Chapter 45 – Mrs. Simone, Donna, and Fr. Eglar go home 188
Chapter 46 – They drop Luis off and go to the Drake Hotel. 188
People and Places 189
Scapegoat by Douglas Leonard
Chapter 1– Schram in Court
After a frantic ten minutes of walking the halls of the Cook County Courthouse, Steele finally found Room 312, one of a dozen hearing rooms in a row. He stopped and combed his fingers straight back through his damp curly hair. Many rooms, many trials, many bad guys, he thought. He turned the heavy brass knob on the door, and entered.
He walked into a world of yesterday. The years had stained the oak floors as dark as coffee beans. Oak benches like church pews were arranged on both sides of a wide aisle, attached to the floor boards with brass screws. The long boards were virtually clear of knots, impossible to find in today’s lumberyard. The gigantic pillars were marble. Wood, brass, and marble together--the place was heavy with faith in old-time justice.
Twenty or thirty spectators were scattered among the benches. He had his choice of seats. He walked forward. No need to be quiet, he noticed. A great partition of glass enclosed the front part of the courtroom, probably so the coming and going of spectators would not interrupt the proceedings. Choppy voices came out of speakers placed on the spectator side of the glass. He made out that the people on the other side of the glass were talking in real time about the accused, his patient, Richard Schram. Schram himself sat head-down next to a pale blonde at the defense table. The public defender, no doubt. The prosecutor was standing and speaking to the jury from his own table on the opposite side of the room.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the accused has admitted his guilt in this case, corroborating the evidence. His confession describes how he threatened revenge on his teacher, Vicky Falcona. That same night he attacked her vehicle with a hammer. He smashed the glass. He tore her tires with the hammer’s claw. He poured gasoline onto the seats, and he lit the car on fire. That vehicle was parked dangerously close to the house where Mrs. Falcona was sleeping. A few feet closer and we would be talking about homicide. Why did Schram do this? He told us: “to pay her back for a grade I didn’t deserve.”
Then the prosecutor brought out the long juvenile record. Just 18 Richard Schram was a twice-convicted arsonist, guilty of burning down two garages. Two years ago he forced his way into a house and beat up the elderly woman who lived there alone. Schram’s reason for beating her? The woman had paid him too little for an hour’s work pulling dandelions in her yard. A couple of years before that he’d strangled a neighbor’s cat in front of their young children because he claimed the cat killed some gophers he was keeping in a 55-gallon drum. The prosecutor turned suddenly to the judge and almost whispered. “This young man is not getting better, your Honor.”
The prosecutor had done his homework on Schram. Steele tried to see how the jury was reacting to the prosecutor, but his view of them was cut off by reflected light on the glass. Maybe they kept the jury in the dark on purpose, Steele thought. He closed his eyes and dropped his head, suddenly very tired.
The prosecutor went on. “The juvenile courts have been trying to save Schram for years. He’s had social workers, placement in a residential facility, many months’ therapy by a clinical psychologist, and all kinds of psychotropic drugs from Ritalin to Thorazine. Nothing has worked. He is growing angrier all the time. His crimes are becoming bolder and more destructive. Let me quote from the psychologist’s latest report: ‘Although Richard Schram has identified some of the sources of his anger, he is a long way from controlling it, especially in situations in which he feels betrayed. It seems probable that, given the opportunity, Schram will continue to erupt in incidents of escalating violence, especially toward women.’”
Steele thought that of course the prosecutor would quote the sections of his report that would hurt Schram the most. Steele stood by his conclusions, but he was torn that they might take his patient away from him. Steele couldn’t help Schram if he went to prison.
“Schram is a time bomb,” the prosecutor went on. “Only eighteen years old now, he nevertheless needs an adult sentence. Schram was remanded to adult court for threatening his first court-appointed defense attorney. Society could still hope to save him, sure, but right now society better think about saving itself. I ask you, your Honor, for a just sentence: ten years in prison with our sincere hope that Mr. Schram will resolve his problems and be awarded early release for good behavior.”
