You know your political career is on the rocks when the evidence that is produced in your assault trial is a fake fingernail. Bright pink.
What’s the jury going to think when they see that fingernail, found in the Zipcar you drove when you picked up the 23-year-old college student who accuses you of hitting her after she refused to have sex?
Are those jurors thinking: “A Zipcar! What an ecologically conscious elected official?” Probably not.
You know your reputation as an up-and-coming politician is bound to suffer when the most compelling evidence in your favor is a series of racy messages between you and said college student, sent from your VoteforCarlos e-mail. Katherine Gonsalves picks you out of the crowd at a community meeting, and asks to interview you for a class paper. Days later, she’s asking: “Are you still coming out to play tonight?” You’re a 35-year-old man. You’re Carlos Henriquez, representing the 5th Suffolk district. You’re the son of a well-known political family. A man whose endorsements are sought in mayoral campaigns. But you answer: “For Sure. I hope you are ready.” And you spell it F-O-S-H-O. Then you misspell her name in your phone.
Five months later, she’s begging you to come over. “Babe, I miss you,” she texts. You’re too busy, making the kind of neighborhood appearances that got you elected. Late into the night, she’s still trying to get you to pick her up. She describes partying with her sister and her sister’s friends, drinking. Your response: Send the address if you want to have sex.
You pick her up. You both climb into the backseat of the car. What happens next defines both of you, maybe for the rest of your lives. She tells you she can’t go home with you as she had planned because her mother caught her sneaking out of the house. You complain that she dragged you all the way over here. You argue. She pulls out a cell phone and tells you she’s recording you. Do you struggle over the phone? Steal the SIM card? Do you backhand her, punch her, and choke her — and then climb into the driver’s seat and drive into Boston, without ever giving her a chance to get out of the car?
Or did everything happen differently? We don’t know your side of the story because you never take the stand. All we know is that your defense itself is unflattering: Your lawyer says you only wanted sex, but Gonsalves wanted more, and went “Fatal Attraction’’ when she didn’t get it.
You think the jury will acquit you because of the inconsistencies in her testimony. She first accused you of kidnapping her for two hours. But Zipcar records show that’s impossible. (Those charges were dropped.) You think that the jury will understand this woman is trying to ruin you. One of the first things she told the cops: “He’s a politician.” And you think the jury will see that even Gonsalves felt bad about the political fallout. She showed up drunk at your house, the night before the first pretrial hearing, asking to speak to you because the whole thing had gotten so “ugly.”
And then there is your shining hope: the condom wrapper cops found in the back seat of the car. Won’t it prove your innocence by contradicting her story that you hit her for refusing sex? But Gonsalves said she had nothing to do with the condom wrapper. Had no idea where it came from. Your lawyer makes a stink: Why hadn’t the wrapper been put into evidence and fingerprinted?
By the time your fate hangs on showing a used condom wrapper to eight strangers, something in your life has gone very wrong.
I heard the evidence at the trial and I’m still not sure exactly what happened in the car that night. Justice, at its best, is an approximation. In the end, the jury — five women and three men — had an easier time picturing Carlos Henriquez beating a young woman than that young woman making it up, bruises and all.
Carlos Henriquez is clearly guilty: if not of assault, then of really poor judgment. In court, Gonsalves looked miserable in the witness box. Henriquez looked miserable at the defense table. Once, she stole an awkward glance at him. I felt sorry for them both.