Battling the Demons
A Short Story by
“But the unclean spirit, when he is gone out of the man,
passes through waterless places, seeking rest and finding
it not. Then he says, I will return to the house when I
came out; and when he comes he finds it empty,
swept and garnished. Then he takes with himself
seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter
and dwell there. And the state of that man is worse
than the first.” Matthew 12:43-45
“Terry my friend,” the District Attorney from those days whispered, “justice is a meal seldom served on a warm platter.” Henry Baker said that just after the curtains covering the viewing window of the execution chamber had been drawn. I had no idea of what he meant; perhaps it was a version of the old adage about the wheels of justice turning slowly, but I nodded in understanding just the same. The truth was that in all my years as a cop and testifying in as many court proceedings as I had, I found that quite often justice was not served at all, hot, cold or tepid.
Let me venture a guess that just about everyone who spends a career in and around the legal system has some case that sticks in their craw a little, one that wakens him or her from a sound sleep and leaves them weak and shaking. My own particular specter was one called The State of Virginia versus Roberto Seguin. Bobby Seguin was accused, tried and convicted in the killing of three people; a father, a mother and a teen-age boy on a mild Wednesday morning in the middle of May. I was the chief investigator of that case and the star witness, for both sides, as it turned out. The evidence was as solid as a rock but the circumstances were like a three legged stool you try to set down on a cobblestone street. No matter where you put it, all three legs never touch the ground at the same time. Nevertheless, three good people had died because Bobby Seguin had cut their throats from ear to ear and the scales of justice demanded a balance.
My part in it all started when a mailman walked up the steps and onto the porch of the Jurgen home on Garfield Street in Arlington Virginia. As he was depositing a handful of circulars, various junk mail and two honest-to-goodness letters in the mailbox he noticed what looked like a bloody footprint on the recently painted flooring of the porch. The front door was ajar but the combination screen/storm door was closed. The mailman looked through the glass pane and could see all the way back to the kitchen. What he saw there made him run to a neighboring house and call 911. The police department dispatched a patrol car to Garfield Street and two uniform patrolmen entered the house and discovered the bodies.
I arrived about twenty minutes later with a full crime scene team. “Sergeant Miller,” the senior of the patrolmen said to me, his voice coarse and overly sober, “this is a nasty one. My young partner has only been on the job a few weeks and he almost vomited, so I sent him outside. Neither of us touched or disturbed anything.”
“Thanks Smitty,” I answered. “Unfortunately, if your young partner stays on the job a few more weeks he’ll get used to this stuff. Go up and down the street and see if anyone saw anything, will you? Any idea of when this happened.”
“Not long enough to dry the big blood pools, Smitty answered. “Definitely since daylight.”
“Good, maybe we’ll get lucky for a change,” I said without enthusiasm.
Luck wasn’t long in coming. Another patrol car was dispatched downtown when a lady waiting for a bus saw a young man soaked in blood walk into an alley and sit down on a stack of vegetable crates. He was still there when the patrolmen arrived. He wouldn’t say a word; the guys spread a piece of plastic on the back seat of the car and brought him into headquarters.
When they called and told me about the pickup I left the crime scene in the capable hands of the team and went back to my shop. The Hispanic kid had no identification on him, in fact the only thing he had was $6.83 cents in bills and change and a check for wages from a Chinese restaurant on Columbia Pike. Two detectives were in the process of questioning the suspect, but you can’t call it an interrogation if there is no response. I had them take a Polaroid snapshot of the kid and I headed for the Macao Garden Restaurant on Columbia Pike.
Over the next five or six hours I pretty much reconstructed the simple life of Roberto Seguin. I was one-hundred percent certain he was illegal, worked two jobs as a dishwasher, lived in a boarding house on 68th street and drank coffee very sweet with lots of cream. He came from a village in East-Central Mexico and sent money to his mother there on a regular basis. He would have liked to have been a smoker, but he wouldn’t spend the money. He would take one from a coworker though, if offered. He owned three shirts, three pairs of trousers, two pair of shoes and a light jacket that he wore in the cool months plus a heavy surplus Air Force parka that he wore in the winter. To a person, everyone who knew him, worked with him or had even a passing acquaintance with him told me he was a nice guy who never gave anyone any trouble.
By the time I got to the office the next morning Bobby Seguin’s fate was all but sealed. I let the two detectives who had questioned him the day before continue their fruitless attempt to get him to say anything, anything at all. As the morning progressed I watched as one damning piece of evidence after another was paraded across my desk. Without a doubt, Bobby’s shoe had made the bloody footprint found on the porch and in the kitchen. The fingerprints found on the butcher knife and a couple of other places were his also. The blood on his clothes was the same as the Jurgen’s. We could have gone to trial in little more than twenty-four hours after the crime with an air-tight case. Nevertheless, I allowed the questioning to continue until early afternoon.
