Chapter 25: Felonious Monk

            

Harvey spent the remainder of our strategy session quizzing me on my background. He was compiling a comprehensive list of all my positive accomplishments to use as evidence that I was a good boy and didn't deserve to go to jail. And he wanted everything—my Church positions, my Eagle Scout award, my tenure as high-school newspaper editor, my honor-society memberships, my full-tuition scholarship to the University of Utah, and so on and so forth, ad nauseam.

The trial was scheduled to start at two. The four of us—me, my dad, my mission president, and my lawyer—arrived at the courtroom about half an hour early. An audience began filtering in not long after that. One of Ezra Taft Benson's granddaughters lived not far from Elder Snow and me; her husband, a law student, showed up to watch. He told me he planned to write a paper about my trial, and he wished me good luck. Nice guy.

Prosecutor Rich arrived—a tall, thin man with a dark black beard who looked like he could have played the part of the supercilious jerk who always gets taken down a few pegs in your generic sort of movie comedy—and Fred Harvey went right over to talk to him. Harvey returned several minutes later with good news. "Rich went for our deal," he said. "He's agreed to drop the hijacking charge, so we'll go ahead and plead guilty to public mischief."

It was a relief—of a sort.

The courtroom kept filling up, and among the arrivals were a pair of reporters, a man and a woman, each with notepad in hand. The electronic journalists, with their cameras and microphones, had to remain outside the courtroom.

At the stroke of two o'clock, the bailiff called for quiet in the courtroom. We all rose as Judge Fether entered the room. His demeanor struck me as that of a crabby old man, which did not make me feel any better.

My name was called out by the bailiff, who then led me to a little enclosure at the right side of the courtroom—a legal sort of penalty box, or so it struck me. This was a special seat for the defendant, and I sat there for the duration of the trial, on display. After identifying myself for the court, I was never called upon to speak another word.

The judge read the charge of public mischief and asked my lawyer how we pled. "Guilty, Your Honor," said Harvey.

It was official. I was now a felon.

It felt rather odd.

The judge rapped the bench with his gavel as a bit of a murmur swept through the courtroom. "So noted. These proceedings now become a sentencing hearing," he said. "Prosecution, the floor is yours."

Prosecutor Rich rose and began explicating his case. "Your Honor," he said, "a crime with overtones of terrorism has been committed in this city. An airplane bearing eighty-one passengers was threatened with a bomb while still in the air. The plane was delayed for an hour and half while being searched for a bomb, affecting a total of one hundred ten passengers, most of whom missed their connecting flights. One elderly woman was so distraught by the incident that she refused to fly again at all. The total cost of this incident to Western Airlines was two thousand dollars."

Two thousand dollars? I thought, there in my little pen. Is that all? The figure sounded a little low to me. Not that I was going to argue about it, mind you. I was just curious.

"The defendant has not only pled guilty," continued Rich, "but he has confessed to this crime in three separate statements which, admittedly, all seem to be self-consistent. We are not here to discuss motives in this crime, though it is worth mentioning that the Western Air Cargo employee who received Mr. Shunn's phone call said in his statement to the police"—he flipped through a sheaf of papers he held in his hand—"that the caller, quote, 'sounded dead serious.'"

Well, of course I sounded serious. I'd done some theater and taken some classes. I knew how to act well enough that I could sound serious if wanted to sound serious.

"What we will attempt to show now," said Rich, "is why it will be in the best interests of the people of Alberta to impose a jail sentence of sixty days on the defendant." He proceeded to reel off a complex and somewhat compelling argument for why my imprisonment was necessary in order to deter other potential offenders from attempting similar pranks. "We cannot send a message that behavior like this will be greeted in this province with a mere slap on the wrist."

Rich went on like that for quite a while, shooting me venomous looks whenever he had the chance. I'm sure this is an unfair impression, but the man struck me as evil.

At last the prosecutor wound down, and it was the defense's turn. Harvey stood up began a passionate and eloquent argument. He agreed, yes, that an example did indeed need to be made—but I was the wrong offender to use. "We're talking about a young man," said Harvey, "who was convinced that a close friend of his was making the most grave mistake of his life. He selflessly risked his own freedom in a desperate attempt to prevent that grave mistake. This young man is not a criminal. He's a good-hearted citizen, one who made an error of judgment. Should we put a black mark, the stigma of prison, on his future for no better reason than that?"

Harvey went on to list all my accomplishments—making particular mention of the fact that I was supporting myself on my mission entirely through my own earnings, through money I had set aside specifically so that I could go forth and share the beliefs that were important to me. He went on for every bit as long as Rich had, perhaps even longer. He concluded with a plea for the idea that the imposition of a fine would be far-and-away a sufficient punishment for my mistake.

When Harvey was finished, President Tuttle asked to take the stand as a character witness. The judge permitted this with what seemed like some reluctance. Tuttle testified that I was a fine individual, and that the mission would bear full responsibility for my actions if I were released.

When President Tuttle was finished, my father asked to take the stand. After being sworn in, he told the judge what a perfect son I had been, how I had never given the family a single bit of trouble. In short, my father perjured himself.

But from the way he broke down in tears on the witness stand, I have no doubt that he actually believed what he was saying—at least for those few moments.

At last the defense rested. The judge turned to prosecution then and asked for a summation of their arguments. Rich rehashed his line about deterrence—but at the end of it, Judge Fether, scratching his head and looking confused, said, "Now, Mr. Rich, tell me again why a young man like this should be jailed? I'm not sure I follow you."

My heart leapt. I was giddy. The judge was on our side! He was going to let me off!

Rich sort of stumbled through a clarification of his arguments, then sat down. It was a poor showing.

Judge Fether then asked for a summation from the defense. When Harvey had finished and sat down again, the judge faced the courtroom solemnly. He was going to let me off. Everyone in the courtroom knew it. He had made the prosecutor sound like a vindictive, unreasoning, bloodthirsty zealot with that request for clarification.

But a strange expression clouded the judge's face. "I call a recess of twenty-four hours while I deliberate," he said. "This court will reconvene tomorrow afternoon at two, when I will render my decision. Court adjourned."

Then he rapped the bench with his gavel and left the room.

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

About This Story

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

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