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      Alice Zogg


      This book is a work of fiction.

      Copyright © 2013, Alice Zogg

      First Edition

      Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the copyright owner of this book.

      Published by Aventine Press

      55 East Emerson St. Chula Vista CA 91911


      Published in eBook format by eBookIt.com


      ISBN-13: 978-1-4566-2025-7

      Library of Congress Control Number: 2013917272

      Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

      Guilty Or Not/Alice Zogg


      Also by Alice Zogg

      Murder at the Cubbyhole

      Revamp Camp

      Final Stop Albuquerque

      The Fall of Optimum House

      The Lonesome Autocrat

      Tracking Backward

      Turn the Joker Around

      Reaching Checkmate

      To my longtime friend Pat Yankosky


      Credit is due to Patricia Yankosky for showing me her stained glass creations and giving me a step-by-step lesson on how these works of art come into being. I learned a lot about the craft, Pat. If not for Valoise Douglas, I would have had to embark on my research cruise to Alaska alone, missing out on all the fun we shared. Thanks, Val, for having been my travel companion and, as always, an excellent editor of the book. Again, my gratitude goes to my daughter Franziska for proofreading the initial manuscript. I am indebted to the members of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime and believe that through their programs, support, and workshops, I continue to hone my craft of writing. Most of all, I appreciate my husband, Wilfried, for putting up with my reclusive behavior, book after book.

      CHAPTER 1

      Rachel Penrose’s trial for the murder of her fiancé, Steven Moretti, was in full swing on this fifth day of the court proceedings at the Pasadena Superior Court. Rachel sat at the defense table next to her legal counselor, oblivious to the drama unfolding around her. She caught bits and pieces of testimony, but most of it remained a blur to her. Her mind had long shut all emotion out, and she thought, let’s just get this over with.

      Following the jury selection on Friday, August 10, the actual trial began on Monday, August 13, with opening statements from both the district attorney in charge of the prosecution and Rachel’s defense attorney, David Wachterman. There ensued testimony of a string of witnesses called by the prosecution, consisting of police officers, medical doctors and toxicology experts. The twelve jurors plus two alternates paid keen attention, although some of the experts’ monologues seemed beyond their comprehension. The authorities had found poisonous oleander mixed in with Steven Moretti’s loose leaf tea. Oleander is an evergreen perennial bush containing the toxic glycoside oleandrin, and as little as one leaf of the plant may be toxic enough to cause death in human beings.

      Now the prosecution called Rufina Ramos, the housekeeper, as witness to be sworn in by the bailiff. She stated her name and position in the Steven Moretti household, and then the DA performed his direct examination.

      Clearly uncomfortable in the limelight, dressed in her new suit, Rufina answered his questions about the tea brewing habits of her employer to the best of her knowledge. His query proceeded to what she saw on April 5 from an upstairs window looking down onto the backyard - - or more to the point, what she failed to see. On cross-examination, David Wachterman wanted to know the exact date of the last tea shipment arriving in the mail as well as its country of origin.

      As the housekeeper ’s testimony evolved, Rachel thought, what difference does it make? They found the damned oleander in the tea, regardless of where the tea was shipped from or how long it had been in the house!

      The prosecutor called the next witness, and Jasmine Dewitt strutted up to the witness stand. No denying she looked great in her little black dress and four-inch heels. She had pulled up her blond hair into a demure bun, applied a minimum amount of makeup, and wore understated stud earrings for the occasion, but nothing demure showed in her body language. Obviously, the young woman enjoyed the spotlight.

      Rachel tuned out and kept her stoic expression during Jasmine’s testimony. Why go through that horrible day once more? She had re-lived it in her dreams and most of her waking hours time and time again. Much easier to ignore it all and retreat into a world of her own. Toward the end of Jasmine’s statement, Rachel became aware of sudden silence in the courtroom, which made her come out of her reverie and focus on the proceedings playing out before her.

      The prosecutor took a couple of steps closer to the witness stand, lowered his voice a notch, and asked, “Tell us, Ms. Dewitt, what was the defendant’s reaction when she walked in on you and Steven Moretti in the bedroom?”

      Jasmine replied, “First she just stared, and then she lost her cool.”

      “Do you remember her exact words?”

      “Yes, I do. She pointed at Steven and shouted, ‘You disgusting bastard, I’ll kill you for this!’ and ran out the door.”

      There were excited murmurs among people in the spectator seats, and the judge called for a lunch recess. Rachel thought, why is everyone surprised? The bimbo told the truth.

      Tina Brook, the last person called to testify on that fifth day of the trial, made her way over to the witness stand. Tina and her husband Shane were good friends of Steven Moretti and Rachel Penrose. By no means pleased to appear before the court and jury, Tina had no choice in the matter when subpoenaed. She settled into the stand and had a great shock when briefly glancing down at her friend seated at the defense table. Rachel had dwindled to skin and bones, and the sunken-in eyes told of sleepless nights. Gone were the healthy, outdoorsy complexion and spunky joie de vivre attitude.

      Tina had only been in the hot seat for about 20 minutes, but the relentless questioning made it seem like hours. The prosecutor grilled her on events as far back as Rachel and Steven’s engagement party, which had been such a joyous event that she failed to see his point. Then he switched to the more recent past, and since she was under oath, she had no alternative but to make some statements damaging to her friend.

      The DA said, “I understand that you were the person who informed Rachel Penrose of Steven Moretti’s death. Correct?”

      “That’s right.”

      “How did that come about?”

      “I thought that she might not know; naturally, she moved out of the house after what happened. Wouldn’t you?”

      The judge said, “Please, Ms. Brook, just answer the questions.”

      “Yes, your Honor.”

      The prosecutor prompted, “So you called the defendant. Correct?”

      “Yes. I couldn’t think of a delicate

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