T2C: Closing Arguments

August 03, 2017:

Closing arguments in the trial of James Buchanan Barnes.

United States District Courthouse, Eastern District of New York

A historic federal courthouse on Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn.


NPCs: David Archer, Foggy Nelson



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury.”

The trial had been long, and grueling, for all parties. David Archer, today in a solemn suit and a dark tie, did not show any evidence of it. Not outwardly, anyway. He came to stand right in front of the jury box just as he had on the very first day of the trial, his features solemn.

He gave a little smile.

“The Defense has told us a very beautiful fairy tale. Once upon a time, they say, a Noble Soldier was captured by a horrid monster with many heads. The monster transformed him into a beast for 72 years. The beast went on the rampage, murdering, maiming, and destroying lives wherever he went. But all was not lost. Lo, along came his brother, The Knight of the Stars and Stripes, and some stalwart companions. His old friend, The Clever Spymistress. The Princess of Science. And The Indomitable Detective. Together, they gathered still more allies, fought the monster, and beat it back, then found a way to counter the beast’s curse, transforming him into a man once more. The stuff of legends. Wonderful theatre. A fantastic Disney movie. I’d like to believe it too.”

He smiles, a little sadly.

“Instead, it is my duty to cast the cold, harsh light of reality onto the events that have taken place since a fateful fall from a train on a snowy day way back in 1945.”

He pauses, giving them all a moment to gather themselves. He reaches up, taps at the air, almost as if he were pricking the soap bubble of the prettier picture he just painted, dismissing it as so much ephemera.

Today he is strong, and resolute, as he had become, once more, around the time the defense started calling witnesses. He had come to the very same conclusions that was laying before the jury even now.

These conclusions had banished his guilt, had put his heart back in this case. And if he’s aware that he didn’t land all the punches he hoped to land in the epic boxing match between himself and young Mr. Murdock, he is similarly aware that he has time to get one or two more of them in before this contest comes to a close.

To do the right thing.

“What we have here is a foreign operative, an assassin so devious, so skilled, that he managed to fool every major intelligence agency around the world into thinking he didn’t exist, for decades.”

He points at Barnes, steps aside so they can really see him.

“A man capable of spinning deep plots. Of turning enemies into assets and assets into allies. A deeply manipulative human being. A cold blooded killer. And who are these allies?”

Another sad smile.

“Captain America is, of course, beyond reproach, but he is also a man out of time. A man who desperately needs something or someone to believe in, for he came out of the ice to learn that he had fought and bled for a nation that would ultimately transform itself into a culture of twerking, self-absorption, and reality television. It should make all of us weep with compassion to know how badly he’s been played.”

A pause, a smile slightly more cynical.

“A woman who is indeed a master of spycraft, a woman deeply wrapped up in an organization so covert that it is not really overseen by any one government. A woman who has no loyalty to the United States of America at all, and a woman whose vocation is the very art of deception and misdirection, who has her own purposes for everything she says and does.”

A slow shake of his head.

“A very lonely, frail young woman, a woman ruled by her emotions. Scientist she may be, but she was prepared to overthrow everything because of what she thought saw in a man’s face when he looked up at the stars. A woman who fell in love, and who utterly failed in her duty to her nation because of those emotions. As a result, she suffered terribly, and we should not lose sight of that. But her suffering does not necessarily make her version of events true. Indeed, her actions reek of Stockholm syndrome.”

A darker look as he clasped his hands behind his back.

“And our detective? A washed up old wreck of an alcoholic, a failed, wannabe superhero who can’t even help herself, a woman so broken after taking the wrong drink from the wrong man at the wrong bar that her grip on reality has become tenuous at best. We can be— must be— compassionate about any trauma she may have suffered years ago without buying into her current delusional fantasies about mind control, fantasies which Barnes was no doubt happy to help the rest of the group seize upon.”

He spread his hands, then pointed to Barnes. “Now I want you to look at that man and I want you to ask yourself if you trust the word of these five broken, hurting individuals enough to put him back out on the streets tonight. If you’re willing to risk hundreds of other lives, men, women, and children, on the strength of that pretty fairy tale. If you have enough faith in this dubious cast of characters, the science fiction the defense has paraded out in support of their stories, and the answers they have given you to take that risk. To put blood on your own hands should Barnes choose to kill again. You have to ask yourself whether you’re all that confident about what’s going on in his head when you’ve got it all stacked up against all of the things his hands have done.”

