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The AIDS Trial
A Novel by
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
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This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2006, 2010 by L & G Productions, LLC
“Grayson, please eat your cereal.”
Sarah tries to help her seven-year-old by putting a spoon filled with something that slightly resembles oatmeal into his hand and guiding it toward his mouth. Grayson only clamps his lips tighter and turns his head away until she gives up, hands him the spoon, and goes back to the counter to finish making lunches.
“And Peyton, you have to eat something.”
“I told you, I can’t eat in the morning, Mom. I’m already too fat! And please tell Grayson to close his mouth when he eats.” The eleven-year-old shoots a nasty look at her younger brother. “That’s disgusting!”
Grayson takes another spoonful of cereal, puts it in his mouth, looks directly at his sister, opens wide and lets some more dribble out onto his chin. Then he smiles with that devilish look in his eyes.
“Mom, he’s doing it again!” It isn’t a whine from Peyton as much as a plea for help.
“Grayson, stop it please…and eat your cereal, don’t play with it.”
Matthew, the oldest at thirteen, finally shows up for breakfast, sees his little brother spewing cereal out of his mouth like a volcano and gives him a gentle slap across the top of the head to try to make him stop.
“Mom, just once can’t we have bacon and eggs, or waffles, or anything that normal people have for breakfast? Do we always have to eat so…healthy?” Matthew knows he isn’t going to get an answer, or if he does, it would be the same one he always gets to that question. Peyton doesn’t wait for a response either.
“Mom, can you take me to get my piercing this afternoon?”
“Oh, Peanut, I’m sorry. Probably not today.” Sarah winces at the disappointment that makes its way across Peyton’s face, overshadowing her normally cheerful and captivating smile. “I just can’t promise anything today. I doubt it…I might have to be in court all day.”
Sarah puts down the almond butter knife for a moment and looks out her oversized kitchen window into the perfectly manicured desert garden. It’s hard to tell whether she’s frustrated, confused, anxious, or simply thinking about the big day ahead.
“Bill, is that coffee ready yet? I really need…”
Before she can finish, Bill reaches around her with a full cup, putting it gently into her right hand and kissing her on the cheek at the same time, whispering in her ear, “It’s a big day for you. Good luck!”
Sarah turns and kisses him back, blows away the steam rising from the cup, and then carefully takes a sip.
She glances at her watch.
“Oh, my God. I just can’t be late today! Kids, please help me out.”
Bill takes the knife from her hand, unties her apron, and starts shooing her out of the kitchen.
“We’ll be fine. This is important, so you go, now. I can finish their lunches.” When Sarah resists, he insists. “Go ahead, get out of here. The kids and I will manage somehow.”
Sarah takes a long look at Bill to make sure he’s serious, then kisses him again. “Kids, your father is in charge. I’ll see everyone tonight…love you.”
Sarah tidies her hair in the hall mirror, puts on her suit coat, grabs her briefcase and keys, and punches a button on the wall as she enters the garage. She glances back at Bill one last time, who waves her on before the door closes between them. She then lowers herself into the driver’s seat of her top-down Chrysler Sebring convertible.
Clearly, Sarah Meadows doesn’t have to work. Her husband, Dr. William Meadows, is a very successful chiropractor who makes all the money they need, and then some. Their Scottsdale home is top-of-the-line, all three kids go to the right schools, and Sarah could stay at home and play mom fulltime if she wanted.
But she doesn’t want. She’s an intelligent and very capable woman with two degrees: Journalism and Alternative Health. She feels like there is a contribution she can make, and wants to make, beyond that of being a really good mom. Her weekly column for the Arizona Tribune, Health Matters, fulfills and completes her in a way her husband and family simply couldn’t; and rather than feel guilty about it, she feels blessed to be able to have it all.
Except today. Today she feels more stressed than blessed. This is without a doubt the biggest assignment she’s ever had.
Sarah turns on the radio as she heads south on the Squaw Peak Parkway into the center of Phoenix. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes is just ending. She turns up the volume.
“David Crosby, Steven Stills, and Graham Nash…live from Woodstock, 1969 on your best Oldies station, 95.4. Keep it right here while we go to our Eye in the Sky. Roger, what’s the traffic like this morning?”
“Pretty typical morning, Stan...slow moving on I-17 southbound into the city, especially as you approach the I-10 interchange. Superstition Freeway backed up westbound starting at the 101 exchange. 51 South okay except for a car stalled in the right lane at Bethany Home. And we have some accidents to report on surface streets, one at Camelback and 7th....”
Sarah punches a button on the radio to find a news station.