The District Attorney called just after lunch. “Terry,” he said in one of his more demanding tones, “it would sure be nice if you could get a confession out of this guy. This thing is already being compared to the Manson murders.” Actually, the closer the comparison to the Manson murders, or any other spectacular crime was just what Henry Baker wanted. Henry was an ambitious man and a case like this was a ticket to bigger and better things, providing you could get a conviction.
“We’ll work on it,” I said, but I wasn’t hopeful. The quiet ones like this seldom said anything. Still, I knew a few things about Bobby Seguin that didn’t fit the usual mass murderer. Maybe he was just different enough.
About two o’clock I went to the coffee nook and poured about half a cup of coffee into an insulated paper cup. I dumped in a whole lot of sugar and topped the whole thing off with the remainder of the contents of the half-and-half carton. On the way to the interrogation room I snatched a half pack of Viceroy Cigarettes off the desk of some detective and then I checked in to the observation room. “Make sure the cassette recorder is on,” I said to the technician.
“Okay sarge” he said reluctantly, “but you’re probably going to be cutting a one-sided conversation.
When I entered the interview room I motioned with my head towards the door and the other detectives left, leaving me and Bobby alone together. I put the coffee in front of him and slid the pack of cigarettes toward him. “It’s the way you like it,” I said, gesturing towards the coffee. I was surprised when he took the coffee and after looking at it sipped it. He followed that with a longer drink and then he tapped out a cigarette from the pack and put it between his lips. He did a cursory search for a match but, of course, the table was clear. I reached into my shirt pocket and took out a book of matches from the Chinese restaurant where he worked and tossed them to him.
He was probably 23 or 24 years old, I decided; a good looking kid even when wearing a baggy set of orange coveralls. “I found the dish and saucer you had on the fire escape outside your room,” I said. “I figured you must be feeding some stray cat out there, so I put out fresh water and a handful of dry cat food. The guy who lives down the hall from you said he’d keep an eye out for the cat and that you shouldn’t worry about him. He gave me a thankful look and took another drag off the cigarette. I let him smoke and drink his coffee and I didn’t say anything. Finally I sat down in the chair across from him and folded my hands in front of me. Looking down on them I let out a long sigh. “Bobby,” I said calmly, “how are we going to tell your mother about this?” His friends had told me he liked being called Bobby, it sounded American. Bobby shrugged his shoulders.
When he finished his cigarette I let him settle for a few seconds. “Why did you do this thing?” I said, trying to be as sincere as I could.
Bobby looked up at me and his eyes filled with tears. Eventually one tear on each side trickled down his cheeks and he had the most hurt expression on his face I think I’ve ever seen. “I don’t know,” he said simply, “I don’t know.”
You might get the idea that once the dam broke it all came out, but you would be wrong. He signed a confession later that afternoon, but the only words he would dictate were “I killed them. I killed all three of them.”
The wheels of justice do in fact turn slowly. They appointed a public defender for Bobby and he was forever slowing things down even slower than they normally run. You couldn’t hardly blame the guy, he had very little to work with. He had Bobby psychoanalyzed and evaluated, competency tested and nothing ever came back conclusively. Bobby wouldn’t talk.
The defense attorney was a recent graduate of Georgetown University by the name of Jeff Spangler. He had a frumpy look to him, if you know what I mean. The immediate impression I got from him was that he had probably been a solid “B” student and was turned down by every major law firm in the greater Washington D.C. area because he didn’t fit the image. I also had the feeling they had all made a terrible mistake.
I kept the investigation open all during that long, hot summer and into the fall. We even sent a detective down to Mexico to see what he could find down there. It was always the same thing; Bobby, or Roberto, was a nice guy, close to his family and seemingly incapable of doing harm to anyone.
Occasionally I would drop down to the holding area and see Bobby, bring him a cup of his sweet coffee and a cigarette. Sometimes he said “thanks”; more often than not he would just give me a friendly wave when I left.
We went to trial the first week of November. The strategy was pretty simple. I would be the first witness and my sole job was to testify that I had taken Bobby’s confession and that all his civil rights had been protected. The tape of the confession would be introduced and then I would be followed by a virtual parade of experts on fingerprints, blood spatters, blood types and whatever else they could think of. It turned out they needn’t have bothered.
Henry Baker had me sworn in about 10AM on the Monday morning the trial opened. His first question to me was simple and to the point. “Detective sergeant Miller, did you have occasion on the afternoon of May seventeenth of this year to take the confession of the defendant in this case?”
“Yes sir, I did,” I answered truthfully.
