"After hearing the bang, the witness captured a photo of that moment."
Kaiba Gozaburo snapped his fingers, and a new image popped up on the display screen. The photo captured a scene obscured in fog, but even then, there were two dark silhouettes of people standing up on a small boat in the middle of the lake. The figure on the right side had one arm extended, as if he was holding a gun.
Dread roiled in the pit of Jounouchi's stomach even before Yuugi muttered "oh no" beside him.
"Thi—This looks like the exact moment of the murder!" The judge gasped.
The people in the stands broke out into a low hum of similar surprise and affirmation.
Gozaburo continued, his shoulders squared in a show of confidence. "The victim and the defendant were on that boat. Given that, no one other than Kaiba Seto could have fired the weapon! Any objections, defense?"
"I..." Jounouchi fumbled with his words.
Taking his silence as acquiescence, Gozaburo snapped his fingers again and declared, "There we have it. This trial is over."
Even the judge tried to steamroll him. "Yes, I agree. The defense's silence tells the entire story."
"Hand down your verdict at once, your Honor."
Yuugi turned his guileless purple eyes toward him. "Jounouchi-kun, do something. We can't give up now."
Unable to break an old habit, Jounouchi reached up and tugged at his hair, mussing the slicked hairstyle he wore for court. Everything was spiraling out of control. Weapon. Opportunity. Motive. Everything pointed to Kaiba. It was like his rival said. This was a near unwinnable case. And Gozaburo's force of presence didn't help the proceedings or Jounouchi's overwhelming nerves.
But Kaiba didn't kill Ooka. Kaiba may be a hard-ass, but he wasn't a murderer. Jounouchi believed that much. He still believed in the shy and studious boy who'd been his elementary school friend. After all, it was Kaiba then and later who inspired Jounouchi to pursue a career as a defense attorney. To always seek justice for the victims and defendants who needed it the most and when all hope seemed lost.
No, he couldn't give up.
"Wait!" exclaimed Jounouchi, feeling Kaiba's piercing gaze drilling into him from across the courtroom. "I haven't cross-examined the witness yet!"
"A cross-examination?" scoffed Gozaburo as he straightened his suit jacket. He didn't even have the decency to look Jounouchi in the eye as he dismissed him. "We have photographic evidence! What question can there possibly be? A photo is worth a thousand words, and every one of them reads 'guilty' in this case. Face it, peasant, you've lost."
Jounouchi clenched his fists at his side. Never before had he wanted to strike another human being in the face like this.
A slow smirk spread across Gozaburo's lips. His eyes lit with a dangerous light. "Or do you claim to have found a contradiction in her testimony?"
The judge finally spoke up, although a bit timidly. "The defense does reserve the right to cross-examine the witness..."
Gozaburo slammed both hands down. "Very well! If you must, you may cross-examine the witness. Your incompetence will amuse me for a brief while. And when you cannot bring anything of value to these proceedings, I'll have you held in contempt of court."
Jounouchi glanced at the useless judge. But it was futile to hope the man would take back control of his court at this point.
He turned his gaze back to the prosecutor opposite him, Gozaburo: the so-called "god of prosecutors" and Kaiba's own mentor and adoptive father. He was a man with a supposedly perfect prosecution rate, having not lost a single case in the 40 years of his career. That was the sort of record that Kaiba had aspired to before he and Jounouchi butted heads in the courtroom. Even in a country like Japan, where the overall conviction rate was over 99%, that kind of record was unheard of. Gozaburo was the prototypical prosecutor: merciless, unyielding, and devoid of empathy. He always got his conviction no matter the cost or what he razed in his path.
No wonder everyone feared and revered him.
But Jounouchi saw him as what he really was—a bully and an embodiment of an unjust and skewed system that he fought against as a defense attorney.
Gozaburo obviously didn't want Miho to testify any further. It could mean that he knew there was a hole in her testimony that he was trying to keep Jounouchi from finding, so he could force this as an open-and-shut case. But Jounouchi refused to roll over for him or give up. Because if he did, then there was no helping Kaiba.
"Fine! I'll cross-examine the witness and accept whatever the consequences."
Kaiba's lips thinned at his declaration. Jounouchi shot the prosecutor a pleading look: I believe in you, so please believe in me. They held each other's gaze for a brief moment before Kaiba looked away first, crossing his arms over his chest.
Jounouchi pressed every word of Miho's statement, searching for the smallest contradiction. While repeated questioning shook her composure, she didn't yield. She clung to her assertions with a tenacity that Jounouchi might have admired if someone's life was on the line.
