×

The Guardians / (by John Grisham, 2019) -

The Guardians /  (by John Grisham, 2019) -

The Guardians / (by John Grisham, 2019) -

. . , , . , , . . . , , . , . . 20 ? ! . . , . , . ?

:
: 612
:
The Guardians / (by John Grisham, 2019) -
:
2019
:
John Grisham
:
Michael Beck
:
:
:
upper-intermediate
:
12:09:08
:
128 kbps
:
mp3, pdf, doc

The Guardians / :

.doc (Word) john_grisham_-_the_guardians.doc [778.5 Kb] (c: 13) .
.pdf john_grisham_-_the_guardians.pdf [1.43 Mb] (c: 12) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: The Guardians

:

( , ).


To James McCloskey The Exonerator Chapter 1 Duke Russell is not guilty of the unspeakable crimes for which he was convicted; nonetheless, he is scheduled to be executed for them in one hour and forty-four minutes. As always during these dreadful nights, the clock seems to tick faster as the final hour approaches. Ive suffered through two of these countdowns in other states. One went full cycle and my man uttered his final words. The other was waved off in a miracle finish. Tick awayits not going to happen, not tonight anyway. The folks who run Alabama may one day succeed in serving Duke his last meal before sticking a needle in his arm, but not tonight. Hes been on death row for only nine years. The average in this state is fifteen. Twenty is not unusual. There is an appeal bouncing around somewhere in the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, and when it lands on the desk of the right law clerk within the hour this execution will be stayed. Duke will return to the horrors of solitary confinement and live to die another day. Hes been my client for the past four years. His team includes a mammoth firm in Chicago, which has committed thousands of pro bono hours, and an antideath penalty group out of Birmingham that is spread pretty thin. Four years ago, when I became convinced he was innocent, I signed on as the point man. Currently I have five cases, all wrongful convictions, at least in my opinion. Ive watched one of my clients die. I still believe he was innocent. I just couldnt prove it in time. One is enough. For the third time today, I enter Alabamas death row and stop at the metal detector blocking the front door where two frowning guards are protecting their turf. One holds a clipboard and stares at me as if hes forgotten my name since my last visit two hours ago. Post, Cullen Post, I say to the dunce. For Duke Russell. He scans his clipboard as if it holds vital information, finds what he wants, and nods to a plastic basket on a short conveyor belt. In it, I place my briefcase and cell phone, same as before. Watch and belt? I ask like a real smart-ass. No, he grunts with an effort. I step through the detector, get cleared, and once again an innocence lawyer manages to properly enter death row without weaponry. I grab my briefcase and cell phone and follow the other guard down a sterile hallway to a wall of bars. He nods, switches click and clang, the bars slide open, and we hike down another hallway, trudging deeper into this miserable building. Around a corner, some men are waiting outside a windowless steel door. Four are in uniform, two in suits. One of the latter is the warden. He looks gravely at me and steps over. Got a minute? Not many, I reply. We move away from the group for a private chat. Hes not a bad guy, just doing his job, which hes new at and thus hes never pulled off an execution. Hes also the enemy, and whatever he wants he will not get from me. We huddle up like pals and he whispers, Whats it look like? I glance around as if to evaluate the situation and say, Gee, I dont know. Looks like an execution to me. Come on, Post. Our lawyers are saying its a go. Your lawyers are idiots. Weve already had this conversation. Come on, Post. What are the odds right now? Fifty-fifty, I say, lying. This puzzles him and hes not sure how to respond. Id like to see my client, I say. Sure, he says louder as if frustrated. He cant be viewed as cooperating with me, so he storms off. The guards step back as one of them opens the door. Inside the Death Room, Duke is lying on a cot with his eyes closed. For the festivities, the rules allow him a small color television so he can watch whatever he wants. Its on mute with cable news giddy over wildfires out west. His countdown is not a big story on the national front. At execution time, every death state has its own silly rituals, all designed to create as much drama as possible. Here, they allow full-contact visits with close family members in a large visitation room. At 10:00 p.m., they move the condemned man to the Death Room, which is next door to the Death Chamber where hell be killed. A chaplain and a lawyer are permitted to sit with him, but no one else. His last meal is served around 10:30, and he can order whatever he wants, except for alcohol. How you doing? I ask as he sits up and smiles. Never felt better. Any news? Not yet, but Im still optimistic. We should hear something soon. Duke is thirty-eight and white, and before getting arrested for rape and murder his criminal record consisted of two DUIs and a bunch of speeding tickets. No violence whatsoever. He was a party boy and hell-raiser in his younger days, but after nine years in solitary he has settled down considerably. My job