Steele watched Schram. He was sitting bolt upright and facing the bench. His expression was tense, unreadable. Steele was sure that he was more in touch with Schram’s emotions right now than Schram was. A shrink’s prerogative. He knew Schram felt assaulted by the prosecutor’s litany of his offenses. Schram was angry that his prior record had been made admissible. Angry to be described as out of control. Angry that all his crimes were presented solely from the point of view of the victims. He knew he felt betrayed by his psychologist’s report. The anger would be rising up as the pain was sinking down. Steele knew that Schram was exerting all his effort not to explode right there in the courtroom.
Perhaps Schram was counting on his attorney to save the day. The public defender (the new one assigned to him after he had threatened the first one) looked wilted even before she started speaking. She was too young, too blonde. She spoke too softly. She said some nice words about how a wild boy can wake up and grow up into a good man if you give him that chance. She talked about how a program on the outside would be far better for Schram than rotting in jail and learning more bad habits. She actually used the phrase bad habits. She asked for clemency and a four-step rehab program that included close monitoring. She had no authority in her bearing. Her style was weak. What she proposed was completely impractical. Yet Steele agreed with her.
Steele concentrated on the public defender as she glided back and forth, talking. She wore a sheathe-like navy suit she must have thought made her look forceful. Actually it made her look like a pretty girl in a sailor outfit. Mentioning Schram’s confession, she looked apologetic, as if she hoped the jury would credit her client with the remorse she felt on his behalf.
While she was speaking, Schram’s face got redder. Clearly he did not like what he was hearing in his own defense. He gestured, trying to get her attention. Finally she looked his way, and he waved to her urgently to come over. She turned away quickly. Steele thought she looked determined not to show fear of her own client. She did not pause in what she was saying to the court. She was speaking about rehabilitation programs as an alternative to the hardening Schram would experience in the Illinois state prison system.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. Thank you, your Honor,” she abruptly concluded.
“Thank you, Ms. Rainey,” said the judge, pronouncing his words very slowly. Steele watched a shadow cross her face. Had she detected pity in the judge’s tone? The judge was mocking her because her defense had been so weak?
Schram was still waving at her. He didn’t like being ignored. He was commanding her, twitching and fidgeting. His face was stretched like a rubber mask. Rather than conceal his rage and meanness, the mask seemed to reveal it. Unaware how terrifying he looked, Schram turned his face toward the judge, the jury, and the whole courtroom.
Steele was suddenly seeing his patient as others saw him, not as his therapist. The physical impression alone was dominant. Schram was on the small side, with shoulders hunched forward and a weak chest, making him look even smaller. He had no visible neck because he tended to pull his head in toward his body. His arms and legs were like crooked sticks with flesh on them. You could see all the bones in his hands. You could almost sense by the way he held himself that Schram had been neglected and beaten at home and rejected everywhere else. Boys would never like him. He would never be a part of a neighborhood gang. Girls had to find him creepy. His eyes never looked right at you. What did he want? You couldn’t tell. Whatever it was, it was too much.
Yet Steele recalled moments during counseling when they had shared something. Somewhere during their weekly sessions, Schram’s tightness seemed to ease. The mask fell away for moments at a time. Schram seemed to have accepted that Steele was there to help him get some control of himself. He seemed to grasp that there was power in understanding himself. He seemed glad that Steele wanted that kind of power for him. So he opened up a little. He talked about being scared of his own anger, his potential to do mean things. Steele felt himself respecting Schram for making this effort. Such moments were too few. But they gave Steele some hope for Schram.
Realistically, though, what chance did Schram have? The house he had lived in with his mother and two older sisters was the worst on a block of decaying houses. Inside the house, the bizarre mother, drinking cheap wine and smoking pot, played old rock music all day long. Steele had first heard about it from Schram, and later he saw it himself.
During the pre-trial competency evaluation, Steele had visited the house with a social worker. The mother, Molly, was obviously drunk at the time of their visit. She wore a blue terrycloth bathrobe in the middle of he afternoon. She was putting a scratched CD into a boom box, Smoky Robinson and the Miracles. Nice music, but it sounded antiquated in this new millennium.
