Now: May 1998
This section starts with vignettes of each of the important characters on the first day of Chris's trial. Gus and James get dressed, but Gus stops halfway, needing to to hug her knees and breathe slowly. Melanie and Michael drive in different cars. Barrie Delaney's cat knocks a cup of coffee over and the lawyer must leave without cleaning it up, causing a permanent stain. Jordan is not able to eat his traditional pre-trial breakfast of Cocoa Krispies. Chris gets dressed in his suit and is escorted out of the prison for the first time in seven months. When Chris gets to the courthouse, it is almost empty, but Jordan throws a fit about Chris having to wear handcuffs, which could bias the jury against him, and the judge agrees that they may be removed during the trial. Jordan reminds Chris not to look at the prosecutor or listen to the story she creates about him, and then the judge is announced and the trial begins.
Barrie Delaney opens by talking about how Chris looks like a good kid, but ultimately the court will find him guilty of murdering Emily because she was pregnant. She ends by accusing Chris of being "the Devil...in disguise" (p.267). It is then Jordan's turn to lay out the facts; he tells the jury that Emily's death was a tragedy but that their job is to make sure another tragedy does not occur—an innocent man being put in prison for life. He lays out the basic counter-evidence against Delaney's claims and then underscores the fact that they must be convinced "beyond a reasonable doubt" (p.368) to find Chris guilty. Anne-Marie Marrone is called to the stand first. She gives her credentials and then talks about the Colt .45, which is entered as the first exhibit. She answers questions about the type of gun, who it belonged to, and where Emily's and Chris's fingerprints were found, as well as where blood stains were found at the crime scene. She notes that Emily's fingerprints were found on the gun but not on the trigger, while Chris's were found there, and that there was gunpowder residue on Chris's clothing following the event but not on Emily. Marrone mentions Emily's pregnancy again and talks about her interview with Chris at the police station (having to entirely leave out the interview at the hospital on the judge's orders). The detective tells the courtroom that she believes this death was a murder and paints a picture of Emily as a happy kid who was incapacitated and shot by her powerful boyfriend who didn't want to deal with a baby. Finally, Marrone notes that Chris is left-handed, which, looking at the bullet's trajectory, further points to him as the one shooting the gun. Jordan then cross-examines the detective, starting by questioning her experience in homicide cases. He then breaks down Delaney's case concerning the fingerprints on the gun, noting that the use of fingerprints in law "is far from an exact science" (p.377) and that the evidence could still point to a double suicide. They then walk through the blood spatter analysis, the fact that Chris told her outright in the interview that they had planned a double suicide and then been overcome by grief, and the extremely low amount of alcohol in Emily's blood which means Chris did not seem to be trying to incapacitate her. Jordan strongly criticizes the evidence of lack of gun powder residue on Emily's hands, walking Marrone through the usual procedure of bagging the hands of a victim and testing them soon after. Emily was not tested until two days later, meaning somebody easily could have wiped her hands and body clean, removing the residue. He also makes her admit that Chris himself was never tested for gunpowder residue since he was not a suspect at first. Jordan ends by summarizing his argument, making Marrone grudgingly agree to his pointed questions, including answering "Yes" (p.383) to the fact that "There might be another way to look at this [case]" (p.838).
A recess is called and Selena congratulates Jordan on a strong beginning. Jordan talks to Chris, telling him things are going well, and Chris admits that it's hard for him to hear the prosecutor talk about Emily's death because it forces him to relive it all over again. Dr. Jubal Lumbano, the medical examiner, is called to testify next. He talks about the cause of death, the bullet's trajectory, and the potential signs of struggle in the form of bruises on Emily's wrists and Chris's skin under her fingernails. The prosecution goes back to the idea of bullet trajectory and lingers on it, noting Emily's right-handedness and how awkward it would be to shoot oneself with their right arm held at the necessary angle. Delaney is chastised by the judge for leading the witness, and she asks to instead demonstrate with Chris. She makes him stand up and pretend to shoot her, putting this image permanently in the jury's mind. When the prosecution rests, it is Jordan's turn to question the medical examiner. Similar to his questioning of the detective, Jordan walks the medical examiner through alternate explanations for the evidence, such as passionate lovemaking causing the bruising and sub-fingernail skin cells. He then has Chris stand and demonstrate an alternate scenario to the one Delaney presented; he holds the gun to his own head at an awkward angle as if inexperienced while Chris hugs him. This demonstration provides multiple alternatives to Chris shooting Emily, and puts an even more vivid image in the minds of the jury.