Henry Baker then had the tape entered as evidence and subsequently played. We were five minutes into the actual trial. When the tape finished the DA asked me one more question. “Was the defendant read his rights and did he sign the confession?”
“He did,” I said, “and he also signed a statement to the effect that he had been read those rights.”
“I have no further questions of this witness,” the DA barked.
Jeff Spangler rose from his chair and walked to the front of the defense table. He sort of half leaned back and half sat on it. He had on a tweed sports coat that perfectly enhanced his frumpy look, a blue, button-down shirt and a tie that probably resided in his brief case when he wasn’t in front of the judge. He studied me for a few seconds before he spoke. “Detective sergeant Miller, it seems you are the only officer in the Arlington County Police Department who is capable of getting a vocal response from Mister Seguin. Would you care to elaborate on that fact?”
Henry Baker was already rising from his chair to object when Spangler withdrew the question. “Of course you wouldn’t,” he smiled. “To be honest with you, Mister Seguin has spoken very little to me either, which makes it sort of difficult to prepare an adequate defense. I hope you and the court will allow me a little latitude because of that.” Spangler paused for a few moments and I got the distinct impression he was about to start down a long road with me.
“What time did you arrive at the Jurgen home with your team?”
“I believe it was just about 10:30 AM,” I replied.
Spangler paused again. “Disregarding the kitchen area, was the house in generally good order?”
I remember wondering where he was going with this particular line of questions, but I didn’t see that anything I might say would jeopardize the prosecution. “Yes,” I said, hesitating, “I think you could say that the place was rather neat and well kept.”
“Beds made, no furniture tipped over, anything of that sort?” Spangler asked.
I half smiled. “The boy’s room might have been a little messy. He apparently slept in a sleeping bag and that was just tossed on the bed. There were some clothes lying around but nothing you would consider being abnormal for a kid that age.”
“I see,” defense council said. “Were there indications that drawers had been opened or rifled for valuables?”
“No sir,” I answered. “We saw no evidence of any robbery or theft.”
“I see,” Spangler said again. “Were there valuables in the house that a burglar might have taken, had that been his intention?”
I hesitated again. “I believe there was a silver service in the dining room and Missus Jurgen had some jewelry in her bedroom. I don’t recall if there was any cash in the house or not,” I answered. “I was called away from the crime scene before the inventory was completed.”
“That would have been when Mister Seguin was picked up downtown?” Jeff questioned.
“Yes,” I replied.
“And when Mister Seguin was apprehended, did he have anything on his person that might have come from the Jurgen home?
“No sir,” I responded.
“Thank you, Sergeant Miller,” the defense councilor said. He was almost hinting that he was finished with me, but he never completed his statement. Suddenly his face brightened, like he had just had some revelation. “Tell me sergeant,” he said, smiling, “in all these months and months of investigation and research, were you ever able to establish a link of any kind between my client and the Jurgen’s?”
“Other than physical evidence found at the crime scene, we never did establish such a link,” I replied, almost reluctantly.
Jeff Spangler was now quite animated. “Tell me,” he said excitedly, “is Garfield street part of a direct route my client might have taken between one of his work places and his residence on 68th street?”
I hadn’t thought of it, quite frankly. “It could be,” I said being rather noncommittal. “It would be quite a hike, but I gather that the defendant was not a frequent user of any of the mass transportation facilities in the city. He was a walker, and it would not be entirely out of his way to traverse Garfield Street.” Inwardly I felt as though I just cut off a tangential branch the counselor had grasped at.
“Anybody remember seeing him in the neighborhood or on that street?”
He had opened a door that would normally have been closed to him, and I was quick to stick my foot in it. “Yes,” I said immediately, but I caught myself. Spangler had read all the police reports, I was certain of that. Why was he asking me a question that he knew would not put his client in a good light? “An older couple a few doors down from the Jurgens said they had seen him the morning of the murders. They described him to a tee, including his clothes, but their statement could not be used as evidence because they had not seen his face and could not pick him out of a lineup.”
“I’m happy to see you are such a stickler at following evidence rules to the letter, Sergeant Miller,” he grinned. “You are to be congratulated.” He stood up from his perch on the table and looked at me knowingly. “Still, you’re pretty sure it was my client and more than likely if he had turned around those people would have identified him, right?”
“Yes sir, I’m convinced.” I smiled back.
Spangler rubbed his chin as though he was testing his stubble length. “Yeah, so am I,” he said. I shot an eye towards the judge and caught him raising his eyebrows in surprise. DA Baker looked like somebody had just handed him a nicely wrapped birthday present.
