‘We are about to call the next witness for the prosecution, and this will be Mister Jeff Diamond, the victim’s husband.’
A gasp whipped up from around the courtroom.
‘Now, I know many of you identify very strongly with Mister Diamond and his family. They have been part of our everyday lives for many years. I know you all understand they’re still in mourning for their loss, and you have been supportive of them during the first couple of days of this trial. Regardless of your affinity with Mister Diamond and his deceased wife, I have to ask you now though to remain completely silent during his testimony.’
Judge Milne scanned from left to right along the rows of public seating, hoping her words were being understood. Silence greeted her for now, and she continued with greater force.
‘The court cannot allow proceedings to be interrupted by comments from the gallery, and the jury must be able to concentrate on what is said by the witness in response to questions from the prosecution and defence teams. If the trial is disrupted, we run the risk of having to abandon it altogether and declare a mis-trial. I’m sure you would rather see this case arrive at a verdict, as we all would. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, do you understand this obligation on you?’
Most jurors signalled their agreement, and the judge seemed satisfied. She turned to the Queen’s bench and invited it to call its next witness.
‘Thank you, Your Honour,’ Winton responded in a loud voice. ‘The prosecution calls Mister Jeffrey Moreno Diamond.’
A ripple of avid chatter burst irresistibly from the public gallery as soon as the tall, recognisable figure entered the courtroom through a side door, accompanied by the star-struck official. They watched their idol survey the scene as if arriving on stage during the overture of another sell-out concert. He gave Graham Winton a nod before turning to the judge to acknowledge her in a similar manner. The court officer swooned as she swore in her new witness.
Kierney heard nothing but voices whispering around her. Remarks about how thin her father was, how tired he looked and how sad their situation must be. Tears pricked at the back of her eyes as she watched him being shown into the small wooden box on the opposite side from the accused.
‘Buena suerte, Papá.’
Jeff stood tall and gazed up to where his daughter and Gerry were seated. He flashed his eyes at them, but resisted the temptation to wink. He felt alright, he reckoned. Not nervous, not too angry and relatively well in control of his emotions. This was unlikely to last however...
‘Mister Diamond,’ Graham began, looking towards the stand and then across to the jury. ‘We are all very sorry for your loss.’
‘Thank you, Senior Counsel and Your Honour,’ the witness nodded with a melancholy half-smile and a brief flick of his hand.
Winton was a born actor, hamming it up for the occasion. Responding in kind, the seasoned campaigner did his best to project his public persona’s true largesse. He hoped the packed courtroom couldn’t tell his suit was now two sizes too big, concluding that it was actually a very apt metaphor for the way he was feeling. He vowed to use the fact that he was now drowning in his own clothes to the Queen’s advantage. “A shadow of his former self,” many journalists had written over the last few weeks, gloating in their perceived originality.
It was true. The remaining half of Australia’s most enduring celebrity partnership no longer fitted his gargantuan image, and yet this afternoon he would have to wing it like he had never winged it before. He owed it to Lynn to give his finest ever performance right now. Despite twelve hours’ growth since this morning’s shave, his neck moved with uncharacteristic ease inside his stiff shirt collar as he turned his head to focus on the prosecuting counsel.
Yet what a complete contrast for the jury to come to terms with, between one witness and the next... From the shy and awkward García, who was dressed in a shapeless, light grey jacket and worn, black trousers which were saggy and over-washed, barely tall enough to be seen over the barrier, to the imposing presence of Jeff Diamond, in a charcoal, subtly-pinstriped Italian suit worn over the palest green, tailored Savile Row shirt and a silk tie of the darkest green with a fine gold thread woven through it to catch the light in a most sophisticated attempt to draw attention to its wearer. His thick, black hair had been freshly cut before leaving Melbourne, revealing a touch more grey than before, adding to the distinguished countenance his soul-mate had loved so much.
From a man so instantly forgettable to the rock star who was admired and adored by millions... On the outside, Jeff looked every one of his three-point-two billion dollars, at last count; a far cry from the worthless little man who had vacated the very same enclosure prior to the luncheon recess. The widower stood straight and firm, making eye contact with each person in turn, as if he were ready for anything, even though on the inside he thought he might cave in at any moment.
Regulating deliberate, slow breaths, the witness dropped heavy hands down onto the wooden rail in front of him, his three rings clattering against the varnished surface to reinforce the trial’s significance. On his right hand, the four-stoned, black family ring, and on his left hand, his own and Lynn’s wedding bands, sitting side-by-side on adjacent fingers. Without looking up, he could sense the jurors checking out the shining symbols from the far side of the courtroom, safe in the knowledge that the extravagant gesture had served its purpose. It had reminded everyone why he was here.