“...don't know exactly what to expect. Maybe a month, maybe two, depending...”
A voice she recognizes interrupts, “Do you at least expect them to finish both opening arguments today?”
Sarah assumes some paid legal expert is offering his opinion on the hottest story to hit Phoenix in quite a while, other than the weather. “That's hard to say. We still don't know what the defense has in mind. After all, this is the biggest trial in history, with a 3 trillion dollar price tag, and not since Richard Nixon in the 1970’s have top government officials been involved in such litigation. I think we better expect some surprises, and definitely lots of posturing, which may start in just a few minutes.”
“Thanks, Jeff. That was Jeff Manning here in Atlanta. I’m told we have Joseph Schell standing by at the Federal Courthouse in Phoenix. Joe, have the attorneys started to arrive yet?”
“It looks like the defense team has just pulled up and is starting to get out of their limos. I'm going to try to make my way through this mob and see if I can get a statement. Hold on for a second, will you...”
The sound on the radio turns to confusion, people shouting in the background. Schell’s voice is barely audible above the din, with bits and pieces coming through, “out of the way, please…look out…GNN radio, coming through...”
And then silence as Sarah turns off the car, having found one of the few empty parking spaces left within walking distance. She hurries toward the spectacular new, ultra-modern, 127 million dollar Federal Courthouse building at 401 West Washington Street, named in honor of Sandra Day O’Connor, an Arizonan and the first female Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
As she rounds the corner she comes face to face with a mob scene only hinted at on the radio. Parked at the curb are three stretch limousines surrounded by news reporters from every kind of media from every part of the world. TV cameras and microphones are literally everywhere, most of them now pointing toward a dozen men who obviously just exited the limos and are trying to make their way to the courthouse entrance. The rest of the block is packed with demonstrators, crowds of people from both sides of the issue carrying signs and angrily hurling accusations at each other. The impact of the sound stops Sarah dead in her tracks, as if she had run into a wall.
While everyone else is focused outside, Sarah gets her body moving again and makes her way around the back of the mob and into the Courthouse. What’s going on out there is really not of much interest to her. It’s what’s going to happen next, in here, she says to herself. She knows how lucky she is to have a ringside seat, being a lowly health reporter. But as the hometown newspaper, the Arizona Tribune has just enough seats allocated in the courtroom to include her in the main event.
Her watch says she still has a couple minutes before the bell, so she ducks into the ladies’ room. As she’s washing her hands, she stares into the mirror, adjusts a misplaced strand of red hair, and tries to ignore the early signs of crow’s-feet. Not bad for going on forty, she thinks.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Benjamin Messick. I am the attorney for the plaintiffs. We are the ones who brought this class action suit against the defendants.”
Benjamin Messick is at the lawyers’ lectern, situated between the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ tables in the center of the courtroom, addressing the jury seated in their box to his right. Well-groomed, with hair reminiscent of John Kennedy, he’s in his mid-thirties and obviously works out regularly. Although on the shorter side in height, his voice is strong and deep with an underlying tone of sincerity that begs to be believed, and it would be difficult for any juror not to like this man or, at a minimum, listen carefully to what he has to say.
At least, that’s Sarah’s impression as she sits near the back of the courtroom. She takes a minute to look around at this very creative, circular structure used mostly for swearing in new American citizens, ceremonial proceedings, and an occasional appeals hearing. But it is also the perfect venue for large, high profile trials like this one, with its state-of-the-art audio, video and digital capabilities. A glass cylinder one-hundred feet in diameter and one-hundred feet high starting on the second floor of the Federal Courthouse and reaching all the way to the top of the building, this Special Proceedings Courtroom is paneled ten-feet high all around with Anigre wood from Africa and capped with a million dollar suspended glass ceiling that costs $4000 just to clean. Sarah heard that window washers have to crawl across the top of the laminated glass with towels and window spray.
The biggest problem is the lack of adequate space for spectators, especially for a case that is drawing as much attention as this one. Every media in the world wants a seat, and therefore all six district courtrooms on the fifth floor of the Federal Courthouse were converted to closed-circuit coverage that will be different from the live TV feed to commercial stations. This allows a reporter to be there in the courthouse, see everything that goes on, and still be able to participate in the typical press conferences that will undoubtedly occur on the steps leading down from the Special Proceedings Courtroom into the huge atrium on the ground floor of the building.
Fortunately, it’s October, and the temperature is not that hot, because the heating and cooling system in the atrium hasn’t worked right from the very beginning. Inspired by the misting system at a Hooter’s Restaurant in Phoenix, the architect decided to use the same concept to keep summer temperatures down in the new courthouse. As one reporter put it, “What we got for our money was a giant atrium that is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It would have been cheaper, more comfortable, and a lot more interesting to hold court at Hooters!”