I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. This relatively new defense council was either very clever or else he bordered on the negligent. It seemed to me that he had laid the foundation for doubt that his client was connected to this crime and then he seemed to go out of his way to destroy the very foundation he had constructed.
“It appears we have a minor problem here, Sergeant Miller,” Mister Spangler suggested. “If this wasn’t a robbery or a burglary gone badly, or an act of revenge or some other equally deviant activity, just what was it that brought Bobby Seguin to that house on Garfield Street?”
I shouldn’t have taken the bait but I did. The DA should have objected, but he didn’t. Maybe he was caught unaware too, wondering where we were headed. “Councilor,” I began, “I have no idea of why your client was there, I only know, with a good deal of certainty that he was there. If you would like, we can go through that evidence right now.”
Jeff Spangler smiled and I had the distinct impression that my response to his question was exactly what he expected. The road had turned. “We’ll get back to that in a few minutes,” he stated without emphasis. “What time did the medical examiner affix as the time of death?” Spangler spit the question out at me like a challenge.
“Based on several factors,” I began, “the time of death was determined to be approximately 9AM.”
“Which of the three victims died first?” he spit another question.
“All the victims died within minutes of each other,” I said, deliberately trying to slow down the defense’s machine-gun rapidity. “It depends on which of the three bled out the fastest. The wounds to each of the victims were pretty much identical, so it is reasonable to say that they probably died in the order they were attacked.”
“Do you know with certainty what that order was?”
“Yes sir, we do.” We did, and he knew damn well we did. We were about to head down the grotesque and cruel part of this trial, a part that I had not planned to take part in. Normally this would have fallen to the forensic people to present. I suppose it was possible that he thought I might botch the whole thing and give him an opening, but I doubted that. Jeff Spangler was playing me like a violin and I couldn’t, for the life of me, recognize the melody.
Spangler resumed his semi-perch on the defense table. “Perhaps you would be so kind as to inform me and the members of the jury just how that was determined,” he said. It wasn’t a question, but I answered it anyway.
“The determination was made by blood and blood spatters found on the defendant’s clothes, the kitchen floor and the clothes of each of the victims,” I said, sounding as professional as I could. “The FBI lab in Quantico Virginia was able to ascertain that Missus Jurgen was attacked first. Her blood was the first to be shed based on the fact that both of the other victim’s blood was found in droplets above her own.” I held my hands together, making a quick illustration of a layering effect. “Her blood was the first to coagulate on the tile of the kitchen floor, blood drops from her son and her husband fell on top of hers. The same methodology was used to determine the Jurgen boy was attacked next and finally Mister Jurgen himself.”
“Remarkable,” Spangler nodded his head as though amazed. “The victims were lined up in that order also?” he asked.
“They were,” I agreed. “They were in a kneeling position in front of the kitchen island. I’m quite sure the District Attorney will present a chart illustrating that alignment at some point.”
“And the killer simply went from one to the other to the other and cut their throats?”
Again, I didn’t understand the Defense Attorney’s willingness to make the prosecution’s case so clearly. “The killer stood behind each of the victims, bent their heads back with his left hand and simultaneously inflicted the fatal wounds with the butcher’s knife held in his right hand.”
“They were bound hand and foot, I assume?” Spangler sprung his trap.
“No,” I admitted reluctantly. “There is no evidence that they were restrained in any way.
“Then surely they were drugged?” Spangler speculated, although he knew the answer to that question also.
“Blood tests did not indicate the presence of any drugs in the victims either.” I knew what was coming next.
“Sergeant Miller,” Spangler looked at me with genuine amazement, “are you telling us that an adult man and a teen-age boy watched as their wife and mother had her throat cut by a lone man and did nothing to stop him?”
“Councilor, I’m only telling you what the evidence indicates.” I tried not to sound ridiculous but young Mister Spangler had made it pretty obvious that it was.
The Defense Attorney looked down at the floor and shook his head. After what seemed to be an inordinate amount of time he stood and walked around the table again and stood behind his chair next to Bobby Seguin. Bobby had never looked up during my testimony. “I said we would get back to that question of why,” Spangler said finally. “The only person in the world who can answer that question is my client, so, I asked him. He told me he didn’t know.” Jeff pulled out his chair and sat down. “Thank you Sergeant Miller, you’ve been very helpful.”
I left the courtroom feeling confused, somewhat uneasy about my testimony and strangely exhausted. One thing you have to learn about participating in the justice system is that once you have played your part you need to let go of it. My job was to apprehend the perpetrator, gather the evidence necessary to prosecute him and to defend that evidence in court if needs be. The rest of it was up to the District Attorney, the Defense Attorney, a Judge and jury. I was finished. The reality of the whole thing was that I hadn’t let go of it; I wasn’t finished and probably never would be. Not with this one at least.
