Friday
Sep282018

Exhibits for the Defense

James Tadd Adcox


 

Note. The following text, supplied by the defendant to our office as a list of evidence to be gathered in preparing his case, is itself hereby submitted by defendant's lawyers as evidence of defendant's state of mind in the aftermath of the events of August 11th, 2016. Few of the below items have been discovered; several are believed destroyed or otherwise nonexistent; in certain cases, the possibility that such an object might ever have existed plainly defies belief.

 

1. Photograph: a broken glass, scattered across the kitchen floor, smashed by their son Jonathan at the age of eight in a fit of anger. Here is Jonathan's mother, Maria, fifteen years younger than at the time of her death, lovely, distressed, sweeping up the pieces. It is possible if one looks closely to observe where she has cut herself on the hand. Her hair is swept up high above her head, an unruly mess pinned in place. Light floods the kitchen, surrounding her on all sides, setting both those shards that remain on the ground and those she has already captured in her dustpan ablaze, so bright they threaten to burn through the photograph itself.

 

2. Newspaper clipping, the Courier-Gazette, 1986. A man identified as Harold Ross arrested for the shooting death of a security guard at a local NBC television affiliate. The man's motives, according to the article, were as yet unknown; authorities recommended psychological testing.

 

3. The splinter of glass that remained in Maria's hand. Jonathan's father spent twenty minutes or more cleaning the cut, running the flame of a match over tweezers then digging into the wound, searching for the splinter that his wife was convinced remained. Maria, who became lightheaded at the sight of blood, looked away, gritting her teeth. Her husband was not convinced anything was there, and he told her so, but Maria insisted. Finally, when it seemed inarguable that he was doing more harm than good, he gave up. If there's anything in there, he said, it will work its own way out.

More than once afterwards Maria dreamed about the splinter finding its way into her veins, circulating through the huge loop of her bloodstream, impaling itself finally into her heart. Long after the cut healed she pressed the place where it had been on her hand, on the underside of the fleshy bit of muscle and skin between thumb and first finger. A scar was still faintly visible. Months later, as if by miracle, the splinter worked its way out of the left side of her torso, just below the breast.

 

4. Badge number and disciplinary records of one Travis Bishop, former policeman, not fired from the force (Mr. Bishop has insisted on this point) but let go due to budgetary reasons, "those ratfuck shyster politicians," according to Mr. Bishop, "somehow don't have the money to pay decent Americans to keep our streets safe but can find plenty of money for the forty-seven percent who leech, who plant their teeth into the sides of decent American citizens and suck and suck, and where do you think those ratfuck politicians get the money? Where do you think they get the money they hand over to those leeches?"; Mr. Bishop, it should be noted, had a long record of complaints and was reprimanded on multiple occasions for unnecessary use of force and other conduct unbecoming an officer before he was let go.

 

5. Bank account statements for Mr. Bishop, showing two deposits totaling $15,000, one occurring on June 10th, 2016, and another on July 15th, 2016, though records indicate that Mr. Bishop remained unemployed throughout this period.

 

6. The notebook that Jonathan Ross began compiling in his late teens, spiral bound, eighty college-ruled pages according to its cover but expanding ever outward as Jonathan collected increasingly more papers to glue or staple or paperclip to the pages it originally comprised. 

For a period between the ages of six and eight Jonathan's favorite book was Charlotte's Web. He had found the book on his mother's shelf and had become taken with it, and though he was not interested in being read to—his attention would immediately go elsewhere whenever his mother tried—nevertheless that book, which had been Maria's favorite as a girl and which more recently shared shelf space with the less inviting tomes (in Latin with facing English) of Tacitus and Pseudo-Longinus, became a thread of connection between mother and child. During this period Jonathan's father couldn't remember a single day when Jonathan was not, at some point, reading Charlotte's Web. When did he first realize that Jonathan had never read the book in order—that the child was flipping from one section to another, seemingly at random, a page here, a paragraph there? That he did not (this became clear later) realize or perhaps care that there was an order of events, a plot that led inexorably each time from Wilbur's birth to his salvation to Charlotte's death? 