The third person to testify is Donna DiBonnalo, the employee at Gold Rush who had been calling the Golds repeatedly. She talks about Emily's purchase of the watch for Chris's birthday and the fact that this day, on which Emily said she would pick the watch up, was after the day of her death. Jordan then questions the woman about whether she had any contact with Emily between August and November, which the women did not, using this fact to set up the idea that Emily's depression was fairly sudden. After this witness, court ends for the day. Gus and Michael talk outside the courthouse while Gus waits for James to bring the car. Selena and Jordan go back to his house and Selena gives Jordan a massage to help him with a headache. Chris is strip-searched and put back in his cell in prison-issued clothes, which he notes are more comfortable and more normal to him now. In the night, Gus turns to James and they briefly talk about whether everything will be all right.
The next morning, Jordan gets ready for the second day of the trial, noticing his son has gotten him a new box of Cocoa Krispies. Heather Burns, Emily's best female friend, is the first witness of the day. Heather Burns does little more than confirm that Chris and Emily spent almost all their time together and confess to the court that she could not picture Chris ever hurting Emily. After Heather, Melanie Gold testifies. She talks about Emily being excited for college and says that Emily was not suicidal nor depressed at all. She talks about the watch and about Chris and Emily in general, and then she goes on a tirade directed straight at Chris in front of the jury and courtroom. They take a recess and then it is Jordan's turn to question Melanie. He gets Melanie to admit that she spent much less time with Emily than Chris did and that Emily did not, in fact, tell her everything, since she kept her pregnancy a secret. He implies that it may have been Melanie's high expectations for Emily that caused her to feel trapped in her pregnancy and lead her to depression and suicide. Melanie starts to sob and after she controls herself she seems to change her story; she says that Emily tells her everything, so maybe she didn't know about the baby, leading Jordan to question how Emily could then have told Chris and give him the supposed reason to kill her. After this testimony, the prosecution rests, meaning it is the defense's turn to call witnesses.
Then: November 7, 1997
Emily gets out of the shower on the night she is going to commit suicide and contemplates leaving a note. She decides not to, and goes looking for a note Chris once wrote to her when she was in trouble as a child that says "I am coming to save you" (p.411). Chris, meanwhile, feels that time has gone too fast. Chris comes by to pick up Emily and she asks to see the gun as soon as she gets into the car. They go to the carousel and Emily asks Chris to let her ride on it once more. Emily is not scared, but she still cries as she rides her favorite horse. They drink a little alcohol and then sit on the carousel bench. Chris starts to cry and then suddenly grabs Emily and has sex with her. He apologizes profusely for not using a condom and then they set up how they will shoot the gun. Chris tells her that he is doing this because he loves her and Emily says the same back to him. She asks Chris to hold her and he does so as she places the gun to her head.
Now: May 1998
The next witness is Randi Underwood, a physician's assistant. Jordan uses her to prove that Emily's hands and face were cleaned before they asked her parents to identify the body, meaning any claims about her not having gun powder residue on her hands are irrelevant. Barrie Delaney does not even cross-examine the witness. Next, Jordan calls D. Karpagian who is an expert child psychiatrist. He discusses the reasons behind many teen suicides, methods of suicide, and the signs that may present themselves when a young person is depressed. He then talks about suicide pacts and about Chris's relationship with Emily, which he describes as "fusion...[when] two personalities have bonded together so strongly that a whole new personality is created...they grew up so close that they couldn't function without each other" (p.425). He suggests that Emily was truly suicidal for some reason and that this caused Chris to get entangled in suicide himself. Jordan also has Dr. Karpagian explain away the watch Emily bought with the fact that many depressed people will buy or give away lavish gifts to people they are close to before committing suicide. When it is Barrie Delaney's turn, she uses her questions to force Dr. Karpagian to admit that Emily did not seem to manifest any of the signs of suicidality and that he hasn't actually spoken to either Emily or Chris in making his diagnoses. The next witness is Kim Kenly, the art teacher. She talks about Emily, her artistic improvement over her high school years, and the abrupt shift in her style in the months before her death. She shows the picture of Chris, drawn in a realistic style, and then the surreal painting of a skull with the title "self-portrait" (p.430). When Barrie Delaney cross-examines the teacher, she shows the jury that Emily, like many art students, tried her hand at many different styles as a form of practice.