District Attorney Baker was able to put on his dog and pony show, although somewhat abbreviated, and wrap up the people’s case by close of business that first day. Jeff Spangler had no questions of any of the expert witnesses.
I stopped by the courtroom Tuesday morning just in time to see Mister Spangler have his first witness sworn in. It was Bobby Seguin’s mother. They had brought this simple lady from the rural backwaters of old Mexico to the apron of our Nation’s capitol, plunked her down amidst snow-white granite columns and marble floors, gaggles of reporters and cameramen surrounding her and expected her to save her son. She damned near pulled it off.
Missus Seguin could care less about forensic science. To her it was a simple matter of character. The son she raised, the son she loved, the son she knew better than any person on earth could know Bobby Seguin said flatly he was incapable of such a monstrous deed. If he had done such a thing he was under a spell. Jeff Spangler suggested to her that perhaps Roberto had been temporarily insane, a defense he knew he could not support and the suggestion of it brought Henry Baker springing from his chair in an objection that was slightly overplayed.
Amalia Seguin spoke through an interpreter, naturally, but she was animated, gesturing with her hands, her eyes darting, sparkling and accusing when she needed that effect. The interpreter, on the other hand, was lifeless and droll, saying just the words without any emotional additions or subtractions. The contrast between the two narrations was spectacular. I found myself in grudging admiration of this novice public defender. It wasn’t through experience that he was taking scientific data and effectively telling the jury that it was incomplete and, in part, irrelevant, it was because he had some innate knowledge of how people interact with each other. He had a winner in Missus Seguin and he knew it. He knew that she was so untouched by modern influence, so sincere in her beliefs that she had to be believed. His questions to her were uncomplicated and direct and more than enough to keep her talking.
“I have seen it before,” she said directly. “The devil comes into a person and makes them do things that they otherwise cannot do. They have a power, a power beyond our understanding. The animals around this person recognize the devil before anyone else. Dogs and horses keep their distance; avoid looking into such a person’s eyes. Only the cats find them acceptable.
After a few more character witnesses the trial ended. Jeff Spangler argued that what was obvious did not make sense; therefore one had to consider what was beyond understanding. A man simply does not commit an act like this unless there are forces at work that we might not comprehend. Henry Baker said the evidence was clear. Bobby Seguin was a killer, for whatever reason and that custom and the law demanded he is held accountable.
Our air-tight case ricocheted around the jury room for three full days before a verdict was reached. Even then, when asked to read the verdict the foreperson, a woman in her forties, had tears in her eyes as she said, “we find the defendant guilty.” Outside the courthouse, jurors normally anxious to talk to the press walked stern faced through the throng of reporters and grunted barely audible “no comment please” and turned away from their opportunity for their own fifteen seconds of fame.
In mid-December, Bobby Seguin was sentenced to death. I watched those proceedings and I was taken by Bobby’s bearing and attitude when the sentence was read. He stood straight, looking almost defiant, but defiant would have been a wrong interpretation of his stance; it was more resolute, one of strength and not of weakness. I did not understand.
A few minutes later, in the echoing halls where there always seemed to be a perpetual buzz, I was talking to a fellow policeman when I felt a hand on my elbow. I turned to find Jeff Spangler standing there in his frumpy tweed sports jacket and permanently wrinkled tie. “Good morning councilor,” I smiled at him. “I’m very sorry this turned so badly for you and your client.”
Jeff smiled back. “It was pre-ordained,” he shrugged. “We had nothing going in and we ended up with little more than that. But,” and he paused, “it is exactly the way Bobby wanted it to come out.”
“You know,” I said with some wonderment, “I thought I detected a bit of that just now as he heard the sentence.”
“He is a good man, which seems impossible when you consider everything,” Spangler said. Then he looked at me and grinned. “You’re not such a bad fellow yourself.” He paused for a second and then started off down the hall, turned half way around and added, “And a good cop.”
I received a Christmas card from Jeff a few weeks later and I’ve received one every year since. It’s been interesting to see how the quality of those cards has increased from year to year. He left the office of the Public Defender a couple years after the Seguin trial but I know that he never left Bobby. The case was slowly working its way through the maze of appeals required of any death penalty verdict. In the years before I retired if I ran into Jeff it was some high profile event and hourly billings way up in a stratosphere where I couldn’t catch my breath.
When I finally admitted to myself that the number of the unanswered questions in the Seguin matter far outweighed the answered questions I didn’t know quite what to do about it. It was my wife who finally told me bluntly one day, “I think you need to go talk to Jack.” It wasn’t a bad idea.
Jack Morrissey and I grew up together. We attended Ste. Anne’s grade, middle and high school together. We played on the same youth league baseball team and we even liked the same girl once upon a time, a very long time ago. We were buddies.