Sarah’s attention returns quickly to Messick, who is laying the foundation for his case.
“First, this is a class action suit. That means that we are suing on behalf of a lot of people, not just one. In fact, we intend to prove to you that at least 300,000 Americans, mostly young men, died as a result of what the defendants did in a ten year period from 1987 to 1997.” He looks up from his notes, and slowly and with emphasis, punches his next line. “300,000 young men and women died in that decade. That's five times the number that was killed in the entire Vietnam War.”
There’s no doubt the jury is getting his point, even though some of them are too young to remember that tragic conflict. He makes a good presentation, Sarah thinks. She also knows he has the attention of the millions of people around the country watching the trial on TV, for Judge Watts could not have kept this trial off the tube even if she wanted to. From New York to San Francisco, from Miami to Maine, estimates were that as many people in the U.S. were watching the opening day of this trial as watched the Super Bowl last year, despite the fact that it was being aired live during mid-day work hours, East Coast time. Pre-trial hype had done its job, but Messick seems to be unperturbed by it all.
“The hardest thing we had to do next was determine what a human life is worth. Imagine trying to do that yourself. What would your life be worth to you, and to your loved ones left behind? A million dollars? Ten million dollars? One hundred million? Whatever number we came up with would be somewhat arbitrary. But from previous lawsuits and insurance actuarial tables in the United States, we settled on the amount of ten million dollars for one human life, lost forever. Does ten million dollars seem like a lot? Well, it won't, I don't think, when I show you exactly how these defendants,” pointing to the men seated at the table to his right, between him and the jury, “took forty, often fifty years of life from these victims and their families. Most of the young men who died were in their twenties or thirties – the prime of life, as we like to call it. Yes, I firmly believe you will decide that that is worth at least ten million dollars.”
Messick looks around the jury box to see what kind of response he’s getting so far. When he decides they’re with him, he continues.
“From there it was pretty simple math, although the numbers were large. Ten million dollars times 300,000 deaths. That's 3 trillion dollars. Not million, not billion, but trillion. And that's one reason this is the biggest trial in history.” Messick pauses for effect.
“But there's another reason: the defendants themselves,” and he again points to the defendants’ table, packed with suits. “You see at that table a former employee of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Robert Gallo, the man who once claimed he discovered the cause of AIDS. Alongside him is a lawyer representing the Department of Health and Human Services of the United States government. And then there is another lawyer representing the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA. And beside him is a lawyer representing a private drug company called GlaxoSmithKline, which used to be known as Burroughs Wellcome. But this is not just any drug company; this is one of the richest drug companies in the world. What do all of these defendants have in common? They were the main figures in the medical disaster that resulted in the deaths of 300,000 young Americans, who died, according to their diagnosis, from AIDS.”
It didn’t take long for Messick to get to the point, Sarah thought. And why not? Everyone knows the issues in this trial, and there’s no reason to avoid going straight for the jugular. Messick once again focuses on the jury.
“We will prove to you that these 300,000 men and women were misdiagnosed based on the incompetence and negligence of, primarily, Dr. Robert Gallo and the Department of Health and Human Services, which then led to the improper approval of a drug called AZT by the Food and Drug Administration; which then led to the manufacture and distribution of the drug AZT by the drug company at that time called Burroughs Wellcome. We will then prove that AZT was inappropriately but intentionally given to these 300,000 young men and women, and that it was the AZT and nothing else that caused these victims to develop AIDS and die.”
Messick pauses to give that time to sink in. He sees a couple of the jurors look at each other with raised eyebrows. This is obviously the first time any of them has been exposed to this idea, and he decides that he needs to repeat that just to make sure they got it. “Yes, you heard me correctly. We are going to show you that the vast majority of deaths from AIDS in this country from 1987 to 1997 were caused by taking the very drug that was supposed to treat AIDS and not from the virus called HIV.”
There’s a strange, almost sickening feeling in Sarah’s stomach, as if she were about to vomit. Must have been the day-old scone she ate driving downtown. I should take as good care of me as I do Bill and the kids, she reminds herself. She knows, of course, that Messick is wrong. Dead wrong. Like 99% of the rest of the world, she understands that HIV causes AIDS, and that’s all there is to that. End of story. So why, in addition to the nausea, is she beginning to feel afraid, as if some unknown monster is lurking just around the corner?
Messick, meanwhile, is still talking.
