing Nintendo and watching movies. She had a TV in her bedroom with a built-in VCR and her parents didn’t limit how much time she spent in front of it, let alone what she watched. After staying up until sunrise watching movies my mother would never let me see we were rudely awakened by my friend’s mother and told it was time to get ready for church. I barely remembered getting dressed and eating breakfast. The drive to the church was short and we arrived in front of the Kiln Valley Grace Baptist Church before I was completely awake.

We sat in a pew not far from the front and I was dumbfounded by the spectacle of their Sunday mass. Everything was different. There was more music and people would speak up at random times to say “Hallelujuah” and “Praise Jesus.” I had no idea that two churches could be so different and when the pastor called for the congregation to recite the Lord’s Prayer, I was excited because this would finally be a part with which I was familiar.

I started the first line in proud unison with the rest of the worshipers but I was shocked when the pastor broke in and recited his own riff on the first line before we were able to move on to the second. I recited the second line with the people around me, only to be interrupted a second time. I shyly started the third line and was thrown off yet again when the words of the prayer were different. I was shocked into silence for the rest of the prayer. I could not understand why this prayer, which was as familiar to me as the Pledge of Allegiance, would be recited in such a different way.

The same unsettling sense of unfamiliarity hung over my head as the words for Demarco’s version of the Miranda warning echoed off the concrete walls of the interview room.

“Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you,” Demarco went on. “Are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?”

It was the last line that made me realize what was happening. Demarco was reading a script that was carefully prepared. The words were written to conform to the letter of the law and yet give the suspect some sort of motivation to talk to the cops and give up the right to silence. The confusion I felt at hearing the wrong Miranda warning faded and I leaned over the wooden top of the table to view the card better. I read the words written on the card and then read them a second time.

I sat back in my plastic chair as far as the chain would allow. I remembered reading about the Miranda case in political science class in high school. A man named Ernesto Miranda was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona for the kidnapping and rape of a girl in 1963. After his arrest and hours of interrogation, Miranda confessed and also signed documents that laid out his oral confession in plain text. The documents contained headings that stated the confessor was giving the statement of their own free will and in full knowledge of their rights. However Mr. Miranda was never told he had the right to silence, the right to an attorney, and that what he said would be used against him in court.

The prosecutors presented Ernesto Miranda’s confession as evidence and Miranda’s defense attorney argued that his client was not fully aware of his rights. The defense argued that had Mr. Miranda been aware of and fully understood his rights, he would not have confessed to the police. Miranda was convicted anyway and sentenced to a prison term. His attorney appealed the case to the Arizona State Supreme Court but the decision was upheld. Miranda’s case was eventually heard by the United States Supreme Court as Miranda vs. Arizona. The Supreme Court found that the confession of a suspect should only be admissible if the confessor is completely aware and in understanding of their rights. Miranda’s original conviction was overturned.

Ernesto Miranda did not stay a free man for long. He was arrested again on the same charges and a new trial, using evidence as well as statements from his girlfriend. Miranda was found guilty again and once again sentenced to time in prison. Miranda served his time and was released on parole. After his release, he was known to make money by signing what had come to be known as “Miranda Cards” for policemen and would carry stacks of signed cards in his coat to sell for $1.25. Mr. Miranda’s freedom from prison was again cut short when he was fatally stabbed in a bar fight. Rumor had it that Ernesto’s assailant held off the investigation by using his right to silence. Presumably, he heeded the Miranda warning that was read to him until he was eventually released on lack of evidence.

Demarco cleared his throat and repeated the question from the bottom of the card.

“Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?”

“No,” I said. “I would like to speak to my attorney.”

Demarco closed the first envelope and opened a second one. He began shuffling through the papers inside the folder. His black eyebrows nearly met above his nose and he pursed his lips.

“I don’t see that you have an attorney on record.”

“Robert Otis,” I said. “My attorney is Robert Otis.”

“I see,” said Demarco. He glanced over his shoulder to officer Hoskins who shrugged his shoulders and made a face like he smelled something awful.

“Nicole,” Demarco said in a patronizing tone. “I have to tell you that it never looks good when the suspect won’t talk to us. You look pretty guilty asking for a lawyer right away.”

“Knock it off, Demarco.”

Hoskins, Demarco, and I all looked at Tonya Lewis. I had nearly forgotten she was there and I had the feeling that the two men wished she wasn’t.

The men made annoyed faces and returned their attention to me.

“If you have further questions for me,” I said. “Please refer them to my attorney. I understand my rights and I will not be answering any of your questions unless my attorney is present.”

Hoskins grunted as he pried his heavy body away from the wall. Demarco put his papers back into their manila folders before he walked out into the hallway in a huff. Hoskins followed him out and shut the door with more force than was necessary.

Officer Lewis walked up to my chair, keys in hand.

“Well done,” she said. And unlocked the cuff from my left hand.

Officer Lewis disentangled my cuffs from the table and gently clasped the open cuff back onto my wrist. I stood up and my plastic chair made a horrible noise as it was pushed back across the tile floor. Tonya tipped her head towards the door and I followed her to it. She opened the door, put her left hand back on my right arm, and guided me out into the hallway.

As we walked towards my cell I could see that the light coming in the little window at the end of the hall was brighter now. I guessed it must be around noon. We arrived at my door and officer Lewis opened it for me. I walked in and she followed, pulling the door almost closed behind her. I held my hands in front of me and Tonya grabbed her keys from her belt and unlocked my restraints. My hands felt ten pounds lighter with all of that steel removed and I was suddenly very tired.

I turned ,shuffled back to my hard bed, and sat down. I looked up at Officer Lewis who watched me with a straight face although something in her eyes led me to believe something was running through her head.

“You’re going to be okay,” she said.

“I think so too,” I said.

Officer Lewis gave me a half smile, turned, and walked out into the hallway. The door slowly glided shut and I heard her keys jingle again as she locked it.

I laid down on the bed, listened to the footsteps recede down the hallway, and tried to sink into my make-believe world. However, when I closed my eyes, the only thing that came to me was sleep.

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