After high school I enlisted in the Army. It was a foregone conclusion anyway, one way or another you were going to end up in the Army or one of the other services if you weren’t going to college. But a sharp recruiter with a chest full of medals convinced me that if I enlisted for four years, rather than be drafted for two years, I could probably call my own shots. Chances were, according to him, I’d be sent to one of those technical schools and end up in Germany or Italy instead of being a grunt in Vietnam. They made an MP out of me and I went to Vietnam right along with the draftees.
Jack Morrissey didn’t get drafted. When I came home on my first leave after boot-camp I was pretty shocked to learn that Jack had entered the seminary. It was sort of funny; you grow up with a guy, play ball with him, smoke cigarettes out behind his garage and even fantasize about the good looking girls in school with him. You think you pretty much know everything there is to know about somebody like that. Chances are you know a whole lot less than you think. On reflection though, it made perfect sense. Jack was a deep thinker, much more into reasons and reasoning than I was. Even though I hadn’t learned to think like a policeman yet, the evidence was there, plain enough. That was especially true when I found out that Jack was not going to be “just” a priest, he was going to be a Jesuit.
When I came home from Vietnam I was posted with the “Old Guard”, the 3rd Infantry Battalion at Fort Meyers Virginia. Most of my time was spent directing traffic for military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery but there was a spattering of real police work thrown in occasionally and I liked it. I even liked the Army. If I wasn’t all but certain I’d be sent back to Vietnam I probably would have reenlisted. It was kind of a sad day when I turned in my black lacquered helmet liner and patent leather Buster-Brown belt and holster, but I had a place in the next police academy class for Arlington County which kind of made up for the loss.
I guess it was about six or seven years later; I was working a particularly bloody multi-car accident on Route 50. Two people were dead when I got there and there were injured all over the place. It was raining, traffic was stopped in both directions, emergency vehicles were having trouble getting through the snarled pockets of cars and trucks and either everybody was in charge or nobody was. I grabbed some rookie patrolman who was standing there with a flashlight looking down at a dead woman and shook him hard. “You get your ass out on that road,” I hollered at him, “and you get this thing moving.” The kid jumped like somebody had just woke him from a bad dream. I took every uniform I could find and set them to work on some specific task. The paramedics and fire fighters were handling the injured; my job was to get some order back into this mayhem.
Things were starting to function; finally, when a guy in a raincoat and a British looking hat came slogging up the side of the road. He approached me and raised his head up out of the upturned collar of his coat and grimaced against the weather. “Officer, I’m a priest, is there anything I can do to help?”
“Two are beyond help, Father,” I remarked rather coldly, “but you might check with that guy over by the ambulance with the yellow slicker on and the helmet that says “Captain” on it. He probably has a better idea of what is happening with the injured.”
The guy started to walk towards the ambulance and it hit me. “Jack?” I shouted after him. He turned around to look at me. Recognition and the smile came almost simultaneously.
A couple of hours later we managed to sit down at the counter of one of the local drive-in restaurants. At that time Jack was a student at Georgetown University; now he is a professor at that same institution. We keep our friendship going with occasional calls, he drops by for a summer cook-out once in a while, and every so often he and I will have a drink together if I happen to be in the district. When we do get together we talk about ordinary stuff; our youth, work and the general state of affairs. We had never spoken about philosophical things, neither as kids nor as adults.
When I called him and said I needed to talk he suggested we meet at the Irish Pub on Wisconsin Avenue in DC. When I said either at his house or his office might be better I picked up his concern almost immediately.
A few evenings later we were sitting in a comfortable little enclave he called his chat room. It didn’t look like an office and it didn’t have the feel of a place where one might be psychoanalyzed. Jack made a pot of tea that he placed on a small table between us. The teapot had a fuzzy fur coat on it, something I wasn’t familiar with. As we talked I discovered it did a pretty good job of keeping the tea hot and I remember thinking it might be something I could get the wife for Christmas.
Anyway, I broke the ice with about as much tact as a policeman with a night stick. “Jack,” I said seriously, “what can you tell me about devils?”
“Devils?” He was visibly taken aback, even recoiled a bit on his chair. Jack might have had the edge on me when it came to reason and reasoning, but I had a lot of experience watching people’s reaction to certain questions and he just had a big one.
“Yes devils,” I repeated. “You know, like demons, evil spirits, things that go bump in the night. Things that turn normal people into killers and then vanish without leaving a shred of memory. The things we know don’t exist until we come face to face with the carnage they cause.
Jack straightened in his overstuffed leather chair. “Can I ask you first if this concerns a police case?”
