Valley State Prison at Chowchilla. The prison staff told Dee that Valley State Prison was where she and other recently convicted "lifers" would likely spend their entire incarceration.
  • Valley State Prison at Chowchilla. The prison staff told Dee that Valley State Prison was where she and other recently convicted "lifers" would likely spend their entire incarceration.
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During the two days that the jury deliberated, the rest of the world seemed on freeze-frame, and I spoke with no one besides Dee's mom. We spent the time on uncomfortable wooden benches outside the doors to Department 17. Through the Vista Courthouse windows, we could see the TV news trucks raising transmitters and the makeup flunkies prettying up local newscasters, who never failed to grandstand for the final moments of a high-profile murder trial.

Dee was processed into the prison system at the Central California Women's Facility, in Chowchilla, a six-hour drive north of San Diego.

Few of these "journalists" had attended any of the trial itself. Informed that the grim couple sitting on the bench were the mother and the fiancé of the accused, reporters would approach us every few minutes to ask for an interview, and we became skilled at polite denials. Whenever one of us moved away from the other, the horde of paparazzi would attack en masse, five or ten at a time surrounding me, the same number surrounding her, with others standing between us, as if one of us would relent if not buoyed by the strength of the other. Their strategy was military-like in precision — I never dreamed so much fanfare could accompany my every urination.

I was shadowed the entire walk by Chowchilla police cars.

The bailiff told us to keep an eye out for Dee's lawyers and the prosecutors going into the courtroom; this meant the jury had reached a verdict. In the meantime, we searched for clues to pin positive hopes on. We studied the demeanors of jurors as they came from and went on breaks. We strained to hear what anyone in earshot was saying.

Star Motel. Some weekenders couldn't even afford to stay at the decrepit Star Motel, let alone at the more expensive Days Inn, just off Highway 99.

Silently and out loud, we went over the evidence presented in Dee's defense, things that surely no clear-thinking individual could know about and still think her guilty of killing someone. But then we'd hear in our minds, unbidden, the inflammatory and emotionally charged final statement by the prosecutor. Through a small glass partition dividing the court seats and the defense table, I had watched Dee's heels digging furiously into the carpet while the sickening fiction was spun about her. I was the only person who could see this, and I've never in my life wanted and needed so badly to put my arms around someone and hold her.

I'd see people camping under the overpass where Robertson split off the highway. They were visible from the back corner of the Days Inn parking lot.

The woman I planned to marry was accused of first-degree murder. She'd (uncharacteristically) taken part in a home robbery in which someone had ended up being killed. Someone else had already been convicted of wielding the murder weapon and sentenced to life without parole. Dee was brought to trial afterward, where it was established she hadn't been spattered with blood and her fingerprints hadn't been found on the weapon or near the murder scene. She had, however, stolen belongings from another room. The jury was instructed on California law, which states that when a murder takes place during a robbery, everyone taking part is equally guilty of first-degree murder. They were also told they could opt instead for a second-degree conviction if the defendant hadn't planned to commit murder, which was the case in Dee's impulsive presence that night. A teenager at the time, she'd been coerced (under the influence of prescribed psychotropic medication mixed with alcohol) into participating in the robbery, with no idea that someone would die.

The second day of deliberations was identical to the first, and I have no recollection of how or where I spent the time between the two. It was nearing five o'clock on the second day, and the news trucks were packing up to leave, when I saw Dee's lawyer and the prosecutor push past the media throng and enter the courtroom. I felt a bipolar rush of dread and exaltation.

Dee's mom and I made our way toward the doors, gripping each other tightly for fear of stumbling, microphones thrust in our faces ("Is this it?" "How do you feel?" "Has the jury reached a verdict?"). The judge was already seated at the bench, nodding in our direction, and Dee's mom's grip loosened slightly as we numbly took the lonely seats closest to the defense table. They brought Dee in seconds later, I think, but it could have been an hour or more. She was dressed in street clothes, a luxury allowed only in the jury's presence, so we knew the jury was on its way.

I was struck by how brave and lovely and vulnerable and terrified she looked. I silently mouthed to her that I loved her and kissed the ring I wore that was engraved with her name, our signal of love in the courtroom, where we were generally not allowed to communicate at all. She nodded and touched her heart, and in seconds (perhaps hours) the jury was filing in.

I was so acutely attuned to the moment that I seemed to have panoramic vision. I could hear and feel reporters filling the room behind me to an overcrowded capacity that for many reasons made me think of a tiny circus car stuffed full of clowns. The judge had allowed only one video camera and one still camera in the courtroom, and both operators were visible in the corner of my eye, pointing their lenses at Dee, then at her mom and me, then back at Dee, and so on. Reporters scuffled for the seats right behind us and slowly, and none too discreetly, pushed an array of microphones within inches of us, hoping, I guess, to catch some audible reaction to the verdict's being read.

Dee's mom and I examined every line on every juror's face as the note was passed to the judge. The judge was saying something that sounded to me like the adult voices in the Peanuts cartoon -- "whaaahh whaaaa whaaa whaaaaaaaaaaa." A millennium seemed to go by as the judge folded the note and passed it to the court reporter to read aloud. Sometime in the middle of this bottomless, horizonless moment, I found I was holding my breath, as was Dee's mom, and we were holding on to each other so tightly that both our pulses pounded together.

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