is to set him free, which, at the moment, seems like a crazy dream. I take the remote and change channels to one from Birmingham, but I leave it on mute. You seem awfully confident, he says. I can afford to. Im not getting the needle. Youre a funny man, Post. Relax, Duke. Relax? He swings his feet to the floor and smiles again. He does indeed look rather relaxed, given the circumstances. He laughs and says, Do you remember Lucky Skelton? No. They finally got him, about five years ago, but not before serving him three last meals. Three times he walked the gangplank before getting the shove. Sausage pizza and a cherry Coke. And what did you order? Steak and fries, with a six-pack of beer. I wouldnt count on the beer. Are you gonna get me outta here, Post? Not tonight, but Im working on it. If I get out Im going straight to a bar and drinking cold beer until I pass out. Ill go with you. Heres the Governor. He appears on-screen and I hit the volume. Hes standing in front of a bank of microphones with camera lights glaring at him. Dark suit, paisley tie, white shirt, every tinted hair gelled with precision. A walking campaign ad. Sufficiently burdened, he says, I have thoroughly reviewed Mr. Russells case and discussed it at length with my investigators. Ive also met with the family of Emily Broone, the victim of Mr. Russells crimes, and the family is very much opposed to the idea of clemency. After considering all aspects of this case, I have decided to allow his conviction to stand. The court order will remain in place, and the execution will go forward. The people have spoken. Clemency for Mr. Russell is therefore denied. He announces this with as much drama as he can muster, then bows and slowly backs away from the cameras, his grand performance complete. Elvis has left the building. Three days ago, he found the time to grant me an audience for fifteen minutes, after which he discussed our private meeting with his favorite reporters. If his review had been so thorough, he would know that Duke Russell had nothing to do with the rape and murder of Emily Broone eleven years ago. I hit the mute again and say, No surprise there. Has he ever granted clemency? Duke asks. Of course not. There is a loud knock on the door and it swings open. Two guards enter and one is pushing a cart with the last meal. They leave it and disappear. Duke stares at the steak and fries and a rather slim slice of chocolate cake, and says, No beer. Enjoy your iced tea. He sits on the cot and begins to eat. The food smells delicious and it hits me that I have not eaten in at least twenty-four hours. Want some fries? he asks. No thanks. I cant eat all this. For some reason I dont have much of an appetite. How was your mom? He stuffs in a large chunk of steak and chews slowly. Not too good, as you might expect. A lot of tears. It was pretty awful. The cell phone in my pocket vibrates and I grab it. I look at the caller ID and say, Here it is. I smile at Duke and say hello. Its the law clerk at the Eleventh Circuit, a guy I know pretty well, and he informs me that his boss has just signed an order staying the execution on the grounds that more time is needed to determine whether Duke Russell received a fair trial. I ask him when the stay will be announced and he says immediately. I look at my client and say, You got a stay. No needle tonight. How long will it take to finish that steak? Five minutes, he says with a wide smile as he carves more beef. Can you give me ten minutes? I ask the clerk. My client would like to finish his last meal. We go back and forth and finally agree on seven minutes. I thank him, end the call, and punch another number. Eat fast, I say. He has suddenly found his appetite and is as happy as a pig at the trough. The architect of Dukes wrongful conviction is a small-town prosecutor named Chad Falwright. Right now hes waiting in the prisons administration building half a mile away, poised for the proudest moment of his career. He thinks that at 11:30 hell be escorted to a prison van, along with the Broone family and the local sheriff, and driven here to death row where theyll be led to a small room with a large glass window thats covered with a curtain. Once situated there, Chad thinks, theyll wait for the moment when Duke is strapped to the gurney with needles in his arms and the curtain will be pulled back in dramatic fashion. For a prosecutor, there is no greater sense of accomplishment than to witness an execution for which he is responsible. Chad, though, will be denied the thrill. I punch his number and he answers quickly. Its Post, I say. Over here on death row with some bad news. The Eleventh Circuit just issued a stay. Looks like youll crawl back to Verona with your tail between your legs. He stutters and manages to say, What the hell? You heard me, Chad. Your bogus conviction is unraveling and this is as close as youll ever get to Dukes scalp, which, I must say, is pretty damned close. The Eleventh Circuit has doubts about the trivial notion of a fair trial, so theyre sending it back. Its over, Chad. Sorry to ruin your big moment. Is this a joke, Post? Oh sure. Nothing but laughs over here on death row. Youve had fun talking to the reporters all day, now have some fun with this. To say I loathe this guy would be a