“You okay?” Danny McGuire asked.
Ishag nodded curtly. There was no time for any further exchanges. Preening like a squat, Hispanic peacock, Judge Federico Muñoz strutted into court, basking in his short-lived moment in the spotlight and the rush he always got when a roomful of people rose to their feet to acknowledge the importance of his arrival. In truth, though, no one much gave a damn about Judge Dread this morning, any more than they did about Ellen Watts’s opening statement. There was a brief flurry of interest when Alvin Dubray announced matter-of-factly that his client, Frankie Mancini, had elected not to testify, a clear sign that his lawyer was shooting for a diminished responsibility/mental incapacity defense. But even the Mancini team’s legal maneuverings were of little interest to those assembled today in courtroom 306. Only when the name Sofia Basta was called, and the slight, slender figure at the defendants’ table was escorted to the stand to take her oath, did the room come to life.
“Please state your full, legal name for the court.”
“Sofia Miriam Basta Mancini.”
Her voice was neither strong nor faltering, but deep and mellow, projecting an aura of peace and calm. David Ishag, Danny McGuire and Matt Daley all remembered that voice and each man felt his heart leap when he heard it.
Ellen Watts started off gently. “Ms. Basta, would you begin by telling us in your own words how you met Mr. Mancini and to characterize your relationship with him.”
“I was fourteen. I was living in a home for children in New York, in Queens, and Frankie was transferred there from a different home.”
“And the two of you became friends?”
“Yes. More than friends. I loved him.”
As one, the court turned to see if Mancini had displayed any reaction to this announcement, but his face remained as regally impassive as ever.
Sofia went on: “In the beginning, he was different. I mean, he was so beautiful and smart and charismatic. But he also treated me differently.”
“In what way?”
“He talked to me. He listened. And he respected me. He never tried to touch me.”
“Sexually, you mean?”
Sofia nodded. “The other boys at the home, and the men there, the staff…they all forced themselves on me.” Matt Daley bit his lower lip so hard it bled. “But not Frankie. He was different and he kept them away from me.”
Ellen Watts paused to allow the impact of Sofia’s testimony to sink in, especially among the female jurors. “You’re saying that you suffered sexual abuse while at this children’s home?”
Sofia nodded, hanging her head. “I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time. I thought that was just…what happened. But Frankie made me see things differently. He told me I was beautiful, that I was special. I had a book, it was about a princess, from Morocco. We used to read it together. He told me that the princess was my grandmother, he’d found it out somehow. He knew things about my past, like what had happened to my mother and my sister. I had a twin, you see. We were separated.”
As she went back into the past, something strange began to happen to Sofia’s face. Her eyes took on a distant, glazed expression, almost as if she were under hypnosis.
“The others didn’t believe I came from an important family. They were jealous. But Frankie understood. He knew. He loved me.”
Very gently, Ellen Watts said, “Sofia. You understand now that that isn’t true, don’t you? That the story about the princess wasn’t really your history. That it was just a story. And the letter from the lawyer, about you and your ‘twin sister,’ Ella, that was just something that you made up, you and Frankie, right?”
For a moment a look of sheer panic passed over Sofia’s features. Then, like someone waking from a trance, she said quietly, “Yes. I know that now. It wasn’t real.”
“But at the time you believed it was. That was when you changed your name legally to Sofia Basta, wasn’t it? Basta was the name of the Moroccan family from the story.”
“They told me that later. Yes. I think so.”
She looked so confused and forlorn, Matt Daley couldn’t bear it. Even Danny McGuire found it hard to believe that this degree of mental confusion could be an act.
“So once you became Sofia, how did things develop with you and Frankie? When did the relationship become physical?”
“Not until after we married. And even then it was rare that we…he didn’t really want to.”
“He didn’t want to have intercourse?”
“Did you suspect that he might be homosexual?”
“No, never. He loved me, he was passionate in other ways. You have to understand, I…I had no life and Frankie gave me one. He saved me. I didn’t question that. I embraced it.”
“So the two of you married and moved to California.”
