City Desk

Sweating Out A Simple Drug Case

It is 12:30 p.m. and Officer Harris is sitting outside the courtroom with a fellow cop. Harris is reading an Examiner. The other cop is tearing through James Patterson's Violets Are Blue. Both just testified in the case of the dipper man who fell asleep at the wheel. But there's been one snag.

A prosecution witness—the chemist—hasn't shown up. The judge wants to give the chemist five more minutes. The prosecutor stands by Harris and dials the chemist on his cellphone. Judge Harold L. Cushenberry Jr. seems patient enough.

Harris and the other cop can't quite believe this case went to trial. The dipper man was caught asleep at the wheel holding a PCP-laced smoke. Case closed. Well, almost.

The dipper man has a name: Dante Dickens. And Dickens has an attorney. They had just called a witness who was in the car shortly before the arrest. The witness is a cousin. Dickens had driven him and a female friend to another residence.

The prosecutor uses up his cross-examination on what kind of relationship the cousin had with Dickens. It's way off topic but necessary.

"Do you help him on occasion?" the prosecutor asks.

Sure.

"Does the defendant smoke cigarettes?" the prosecutor asks.

"Yes," the cousin replies.

Nothing further. There is no one in the courtroom except one woman who is there supporting Dickens and the cousin. Judge Cushenberry calls for a lunch break. Everyone has to return by 2 p.m.

Dickens walks out into the hallway past the two cops. He walks fast. His bald head is shiny with sweat. There's a few days growth of beard on his face. He is wearing his work uniform. Lunch is next. Then the chemist. And maybe time in the witness chair.

"I'm in neutral," Dickens says. "It could change any second. You never know."

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