Danielle “Dani” Bynum has had more than her fair share of involvement in the criminal justice system. She’s been on all sides of the spectrum, including being a defendant on trial for murder and a few years later representing her clients for murder. Dani has now crossed the line and works as an assistant prosecuting attorney in St. Louis City. Her first couple of years on the job was a breeze until her supervisor, the Circuit Attorney, gave her two high profile cases that changed her life forever.
Brandi Evans is accused of murdering her husband Pastor Lamar Evans. One of St. Louis’s former top defense attorneys is the prosecutor on her case and she knows she’ll need someone willing and capable of going to war against Dani Bynum to fight her case. Brandi is desperate to prove her innocence, but with all the evidence pointing towards her and a possible justice motive, she’s in what she believes is a hopeless fight for her life.
Kenzo Garrett is charged with committing the heinous crime of abuse against his son. He’s had a few run-ins with the law in the past, including a child endangerment charge for distributing narcotics in front of a minor. He also has a conviction of child neglect for failing to report the abuse of his son by his son’s mother that he wasn’t aware of. After being home for a year and completing his parole, he’s faced with trouble again. He’s accused of harming his son once dropping him off after a weekend visit. The CPS worker and prosecutor make his life hell and have already decided that because of his criminal record, he’s guilty until otherwise proven innocent.
Dani believed when she became a prosecutor she would be making a difference but discovers she bit off more than she can chew. She gets caught up in a web of lies, deceit, and a scandal that has her convicting individuals she’s not so sure she believes are guilty. What will the outcome be for Brandi and Kenzo and are they guilty or innocent?
“Hello, Ms. Smith?” I inquired of the lady who opened the front door and rolled her eyes.
She looked disheveled with a filthy t-shirt, unkempt hair, and dried tear stains on her face. Under the circumstances, I could understand her appearance at the time and her demeanor as well, considering no one was usually happy to see me.
She sucked her teeth before she answered. “Yeah, I am her and she is me.”
“May I come in?” I asked her gently.
“I guess so since you’re here. I don’t have a choice do I?”
I didn’t reply but instead followed her inside. I did a quick survey like I always did whenever I stepped into someone’s home. I wanted to know my exit points should I need to flee for my safety. I didn’t have the most glamorous job and I knew I put myself at risk every day. I wanted to believe I was doing positive work, but unfortunately, it wasn’t perceived that way by the families I encountered. I constantly thought about the child protective services worker in Houston who was beaten and choked a few years back while visiting a home. I didn’t want to become that worker, so I stayed on my toes.
Ms. Smith’s next door neighbor called into the Missouri Children’s Division hotline and made a report against her the other day. The neighbor mentioned something about Ms. Smith’s five-year-old son standing outside alone crying and looking for his mother at least two days in a row before she called us. She watched him from her front porch and mentioned that both times she was ready to call the police, Ms. Smith would come running up the street. The neighbor was apologetic to us and stated she didn’t want to cause any trouble, but she was concerned about the little boy and his safety. When she tried to speak with Ms. Smith about it to make sure everything was alright, Ms. Smith became belligerent with her. She was going to brush it off, but she said she had a nagging feeling and thought it was better to be safe than sorry.
“I spoke with you yesterday regarding the call we received, so you already know why I’m here. Would you like me to go over the report with you?” I asked her.
“Not really,” she shrugged. “This entire situation is stupid. I already know that nosey bitch next door is the one who called you all. I gave her a good cursing out that she deserved and she decided to run and do this.”
“I can’t confirm who called in, but it’s my job to come out and check because by law I have to. After I ask you a few questions, I’ll write a report and determine if we need to investigate further and open a case. If nothing seems substantiated here today, you’ll receive a letter within thirty to sixty days letting you know we didn’t find it necessary to continue with an investigation.”
“Why does it take so long?”
“Ma’am, I don’t make the rules, I just have to let you know what they are.”
“You should know a lot more considering the type of work you do, especially if you’re passing the message about the policy, but I guess.”
She blew out a breath and I continued.
“If we decide to open an investigation, we’ll notify you of that within twenty-four hours.”
“None of the timing mechanisms makes a lick of sense. You’ll take up to sixty days to tell me that you’re not opening an investigation, probably to keep me on my toes. Yet, you’ll tell me in a day if you do? You all enjoy having power over people, creating fear, and ruining their lives, don’t you?”
I could clearly see that Ms. Smith had a nasty ass attitude, but that was neither here nor there. Nine times out of ten it was only a defense mechanism and the way she came off to me wasn’t necessarily grounds for saying she was negligent or abusive. After I confirmed all the preliminary information like her name, date of birth, social security number, place of employment, educational background, and other identifying factors, I moved on with the questioning.
“So can you tell me what exactly happened and why Michael was left out on the front porch two days in a row for almost an hour?”
“I didn’t have a baby sitter for him after school. I’m usually home from work at least thirty to forty minutes before he gets off the school bus. The crazy thing is, I thought their policy wasn’t to let any students under the third grade off the bus alone, yet the bus driver did. Isn’t she the one who should have been reported?”
“School bus drivers aren’t baby sitters. If he or she had to take him back to the school or bus bay, you still would have been considered responsible for your son’s well-being. You would have been considered negligent as well.”
“Look, I already told you on the phone when you called I had jury duty. Jury duty lasted until almost five o’clock both days. I tried to get excused when I told them I didn’t have a baby sitter, but they wouldn’t allow me to leave. They told me that wasn’t a legitimate excuse, so what was I supposed to do, miss it and go to jail? Either way, I was in a fucked up position. It’s not easy out here for a single mother.”
“You don’t have any family who could have helped watch after Michael those two days and made sure he was safe when he got off the bus?”
“Don’t you think if I did we wouldn’t be sitting here right now having this discussion? I don’t have anyone out here to help me.”
“Where’s his father?” I asked her.
“Dead,” she replied nonchalantly.
Before I could reply I got a phone call. I apologized and asked her to give me a second.
“This is Donna Whitney,” I answered my work phone.
“Hey Donna, this is Jeff,” the voice replied. He was one of the hotline dispatchers. “You’re needed at St. Louis Children’s Hospital when you finish up where you are.”
“Alright,” I sighed.
I was tired and ready to go home for the day. I wrote down the information he gave me on a four-year-old boy named Kenzo Garrett Jr. and the mother named Tywanda Dixon. A doctor from the hospital made the call after he was brought into the emergency room. I finished up with Ms. Smith and already determined I wasn’t going to open a case. I told her to look out for a letter in the mail letting her know an investigation was not going to continue. That was the least bit I could do was tell her ahead of time versus having her sweat for a few weeks. She was right, the notification process was off, but that was out of my control. I got a chance to see Michael before I left, who looked happy and healthy, so I was confident in my decision. Meanwhile, I had no idea that the next case I was heading to would be one for the books.