This is a brand new courtroom drama set in Essex county New Jersey and ripped from the headlines of what happens between inmates and corrections officers in county jails across the country!
In this tense courtroom drama the audience serves as courtroom spectators and 8 to 12 members vote on the verdict of the trail they have just witnessed!
Judge Elizabeth Swanson – 40 to 70
Frank Broderick – 21 to 26
Pamela Bowers – Black Female, 34 to 45
Nancy Colletti – White Female, 40 to 50
Captain Phil Carducci – Male, 40 to 60
Bailiff – any gender or race
Juan Ramirez – 21 to 26
Becky Giles – any age
Dr. Angela Voorhees - 30 to 60
Anton Baily – Black Male 25 to 40
NOTE: The author has provided three separate outcomes for this play and also allows for eight to twelve members of the audience to act as jurors and pick one of three outcomes. 1) Innocent 2) Guilty as charged 3) Hung Jury.
If the venue chooses not to use the audience as jurors then the outcome of the play will always be 3) Hung Jury.
SETTING: A courtroom in Essex County, New Jersey. Depending on the size of the stage and venue there should be, at minimum, a main entrance and a door leading to the judge’s chamber. If size permits there should also be a side door leading off to holding cells and other areas of the courthouse. The judge’s desk and a witness chair sits on a raised platform stage right. The prosecution and defense tables are center stage. Chairs stage left are for the witnesses. At the producers discretion eight to twelve audience members are allowed to act as the Jury rendering a verdict at the end of the play. Their verdict will be either innocent, guilty or hung jury. Seat members chosen either in the first row of the house or a separate Jury box on stage if size permits. A broken heavy wooden chair is evident on a table holding exhibits used in the crime.
AT RISE: Bailiff and court stenographer are chatting near the bench as the prosecutor goes over her notes. The defense attorney and defendant sit at their table quietly conversing. The various witnesses are standing or sitting in their chairs. Witness Ramirez wears sunglasses at all times.
(The bailiff moves to his position near witness chair as he sees the judge enter from her chambers)
BAILIFF. All rise, district court of the county of Essex, New Jersey, the matter in the case of the State on New Jersey versus Francis Xavier Broderick on the charge of aggravated manslaughter is now in session. Judge Elizabeth Swanson presiding.
SWANSON. (reading from notes) Be seated. The jury being duly sworn in, will now be instructed as to the charges before opening statements begin. Due to the delayed start we will proceed as far as time allows. (To Jury) Members of the jury you are about to hear testimony in the matter of the State of New Jersey versus Francis Broderick and to decide on the charges of aggravated manslaughter which carries a mandatory sentence of five to fifteen years if convicted. It is alleged by the state that on the date of March sixteenth, two thousand and fourteen, the defendant, who at the time was employed by the Essex County jail as a corrections officer, did willfully disregard standard policy of the department of corrections by using unequal and undue force on three inmates in an altercation while coming to the aid of another corrections officer. This altercation lead to the death of Nelson Caruthers, an inmate at the facility. You will hear testimony from both the state and the defense in this matter. After closing arguments I will instruct you as to the nature of these charges and what criteria you may use to consider while deciding on the outcome. Please refrain from discussing anything pertaining to this case outside this courtroom.
(to district attorney)
Ms. Colletti, is the state ready to proceed with their opening statement?
COLLETTI. We are your honor.
SWANSON. Very well, you may proceed.
COLLETTI. (Rises and faces the jury) Thank you your honor. Ladies and Gentleman of the Jury, we are here today to decide on the fate of Francis X. Broderick, who, as you heard Judge Swanson state, was a corrections officer at the Essex County jail. That he came to the aid of a fellow officer in peril is not to be disputed here. What is in contention is the manner in which he aided his fellow officer which violated the common standard rules of practice which were put in place in the prison. To whit, the department of corrections specifically stipulates that no undue force is to be used on an inmate at any time or manner during the course of pursuing ones normal duties. Exceptions to this rule do exist such as in the quelling of a riot when a special squad equipped with riot gear are called to the scene. In all other cases equal force is the only method to be used in a physical altercation with an inmate. In laymen’s terms, if an inmate possessed a knife at the time of an altercation then the corrections officer may also use a knife to defend himself. If however the inmate has only his bare fists as a weapon, then the officer must only use his fists in response. In the case of the defendant, when protocol called for him to use only his fists, he chose to use (she points at chair) that heavy wooden chair marked as exhibit “A” which was sitting adjacent to the area where the altercation took place.