Archer lowered his voice. He dropped his head. “I know it’s hard to think about. You’ve heard some hard, heartbreaking things in this courtroom. It’s easy to get swept up in the emotion of it all. It’s easy to want to see something more romantic, more redeemable, something better than the ugly truths that you’ll shortly be deliberating upon. But that is the duty you have been called upon to enact this day. And so I implore you all. Return the guilty verdict, get this man off our streets, and leave the fairy tales to the folks down there in Hollywood.”

He turned, as if he was done, then gave them a long look over his shoulder. “The American people are depending upon you.”

Matthew Murdock will make his slow approach to the jury after Archer’s reclaimed his seat. Like his more seasoned opponent, the younger lawyer is sober and intent today, and all too aware on how much hangs in the balance. He is also himself: bespectacled, wry, intense — and slightly scruffy — as he begins his remarks in the quiet, measured, but self-assured tone that the jury has come to know well:

“In January 1945, an American soldier was left behind in the snowy Alps. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. There’s no one to blame or hold accountable. It just happened, the way things happen in the chaos of war. He was left behind and captured by America’s enemies. His body was mutilated, his brain physically tampered with — and out of that bloody crucible something new was born.”

“The prosecution would have you believe that Bucky Barnes willingly gave himself over to the Nazi technologists he’d been fighting the length of the war. They haven’t bothered to suggest a reason or motive for him to betray his country, or his best friend and commander. They haven’t posited a theory for why Barnes would return to his handlers when he was done with his missions, only to be cryogenically frozen and awoken for a new round of torture every few years. Or why — being the master of deception and stealth that the prosecution says he is — Bucky Barnes chose to return to his hometown of Brooklyn to rebuild his old life rather than slinking off to the shadows after the events of Ozone Park.”

Incredulity slowly creeps into Matt’s voice, though it’s far short of disdain. For all that’s passed between Archer and himself, Archer and his clients, Archer and his friends, Matthew Murdock won’t disrespect a worthy opponent who steps into the ring.

“Instead, it spent most of its closing argument attacking the very people it is relying on for its accusations. I’ve got to confess, I’ve never seen a lawyer try so hard to impeach and slander his own witnesses. Hell, I think he just called Captain America a dupe and a patsy. The problem is that they want to have it both ways. Mr. Archer wants you to believe the testimony of Steve Rogers, Jane Foster, Peggy Carter, and Jessica Jones just enough to damn Bucky Barnes, but discount everything they say that points to uncomfortable truths that undermine his case.”

“But that won’t work. The evidence is the evidence, and whether it comes in the form of witness testimony, expert testimony, recovered documents or forensic evidence, it tells the whole story: that while Bucky Barnes’ hands did everything that the prosecution accuses them of, Hydra and the Soviet government spent dozens of years, thousands of hours, and hundreds of millions of dollars stripping Bucky Barnes of the ability to decide for himself what to do with those hands. They made breaking people down into a science. And for a time, it worked.”

“You’ve heard the testimony from medical doctors and psychologists that have examined Bucky Barnes. You’ve seen the MRI scans showing the chip they implanted in his head. You’ve seen the microscopic images of the nanites that wove their way through Barnes’ brain tissue. You’ve heard from Agent Carter and one of HYDRA’s own operatives about how brutally effective their technology and conditioning tactics were at rewriting people’s thoughts, feelings, and memories as if they were stray bits of computer code.”

Matt dips his head this point, summons his breath, and girds himself for what will be the hardest part of this argument — for himself, for the jury — and for others, too.

“And, of course, you heard from someone who experienced that savagery first hand. You heard how Dr. Jane Foster got a few weeks of the treatment Bucky Barnes was forced to endure for decades, and you saw and heard what even those few weeks did to her. But hearing is different from seeing it up close. Ladies and gentlemen, what you’re about to see is deeply disturbing. Disturbing in its cruelty, disturbing in its inhumanity. But it is your duty to see it.”