When Steele introduced himself and the social worker, Molly Schram stopped what she was doing and hugged him, blubbering that she was sure he would fix “Little Richard.” “Save my boy, Dr. Style.” She smelled of layers of cologne and bath powders, but it had been a long time since she had actually bathed. Her breath reeked too. When they walked away from her, Steele recalled, she sucked a cigarette and looked out the window at the overgrown back lawn. She turned up the music and selected “Tracks of My Tears.” When the chorus engulfed her, her sadness seemed to come alive. Was her sadness the child she had loved more than Richard?
Schram’s two sisters were civil but not talkative. They were five and six years older than Richard. They sat at the kitchen table dressed in professional clothes, eager to get out of there. Steele learned that they no longer lived at the house, but looked in on their mother regularly. The older sister, Connie, was a certified florist working for a greenhouse wholesaler on the south side. The younger sister, Petula, had recently graduated from University of Illinois Circle Campus and had taken a position with an accounting firm. Both women had jobs, apartments, boyfriends. Richard’s sisters presented themselves pretty well to the world, considering they’d been raised by the same mother as he. Why were boys so vulnerable? Steele asked himself. The common wisdom is that girls are just as vulnerable as boys. Schram’s sisters would have their scars too just from being raised in that house. But they had internalized their anger because that was the female style. Their brother had acted it out, inflicting his anger on others.
Steele recalled how the younger sister had played a role in motivating Schram’s last rampage. The details had not come out in this hearing. In his office Schram had explained to him how he wrote a paper for English on some novel. Schram said he had enjoyed reading the novel.
While he was writing his paper, his sister Petula told him how she had handled the same assignment a few years before. She had gotten an A. Her ideas were good. Schram described to Steele how he had put it all into his paper. He’d been getting D’s in this class. But now maybe he could show her that he could make an A. He wanted his sister to know how much they thought alike, how he could do well in school just as she did. He also looked forward to showing the teacher that he wasn’t stupid. He was capable of understanding things. He had good sense. He could even write his ideas, and some of them really were his ideas.
It turned out that the teacher, Vicky Falcona, thought he had plagiarized the paper. She claimed to have found the paper he had copied on the Internet. She gave him an F. Schram told him he had not bothered to defend himself to his teacher. He did not bring the paper home to his sister either. He was disappointed that he could not bask in the glory of a good grade, as his sister had done. He deserved a good grade. Schram described to him how just looking at the paper made him feel cold. He felt the injustice of it. He knew he would have to get revenge.
Steele considered how that state of mind led Schram to do what he did next. He went by night to Falcona’s house with a hammer and gallon can of gasoline. He threw his F paper into her burning car just before he ran away. Schram told him it felt good to burn her car. It warmed him, he said. At least at first. But a day or two afterward he noticed he was worrying about himself. Schram said he wondered what part of his brain was sick—how he felt good burning the car or how he felt worried about feeling good later? Steele had let himself be hopeful that Schram was thinking this way. But Schram was still a thousand miles away from gaining understanding of and control over his behavior.
The trial was winding down toward its inevitable outcome. The jury—still almost invisible to Steele because of glare on the window—found Schram guilty on all charges. At the sentencing, the judge gave him “consideration,” he said, for admitting his crimes, but he was “chagrined” by the “lack of manifestation of remorse.” And he was, “moreover,” “bemused” by Schram’s threats to the “person of the public defender” who had initially been assigned to his case. Now he “wished fervently” that a “just sentence” would make Schram “soberly reconsider and alter his trajectory.”
While Schram looked bored, the judge then sentenced him to seven years in state prison. Steele saw Schram speak a few sharp words into his attorney’s ear. The judge pounded the gavel and dismissed the court. As the guard escorted him out of the courtroom, Schram turned toward the glass wall, facing the spectators. Schram scanned the faces and stopped at Steele, actually making eye contact. Then, pointing a bony finger at him, he mouthed, exaggerating: “I’ll get you.”
“Shit,” Steele said to himself, beyond surprised. He slumped and sat there like a stone while everyone else left the courtroom. Among them, Schram’s two sisters flanked their mother as they escorted her out weeping. She luxuriated in her grief, as if she alone had the capacity to suffer so much.