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Goddess In Exile-Beyond a Reasonable Doubt | Griselda Steiner | Scene4 Magazine-February 2020 | www.scene4.com

THE GODDESS IN EXILE

Continued

Griselda Steiner

Beyond  A Reasonable Doubt

“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a legal standard of proof required to validate a criminal conviction in most adversarial legal systems.  It is a higher standard of proof than the balance of probabilities (commonly used in civil matters) and is usually therefore reserved for criminal matters where what is at stake (e.g. someone’s liberty) is considered more serious and therefore deserving of a higher threshold.

The prosecution in criminal matters typically bears the burden of proof and is required to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.  This means that in order for a defendant to be found guilty the case presented by the prosecution must be enough to remove any reasonable doubt in the mind of the jury that the defendant is guilty of a crime in which they are charged.” —Wikipedia

 

In recent issues of Scene4, I presented a sequence of scenes from my screenplay THE GODDESS IN EXILE, a fictionalized account of the brief life of Cuban born artist Ana Mendieta that deals with themes of wife murder, the natural versus the man-made world and the mythic feminine. Ana Mendieta’s death at age 36 became a scandal that rocked the art world at its zenith making headlines. My screenplay adapts the basic story of her alleged murder by her husband, prominent minimalist artist Carl Andre, who was acquitted by a judge without a jury and explores the premise ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’.  Elvira, my original character, creates art that celebrates the divine feminine in sculpture and performance art pieces while her husband Hans arranges geometric forms in abstract spaces. The action takes place in the vivid milieu of the New York City art scene in the 1970's, capturing the excitement of the elite intelligentsia with character vignettes from the highest echelons of American artists and art world doyennes. 

In this scene Hans faces a jury trial accused of murdering his wife Elvira that must find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  His attorney Mr. Alvarez argues that no witnesses or direct evidence of his guilt has been presented.  The prosecuting attorney Mr. Schmidt argues that as a tape of Hans speaking to his friend Tony had three seconds deleted, there was an obvious cover up.  In the famous O.J. Simpson trial in 1994, O.J. was accused of murdering his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in L.A.   His “Dream Team” of defense lawyers’ argument that evidence and DNA testing had been mishandled by the LAPD created a  reasonable doubt that led to his acquittal.  Although presumed guilty, both O.J. and Carl Andre were never convicted of murder.  Today the #MeToo movement  has resulted in women victims gaining more credibility, but in cases of wife murder with no witnesses a man could still get away with it.  After having watched our Congress set out to prove the president guilty of bribery and obstruction of justice with an accusation of war crimes probable, it would appear they have gone beyond their burden of proof.  Whether or not a corrupt Senate will honor the rule of law will be a great test for our democracy as justice hangs in the balance. 

 

THE GODDESS IN EXILE

 

154 - INT. NYC CRIMINAL COURTROOM - FALL DAY

 

HANS is on the stand being cross examined.  Wearing a gray conservative suit and blue tie, HANS appears calm, sincere and in complete control.  From the benches, JOANNE, wearing a black suit as a symbol of mourning watches him intensely.

 

The defense attorney, MR. ALVAREZ, [a stout, dark haired Hispanic man picked by HANS to appeal to minority jurors], is questioning HANS.

                       

MR. ALVAREZ

To the best of your recollection tell us what happened the early morning of July 8th - the time of the alleged incident.  You testified that you and your wife were arguing.  What was your argument about?

 

HANS

(matter-of-factly)

She accused me of having an affair.  She was jealous.

 

MR. ALVAREZ

And what was her frame of mind that morning?

 

MR. SCHMIT

Objection.

 

JUDGE

Overruled.

 

HANS

She was out of control.  I've never seen her so desperate and she attacked me physically.

 

MR. ALVAREZ

How did she attack you?

 

HANS

She was pushing and kicking me.

 

MR. ALVAREZ

Did you fight back?

 

HANS

Well, I had to push her away from me.

 

MR. ALVAREZ

Did you continue to push her?

 

HANS

No, I had no reason to.

 

MR. ALVAREZ

You testified that your fight began in the bedroom at around 3:45 AM and ended in her studio.  Why did you both go to her studio?

 

HANS

Every time Elvira talked about her feelings she gravitated to her studio - it was her space.

 

MR. ALVAREZ

In her studio was there anything about her behavior or actions that would have led you to believe that she might jump out the window?

 

MR. SCHMIT

Objection.

                       

JUDGE

Overruled.

 

HANS

She said that would jump out the window if I didn't admit to the affair.  I said she couldn't force me.  She said her life wasn't worth living without my vision of the world to help her through and that if we had to separate she'd rather die now

 

CLOSE SHOT of JOANNE as she listens to this out right lie.

 

JUDGE

Mr. Schmit, your witness.

 

MR. SCHMIT goes to the stand.