“…going to try to keep everything as simple as possible and stay away from complicated medical terms and discussions. But there will have to be some of that. For example, we're going to start off talking a bit about the human body, and the immune system, and what AIDS actually is. Then we...”
I know what AIDS is, Sarah says silently to herself, but wishing she could say the same thing to Messick out loud. In fact, she is all too familiar with this fatal disease, both on a professional and a personal level. She had even done a lot of volunteer work in AIDS clinics, especially after losing her brother. As memories begin to come flooding back, Sarah forces her attention back to Messick, who is still explaining to the jury what to expect from him in this trial.
“...show you actual video tape from 1984 of Dr. Gallo announcing to the American people in a press conference that he had discovered the cause of AIDS, a retrovirus later to be called HIV. We'll prove to you that this retrovirus Dr. Gallo took credit for discovering, first of all, was not his discovery at all, but something he stole from a French scientist named Dr. Louis Moreau, and that this retrovirus could not possibly have anything to do with causing the disease of AIDS, either then or now, as even Dr. Moreau later agreed. The facts we will present will be shocking in terms of the pride, the greed, the arrogance, the incompetence, and the gross negligence that led to this completely self-serving behavior on Dr. Gallo's part. Then we will...”
Sarah didn’t expect that. Why would Messick think he could get away with attacking a brilliant and award-winning scientist like Dr. Gallo? What’s his point? Sarah already knew that Dr. Moreau was eventually recognized and given a major share of the credit with Dr. Gallo for the discovery of HIV, so that wasn’t new. But what did Messick call HIV? A retro-virus, or something like that? She had never heard that term before. She wrote it down to look it up later.
“...internal memos and other documents proving that the FDA short-cut its usual drug approval procedures to allow AZT to be given to patients who were HIV-positive, even though this same drug AZT had been rejected as far too toxic for human consumption just twenty years earlier, when it was developed as a treatment for cancer. We will ask the FDA how it could possibly approve a drug designed to attack cancer cells which were multiplying uncontrollably, to now treat a disease – AIDS – whose cells were dying uncontrollably. I really look forward to hearing someone try to explain that logic.”
Messick stops again to check the faces of each juror. Has he gone too far? Too fast? Are they listening? Are they following? These were such critical points, such important questions, that virtually no one had asked in the past thirty years. No, that’s wrong. There were indeed some people who had asked, like Dr. Peter Duesberg; so it is more correct to say that these are critical and important questions that no one in authority has properly answered in the past thirty years. Hopefully this jury would be different.
Sarah can’t answer Messick’s last question either, and it bothers her. As a health reporter, she should know the answer. Better make sure she finds out tonight, and she underlines the word tonight on her yellow pad. After all, that’s her job.
“...literally paid the homosexual community to take AZT, through the placement of expensive ads and other benefits. We will show you that this drug company, Burroughs Wellcome, knew all along that AZT would destroy a human's immune system, and yet continued to push for young men and women to take AZT even if they had no symptoms of AIDS, simply because they were HIV-positive, to the tune of four billion dollars in sales.”
As the lawyers argue, Sarah’s mind wanders again, back almost fifteen years. It’s a time and place she’d rather not go, and she’s relieved when the Judge finally rules in Messick’s favor. She forces her thoughts back into present time and realizes Messick sounds like he’s winding down.
“...never forget that line in the movie, Jerry McGuire, ‘Show me the money!’ Well, I intend to show you where the money was in the case of AIDS, and how it resulted in the wrongful death of 300,000 young men and women. And when I'm finished, I'm going to ask you to take that money back from this pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, and Dr. Gallo and the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, and give it to the families of those who died such a horrible, needless, and wrongful death.”
But now Sarah’s not sure whether Messick is finished or not. He’s still leaning on the jury rail, appearing to be searching for his next words. Finally he turns, walks to the plaintiffs' table and stands behind the only chair there. Sarah makes some notes: “one chair for the plaintiffs…compare that to the more than half-dozen at the defendants’ table and half-dozen more in the row directly behind. Looks almost like a David and Goliath thing….”
When Messick doesn’t move or begin talking again, the Judge quietly asks, “Counselor? Mr. Messick?”
Messick comes out of his daze. Whether real or created for effect, Sarah will never know. He looks at the Judge and finally takes his seat.
Judge Watts begins to explain, but only gets as far as, “That's all we're going to do this morning…” before pandemonium erupts and the press is on their feet storming the courtroom door trying to be the first out to file the story.
“…back after lunch at two p.m. for the opening statement by the defense. Court is in recess.” Neither the Judge nor the gavel can be heard over the noise.
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