“An old case,” I admitted. “One that I’ve never quite put to bed, so to speak.”
“The young Mexican, a few years ago?”
“One and the same,” I said.
“But, as I recall,” Jack said with a curious look on his face, “he was convicted and sentenced to die.”
“Bobby Seguin was convicted and sentenced to die,” I said forcibly. “It was Bobby Seguin’s hand that held the knife, it was Bobby Seguin’s strength that held back those people’s heads, but Bobby Seguin did not have the power to put those people into a trance or the malice in his heart to draw that blade across their throats. Could it have been some unearthly evil force had control of Bobby? That is what I need to know.”
There, I had said it. I had said what those jurors were forced to say to each other. I said what Jeff Spangler knew we would all have to say eventually, even though saying it would not save Bobby Seguin from being injected with a substance that would end his life.”
“And you think it was the devil?” Jack looked at me intently.
“I don’t know who or what it was, Jack.”
“I tell you what,” Jack started, “let’s get back to the original question. What do I know about devils?”
“Okay,” I agreed.
“As with a lot of things we have had some varying discussions within the clergy about devils. In the very early church devils worked at God’s behest. They did the fire and brimstone stuff, but always on God’s orders. By the first or second century theological thinking was turning away from that, somewhat, and towards the idea that they work for Satan. Scholars believe that Satan and a faction of angels rebelled against God and tried to take power away from him. As it was, Satan is believed to have had nearly as much power as God as and surely more than any of the other heavenly hosts. After a terrible battle the bad angels and Satan were driven from heaven and barred from reentry.”
“But they are still out there somewhere?” I asked.
“Oh, to be sure, they are.” Jack answered. “But exactly what they are capable of, we don’t know. We do know, just for instance, that they are not omnipresent, in other words they can’t, like God, be everywhere at the same instant. If you have a demon here, he can’t be somewhere else. Their greatest power seems to be in deception and tempting man with promises they can’t deliver. And we also know that Jesus gave his apostles, and they subsequently to priests, the power to cast out devils. So, we know that, in some cases, men can and do get the best of them.
“Yes, but the New Testament is full of instances where people are possessed by demons,” I objected.
Jack smiled. “Even Mary Magdalene was supposedly possessed by seven devils. People who were mutes or deaf were thought to be possessed, but I think we are probably getting into the evil spirit thing in those instances. The cases of actual possession are as rare as apparitions.
“And what about Bobby Seguin? Isn’t it possible that he is or was possessed?”
“Of course it is,” Jack answered. “It is also just as possible that his brain was exposed to some chemical influence that we know nothing about. It is possible that poor nutrition or poverty or worrying about his family caused a temporary crash of some function within his mind that a hundred years from now we will be able to diagnose and proactively prevent. But remember this, my friend, God knows, and he knows now. No matter how we, as humans, may have judged young Mister Seguin; God will not hold him responsible for something he did not do.”
“I’ll tell you what I think,” I sort of blurted out. “I think Bobby Seguin believes he has a devil trapped within himself and somehow he means to take it to the grave with him.”
Jack’s face became very serious. Once more I had said something that made him recoil. He didn’t say anything for several moments but sat looking off into space as though he was recalling something painful and personal.
“Let me tell you a story,” he began. “This is about a young and somewhat inexperienced Priest. This priest was gaining a reputation as being quite a scholar and a forward, clear thinking member of his order. A devout man came to him with a remarkable story, not unlike the one you have told me here today. It seems this man’s wife, of twenty years or so, told him that she had a visitation or a vision, possibly by an angel or perhaps by Jesus himself. The visitor told her that her husband was possessed by a devil, but if she had faith everything would turn out okay. It could be argued that if this priest had more experience he might have been able to more clearly evaluate the circumstances, but perhaps an element of pride, on the part of this young priest, became involved. It might have been that he thought he was capable, perhaps even looking forward to the possibility of doing battle and besting the devil. Rather than trying to convince this parishioner that it was highly unlikely and seek another explanation, he plunged ahead and he disregarded the obvious facts. This couple had a recent history of trouble, although not seriously threatening their marriage. The man was at that age males go through what we liked to call the middle-age crisis, he was in a high-stress occupation and he was a veteran. The older children were leaving the nest, etc., etc., etc. There were myriad facts that could have and should have been considered.”
Jack paused and breathed deeply. “The priest tried gain an advantage by probing into the feelings of this man. The parishioner explained it rather clearly, at least to my mind, how he perceived the situation,” Jack said. “There could be three possible scenarios. The first choice is that it was true. The visitation was true, the fact that he was possessed was true, and if that was the case, this man represented a mortal danger to his wife and those he loved and was close to.