Eventually, the judge banged his gavel. "Enough. We've heard all there's to hear, Jounouchi-san. You haven't found a contradiction in the testimony worth nothing."
"But your Honor!" protested Jounouchi, his mind still racing into overdrive as he mentally combed through Miho's testimony. "Give me a minute, dammit!"
Or an hour, he pleaded silently in his head.
"No!" boomed Gozaburo. "You will keep your word!"
"Jounouchi-san, I'm afraid I will have to penalize any further outbursts by holding you in contempt of court."
Gozaburo smiled triumphantly. "And when that happens, you'll be escorted from the courtroom immediately! Understood?"
Sweat trickled down the side of Jounouchi's face, down his neck, and into his collar. Every fiber of his being screaming for him to keep going and pushing. But Yami's advice that once repeatedly told him to keep a cool head, or he'd help none of his clients quelled his rage and frustrations. If Jounouchi was kicked out of the courtroom, then there'd be no one left to stand in Kaiba's corner.
Kaiba would truly be alone in that case.
He gritted his teeth. "I hear you."
Yuugi tugged at his sleeve. "Jounouchi-kun, Miho-san's testimony is fishy! Like super fishy!"
"That's my feeling too," he muttered to his assistant under his breath. "If I can't say anything else, what can I do?"
Determination overtook Yuugi's face. He spun and leaned against the desk as the judge raised his gavel to deliver his verdict. "Objection!" he screamed at a volume that Jounouchi had never heard him use before.
So caught off-guard by Yuugi's out-of-character display, the judge stopped short and asked, "Is something wrong?"
Yuugi ignored the man on the bench and address Miho directly. "Miho-san, your testimony stinks. The photo's not clear because of the fog. And you refuse to elaborate on whether or not you saw the two men on the boat yourself. Please tell us the truth! This is a matter of life and death!"
"Yuugi..." Jounouchi muttered in awe of his usually timid assistant. He now began to see the resemblance to Yami.
Miho rankled and jabbed an accusatory finger at Yuugi. "Why are you making Miho into the bad guy? Miho—Miho definitely saw him! Miho clearly saw Prosecutor Kaiba on that boat!"
"Enough!" roared Gozaburo. "Your Honor, declare the defense in contempt of court immediately!"
"Uh, yes, of course," said the judge, verbally tripping over himself to comply.
Yuugi turned his fierce gaze on the judge and shouted, "No! I was the one who made the outburst! Not Jounouchi-kun. If you're going to hold someone in contempt, do it to me! I'll take whatever punishment you can dish out. But you heard it, right, Jounouchi-kun? Miho-san just said it. She said she clearly saw Kaiba-san with her own eyes."
"Throw that loud-mouthed boy out now!" Gozaburo commanded. His temples twitched visibly.
As the bailiffs dragged Yuugi from the room, he shouted, "Jounouchi-kun, that's all I can do. The rest is up to you. Please don't give up!"
Several other bailiffs held Jounouchi back from interfering. "Yuugi!"
"I detest low-brow melodrama," Gozaburo sneered uglily once Yuugi was removed from the room. He even had the gall to direct it toward the stone-faced Kaiba sitting in the defendant's box. "Let us proceed, your Honor. Deliver your guilty verdict."
Jounouchi sent a silent thank you to both Yuugi and Yami, by extension. Yuugi had succeeded where he failed, even if it got him locked up for his troubles. The witness had been pressed until she finally made a mistake. That mistake would give Jounouchi the opening he needed to turn the situation around.
"Objection!" he exclaimed, and rounded the corner to approach the witness stand. He held Miho's gaze, causing her to flinch. "The witness just said she clearly saw my defendant, Kaiba Seto, that night with her own eyes. She changed her testimony on the stand, and that gives me the right to cross-examine her again."
Gozaburo immediately fired back. "Objection. Your cross-examination is already over! Now you're in contempt of court. Enough of your wild claims. Judge, quickly sustain my objection!"
"Actually, the court sustains the defense's objection."
Gozaburo glared furiously at the judge. "What did you say?"
"The defense may continue his cross-examination," said the judge after rallying himself in defense of Gozaburo's ire.
Jounouchi fought the urge to pump his fists in victory. About time the judge grew a backbone! He locked eyes with Kaiba across the courtroom and shot the other man a small smile. Kaiba's mouth moved silently, but Jounouchi could hear him in his head all too clearly.
"Don't screw this up, deadbeat."
Jounouchi straightened and faced the witness stand once more. They weren't done yet. Jounouchi hadn't gained the reputation of an underdog for nothing, and he didn't intend to waste this last chance Yuugi had gotten for them both. He wouldn't rest until he proved Kaiba's innocence.