Later Jonathan became fixated on encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, magazines—texts that did not expect and even discouraged linear reading.

At the age of fourteen Jonathan asked his father about the book he had carried around as a child. Jonathan's father found the copy of Charlotte's Web that had been returned, several years previously, to his wife's shelf, beside the Tacitus. Jonathan opened the book, read a few sentences, opened to another section, read more. He grew visibly frustrated, then angry. Finally, after several minutes, he threw the book across the room. "This isn't it!" he screamed. "There's nothing in here! It's just fucking words!"

 

7. Specific pages taken from #6, filled with Jonathan's obsessively neat handwriting, outlining theories on human economic behavior and its intersection with cybernetics, with the ways that certain economic concepts, for example, can function like tiny machines and crawl in to control the brain. One such page dated September 2011, the end of a summer in which the house had become infested with wolf spiders, long and evil-looking. Later, Jonathan's father wondered whether the infestation had influenced the shape of the machines that Jonathan drew.

 

8. Maria Ross's refusal to believe that the break had occurred.

 

9. Agelenopsis aleenae, funnel-weaver spider, approximately 16mm in length. Specimen collected from the front porch of the Ross family's Baltimore-area home, September 7th, 2015. Spiders of the genus Agelenopsis construct funnel-like webs with strands leading back from the outside world to a narrow, dark tunnel in which Agelenopsis waits. This particular specimen had created its tunnel in the recess next to the casing by their front entryway. The afternoon he discovered it, Jonathan's father, curious, lowered himself down next to the web and watched as the Agelenopsis retreated further inside its funnel.

 

10. A file full of reports and insurance papers, expanding, between Jonathan's thirteenth and seventeenth birthdays, to monstrous proportions. The summer of Jonathan's seventeenth year in particular was difficult. Maria, at last, agreed that their son should be in a program, but the results were disastrous: Jonathan took every opportunity to call or otherwise contact them, focusing particularly on his mother, sobbing, detailing the abuses, real and imagined, meted out by the program staff. Jonathan's father told her that he thought it would be better if she didn't talk to their son when he called.

"What do you mean, don't talk to him? How am I supposed to not talk to him? How can I do that?"

"Every time you talk to him you get upset—"

"He's in pain, Charles, for God's sake—"

"I don't think it's doing you or him any good to—"

The great sense of relief that nonetheless settled on the house whenever Jonathan was out of it. The feeling that a certain inevitability had been put on hold, if only for a moment.

According to Jonathan's doctor (one of Jonathan's doctors), "the large majority of schizophrenics are not violent. In fact, those with schizophrenia are far more likely to be the victims of violence than they are to commit violence themselves." Maria held fast to this dictum even when it was clear that what applied to "the large majority" did not necessarily apply to their son.

 

11. The glass she had held, years before, when she told her husband she was pregnant. It trembled in her hand as she spoke. They were seated at the kitchen table of the Boston apartment where they lived at the time. It was the beginning of fall; a cool mid-afternoon light filtered through the trees outside and broke across the grain of the table's surface.

"Well?" she said, after a long moment of not looking up at him. "Say something, for God's sake."

 

12. A transcript of a discussion between Jonathan's parents, dated March 23rd, 2010:

—It's true that he's difficult.

—He's more than difficult, Maria, I'm worried that he's getting legitimately dangerous.

—Dangerous? [sound unrecognizable.] —dangerous seems like you're taking things a little too far.

—Have you seen those things he's been drawing in his room? The papers he's stuck up all over the wall? He's basically wallpapered the room with them. Pages and pages—

—He's an artist, he's artistic, he's applied for—

—I know what he's applied for.

—I don't see why you get so agitated about this.

 

13. Books on economic theory taken from Jonathan's "collection," which lined and overfilled and eventually piled on top of shelves, then massed themselves in corners, on his desk, his bed—banged up, waterlogged copies bought from used book stores or the Salvation Army or secondhand internet textbook retailers, bringing with them a heavy, swampy mildew smell, a miasma that emanated from Jonathan's room like his own inexplicable anger. 