Since Melanie has already testified, she is allowed in the courtroom. However, Michael and Gus still have not testified, so they are left together in the courthouse lobby. Michael now sits with Gus, though she tells him he shouldn't. He asks Gus to go out with him that night, but Gus says she has to go see Chris in jail, and Michael walks away from her saying, "You should always do what's right for your child" (p.433). The next witness is Ms. Vernon, an art therapist. She talks about working with young people and learning things about their psychological health by giving them "directives" (p.433) and then seeing what and how they draw. He asks her specifically about signs of suicidality and sexual abuse, and then has her look at Emily's two paintings. Looking at the realistic painting of Chris, the therapist finds nothing of note. However, looking at the second painting she notes the warning signs of a skull, the colors black and red, the cloudy sky inside the eyes. Looking even more closely, she moves beyond a diagnosis of depression to focus on the details of long eyelashes and a prominent, realistic tongue which are signs of sexual abuse. Melanie, sitting in the courtroom during this testimony, is disturbed by guilt about her daughter and about burning her diary after reading it. She leaves the courtroom and goes to the bathroom where she vomits on the floor. Next, Barrie Delaney cross-examines Ms. Vernon. Delaney questions the therapist as well about young artists experimenting with styles or even copying images they've seen. She also presses the therapist to say that none of the signs she has seen in the painting have been definitively linked to suicide. Delaney pulls out a print of a Magritte painting and asks Ms. Vernon about whether this artist, whose painting has many similar elements to Emily's, was depressed. Ms. Vernon does not crack under pressure, but admits that she does not know. Delaney then focuses on the fact that a major part of art therapy is issuing specific directives and watching the patient as they create their art, two things not true in Ms. Vernon's analysis of Emily. However, Ms. Vernon remains strong in believing that there are many signs in the painting pointing to Emily being depressed. Jordan redirects after Delaney finishes her cross-examination, leading Ms. Vernon to say that Magritte could indeed have been depressed and that art therapists do sometimes look at pictures drawn without directives as a means of diagnosing issues. Delaney takes her turn with Ms. Vernon simply to have the therapist admit that some of the time, therapists do misdiagnose and those children are actually "just fine"(p.441). The next witness is Joan Bertrand, the English teacher. She gushes about Chris as a student and a writer and then Jordan leads her to talk about Chris's argumentative essay against abortion. Jordan asks the teacher whether she thinks Chris would have killed his girlfriend because she was pregnant and the teacher answers that "He never would have done that" (p.444). Barrie Delaney then cross-examines the witness, drawing out that she doesn't seem to think any of the plausible explanations for Emily's death could have happened.
Jordan eats lunch with Chris in the sheriff's office and they talk about what would happen if Chris is found guilty. After the break, Stephanie Newell is called to testify. There is a commotion in the courtroom and someone throws a tomato at her yelling "Murderer! (p.445). It becomes clear why this happened when her relevance to the case is introduced: she is the counselor who worked with Emily at Planned Parenthood. Ms. Newell tells the courtroom that she met with Emily on October 2, October 10, and October 11 to plan and attempt to carry out her abortion. She shares how Emily changed her mind about the abortion but still refused to tell the father about her pregnancy. The next time she met with the counselor was November 7, the day she died, on which day she seemed visibly upset but still was adamant about not telling the father. In Barrie Delaney's cross-examination of Ms. Newell, she forces her to admit that there were six hours between her conference with Emily and Emily's death, meaning she could have told Chris about the baby during that time.
The next witness is Michael Gold. Jordan has coached him to clearly tell the jury that Chris could not have killed his daughter. Jordan walks him through his and Emily's relationship with Chris. He says that Emily did not talk to him about her pregnancy or depression, but that he should have noticed signs like her not eating very much and being stressed about college applications. He gives a long speech to the jury about how it would be nice to blame someone other than himself so that he won't have to feel guilty, but he cannot do that. When Jordan asks him to say whether Emily's death was a murder or a suicide, Michael cannot give an answer, but he does tell the court "That Chris wouldn't have wanted to live without [his] daughter...and that even though he's sitting over there, he's not the only one who should be judged" (p.452). For her turn, Barrie Delaney forces Michael Gold to talk about the things he didn't know about his daughter and imagine her putting a gun to her head. When she asks him whether he can imagine this, he says "No" (p.454).