‘Mister Diamond,’ Winton started again. ‘Can you please tell the court if you see the man you apprehended at The Pensione Hotel on the sixteenth of February nineteen-ninety-six, after you heard the call for people to remain in the building?’
‘Yes, I can, Your Honour,’ the witness answered in a deep, smoky voice that educed a hushed reverence throughout the assembled crowd.
The victim’s husband stared directly at the dejected Spaniard in the dock, raising his left index finger towards him and pointing to the exact spot on his forehead where the first bullet had struck his beautiful best friend.
‘The accused, Your Honour.’
Several people in the public gallery clapped their hands. Judge Milne issued a stern rebuke and another request for total silence, warning that she would not hesitate to instruct the bailiffs to remove anyone causing further disruption.
Winton fixed at the jury in a stern stare. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the witness has identified the accused, Juan Antonio García, as the man who was attempting to leave the scene of the crime that morning. Mister Diamond, please could you tell us what you were doing at that time?’
The celebrity cleared his throat, fighting against the tension as it tried to close his windpipe. ‘Yes, Your Honour. I was entering the hotel after parking our hired car in the car park next-door,’ he responded flatly. ‘Lynn and I had flown up from Melbourne that morning.’
‘And please could you describe the scene when you arrived at the hotel entrance?’ the barrister’s tone was unusually respectful.
The great man sighed. So this was what it was like to be involved in a murder trial… Peculiarly like a chat show, he mused, in an effort to keep his mood light.
‘Certainly, Your Honour,’ he addressed the judge, before turning back to the prosecution bench and Winton’s patient air. ‘When I reached the doors, I could hear quite a lot of noise coming from inside the hotel, and a few people were running in the foyer. I then heard the manager shouting for people not to leave the building.’
Winton interrupted. ‘What did you think had happened, Mister Diamond?’
‘I didn’t know what had happened, Your Honour. Just that something unusual was going on.’
‘Something unusual?’ the lawyer repeated. ‘Please could you explain your comment?’
‘Yes, Your Honour,’ the star witness gave a slight sniff of derision. ‘I spend way too much time in hotels but don’t often see people running in an entrance lobby, and it’s not common to hear staff shouting to keep people inside.’
Jeff smiled at the jury and saw recognition spread across some faces. Cool it, he thought to himself. Just answer the questions. Winton smiled too. Game on!
‘Yes, of course. Mister Diamond, when you saw the accused trying to leave the building, what did you do?’
The witness took a deep breath, organising his thoughts. ‘I stood in his path as he exited the revolving doors and asked him whether he’d heard the manager’s instruction. I think I also asked him if he knew what was going on, but I can’t be sure. I know I wanted to at the time, but I might’ve got distracted by the activity inside. He stared at me for a couple of seconds and then said something which I didn’t hear properly but thought was Spanish.’
‘Spanish?’ Winton echoed with his typical theatrics. ‘And how did you recognise that this man spoke to you in Spanish?’
‘Spanish is my first language, Your Honour,’ the tall, exotic-looking man repeated information that the court had already heard.
‘I see,’ Graham nodded. ‘Thank you. But you couldn’t hear him clearly?’
‘No, Your Honour. He mumbled something, and the revolving doors were quite noisy, so I asked him in Spanish to repeat himself.’
‘What did you say to him precisely, Mister Diamond?’ the prosecution asked.
The witness chuckled, thinking what an overly minute detail this was. ‘I said, “¿Qué dices, hombre?” which means, “What did you say, mate?”’
Another wave of subdued gossip flowed round the room. Jeff Diamond fans around the world would have recognised such a phrase as his normal conversational style, always friendly and informal with ordinary people. Judge Milne gave Winton a stern glare as if to say, “Don’t let your witness run the show”.
The barrister coughed. ‘Thank you, Mister Diamond. Did the accused repeat what he had said?’
‘I assume so, Your Honour,’ the handsome man replied. ‘I didn’t hear him the first time, so can’t be sure if he repeated it word-for-word.’
This throw-away line made the dress circle laugh, along with the actors down below, including the judge. She shook her head at the defence bench, who shrugged back. Jeff felt sorry for Winton, who had been made to look a fool.
‘Yes. I see,’ the prosecution attorney agreed. ‘What did you understand the accused’s words to mean the second time?’
Feeling guilty, the star witness kept a straight face as he replied. ‘He said in Spanish, “Quería matarlo Ustéd, pero es mejor así.”’
