54 | The Crucible: Hydraulic Pressure of a Case

Crucible: In fiction, a situation or locale that holds characters together as their conflict heats up. Their motivation to continue opposing each other is greater than their motivation or ability to escape. Sol Stein, Stein on Writing

hydraulic pressure 3: operated by the resistance offered or the pressure transmitted when a quantity of liquid (as water or oil) is forced through a comparatively small orifice or through a tube. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition

A cold case is a crucible. The gnawing need for answers locks you in; the colder the case, the hotter the crucible becomes. The only escape is your day in court.

Court cases exert a hydraulic force. If you’re swept up in one, you don’t control it; it controls you. Add the chaos on which criminal defense lawyers thrive, and the courtroom becomes its own superheated crucible. Pressure leads to rationalizations and misstatements lead to lies. The assignment of a new judge provides a new apple to bite, a fresh opportunity to reargue what was lost before. The crucible becomes unmoored from objective reality. But even chaos needs a narrative.

Like writers, lawyers seize a fact and run with it to create a narrative on which to build a case. Duane’s defense was simple: his elderly sister Cherrie and I had fabricated his confession in order to sell books. His lawyers subpoenaed Quiet Time’s twenty-odd drafts and my notes under the theory that each was a statement of fact they could use to impeach me with at trial.

To run the clock on aging witnesses, the defense dragged out the pretrial hearing for eighteen months. Then the case traveled up and down Colorado’s appellate courts. In the end a different sort of justice would prevail.

What crucible imprisons you?

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