tremendous understatement. I end the call and look at Duke, whos feasting away. With his mouth full he asks, Can you call my mother? No. Only lawyers can use cell phones in here, but shell know soon enough. Hurry up. He washes it down with tea and attacks the chocolate cake. I take the remote and turn up the volume. As he scrapes his plate, a breathless reporter appears somewhere on the prison grounds and, stuttering, tells us that a stay has been granted. He looks bewildered and confused, and there is confusion all around him. Within seconds there is a knock on the door and the warden enters. He sees the television and says, So I guess youve heard? Right, Warden, sorry to ruin the party. Tell your boys to stand down and please call the van for me. Duke wipes his mouth with a sleeve, starts laughing and says, Dont look so disappointed, Warden. No, actually Im relieved, he says, but the truth is obvious. He, too, has spent the day talking to reporters and savoring the spotlight. Suddenly, though, his exciting broken-field run has ended with a fumble at the goal line. Im out of here, I say as I shake Dukes hand. Thanks Post, he says. Ill be in touch. I head for the door and say to the warden, Please give my regards to the Governor. Im escorted outside the building where the cool air hits hard and feels exhilarating. A guard leads me to an unmarked prison van a few feet away. I get in and he closes the door. The front gate, I say to the driver. As I ride through the sprawl of Holman Correctional Facility, I am hit with fatigue and hunger. And relief. I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and absorb the miracle that Duke will live to see another day. Ive saved his life for now. Securing his freedom will take another miracle. For reasons known only to the people who run this place, it has been on lockdown for the past five hours, as if angry inmates might organize into a Bastille-like mob and storm death row to rescue Duke. Now the lockdown is subsiding; the excitement is over. The extra manpower brought in to maintain order is withdrawing, and all I want is to get out of here. Im parked in a small lot near the front gate, where the TV crews are unplugging and going home. I thank the driver, get in my little Ford SUV, and leave in a hurry. Two miles down the highway I stop at a closed country store to make a call. His name is Mark Carter. White male, age thirty-three, lives in a small rental house in the town of Bayliss, ten miles from Verona. In my files I have photos of his house and truck and current live-in girlfriend. Eleven years ago, Carter raped and murdered Emily Broone, and now all I have to do is prove it. Using a burner, I call the number of his cell phone, a number Im not supposed to have. After five rings he says, Hello. Is this Mark Carter? Who wants to know? You dont know me, Carter, but Im calling from the prison. Duke Russell just got a stay, so Im sorry to inform you that the case is still alive. Are you watching television? Who is this? Im sure youre watching the TV, Carter, sitting there on your fat ass with your fat girlfriend hoping and praying that the State finally kills Duke for your crime. Youre a scumbag Carter, willing to watch him die for something you did. What a coward. Say it to my face. Oh, I will Carter, one day in a courtroom. Ill find the evidence and before long Duke will get out. Youll take his place. Im coming your way, Carter. I end the call before he can say anything else. Chapter 2 Since gas is slightly cheaper than cheap motels, I spend a lot of time driving lonely roads at dark hours. As always, I tell myself that I will sleep later, as if a long hibernation is waiting just around the corner. The truth is that I nap a lot but rarely sleep and this is unlikely to change. I have saddled myself with the burdens of innocent people rotting away in prison while rapists and murderers roam free. Duke Russell was convicted in a backwater redneck town where half the jurors struggle to read and all were easily misled by two pompous and bogus experts put on the stand by Chad Falwright. The first was a retired small-town dentist from Wyoming, and how he found his way to Verona, Alabama, is another story. With grave authority, a nice suit, and an impressive vocabulary, he testified that three nicks on the arms of Emily Broone were inflicted by Dukes teeth. This clown makes a living testifying across the country, always for the prosecution and always for nice fees, and in his twisted mind a rape is not violent enough unless the rapist somehow manages to bite the victim hard enough to leave imprints. Such an unfounded and ridiculous theory should have been exposed on cross-examination, but Dukes lawyer was either drunk or napping. The second expert was from the state crime lab. His area of expertise was, and still is, hair analysis. Seven pubic hairs were found on Emilys body, and this guy convinced the jury that they came from Duke. They did not. They probably came from Mark Carter but we dont know that. Yet. The local yokels in charge of the investigation had only a passing interest in Carter as a suspect, though he was the last person seen with Emily the night she disappeared. Bite mark and hair analysis have been discredited in most advanced jurisdictions. Both belong to