But it was Winton’s turn to laugh. ‘Thank you, Mister Diamond. A much better accent than mine. And what did you take this to mean?’
Again, the question elicited a low volume of interest in the courtroom, and the widower waited for it to die down. A sudden bout of distress took him by surprise.
‘Thank you, sir,’ he answered, his windpipe tightening. ‘It means “I wanted to kill you, but it’s better this way.”’
‘Thank you,’ Winton said. ‘I am sorry if this is difficult for you to recount. Please could you tell the court what you understood by this comment?’
‘At the time, I had no idea what he meant,’ the celebrity answered. ‘I didn’t know who this man was. I assumed he was working, maybe making a delivery to the hotel. He looked scared, and I’d already guessed there was something going on in the lobby. I remember wondering why he was looking so frightened.’
The grieving husband’s resilience was on the slide. Needing to arrest his tumbling mood, he moved to capitalise on the fear he supposed García would be revisiting, facing off with his captor at his own trial. Also imbibing energy from the electric atmosphere, the victim’s husband stared directly at the accused from across the wide hall, and the small man’s eyes plummeted towards the floor.
Jeff turned back to the jury and watched a few of them observing the defendant’s behaviour closely. Content with their level of engagement, he then glanced up to where Kierney was sitting, finding she too was focussed on the jurors. Before returning his attention to his inquisitor, the witness momentarily made eye contact with Gerry, who gave him a subtle wave.
Winton carried on. ‘Mister Diamond, what did you do once you had heard the accused’s words?’
‘Nothing in response to his words, Your Honour,’ he answered. ‘I walked towards him and into the revolving doors. He turned around and went back into the hotel ahead of me. There was a doorman on the other side who was watching us coming in.’
‘Did you touch the accused?’ Counsel for the Prosecution asked.
‘No, Your Honour.’
‘Did you say or do anything else to the accused?’ the barrister asked again.
‘No, nothing else, Your Honour,’ the witness recounted, taking his time. ‘As soon as I got into the hotel and saw panic all around, I lost interest in this man. I began to ask around for someone to tell me what was going on.’
‘And what gave you the impression there was panic all around you?’ Senior Counsel asked.
Jeff’s eyes welled up with tears as he forced his mind to present the circumstances back to him in sequence. He fought to suppress the extent of his sadness, not wishing his latest traumatic flashbacks to influence the jury.
‘People were running around everywhere; staff and guests. The hotel’s manager, Chris Nichols, was shouting instructions to his people. Receptionists and guests were screaming and pointing over to the far side of the lobby, where other staff were putting up some sort of barrier.’
‘I’m sorry again, Mister Diamond,’ Graham said, with more compassion than the widower anticipated. ‘Please could you tell the court what you were told had happened?’
Now lightheaded, the celebrity steadied himself by resting his hands on the wooden rail in front of him. His warped mind pictured himself as a priest about to give a sermon, and he smiled involuntarily. Looking up into the public gallery, Kierney’s concerned face righted his equilibrium, hoping she was alright.
‘No-one told me anything to begin with, Your Honour,’ Jeff recalled, staring into space. ‘I asked where my wife was, and no-one could or would tell me. I had a sixth sense that something terrible had happened to her, so I ran over to where they were assembling a makeshift screen. People tried to stop me, but somehow I knew Lynn was behind there, so I pushed past and saw her...’
He put his left hand up to his eyes and squeezed his thumbs into his temples to try to lessen the pounding in his head. ‘I’m sorry, Your Honour,’ he said, sniffing back tears and straightening his stance.
‘Please, Mister Diamond,’ Judge Milne replied. ‘Take your time. This must be a horrific memory for you.’
From deep inside, a thirteen-year-old boy from the western suburbs flared up in anger at the patronising woman’s slap-in-the-face comment, and Jeff struggled not to react with one of the uncontrolled outbursts which had defined his childhood. Of course it is, you stupid, bloody woman.
‘Thank you, Your Honour,’ the forty-three-year-old man of the world responded, forcing a benign smile for the judge’s concern. ‘It is.’
At this precise moment, looking up again to seek solace in his daughter’s eyes, the celebrity picked the single, defining difference between himself and the man on trial. He had conquered the bitterness. The chip on his shoulder was long gone and only reappeared in the worst of his memories. García had not made this transition. He was still stuck in the midst of his anger, never having learned how to separate the two worlds; exactly as his own father had claimed shortly before he died.
Winton was once more ready to resume. ‘Are you good to carry on, Mister Diamond?’ he asked.
Jeff nodded. ‘Yes. All good, thanks.’
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