Jonathan, during this period, brooding in his room, indistinguishable, perhaps, from any other teenager: lanky, hair unwashed and dyed black, his blonde showing a little at the roots; oversized t-shirt, black jeans; his mother at the door, asking him if he's alright, if there's anything he wants to talk about; behind the door, silence. 

 

14. ISP address logs for first the desktop in Jonathan's room and later the laptop that replaced it, showing a steadily growing obsession with certain libertarian economic concepts, particularly the so-called "Assassin's Market" idea developed in the early to mid-nineties by the crypto-anarchist Jim Bell, who believed that such online markets would speed the downfall of governments and other forms of illegitimate authority.

 

15. A sheet of brown butcher paper, approximately three feet by three feet, covered in ink and carbon drawings, one of dozens found taped to the wall in Jonathan Ross's room. The drawings are diagrams of elaborate machines, surrounded by extremely small script covering the paper from top to bottom and from one edge to the other, outlining connections between the economic market and the workings of these machines and others like them, describing the functioning of each of the machine's parts, its correlation to certain frequencies occurring in the prefrontal cortex, as well as descriptions of how each machine enters and successfully hides itself within a given subject.

The machines are spiderlike, with long, articulated legs.

 

16. Excerpt from a psychological assessment interview, dated August 17th, 2016:

"My uncle, yes. On my mother's side. Harry. Involved in a shooting, a security guard, outside a TV station. He is currently, to this day—that is, I believe he is still under very heavy supervision. […] Extremely violent […] My mother has said, I don't think it was a joke, that if he was ever released she was moving to Argentina. […] I grew up with the understanding that there was this history, family history. I've researched it, of course. I'm an academic—my wife and I, we both are—the way I deal with things is by researching them, learning about them. That's been true as far back as… I knew it could start anywhere from sixteen to thirty, thirty-five—usually once you're past your mid-thirties you're in the clear. I thought of it as the family curse—I may have gotten that phrase, 'family curse,' I may have gotten that from my mother. […] My wife and I, we had some long discussions about this before bringing Jonathan into the world. I knew, I mean because I had experienced it, what it was like to go through your teenage, your young adult years worrying that at any moment it could happen, things could start to break all around you. There's less of a chance of onset after twenty-five, so I was just then, when Maria got pregnant, I was starting to think that I'd escaped it, I was starting to breathe easier. And the thought of having to worry about this all over again with Jonathan. […] Did you realize that it's common for people outside of the industrialized West to recover from schizophrenia? We think of it as this hardwired genetic thing and yet…. Sorry? Yes, it was, I mean, yes, obviously, unplanned. We had talked about children, about what our options were, as far as children went, but the pregnancy itself, Jonathan, yes, he was unplanned."

 

17. A paring knife, wooden handle, blade approximately three inches long, that Jonathan held in his hand while railing at his father and mother, telling them he knew about their plans for him and would not be caught sleeping, no, he had researched them thoroughly; his hair no longer as long as it was when he was a teenager, and blonde again, but still unwashed and messy, a stain on the front of his shirt. Hadn't they—his mother—hadn't she just washed that exact shirt?

Jonathan's father edging in front of his wife, speaking to the boy (man, now) in a calm voice, while all the time Jonathan spoke over him, nonsense about the free market and assassination and machines, Jonathan's father focused on the knife in his hands, how to get it away from him. This would have been morning, in the kitchen, the light coming in from the window filtered through the leaves, Maria as if hypnotized by the knife, unable to run, pressed instead between her husband's back and the kitchen table.

 

18. Was it possible, in the midst of this, that she gave him a look? A look that said: I understand what it is you are considering, I understand how hard it is, the thing you are planning to take upon yourself. No matter how often Jonathan's father replays this scene in the kitchen—son holding the knife; father attempting to keep himself between son and mother, so that if the knife were to flash out, he would take it instead—he can't figure out a moment when such a look could have passed between his wife (who after all was behind him in this scene, while his attention was focused in front, on the knife) and himself. And yet: the memory of that look, that unspoken understanding between the two of them, remains.

