“She is guilty!” The prosecutor tilted his head, pointing to Chloe. “Guilty of one count of murder in the first degree.”

“That is yet to be proven,” the judge stated and turned to the counsel table. “So, Ms. Miller, you’ve chosen to defend your case without an attorney. How do you plead?”

“I plead not guilty, your honor.” Chloe flipped her hair.

Palpable tension filled the courtroom, a sense of uncertainty pervading the air. The court reporter’s fingers click-clacked on the typewriter, transcribing every word as the twelve jurors in the jury box glanced at each other and made notes. The spectators and journalists in the gallery were on tenterhooks. Chloe’s mother sat in the frontmost row with her face buried in her hands.

“The murder was committed on the fifth of April at around 11 o’clock in the morning with utmost precision.” The prosecutor furrowed his brows. “My client died an excruciating death at the defendant’s hands. And the modus operandi clearly shows it was not done in the heat of the moment. Meticulous planning; a premeditated murd…”

“It wasn’t murder!” Clenching her fists, Chloe stamped her foot against the floor.

“Ms. Miller, this is a courtroom and not a presidential debate,” the judge warned her with a stern look. “My records state you are 22 years old. Given your age, you should understand you are neither allowed to interrupt nor speak out of turn.”

Chloe faintly nodded; her eyes found the floor.

“The prosecutor alleges the murder was premeditated.” The judge steepled his fingers. “Do you have an explanation?”

“I did it in self-defense.” She brushed a hand across her fevered brow. “For my own good. I did what I thought was right.”

“What’s your counterargument?” The judge motioned to the prosecutor and adjusted his black robe.

“Ah, self-defense.” As the prosecutor’s eyes locked with Chloe’s, his lips slanted into an eerie smile. “The classic excuse most convicts swear by. Never gets old.”

Walking to his table, he picked up a file and waved it in the air. “But both the circumstantial evidence and the forensic report say otherwise. Moreover, there are incriminating phone records corroborating that you pre-planned and masterminded the murder before committing it.” He shook his head and frowned. “It certainly wasn’t an accident.”

Chloe broke into a cold sweat, her heartbeat rising with every passing second. A lump formed in her throat.

The prosecutor presented the file to the jury and then handed a copy to the judge. “The defendant committed the inhumane deed of taking a fellow human’s life without even an iota of empathy. The brutality of the murder proves she has the instincts of a cold-blooded killer. Your honor, given the heinous nature of the crime, I would suggest nothing less than the strictest punishment possible.”

The judge lowered his fingers and leaned forward. He examined the evidence through his gold-rimmed spectacles, flipping one page after another, his bulb-like eyes traveling left and right.

One by one, the jurors got up and walked out. Several minutes later, they returned after reaching a consensus. The bailiff handed the slip to the judge.

Clamor filled the courtroom; the spectators spoke amongst themselves while shooting dirty looks at Chloe.

“Order!” The judge slammed his gavel on the table and shifted his gaze toward her. “Though the defendant had entered a ‘not guilty’ plea, the submitted evidence is against her in its entirety. Legalities aside, it was highly unscrupulous of her to have committed such a horrendous act without understanding the value of life, let alone consider the impending ramifications.”

He took a sip from the glass of water in front of him. “This court has seen many cases of this kind in the past. And each time, the accused justified their actions despite the gravity of the crime. No wonder history repeated itself this time too.”

“Put her behind bars!” A loud-mouthed man in the gallery interrupted. “She doesn’t deserve to walk free.”

Chloe’s mother stood and looked at her daughter in scorn. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she grabbed her handbag and scurried out of the courtroom.

“Order! Order!” The gavel hit the table twice, the sound reverberating through the eardrums of everyone in the gallery.

The decibels came down and order was restored.

With an affirming nod, the judge read the verdict out aloud. “After deliberating this case at great length, the jury has reached a unanimous agreement. The court declares…”

Chloe watched him with bated breath.

He cleared his throat before reading further. “Ms. Chloe Miller guilty of one count of first-degree murder and sentences her to…”

As everyone moved to the edge of their seats, he concluded, “capital punishment.”

Sighs of relief arose from the gallery. Smiling faces were everywhere in the courtroom.

“No, no, this isn’t happening. I’m innocent.” Chloe stuttered and pressed her fists to the sides of her head, breath rasping, nostrils flaring.

The bailiff cuffed her hands and proceeded to escort her. She cried at the top of her voice, “I’m not a murderer!”

“No, you are!” The judge sprang to his feet and pointed at her, veins throbbing in his temples. “You are a fucking murderer!”

The spectators in the gallery stood and echoed his words. “Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!”

The judge waved his gavel in the air like a conductor’s baton and vocalized as the spectators sang a cappella along with him:

♫ Ms. Chloe Miller
You’re a killer
♪ Guilty as Hell
Now go to your cell

Confounded by the cacophony, Chloe squinted and dropped her jaw.

The photographers thronged her side; the camera flashes going haywire, blinding her eyes.

As the spectators ended their song on a high note, the judge raised his hands and screamed like an opera singer. He then hurled his gavel at Chloe, hitting her.

A deadly pang ripped through her temples. Her blurry eyes lowered to find her hands dripping with blood. “What the fuck?!”

She put the back of her bloodied hand to her head, which was spinning like a Ferris wheel. With a thud, she collapsed on the courtroom floor.


Chloe woke up in the middle of the night, gasping for breath. The sheets were damp from where she’d slept. She pressed her clammy hand on her forehead as the migraine radiated from the side of her head, pain branching all the way to the jaw. The panic of the nightmare sent her fumbling for the water bottle lying by her side. As water gushed down her throat, she swallowed hard, feeling a tightness in her chest.

She bit her lip and raked a hand through her hair. Wrapping her arms around her stomach, she closed her eyes and took a deep, pained breath. She then grasped the pillow and clutched it to her face, sobbing her heart out.

After minutes of incessant tears, she wiped her red, puffy eyes and pulled her hair away from her face, tying it into a bun. Her thoughts together, she reached for her iPhone on the bedside table. She blew her cheeks out and dialed her boyfriend.

“Hey babe, why are you calling so late? Is everything okay?” came a drowsy voice over the phone.

“I want to talk about tomorrow, Trent.”

“Chloe, since the day you found out, we’ve had scores of conversations. We’ve thought it through.”

“I’ve changed my mind.” Her lips quivered as she weighed her next words. “Listen, cancel the appointment. I want to have my baby, our baby.”