A sea of rapt faces watched as Martha made her way to the witness stand. The face of suburbia. In her pale-blue suit she tried her best to make Thomas proud. Long, slow, and deliberate breaths and she stared around the court room. Just like their neighbourhood watch meetings, it would be over soon. The judge would sentence her for murder and her life sentence could begin.
Her first step into nothingness, she placed her hand on the well-used bible. ‘I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.’ As Martha felt the leather attack her skin – her life was an open book.
Now all she wanted to do was close it again.
Laura spoke of Thomas being a tyrant, but he cried over the loss of their son. His only chance, to have someone take on the family name, was lost forever. It was yet another reason why he couldn’t bond with Laura.
‘Mrs Whitman,’ Barbara Craven stood up. ‘Can you tell me what happened on January 12th, 2014?’
‘I killed my husband,’ Martha said, observing the selection of people in the jury.
‘Why did you do this?’ Her sympathetic eyes met Martha’s quiet gaze.
Martha closed her eyes to protect herself. ‘He was – we were arguing, and I hit him, with a crystal vase, and I murdered him.’
Undeterred, Barbara Craven said. ‘What was your husband about to do before you killed him?’
‘What did your husband do when he got angry?’
To silence herself in court was the only way to get through this. ‘No comment.’
‘I go to the night in question. We have heard evidence of your injuries inflicted on you by your husband. Did he often attack you in this manner?’
Question after question, and no comment was her only reply. Yet her barrister wasn’t giving up. She had just spoken to the jury about old injuries. Martha bolstered her shoulders; her voice was calm in its indignation. ‘Why are you so intent on ruining my husband’s reputation? It wasn’t Thomas’s fault. I wrote some horrific things in my diary. He had a right to be angry with me.’
The courtroom was like a barren wasteland, with Martha at the centre. Barbara Craven stepped in front of the witness box and her features settled into an easy smile. ‘What could have been so horrific that your husband attacked you for it?’
‘Full of hatred in every page,’ Martha said, and repeated Thomas’s words.
‘Apart from your diary, what else did he find?’
‘Christmas presents from our daughter,’ Martha said. ‘I let him down.’
‘Why was your husband so angry that you received presents from your daughter?’
‘They argued before she ran away from home.’ She allowed herself a glimpse in Laura’s direction, but couldn’t face her quiet sobs. It was easier to answer the questions than think of the damage she caused her daughter.
‘Why would that cause him to hit you?’
‘She let him down and I tried to make her apologise, but Laura wouldn’t admit she was in the wrong,’ Martha said.
‘But you still saw her, even though he would hit you?’
‘I kept it from him. It was my fault.’
‘I am turning to the night onNovember 20th, 2013.’ Barbara Craven kept up her measured questioning. ‘You had to go to Mrs Theresa Carlton’s house.’
‘Thomas found out I went to see Laura and Tabitha,’ Martha said.
‘Did your husband hit you that night?’
‘I needed to give him space . . .’
‘It is reported that your injuries were so serious, Mrs Theresa Carlton wanted you to go to hospital.’
Martha felt betrayed, but her outward appearance never changed. ‘It really wasn’t that bad.’
‘We have also seen pictures that show your injuries needed medical attention, yet again you didn’t go to hospital.’
‘I don’t like the questions they ask.’
‘So, you had to go to hospital in the past?’
Reluctantly Martha nodded. ‘They tried to blame Thomas, but it was dangerous down my street. I got mugged, and my neighbour Fred did too.’
‘No further questions your honour.’
It was as though the jury had a blanket of silence covering them, but the mood changed as Richard Blake strode over. His stern stare holding all their attention. Martha wasn’t afraid of the prosecutor’s questions; at least they would be more straightforward.
‘Mrs Whitman.’ He pulled importantly at his robes. ‘My learned counsel has gone to great lengths to show you as the victim in this case, but aren’t we forgetting that you are on trial for murder?’
‘If it weren’t for my actions he would be alive today.’
‘We have heard that your husband was violent against you.’ He stared directly at Martha. ‘But the force you used to kill your husband; to cause that fatal blow.’
Martha took some sips of the water beside her. ‘I was so angry. I remember thinking . . . I remember thinking I needed a drink.’
‘You say that instead of trying to save your husband, you had a drink instead?’
Linked with Elizabeth for a second, Martha felt the mutual bond slacken. There was something different about her rival today. The tone of her eyes, or the colour of her suit. Whatever it was, her rival found her own sense of freedom, while Martha wanted nothing more than to lose hers.
He addressed Martha once more. ‘Mrs Whitman, late last year, you found out that your husband was having an affair – did you not?’
‘She telephoned me, and I had no choice but to believe her.’
‘And how did you feel when you found out about his affair?’ He stood facing Martha, his eyes bore into her own.
Her mind was clear. Ask me your questions, and you will find proof of my guilt.
‘We talked about it, he promised it was over and I believed him.’
‘Even when he worked late, didn’t you suspect he was still being unfaithful?’
‘A little but he promised.’
‘Were you angry with him over the affair?’
Martha sipped some more water. ‘Yes, yes I was. I was hurt that he was seeing another woman.’
‘We’ve heard from Miss Lacy, that you attacked her on January 5th of this year.’
‘I found evidence of his infidelity, secret meetings with his mistress. I wanted to see for myself if the affair was over. When I got there, she was flaunting herself over Thomas.’