“Yes. Frankie was brilliant, he could have gone anywhere, done anything. But he was offered a job at a law firm in L.A., so that’s where we went. It was a new life for us, so he gave us new names. He became Lyle. And I was Angela. We were very happy…at first.”
“It was as Angela that you met Andrew Jakes?”
Sofia twisted her hands together, as if kneading an invisible ball of dough. “Yes. Angela met Andrew. Lyle set it up.” She’d slipped into the third person so naturally, at first people barely noticed. But as the depths of her schizophrenia were laid bare, scattered gasps could be heard around the court as, for one spectator after another, the other shoe dropped. “Poor Angela. She didn’t want to marry him. She didn’t want him anywhere near her…he was so old.” Sofia shivered. “She felt sick every time he touched her.”
“She?” Ellen Watts asked the question that was on everyone’s lips. “Don’t you mean you, Sofia?”
“No! It was Angela. I’m telling you about Angela, remember? Please, don’t confuse me. It’s so hard to remember.” She pressed her hands to her temples. “Angela didn’t want to marry Andrew Jakes. She was a lovely girl, Angela. But Frankie made her do it. He said Andrew needed to be punished for what he’d done and Angela had been created to punish him. There was no way out.”
“And what had Andrew Jakes done?” Ellen Watts asked. “Why did he have to be punished? Was he a bad man?”
“Andrew…bad…? Not to Angela, no. He was quite sweet actually. Thoughtful…She was fond of him in the end. But he’d done the same thing as all the others, you see. He’d abandoned his family. His children…That was why he had to die.”
Danny McGuire saw his life flash before his eyes. Could it really have been that simple all along, the link between Azrael’s victims? That they’d all walked out on their children, the way that Frankie Mancini’s father walked out on him?
“That’s why they all had to die. Andrew, Piers, Didier, Miles. It was for the children. The children had to be avenged.”
You could have heard a pin drop as Ellen Watts asked her next question.
“Who killed Andrew Jakes, Sofia? Was it Angela or Frankie? Or did they both do it together?”
Sofia answered without hesitation. “It was Frankie.” She broke down in sobs.
“That’s a lie!” Mancini jumped to his feet. “This is bullshit, it’s a fucking performance. She chose Jakes as the first kill. She picked him out, not me!”
Judge Muñoz sternly called for order, and court officers quickly subdued Frankie and wrestled him back into his seat.
Sofia was still talking, in a trance, apparently unable to stop. “He slit Andrew’s throat. It was awful! There was blood everywhere…I’d never seen so much blood. Then he raped poor Angela…She was begging him to stop, but he wouldn’t, he went on and on and on, hurting her. Then…then he tied them together and he left.”
“And where were you while this was happening, Sofia?” Ellen Watts asked. “Do you remember that?”
“Of course.” Sofia looked surprised by the question. “I was where I always was…Watching.”
ELLEN WATTS QUESTIONED HER CLIENT FOR another hour before Judge Muñoz ordered a two-hour recess. Officially this was to allow the other attorneys to prepare their cross-examinations. In reality, the extended break would give the slew of media people time to indulge in an orgy of comment and speculation on Sofia Basta’s spectacular performance on the stand so far, earning the Azrael trial maximum exposure and guaranteeing it a place as the lead item on the East Coast lunchtime news.
The second hour of Sofia’s testimony had continued in the same dramatic vein as the first. She had interludes of perfect lucidity, when she seemed fully aware of who she was, where she was, and why she was answering questions. During these periods she appeared calm, intelligent, articulate and remorseful about her role in the killings. But when asked to go back to the nights in question, she inevitably slipped back into the third person, talking about each of her alter egos—Angela, Tracey, Irina, Lisa and Sarah Jane—as if they were real women she had known and befriended, dissociating their experiences entirely from her own. In her warped mind, Tracey’s love for Piers and Lisa’s for Miles Baring were not acts. The love, the sorrow, that the wives felt were real emotions. For each murder, the message was the same: Frankie had arranged, orchestrated and carried out the killings, driven by his own desire for “retribution.” He had “created” the various wives to help him. And then he had hurt them—while poor Sofia watched.