that pathetic and ever-shifting field of knowledge derisively known among defense and innocence lawyers as junk science. God only knows how many innocent people are serving long sentences because of unqualified experts and their unfounded theories of guilt. Any defense lawyer worth his salt would have had a fine time with those two experts on cross-examination, but Dukes lawyer was not worth the $3,000 the State paid him. Indeed, he was worth nothing. He had little criminal experience, reeked of alcohol during the trial, was woefully unprepared, believed his client was guilty, got three DUIs the year after the trial, got disbarred, and eventually died of cirrhosis. And Im supposed to pick up the pieces and find justice. But no one drafted me into this case. As always, Im a volunteer. Im on the interstate headed toward Montgomery, two and a half hours away, and I have time to plot and scheme. If I stopped at a motel I wouldnt be able to sleep anyway. Im too pumped over the last-minute miracle that I just pulled out of thin air. I send a text to the law clerk in Atlanta and say thanks. I send a text to my boss who, hopefully, is asleep by now. Her name is Vicki Gourley and she works in our little foundations office in the old section of Savannah. She founded Guardian Ministries twelve years ago with her own money. Vicki is a devout Christian who considers her work to be derived straight from the Gospels. Jesus said to remember the prisoners. She doesnt spend much time hanging around jails but she works fifteen hours a day trying to free the innocent. Years ago she was on a jury that convicted a young man of murder and sentenced him to die. Two years later the bad conviction was exposed. The prosecutor had concealed exculpatory evidence and solicited perjured testimony from a jailhouse snitch. The police had planted evidence and lied to the jury. When the real killer was identified by DNA, Vicki sold her flooring business to her nephews, took the money and started Guardian Ministries. I was her first employee. Now we have one more. We also have a freelancer named Francois Tatum. Hes a forty-five-year-old black guy who realized as a teenager that life in rural Georgia might be easier if he called himself Frankie and not Francois. Seems his mother had some Haitian blood and gave her kids French names, none of which were common in her remote corner of the English-speaking world. Frankie was my first exoneree. He was serving life in Georgia for someone elses murder when I met him. At the time, I was working as an Episcopal priest at a small church in Savannah. We ran a prison ministry and thats how I met Frankie. He was obsessed with his innocence and talked of nothing else. He was bright and extremely well-read, and had taught himself the law inside and out. After two visits he had me convinced. During the first phase of my legal career I defended people who could not afford a lawyer. I had hundreds of clients and before long I reached the point where I assumed they were all guilty. I had never stopped for a moment to consider the plight of the wrongfully convicted. Frankie changed all that. I plunged into an investigation of his case and soon realized I might be able to prove his innocence. Then I met Vicki and she offered me a job that paid even less than my pastoral work. Still does. So Francois Tatum became the first client signed up by Guardian Ministries. After fourteen years in prison he had been completely abandoned by his family. All his friends were gone. The aforementioned mother had dumped him and his siblings at the doorstep of an aunt and was never seen again. Hes never known his father. When I met him in prison I was his first visitor in twelve years. All of this neglect sounds terrible, but there was a silver lining. Once freed and fully exonerated, Frankie got a lot of money from the State of Georgia and the locals who had put him away. And with no family or friends to hound him for cash, he managed to ease into freedom like a ghost with no trail. He keeps a small apartment in Atlanta, a post office box in Chattanooga, and spends most of his time on the road savoring the open spaces. His money is buried in various banks throughout the South so no one can find it. He avoids relationships because he has been scarred by all of them. That, and hes always fearful that someone will try to get in his pockets. Frankie trusts me and no one else. When his lawsuits were settled, he offered me a generous fee. I said no. Hed earned every dime of that money surviving prison. When I signed on with Guardian I took a vow of poverty. If my clients can survive on two bucks a day for food, the least I can do is cut every corner. East of Montgomery, I pull into a truck stop near Tuskegee. Its still dark, not yet 6:00 a.m., and the sprawling gravel lot is packed with big rigs purring away while their drivers either nap or get breakfast. The caf? is busy and the thick aroma of bacon and sausage hits me hard as I enter. Someone waves from the rear. Frankie has secured a booth. Since we are in rural Alabama, we greet each other with a proper handshake, as opposed to a man hug we might otherwise consider. Two men, one black and the other white, hugging in a crowded truck stop might attract a look or two, not that we really