BOWERS. Objection, it has not been established in any testimony as to the weight and structure of the chair.
SWANSON. Sustained. The jury will disregard the description of the chair. They can see it for themselves.
COLLETTI. To continue, the state alleges that Mr. Broderick used this chair as a weapon to repeatedly beat the deceased and two other inmates into submission.
BOWERS. Objection your honor. It has not been established as to how many blows were struck on the inmates.
SWANSON. Sustained. Ms. Colletti, please contain your opening remarks to only the established facts of the case.
COLLETTI. I’m sorry your honor but does the defense mean to imply that a fly swatter was used on the victims?
BOWERS. (vehemently) OBJECTION YOUR HONOR!
SWANSON: Ms. Colletti, please refrain from conjecture for the remainder of your opening statement. The jury will disregard the last remark. (to stenographer) Ms. Giles, please strike the last remark from the record.
COLLETTI. I apologize to the court….Ladies and gentleman of the jury I have been asked to stick to only the established facts of the case and it is with these facts, and only these facts, that you must base your decision. Fact one. Nelson Carruthers is dead due to injuries sustained from an attack…
COLLETTI. Rephrase. Due to an altercation with the defendant. Fact two. The defendant, against departmental policy, used a weapon, in this case, a chair, to strike the defendant. Fact three. The use of this weapon was in clear violation of specific guidelines against use of unequal force. Now I am sure you may hear the defense argue that because of his young age and inexperience he should not be held accountable for his actions. But the defendant, despite his age, was fully trained and well aware of all departmental regulations.
There are rules for the way he should have handled that situation. Those rules state that when he comes to the aid of a fellow officer there are certain protocols and options in place for him to follow. The protocol is that he uses the equipment he is provided to immediately alert the riot squad. He then has two remaining options. The first option is to do nothing and wait for the riot squad’s arrival. The second, is to place himself in harm’s way by coming to the immediate aid of his fellow officer and use only equal force to what he observes the inmates to be using. In this case his bare fists. Nowhere is it stipulated that he may intervene in any other way. That is the rule and this rule was violated! It doesn’t make exceptions for how long the altercation may have been going on before the defendant arrived on the scene or the condition of his fellow officer at the time of his arrival. It doesn’t matter that the defendant did not intend to kill Nelson Caruthers. He is not on trial for first degree murder but aggravated manslaughter. This equal force rule may not seem fair to you but it was implemented for a specific reason. It is not your job to interpret the rule, but to act on the merits of the rule itself. In that case it is undisputable that for disregarding this rule meant to protect both officers and inmates, no matter what his reasoning, Frank Broderick must be punished….When Judge Swanson charges you after closing statements you are going to hear a lot about the defendants intent. A judges ‘charging’ of a jury is something you seldom see in movies or on television court room dramas because the burden of proof on the prosecution is so acute that after you hear the charge most juries are so confused about intent of a crime that it’s a wonder that anyone ever goes to jail. But I am telling you that intent has nothing to do with this case. It was a cut and dried violation of a rule of conduct. And even if intent was a factor, I intend to show you that this was not a quick, knee jerk reaction by the defendant, but a malicious form of street justice. Thank you.
SWANSON. Thank you Ms. Colletti. Is defense ready to proceed with their opening statement?
BOWERS. Yes your honor.
SWANSON. You may proceed.
BOWERS. Thank you your honor. (she rises to address jury) Members of the jury, my name is Pamela Bowers, I was appointed by the court to represent the defendant, Francis Xavier Broderick, in this case. Why he is not being represented by a more prominent attorney, maybe by one hired by funds from the court officer’s union…
COLLETTI. Objection. The defendant’s manner of choosing council is not relevant to the facts of the case.