When Chris returns to medium security for the night, he can tell that people are ignoring him and he asks them what the problem is. They tell him that Steve Vernon killed himself the night before at the State Pen. Chris goes to his bed and lies in shock and grief, thinking of Steve and of how he himself may be going to prison for life by the end of the week. In a while, he is called to meet a visitor: his mother. They talk about Chris's trial, with Gus feeling hopeful and Chris full of criticism due to fear. When his mother tries to comfort him, saying she knows him, he tells her, "What you don't know, Mom...is that I shot Emily" (p.456). Gus leaves the prison and throws up in the parking lot. Her mind is full of fear and confusion, especially because she will have to talk about Chris under oath the next day. The story picks up the next day as Gus is led into the courtroom and takes the oath on the Bible. Looking at Gus, Jordan is dismayed. As he leads her through introductory questions about Chris, he can already tell something is wrong; instead of talking about Chris's good qualities, she focuses on him being a good swimmer. Jordan leads her to the topic of Emily and the relationship between the Hartes and the Golds. Jordan asks Gus to look at Chris and say whether he would ever have hurt Emily; she looks at him briefly and says "No" (p.461) but then looks away. When Jordan begins to ask his final question—whether Chris murdered Emily—Chris yells out to stop and calls for an immediate conference with his lawyer. Outside the courtroom, Chris asks for his mother to be taken off the stand and to put himself on. Jordan counsels him not to do this and that he will definitely be sent to prison if he does, but Chris is adamant and knows that it is his legal right to decide. Chris signs the waiver to say he is willingly taking the stand and then they go into the courtroom and end Gus's questioning. Barrie Delaney simply asks Gus Harte to admit that she doesn't want to see her son go to jail or imagine him killing someone and then she too ends her questioning. Jordan announces that he has another witness, Chris, and the judge calls the defense and prosecution to his chambers. Delaney complains that she did not have time to prepare, but accepts that Jordan did not know any earlier about Chris wanting to testify.
They return to the courtroom and Chris takes the stand. Jordan leads Chris to talk about his love for Emily, and he does so in a tone that is full of grief and wise beyond his years. He tells the courtroom that Emily was suicidal and then describes exactly what happened on November 7th: "I got the gun, like she asked me to. I drove her to the carousel...and then...I shot her" (p.467). The courtroom turns into a madhouse and James, completely shocked, turns to Gus and immediately realizes that she knew this already. In their private room, Jordan asks Chris what he is doing and Chris responds that he is telling the truth he wanted to share with Jordan all along. After fifteen minutes, they leave the room with Jordan telling Chris to follow whatever he asks. Back on the stand, Chris feels very tired but suddenly hears Emily's voice in his head "telling him everything would be all right, saying that she wouldn't leave him" (p.469). Jordan asks Chris to describe exactly what happened on the night of Emily's death.
Then: November 7, 1997
The story skips back to Chris holding Emily as she tries to shoot herself in the head. Her hands are shaking and Chris remembers one of his earliest memories, a time when he had fallen down as a child and Emily had gotten hurt too, something that happened a lot as a child and the pediatrician called "sympathy pain" (p.471). Chris tries to take the gun from Emily, but she tells him that he will let her kill herself if he loves her. He tells her that he does love her and then, feeling overwhelmed by Emily's sorrow, he runs away from her. He gets to his car and stands outside it for half an hour, waiting to hear a shot. When he doesn't hear one, he goes back and finds Emily sitting on the carousel and stroking the gun while sobbing. Emily tells him that she can't do it and he tries to take the gun from her and get them both back to safety, but he starts to feel that he cannot stand the pain she has to live with. She begs him and he puts his arms around her and holds the gun up. Emily puts her hand on his on the gun and as they both cry she starts to persuade him "Now, Chris, now" (p.474). He tells her he loves her and then she squeezes his hand, the gun shoots, and they fall down together.
Now: May 1998
Back in the courtroom, Chris finishes his story. Jordan starts to ask Chris questions in a mean tone about why he was there and whether he was really going to commit suicide. He presses Chris on whether he really shot the gun or Emily had squeezed his fingers while they were on the trigger. Chris gets more and more upset, telling Jordan that he doesn't know exactly what happened or whether he was really the one who made the trigger go off. It is then Barrie Delaney's turn and she makes Chris go over the details again of holding the gun and having his finger on the trigger when it went off. Jordan redirects to ask Chris whether he had gone to the carousel planning to shoot Emily and again whether he can say that he was solely responsible for the shot to be fired. The court takes a break for lunch and Barrie Delaney believes she has won. Jordan wants to be left alone by both Chris and Selena. Back in the courtroom, Jordan gives a closing statement in which he congratulates the jury for having heard the truth, something rare in law. He ends by reminding them that that they can only convict Chris if he was solely responsible for Emily's death. Barrie Delaney then makes her closing statement in which she points out how many times Chris has changed his story and breaks down Chris's actions toward Emily as premeditated, deliberate, and willful, meaning he should be convicted of murder in the first degree.