care. Frankie has more money than all these guys combined, and hes still lean and quick from his prison days. He doesnt start fights. He simply has the air and confidence to discourage them. Congrats, he says. That was pretty close. Duke had just started his last meal when the call came. Had to eat in a hurry. But you seemed confident. I was faking, the old tough lawyer routine. Inside, my guts were boiling. Speaking of which. Im sure youre starving. Yes, I am. I called Carter as I left the prison. Couldnt help myself. He frowns slightly and says, Okay. Im sure there was a reason. Not a good one. I was just too pissed not to. The guy was sitting there counting the minutes until Duke got the needle. Can you imagine what thats like, being the real killer and silently cheering from the sideline as somebody else is executed? We gotta nail him, Frankie. We will. A waitress appears and I order eggs and coffee. Frankie wants pancakes and sausage. He knows as much about my cases as I do. He reads every file, memo, report, and trial transcript. Fun for Frankie is easing into a place like Verona, Alabama, where no one has ever seen him, and digging for information. Hes fearless but he never takes chances because he is not going to get caught. His new life is too good, his freedom especially valuable because he suffered so long without it. We have to get Carters DNA, I say. One way or the other. I know, I know. Im working on it. You need some rest, boss. Dont I always? And, as we well know, being the lawyer I cant obtain his DNA by illegal means. But I can, right? He smiles and sips his coffee. The waitress delivers mine and fills the cup. Maybe. Lets discuss it later. For the next few weeks, hell be spooked because of my call. Good for him. Hell make a mistake at some point and well be there. Where are you headed now? Savannah. Ill be there for a couple of days, then head to Florida. Florida. Seabrook? Yes, Seabrook. Ive decided to take the case. Frankies face never reveals much. His eyes seldom blink, his voice is steady and flat as if hes measuring every word. Survival in prison required a poker face. Long stretches of solitude were common. Are you sure? he asks. Its obvious he has doubts about Seabrook. The guy is innocent, Frankie. And he has no lawyer. The platters arrive and we busy ourselves with butter, syrup, and hot sauce. The Seabrook case has been in our office for almost three years as we, the staff, have debated whether or not to get involved. Thats not unusual in our business. Not surprisingly, Guardian is inundated with mail from inmates in fifty states, all claiming to be innocent. The vast majority are not, so we screen and screen and pick and choose with care, and take only those with the strongest claims of innocence. And we still make mistakes. Frankie says, That could be a pretty dangerous situation down there. I know. Weve kicked this around for a long time. Meanwhile hes counting his days, serving someone elses time. He chews on pancakes and nods slightly, still unconvinced. I ask, When have we ever run from a good fight, Frankie? Maybe this is the time to take a pass. You decline cases every day, right? Maybe this is more dangerous than all the others. God knows you have enough potential clients out there. Are you getting soft? No. I just dont want to see you hurt. No one ever sees me, Cullen. I live and work in the shadows. But your name is on the pleadings. You start digging around in an awful place like Seabrook and you could upset some nasty characters. I smile and say, All the more reason to do it. The sun is up when we leave the caf?. In the parking lot we do a proper man hug and say farewell. I have no idea which direction he is headed, and thats the beautiful thing about Frankie. He wakes up free every morning, thanks God for his good fortune, gets in his late-model pickup truck with a club cab, and follows the sun. His freedom invigorates me and keeps me going. If not for Guardian Ministries, he would still be rotting away. Chapter 3 There is no direct route between Opelika, Alabama, and Savannah. I leave the interstate and begin meandering through central Georgia on two-lane roads that get busier with the morning. Ive been here before. In the past ten years Ive roamed virtually every highway throughout the Death Belt, from North Carolina to Texas. Once I almost took a case in California, but Vicki nixed it. I dont like airports and Guardian couldnt afford to fly me back and forth. So I drive for long stretches of time, with lots of black coffee and books on tape. And I alternate between periods of deep, quiet thought and frantic bouts with the phone. In a small town, I pass the county courthouse and watch three young lawyers in their best suits hustle into the building, no doubt headed for an important matter. That could have been me, not too long ago. I was thirty years old when I quit the law for the first time, and for a good reason. That morning began with the sickening news that two sixteen-year-old white kids had been found dead with their throats cut. Both had been sexually mutilated. Evidently they were parked in a remote section of the county when they were jumped by a group of black teenagers who took their car. Hours later the car was found. Someone inside the gang was talking. Arrests