BOWERS. Your honor, if I may respond to this objection?
SWANSON. I’ll hear where you are going with this.
BOWERS. Your honor, I am trying to establish that neither the defendant nor his family have the financial resources of being able to hire a prominent criminal defense attorney and in a case of this magnitude the defendant’s union, for reason of conflict of interest and because of his short tenure on the job, does not allow for any monetary legal assistance.
COLLETTI. I maintain my objection that this has no relevance to the case.
SWANSON. Objection sustained. The manner and choosing of defense council in this case is not relevant. The fact that he has council however, is. The jury will disregard the last statement and it will be stricken from the record. You may proceed Ms. Bowers.
COLLETTI. With all due respect to the court, the jury cannot un-hear what they just heard.
SWANSON. Sure they can. I just instructed them to. Now unless you wish to move for a mis-trial over the caliber of the defendant’s attorney which I almost certainly will not grant, I suggest we move along.
COLLETTI. That won’t be necessary your honor.
SWANSON. Fine. You may continue Ms. Bowers.
BOWERS. Thank you your honor. (to jury) For whatever reason, I am a count appointed attorney representing Francis Bowers.
SWANSON. Careful Ms. Bowers.
BOWERS. Sorry your honor. (to jury) Now the state has alleged that Mr. Broderick, a rookie corrections officer with less than three months of service, deliberately took action to help a fellow officer against departmental rules.
The defense concedes the point that he took this action. It is our argument that Mr. Broderick took this action not deliberately as the state would have you believe, but out of a split second reflex action which is taught in the police academy! That is, to come to the aid of not only a fellow officer, but any citizen who is in a life threatening position.
Mr. Broderick is taught to oppose human nature by putting himself in harm’s way to help people, rather than retreat and protect himself from possible injury. In this particular case, officer Broderick was coming on to his shift when he came upon the officer, Jaun Ramirez, being assaulted.
Mr. Broderick came upon a situation where he saw a fellow officer being pummeled by three inmates in a confined space where they could not be observed by other guards. Frank Broderick did not know how long his comrade was being beaten or the extent of his injuries.
All he knew is that if he didn’t act quickly, Officer Ramirez may have been beaten to death before the riot squad arrived. Frank Broderick shouldn’t be on trial for aggravated manslaughter, he should be given a metal for saving a fellow officers life!
COLLETTI. Objection your honor. The defense is drawing a conclusion.
BOWERS. The defense also intends to provide a time line of how long Mr. Ramirez was being attacked before officer Broderick arrived on the scene. This will be established by video- taped surveillance of Officer Ramirez escorting inmate Bailey from the corridor to the hallway where the altercation took place. Followed by officer Broderick coming to his assistance and finally, the riot squad arriving….Ladies and gentleman I ask you to consider this. The state has charged the defendant with either second degree murder or aggravated manslaughter, the lesser of which carries a ten year mandatory sentence. They might as well be charging him with the death penalty because that’s what usually happens to a former corrections officer when he’s put in the prison system. Bad cops may deserve this fate, but not Frank Broderick. He certainly doesn’t deserve to become a target because he saved the life of a fellow officer.
COLLETTI. (vehemently on her feet) Objection your honor. Conjecture!
SWANSON. Objection sustained. Ms. Bowers. Please refrain from inflammatory conjecture on this matter. The jury is instructed to ignore the last statement. And it is to be stricken from the record.
BOWERS. My opening statement is concluded your honor.
SWANSON. Very well. The state may call their first witness. Ms. Colletti?
COLLETTI. Thank you your honor. The state wishes to call to the stand Doctor Angela Voorhees.
(all witnesses should be seated in the gallery chairs on stage. For smaller venues the witnesses can be seated in the front row of the audience or wherever practical.)
BAILIFF. The State calls Angela Voorhees to the stand.
(Angela comes forward)
Please state your name and address for the record.
VOORHEES. Doctor Angela Voorhees, Mountain View, New Jersey.