 

MR. SCHMIT

Elvira's diary states clearly on the last page of writing dated July 5th, 'Hans will not accept that I want a divorce.  Why can't he let go of our marriage?  What could it mean to him now that we've grown so far apart?  My art is the world to me now. By creating Goddesses in clay - by portraying every aspect of woman's mystery as a celebration - woman as virgin, seductress, weaver of destiny, lover, mother and wise woman - Goddess of the night and day  - the vessel of creation, I gain confidence.’  These are clearly not the words of a woman who is dependent on your vision of the world.

 

MR. ALVAREZ

Objection.

 

JUDGE

Overruled.

 

HANS

My experience of Elvira is clearly not the one she had of herself.

 

MR. SCHMIT

What was your opinion of your wife?

 

HANS

I told her she was truly, a 'Goddess in Exile' - that she didn't belong in the high powered art world of New York City and that she should go back to her mountains and take her bloody Goddess coven with her.

                                                                                                             

MR. SCHMIT

The last moments Elvira was alive in her studio, she was on the ledge of the window.  How did she get there?  

 

HANS

She just climbed up.

 

MR. SCHMIT

Why?

 

HANS

I don't know.  She was hysterical.  She was yelling, 'No, No, No' and when she fell I didn't know what had happened until I realized that she was no longer in the room.

 

MR. SCHMIT

What did you do then?

 

HANS

I crawled back into the loft and lay on the sofa in shock.

 

MR. SCHMIT

It never occurred to you to call the police?

 

HANS

No, I was drunk, confused...

 

MR. SCHMIT

Did you call your friend, Tony Bennito?

 

HANS

Yes, yes...

 

MR. SCHMIT

And the tape of your conversation at 4 A.M. on July 8th, which members of the jury heard, represents your total conversation with Mr. Bennito the morning of July 8th?

 

HANS

Yes...

 

MR. SCHMIT

Perhaps your memory is not so clear.  Our expert witness testified that 3 seconds at the beginning of that tape were intentionally erased.  Mr. Bennito is a close friend of yours and he testified that he is financially indebted to you as well.  Do you remember that conversation?

 

HANS

No, I thought I might be dreaming and that when I woke up, it would go away.

 

MR. SCHMIT

So drunk and hopefully dreaming, you can't be sure whether you pushed Elvira out the window or not?

 

MR. ALVAREZ

Objection.

 

TIME FADE

 

MR. SCHMIT offers his closing argument to the jury.

 

MR. SCHMIT

Your honor and members of the jury.  We live in an age that we consider to be ruled by science and reason. We believe that we can understand and even predict human behavior.  Far from living in an age of enlightenment, I believe that we live in a dark age.  An age in which crimes of passion against women go unpunished simply because we have to take one person's word against another.  In this case, we will never hear Elvira's testimony as her promising life was snuffed out before she could reach maturity and become the great artist that was her destiny. Elvira's work, emotional - feminine was the antithesis of Hans', whose work is based on abstract logic, yet it was Hans whose emotions she inspired to become so violently out of control.

 

We know she feared Hans' violence from her diary.  We know he didn't jump from that window, as Joe Gerardi, an upstanding member of the community testified that the screams he heard at the exact time of her fall were of a woman protesting violence.  She was screaming "Don't! Stop! Stop!  No-no-no" and then he  heard al large bang.  We know that an important piece of evidence - a portion of an answering machine message which could provide crucial evidence to convict Mr. Whit was left on Tony Bennito's answering machine immediately after Mr. Whit pushed his wife out the window.  That message was intentionally destroyed.

 

What do men truly believe in their subconscious minds?  Do they believe they can control women?  Do they believe they can dominate them?  No, the realization that they cannot is what leads to the frustration, anger and violence which women are subjected to everyday.  Statistics prove that domestic violence and abuse are a leading cause of adult mortality in this country.

 

You should convict Hans as guilty ‘beyond a reasonable doubt”.

 

Mr. ALVAREZ makes his closing argument.

 

MR. ALVAREZ

Far from believing that the rational worldview is a scapegoat for male supremacy and justification for its violence, I believe that it is the vehicle of justice that can save this innocent man.  The thinking of men with rational minds created the jury system of which you are now so honorably a part.  The jury system is based on the premise by which you are to deliberate this case  - that an individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  Without any witnesses, without any concrete evidence, there is not one fact or shred of proof that could lead us to believe that Hans is a murderer.  You cannot justify a conviction of Hans Whit on any charge.

 

TIME DISSOLVE

 

The jury stand is empty.  The jurors file in. As the head juror reads the verdict, HANS face remains impassive, cold and expressionless.

 

HEAD JUROR

Not Guilty.

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Griselda Steiner is a poet, dramatist, a freelance writer and a Senior Writer for Scene4. She is the author of The Silent Power of Words. For more of her poetry and articles, check the Archives.

©2020 Griselda Steiner
©2020 Publication Scene4 Magazine

 

 

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