And with that, and with a flick of a switch from Foggy Nelson, the video monitor lights up and begins to play the frequently referenced but heretofore never before seen video recovered from Ozone Park:

The camera focuses on her face, and face only. A formless white room backdrops her, one of the base’s familiar isolation cells. Her eyes are ringed black with fatigue and exhaustion, her pupils too-large. Drugged. Her lips are dry. “I’m so thirsty,” she whispers.

“One last question, Jane,” implores a voice, thin and reedy and smug. “You haven’t answered. Who else knows about the Winter Soldier? Who else knows he is James Barnes?”

Jane Foster stays silent.

“We already know them, Jane,” the voice tells her. “From the Soldier. Every name. You have no information that we need. This is for your benefit. Show us you can be compliant.”

Her lips move, but no sound comes. She holds in her voice. Her eyes look down. She shivers. She defies.

“You told us everything about you, Jane,” solicits that voice. “You’ve been such a good girl. You even shared your father’s passing in the hospice. You never knew how long he was dead. How long you worked beside his corpse, not realizing. You can’t tell us this?”

Tears streak down her cheeks, but the woman does not talk.

A figure moves behind her to administer punishment. Someone’s hands cover her shoulders. They tighten— and that voice warns them to stop. No marks, he warns. Did you bruise? You cannot leave physical evidence. Let me show you what to do.

The video never shows anything but Jane’s face. Not even the drugs can mask her terror. She gazes forward, and for a brief moment, directly into the camera, as if to beg for it. There is a muffled shifting sound, and then her face twists into pain.

The video shuts off and hushed murmurs rush in to fill the void in the courtroom. Murdock can’t see the tape for himself, but it’s clear from his tight jawline that he’s as shaken by its contents as anyone else. He waits for the judge to quiet the courtroom and for a few beats of silence to linger before he goes on.

“Dr. Foster endured unimaginable torment at the hands of HYDRA in those weeks, right up until Barnes, finally brought back to himself by his oldest childhood friend, saved her. Because after that breakthrough with Captain Rogers, Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes did exactly what history had up to now known him best for: he killed a Nazi who was trying to hurt the innocent. He came across a man who, as Jessica Jones testified, was at that instant subjecting Dr. Foster to the very kind of torture you saw on that video — and Bucky Barnes stopped it.”

“Think about that tape as you go into your deliberations. Think about what you’ve seen. And ask yourself a simple question: If that was you, going through that kind pain and abuse for weeks, months, years at a time, would you be able to hold on to yourself? Would anyone? If it had been Steve Rogers who had fallen from the moving train that fateful, might it not be Captain America sitting where Bucky Barnes is now?”

“You don’t have to answer these questions with certainty. That’s not your charge. Certainty is hard to come by in this world, as I’m sure the last few weeks of testimony about nanites, sorcery, and secret agents has underscored for you. It sure has for me. But no, you don’t have to reach a conclusion. Your charge is simply this: to determine whether the prosecution has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Let’s be clear about what that means. They must prove beyond a reasonable doubt not just that Barnes performed the acts of which he is accused, but that he was capable of forming the intent required to make those acts a crime. If you think there is reasonable doubt Bucky Barnes had control over his actions — you must acquit him. If you believe there is a reasonable chance that testimony of psychologists and medical experts is true and that Bucky Barnes felt searing pain every time his thoughts or acts strayed from HYDRA’s attempts to program them, then that is duress, and you must acquit him. If you believe Jessica Jones that Bucky Barnes was stopping a violent crime when he killed John Doe the HYDRA agent, that too is a defense and you must acquit him.”

“Mr. Archer has dismissed all these defenses as fairy tales. He says Bucky Barnes has put one over on his friends, on SHIELD, and would be putting one over on the twelve of you. But snide dismissals are easy. Cynicism is easy. What you’re being asked to do — to dig deep, to examine the evidence dispassionately, and to get to the truth? That’s hard. It may be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do.

“But I have faith in you, the same way I’ve come to have faith in that man who was left behind all those years ago. I have faith that, at the end of the day, after everything you’ve seen and heard, you’ll let Sergeant Barnes finally come home. Thank you.”

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