BAILIFF. Please raise you right hand, place your left hand on the bible and repeat after me. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
VOORHEES. I do.
BAILIFF. You may be seated.
SWANSON. You may proceed Ms. Colletti.
COLLETTI. Doctor Voorhees, you are currently the chief of surgery at the Essex County jail, is this correct?
COLLETTI. How long have you served in this capacity? And also, what is your total tenure at the facility?
VOORHEES. I’ve been employed at the jail for sixteen years and I’ve served as chief surgeon for the past six.
COLLETTI. And were you on duty in the prison hospital ward on the day in question?
VOORHEES. I was.
COLLETTI. On that day three inmates were brought into the ward after the incident took place?
VOORHES. That is correct.
COLLETTI. How would you describe their condition upon arrival?
VOORHEES. Two were ambulatory and one was unconscious.
COLLETTI. Was the unconscious one the deceased, Nelson Caruthers?
COLLETTI. What action did you take to treat Mr. Caruthers?
VOORHEES. He was IV’d. Then hooked up to a ventilator while we performed a pet scan to ascertain the damage to his brain and any possible internal hemorrhaging. It was apparent on examination that he had sustained severe trauma from a single blow to the right
temple of his skull.
COLLETTI. In your opinion, did this blow result in his ultimate demise?
VOORHEES. Eventually yes. The official cause of death was cerebral hemorrhaging.
COLLETTI. What do you mean when you say eventually? How long did the deceased stay comatose before succumbing?
VOORHEES. He died two days later.
COLLETTI. And what was the condition of the other two inmates after being treated?
BOWERS. Objection. My client is not on trial for assault on the other two inmates but only for the accidental death of Mr. Caruthers.
COLLETTI. Your honor I object to defense council’s use of the word accidental in her objection. It has been in no way ascertained whether his death was accidental.
SWANSON. Now we’re objecting to objections? Ms. Bowers your objection is overruled. Ms. Colletti, your objection is sustained. The word accidental is to be stricken from the record. The witness will answer the question as posed. Ms. Giles please read back the question.
GILES. Yes your honor. Ms. Colletti: “and what was the condition of the other two inmates being treated.”
VOORHEES. The two other inmates were treated for bruises and contusions on their heads and bodies as a result of the altercation and were released back into the general population the following day.
COLLETTI. Was the traumatic head wound on the deceased consistent with that of a heavy wooden object such as is displayed by the broken chair in exhibit “A”?
BOWERS. Objection. Council is again describing the weight of the chair as if that was the deciding factor in why it was chosen by the defendant. Would it have made a difference if the chair were made of balsa wood and the defendant still expired due to a weak skull?
SWANSON. I’ll sustain that objection. No one here is disputing the fact that the deceased was struck on the head by a chair no matter what the weight. That fact has been established.
COLLETTI. Thank you your honor. I have no more questions.
(Colletti returns to her chair)
SWANSON. Does the defense want to cross examine this witness?
BOWERS. (rising) I do your honor.
SWANSON. You may proceed.
BOWERS. Thank you your honor. (to witness) Doctor Voorhees, you stated that you worked in the prison ward for sixteen years?
VOORHEES. That is correct.
BOWERS. In that time I imagine you have seen many inmates come into your ward as a result of altercations between themselves as well as with prison guards?
VOORHEES. That is accurate.
BOWERS. You also stated that the deceased succumbed due to a single blow to the head.
VOORHEES. In my opinion, yes.
BOWERS. And the other inmates that day, from the same altercation, suffered multiple blows?
COLLETTI. Objection. Irrelevant.
BOWERS. Oh, the condition of the other two inmates was relevant when I objected but now they’re irrelevant when the state objects?
SWANSON. She’s got you there Ms. Colletti. You raised the point initially, I’m allowing it. Objection overruled. The witness may answer the question.
VOORHEES. Yes, the other two inmates suffered multiple blows.
BOWERS. Then how do you reconcile the fact that the inmate who suffered only a single blow died while the other two who suffered multiple blows, were treated and released the next day?
COLLETTI. Objection. The witness is being asked to draw a conclusion.