 

19. Hospital admittance papers for Maria Ross, aged thirty-nine, for a broken clavicle and left hand. Mrs. Ross insisted her injuries were the result of an accident, the details of which remained vague.

 

20. The revolver that Jonathan's father held in his hand for twenty minutes while standing outside his son's room before walking back to the room he shared with his wife (who was not home), emptying the bullets from the chambers, and returning revolver and ammunition to the locked gun safe at the back of the closet.

 

21. Hardcopies of email correspondence conducted with Mr. Bishop from an anonymous and encrypted address. The penultimate email in the correspondence, from the anonymous account, reads in part as follows: "It is of vital importance that the job be completed as professionally as possible. In particular, it is important that he not feel any pain."

 

22. One police service-issued Glock 22 .40 caliber pistol, illegally obtained, serial number filed off and illegible. Forensic records show a match between this firearm and three bullets discharged within the Ross residence, two recovered from the wainscoting and floor of Jonathan's room, placed as the intruder, a tall, visibly drunken man wearing a police officer's uniform, fired without much accuracy at Jonathan Ross, crouched in the corner of the room, arms held in front of his face. The man entered the Ross's residence shortly after nine on the evening of Thursday, August 11th, 2016, through a basement entrance that had been left, apparently, unlocked. At 9:06 p.m. Maria Ross, reading at the kitchen table, mentioned to her husband that she heard something, a sound like someone moving up the basement stairs; her husband assured her it was nothing, though he appeared, he must have appeared, nervous, tense, even guilty. A moment later there was a heavy thud, as if of someone losing their balance and weaving into the wall beside the basement stairs before steadying themselves; at this Maria set down her book and stood, said she was going to see what it was, just to make sure. Her husband held her arm. For a moment she searched his face. What, in that precise instant, did she understand?

Then came the crack of wood, the sound of a door being forced. This was the door leading from the hallway to the basement stairs; it must be taken as a sign of the intruder's inebriation and overall mental state that he had elected to force the door, as this door too was unlocked. From there it was a short stumble, five or six steps in all, to Jonathan's room. What was happening could no longer be ignored or explained away.

On the threshold of Jonathan's door, the overwhelming smell of mildew, and now standing among the disorder and oppressive mildew-smell, the drunken, weaving intruder, slovenly in his police uniform, pistol in hand, taller than anyone could have anticipated and paused for a moment, as if recalling what he'd come for, or perhaps expecting an audience. Like the servant of some equally disordered god, now set in motion and beyond all control. Here was Jonathan's father at the door; here was Jonathan's mother, frantic, screaming, a series of words that can only be reconstructed or guessed at in memory. It is possible that in this moment, in the face of the intruder, Jonathan's father called something out, made some attempt to stop him, though what he said precisely cannot be of any importance: the gun, now weaving, now steadying, trained itself on Jonathan, crouched in his corner. There were shots, and sudden violence. The third bullet discharged that evening was recovered during autopsy from the rib cage of Maria Ross, who fought past her husband to push herself in front of Jonathan.

 

23. The burnt remains of Travis Bishop, knocked unconscious in the father's wild desperation and left, breathing, on the floor of Jonathan's room, as Jonathan howled and Jonathan's father sloshed petroleum across the hardwood, the walls, the table, Jonathan's bed. Jonathan's father screamed for his son to help him drag the body of Maria Ross outside, to safety, though it was clear to both men that she was dead; after which Mr. Ross returned inside and took the lighter from beside the fireplace and set fire to Jonathan's room, watching the books and the horrific drawings and the ever-expanding notebooks go up, transformed, all the tendrils that had connected this dark place to the rest of the house suddenly weightless, floating, ablaze with light, a redemption interrupted only by the sudden entrance of the emergency services, notified by some Good-Samaritan neighbor, men in fireproof suits axing down the doors and pulling Jonathan's father, burns covering three-fifths of his body, once more into the darkness.