For Virginia With Hope

     [An old friend asked about this short story, and if I would please repost it. It first appeared at Liberty’s Torch V1.0 on December 18, 2019. I’ve made some slight edits since then. – FWP]

     They had disdained the courtrooms, even though cleared of the pestilential scum that had roosted there. The aroma of corruption and power-lust remained even after the former occupants were no longer among the living. It would be some time before the stink of injustice had dissipated and those chambers were fit to be used by honest men once more. Instead, they held the trial in a large clearing in the woods west of the capital.

     A thick cordon of men armed with battle rifles provided security. An ancient oak, sixty feet high and five feet through the trunk, stood behind the judge’s bench. Prosecutors and defendants sat on lawn chairs behind folding picnic tables. The jury and spectators made do with blankets spread over the loam.

     The judge took care to keep his face impassive throughout. He knew it was not for him to decide the verdict, only to ensure that the law was served and that the principals adhered to the forms and procedures of a fair trial. When the verdict was announced, his experience at law sufficed to tell him what sentence must follow.

     The defendant exploded in fury.

     “This is a mockery of justice!” he raved. “You have taken it upon yourselves to make law according to your preferences, instead of adhering to a law passed by a duly constituted legislature and signed by a sitting governor! And for what? Your fantasy of a right that innumerable legislatures and courts have dismissed! Have you the least idea what could stem from this outrage?”

     The judge maintained his bland expression with an effort. He waited for the defendant to sit before replying.

     “I think we do,” he said. “I think that proceedings of this sort are long overdue in many other states and municipalities, in large part because of what you have only just said. You speak of ‘a law passed by a duly constituted legislature and signed by a sitting governor’ as if it hung weightless in space, absolute in authority and meaning, with no need of support from any other edifice. But that is not the case. In thinking that it would pass muster without objection or resistance you failed to judge accurately whether you would have the sine qua non of all governance: the consent of the governed. And as you can see here, you did not.”

     “But this is a farce!” the defendant cried. “A judge who was never raised to the bench, a prosecutor who was never appointed as such, and a jury of…peasants! Men randomly selected from a rabble in arms! No court in the Commonwealth would sanction it!”

     “In this, you are correct,” the judge replied. “The courts of the Commonwealth have been so thoroughly corrupted that no verdict they issue can be trusted. They dismissed all considerations of right and justice in favor of partisanry and the currying of favor with the governor’s mansion. Therefore, we held this proceeding, in which the real dictates of the law–a law for which you have no affection and had planned to ignore–could be obeyed.” He glanced once more at the written jury verdict. “Have you anything else to say before I pass sentence?”

     The defendant sputtered but said nothing intelligible. When he had fallen silent the judge read the verdict the jury had prescribed, and ordered that the defendant be taken to secure confinement until it could be carried out.

     The judge surveyed the platform briefly. It seemed sound, though he had no experience in such things. He looked a question at the lead carpenter.

     “It’s not fancy,” the carpenter said, “but it will serve the need.”

     “Very well,” the judge muttered. “I suppose we can proceed.”

     The carpenter frowned. “You sound reluctant.”

     “I am,” the judge said. “We should all be. This is likely to touch off a firestorm.”

     “But you said—”

     “I know what I said,” the judge interjected. “I know what the verdict said, and what the sentence must be, and that it was my duty to pronounce it. But what we just went through will spread throughout the nation. It’s going to happen, and it’s going to be bloody. And that the victors could impose justice by their own standard in the aftermath guarantees that it will be much bloodier than what happened here.”

     “But it wasn’t ‘our own standard,’” the carpenter protested. “It was the Constitution. The law of the land.”

     “That’s not what the media will say.” The judge was overcome by a wave of weariness that threatened to send him to his knees. He fought it off, straightened himself, and turned to the copse of trees where the condemned was shackled. “All the same, best to get on with it.”

     He strode toward the guards with as much resolve as he could simulate.

     The condemned man would not cooperate. It was necessary to bind his legs at the knees and ankles, and to carry him up the steps. The trap door squeaked when he was deposited upon it. He screamed in fury and fear. Two husky men held him upright and in place as the judge put the noose around his neck.

     “You will regret this!” he shrieked.

     “I already do,” the judge replied, “but not for the reasons you have in mind.” He gestured to the guards to hold the prisoner firmly, turned to the waiting crowd, and composed himself for a final statement.

     “We have had a trial, a verdict, and a sentence,” he boomed into the silence. “It remains only for the gravamen of the matter to be proclaimed and the sentence to be carried out.”

     He swept his gaze over the thousands assembled before the makeshift gallows. They appeared as solemn as he felt. There was no jubilation in them.

     Nothing like this has happened for a very long time, and they all know it. Better if it had, long before matters could come to this pass.

     “The charge is the infringement of a Constitutionally guaranteed right of the people, specifically the right to keep and bear arms, and the use of military force to do so. The prisoner was tried according to the established forms and procedures of the criminal law, and was found guilty by the unanimous vote of a jury of twelve of his peers. That jury also fixed the sentence at death by hanging, which will now be carried out.” He turned to the condemned man. “Have you any last words?”

     The prisoner screamed unintelligibly. Spittle flew from his lips and flecked the clothing of the men who held him. After a minute his head drooped and his screams lapsed to a hoarse, exhausted panting.

     The judge found that he could not proceed without a final statement of his own. He looked briefly at the ground, drew a deep breath, and faced the crowd again.

     “When He hung upon the cross, Jesus said ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ He told us to forgive and pray for those who have wronged us, just as He forgave the men who executed Him. But forgiveness cannot preclude punishment, for without punishment justice is a phantasm. We must do this, as little as it pleases us, and despite the foreseeable consequences here and elsewhere. But let us wait a moment and find in our hearts a spark of forgiveness for this man…even though he knew exactly what he was doing from first to last.”

     He bowed his head and recited the Lord’s Prayer. The crowd did so as well. When the final “Amen” no longer echoed from the woods, he turned to the prisoner.

     “May God have mercy on your soul.”

     The guards released their grip on the deposed governor, and the judge pulled the lever that triggered the trapdoor beneath him.


     Copyright © 2019 Francis W. Porretto. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.


    • jwm on February 26, 2024 at 9:48 AM

    “Deposed Governor”

    A few names come to mind…



      • Daniel K Day on February 26, 2024 at 6:13 PM

      More than a few. Not all of them belong to currently serving governors.

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