It is now up to the jury to decide, but they do not come to a decision before 6pm so everyone is sent home and Chris is sent back to prison. Chris lies in bed thinking about how angry he is at Emily for asking him to kill her, laying a burden on him that she should not have if she loved him too. He thinks that at this moment, he would kill Emily. Selena and Jordan go out for dinner and she still cannot improve his mood. He tells her that he is not thinking now of his career but of Chris's life and how he is jealous that he has never loved someone as strongly as Chris loved Emily. As they leave the restaurant, Selena kisses Jordan to give him "something else to obsess about" (p.489). In bed that night, Gus and James hug. They have sex to draw strength from one another.
In the courtroom the next day, the judge asks the jury for the verdict. The jury says they have unanimously agreed that Chris is not guilty. Chris sees Jordan's smile and hears his mother's cry and he faints.
After getting out of prison, it is strange for Chris to have open space and fresh air again. In June, the Golds move out of their old house next to the Hartes and settle across town. As the moving vans roll out, Gus goes outside and makes eye contact with Michael as he leaves in his truck. Chris watches the moving vans leave from his room. He sees, hanging between his and Emily's bedroom windows, a can attached to a string. He yanks the string and the can falls to the ground outside. He runs downstairs and find the can which has a note inside, but the paper is blank.
Picoult marks the beginning of the end by surveying all of the characters on the first day of Chris's trial. She shows small vignettes even of the lawyers, who are less emotionally affected by the case and more concerned with their own presentation and luck than Chris's fate. The vignettes of the adult couples underscores the strain placed on their relationships by the past few months. Finally, Chris's vignette, as well as the vignettes shown after each day of the trial when he returns to his prison clothes and prison cell, show how much his life has changed over the course of preparation for the trial.
There is significant dramatic irony as individuals give their testimonies about Emily and Chris due to the reader knowing more than the characters themselves about the actual events. The most ironic testimony is Melanie Gold's. She tells the jury and the courtroom at large that her daughter "wasn't sad; she wasn't depressed; she wasn't crying. She was the same wonderful young woman we'd always known. And she'd never used a gun in her life; she didn't know anything about them. Why would she have tried to shoot herself with one?" (p.403) This quote is ironic in that it is wrong on multiple counts, even though Melanie Gold attempts to use it as proof that she knows her daughter well and to incriminate Chris. Chris knows that Emily was sad and crying for a number of weeks, pointing to depression, and he knows further that Emily had taken an interest in guns and even shot one accurately before. While he does not get a chance to respond directly to Melanie, the reader sees how Melanie's emotions are clouding her ability to accurately perceive her daughter and their relationship.
The carousel is an interesting symbol referred to throughout the book, and it feels especially nostalgic and ominous in the scenes revealing the details about Emily's death. A carousel is for children to play on, but older children and even adults can use it, making it a prime place for exploring adulthood while keeping safely in touch with one's childhood memories. Furthermore, the carousel's spinning can be seen as safe and lulling or, like Emily feels about her life, confining and tedious.
The epilogue of the novel is rife with emotion and symbolism, but the reader is never clearly told how to interpret the events depicted, especially in the very last scene. In this scene, Chris watches the Golds move out and remembers a way he and Emily used to communicate: a can on a string between their bedrooms. He is able to retrieve a long lost note, which falls out of the can to the ground, but when he reaches it, the note is blank. This seems to indicate the finality of Emily's death and perhaps also point to the lack of communication which led to it.
Another important fact of the epilogue is that Chris, and everyone, still feel the effects of Emily's death and of his incarceration after the trial has officially ended, even with a "happy ending" of a sort. The epilogue of the book shows both that life goes on after tragedy and that some wounds cannot be fully healed. Though Chris has been released from prison, undoubtedly a happy ending of a sort, he is still haunted by the time he was confined and constantly threatened while in prison. Furthermore, while the parents have all found ways to go on with their lives, the bond between the families (and especially between Gus and Melanie) has been irreparably damaged.