BOWERS. I’ll re-phrase. Is it consistent in your opinion that a blow, even a single blow, which connects at just the right spot and force, can cause a person’s death?
VOORHEES. ( looks quizzically at Colletti) I wouldn’t say it’s commonplace but it has been known to have happened before.
BOWERS. So we can all agree that as happened in this case, a single blow to the head can be fatal even if a person is pushed to the ground and his head comes in contact with the concrete, or he is hit with a bare fist in just the right spot?
COLLETTI. Objection. Where are we going here? The court has already established that victim died from a single blow to the head with a chair so how can any other cause of death have any possible relevance?
SWANSON. I’d like to know where you are going with this as well Ms. Bowers?
BOWERS. Your honor, I am tapping into the witness’s medical expertise to establish the fact that a single blow to the head, whether it comes from an object or a person’s bare fist, can prove to be fatal.
SWANSON. Ms. Colletti?
COLLETTI. Your honor, in light of the fact that the defense seems to be making the state’s case I will withdraw my objection and let the witness answer.
BOWERS. Thank you Ms. Colletti. I’d be happy to help you with any of your other cases after this trial has concluded.
VOORHEES. Can we read back the question your honor?
SWANSON. Miss Giles please read back the question.
GILES. Yes your honor.
Ms. Bowers: “I’ll re-phrase. Is it consistent in your opinion that a blow, even a single blow, which connects at just the right spot and force, can cause a person’s death?”
VOORHEES. Yes. In my opinion a single blow to the head caused in any manner, a fist, a golf club, or someone being pushed into a wall or the pavement and hitting their head in just the right spot, can cause immediate death from a brain aneurism.
BOWERS. I have no further questions for this witness your honor.
SWANSON. Ms. Colletti, would you like to re-cross?
COLLETTI. No thank you your honor. Defense council seems to be doing just fine.
(laughs from witnesses)
SWANSON. May I remind both councils that a man is on trial here on a very serious charge. Please keep the levity to a minimum. The witness may step down.
(Voorhees returns to her seat or exits the stage through main door)
COLLETTI. I apologize to the court your honor.
SWANSON. Duly noted, you may call your next witness.
COLLETTI. The state wishes to call Captain Phillip Carducci to the stand.
BAILIFF. Captain Carducci, please take the stand.
(Carducci comes to the stand)
State your name and address for the record.
CARDUCCI. Philip Carducci. New Springfield. New Jersey.
BAILIFF. Please raise you right hand, place your left
hand on the bible and repeat after me. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
CARDUCCI. I do.
BAILIFF. Be seated.
COLLETTI. Captain Carducci, You were the supervising officer on the day in question?
CARDUCCI. That is correct.
COLLETTI. And you arrived on the scene with the riot squad in answer to the distress call?
COLLETTI. Do you recall how long it took from the time of the call to the arrival of the riot squad on the scene of the altercation?
CARDUCCI. Not the exact time but under seven minutes.
COLLETTI. Seven minutes seems like a long time for the riot squad to react. How long does it usually take?
CARDUCCI. About four to seven minutes. Depending on the location of the altercation.
COLLETTI. When you say four to seven minutes. Would it be closer to four or seven?
CARDUCCI. Hard to say.
COLLETTI. Could you ever make it in less than four minutes?
CARDUCCI. Not likely.
COLLETTI. But possible?
CARDUCCI. In my estimation, no.
COLLETTI. Why not?
CARDUCCI. We pride ourselves on a speedy response when a fellow officer is in trouble but there is still time involved in mustering the guards, having them darn riot gear and weapons, then getting to the scene.
COLLETTI. There is no riot team already equipped and standing by at all times?
CARDUCCI. I wish that were the protocol. In that case we could probably arrive within three minutes or faster depending on the location of the altercation in the jail.
But the funding to keep such a squad is not available so the riot squad is composed of any available officer who is either on a break, or at lunch.
This means they must move from wherever they are and get to the locker room to gear up. That takes a few minutes. So I estimate two to three minutes to muster and gear up and at least two to get to the scene of the altercation.