The second choice was that it was a deliberate lie by his wife. The husband considered that highly unlikely; the wife was a truthful woman. Regardless, it did not bode well for their relationship.
The third choice was that the wife had only imagined she had the visitation but that she, nonetheless, believed it. In that scenario, she would still have considered him, the husband, as a chalice of the unholy. There was no easy answer.”
As I listened I knew where this story was coming from. I wasn’t sure if Jack knew that I knew or not, but each word was barbed and jagged and just the act of saying them was cutting into his soul. It was fairly clear to me, Jack had been that young priest and I was listening to his confession.
“The talks,” Jack continued, “and there were several of them, were going nowhere. “
My friend paused again; he was looking for the right place to interject some new, but perhaps unconnected, evidence. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with some people in my career, studying the conditions of the human mind.” His mood lightened the tiniest bit, I think. “You can’t imagine how fragile the mind is, how easily it is damaged and wounded. On the other hand, it is strong and powerful, capable of feats we can’t even imagine. When it is injured it often finds ways to heal itself. It makes new paths, severs old connections and establishes new ones. I have found that especially true with people who suffer from a condition we are beginning to call post-traumatic-stress-syndrome.”
For the moment he had lost me, but I was sure he would come back to the point. “I happen to believe that anyone who goes to war and spends any significant amount of time exposed to its death and destruction cannot come away whole and complete. The fear, the tension, the uncertainty of it all takes a toll on the mind that is incalculable. But,” and he almost smiled for an instant, “having survived that and repaired some of the damage, the individual gains a tremendous amount of self confidence. Some of these people know they have been tested to the limit of human endurance and have made it.”
While Jack gathered his thoughts I poured each of us another cup of his strong, black tea. We both needed it at the moment. “So what happened to the guy and the priest?” I asked.
“At their last meeting it was apparent that the man had made his own plan. He would be the host and the prison of this devil. He would do whatever was required to keep this demon away from those he cared for. He was one of those who had survived and he thought as long as he could keep this devil locked up, it would be incapable of harming his family. The young priest tried to dissuade him, but his argument came too late and lacked substance. He even warned the man that he risked further and more dangerous possessions and quoted to him from the Gospel of Matthew. The man told the priest that apparently if neither he nor the Church would help fight this demon, he would do it on his own.”
“And that was the end of it?” I asked.
“All but the end,” Jack admitted. “Their marriage failed primarily because the man believed that was the best solution. It was safer for the wife and family to be separate from him. He never lost his faith, but he lost his religion. He became semi-recluse and seldom spent much time in their presence.”
“A sad, sad story,” I remarked.
“You would think so?” Jack smiled. “But the last thing he told that priest before he walked away was, ‘I’ll escort this devil to the gates of hell and you can pick him up there.”
It was nine and a half years from the death of the Jurgens to the cold night in November when Bobby Seguin was executed. I was an invited witness, one that Bobby had requested personally. We were all there, as a matter of fact. Henry Baker was now a state Senator; I had retired a year before as a Captain of Detectives. The Judge who presided over that case was now a federal appellate and Jeff Spangler was a modern day Perry Mason. The tweed jackets and wrinkled ties were a thing of the past. Bobby Seguin had not been our ill-wind.
At eight minutes past midnight a doctor bent over Bobby Seguin with a stethoscope, listened intently for a few seconds and nodded at a priest a few feet away. The priest anointed Bobby’s forehead, hands and feet with some substance he carried in a small snuff box. He made the sign of the cross over his heart and the curtains of the execution room closed. “Justice is a meal seldom served on a warm platter,” Henry Baker said to me. We had come full circle, finally.
I walked across the parking lot towards my car. The night was cold and the wind cruel. I thought about the evil in the world and the battles that are won and lost on a daily basis. There are times when we need the devil, need an evil spirit to blame for the acts of terrible cruelty and allow us to rationalize the behavior of one seemingly not able to do such things on their own. But how do we rationalize a demon that is injected into the lives of people who have done nothing worse than to make the same errors we all make? Like that parishioner of Jack’s. Maybe there was a devil, maybe there wasn’t, but there might as well have been Satin himself ruining that man and his family.
However, real or imagined, conjured or invited, the demons do dwell among and in us. I don’t wonder about that. I wonder about the warriors in those battles, people like Jack Morrissey and Jeff Spangler. And I wonder about those attacked by the demons; Bobby Seguin and Jack’s defiant parishioner, the ones brave enough or foolish enough to believe that they could carry so heavy a burden. Had they made it? Could they have been strong enough to contain the powers of hell, trapped, screaming and writhing within their souls, captives of their intended victim who was convinced he was just as tough as they were? Had Bobby Seguin just delivered his demon to the gates of hell? I hoped, for all our sakes, he had.
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