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DOWN TO THE WIRE

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Right now Stedino seems more like an usher getting ready to pass the collection plate for the 11 o'clock mass. "As a courtesy," Debus says, "I'm going to ask you by what name you would like to be called."

"You can call me Joseph," Stedino says. They finally settle on "Joe."
This is the start of what will be a grueling mano a mano. This final battle between Debus and Stedino will take days before it ends. It is the closest thing to a spectator sport that the law has to offer.

And it is not really a spectator sport, because it takes so long. People brought up on and taught to watch 30-minute sitcoms will lose their concentration. A cross-examination like this could last for days. But it might take much less time. If Debus realizes he cannot break down Stedino's defense mechanisms, the lawyer will back off.

During this first session, the two men are elaborately polite to each other. It is the final day of the week, and Judge Ryan calls a halt after an hour. They will go at each other again the following Monday.

In this brief meeting, Stedino comes off as a professional witness who is both glib and likable to the jury. Debus is as good at cross-examination as lawyers get. Out in the hallway, the butcher is waiting for the elevator. "How will it end?" he is asked.

The butcher points to Debus, who is just leaving the courtroom.
"It's all up to Debus," the butcher says. "He gave such a great opening argument. If he can break down Stedino and give a good closing. . . .

"I don't know. It's close. But maybe Debus can pull it off.

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Tom Fitzpatrick