were being made. Details were being reported. Such was the standard fare for early morning news in Memphis. Last nights violence was reported to a jaded audience who lived with the great question: How much more can we take? However, even for Memphis this news was shocking. Brooke and I watched it in bed with our first cups of coffee, as usual. After the first report, I mumbled, This could be awful. It is awful, she corrected me. You know what I mean. Will you get one of them? Start praying now, I said. By the time I stepped into the shower I was feeling ill and scheming of ways to avoid the office. I had no appetite and skipped breakfast. On the way out, the phone rang. My supervisor told me to hurry. I kissed Brooke goodbye and said, Wish me luck. This will be a long day. The office of the public defender is downtown in the Criminal Justice Complex. When I walked in at eight oclock the place was like a morgue. Everyone seemed to be cowering in their offices and trying to avoid eye contact. Minutes later, our supervisor called us into a conference room. There were six of us in Major Crimes, and since we worked in Memphis we had plenty of clients. At thirty, I was the youngest, and as I looked around the room I knew my number was about to be called. Our boss said, There appear to be five of them, all now locked up. Ages fifteen to seventeen. Two agreed to talk. Seems they found the kids in the back seat of the boys car, having a go at it. Four of the five defendants are aspiring gang members, Ravens, and to be properly inducted one has to rape a white girl. One with blond hair. Crissy Spangler was a blonde. The leader, one Lamar Robinson, gave the orders. The boy, Will Foster, was tied to a tree and made to watch as they took turns with Crissy. When he wouldnt shut up, they mutilated him and cut his throat. Photos are on the way over from Memphis Police. The six of us stood in muted horror as reality set in. I glanced at a window with a latch. Jumping headfirst onto the parking lot seemed like a reasonable thing to do. He continued, They took Wills car, ran a red light on South Third, smart boys. The police stopped three of them, noticed blood, and brought them in. Two started talking and gave the details. They claimed the others did it but their confessions implicate all five. Autopsies are underway this morning. Needless to say, we are involved up to our ears. Initial appearances are set for two this afternoon and it is going to be a circus. Reporters are everywhere and details are leaking out like crazy. I inched closer to the window. I heard him say, Post, youve got a fifteen-year-old named Terrence Lattimore. As far as we know, he hasnt said anything. When the other assignments were made, the supervisor said, Get to the jail right now and meet your new clients. Inform the police that they are not to be interrogated outside your presence. These are gang members and they will probably not cooperate, not this early anyway. When he finished, he looked at each of us, the unlucky ones, and said, Im sorry. An hour later I was walking through the entrance to the city jail when someone, probably a reporter, yelled, Do you represent one of these murderers? I pretended to ignore her and kept walking. When I entered the small holding room, Terrence Lattimore was cuffed at the wrists and ankles and chained to a metal chair. When we were alone I explained that I had been assigned his case and needed to ask some questions, just basic stuff for starters. I got nothing but a smirk and a glare. He may have been only fifteen years old, but he was a tough kid who had seen it all. Battle-hardened in the ways of gangs, drugs, and violence. He hated me and everyone else with white skin. He said he didnt have an address and told me to stay away from his family. His rap sheet included two school expulsions and four charges in juvenile court, all involving violence. By noon I was ready to resign and go look for another job. When I joined the PDs office three years earlier I did so only when I couldnt find work with a firm. And after three years of toiling in the gutter of our criminal justice system, I was asking myself serious questions about why I had chosen law school. I really couldnt remember. My career brought me into daily contact with people I wouldnt get near outside of court. Lunch was out of the question because no one could possibly choke down food. The five of us who had been chosen met with the supervisor and looked at the crime scene photos and autopsy reports. Any food in my stomach would have gone to the floor. What the hell was I doing with my life? As a criminal defense lawyer, I was already sick of the question How can you represent a person you know to be guilty? I had always offered the standard law school response of, Well, everyone has the right to a proper defense. The Constitution says so. But I no longer believed that. The truth is that there are some crimes that are so heinous and cruel that the killer should either be (1) put to death, if one believes in the death penalty, or (2) put away for life, if one does not believe in the death penalty. As I left that awful meeting, I wasnt sure what I believed anymore. I went to my cubbyhole of an office, which at least had a door that could be locked. From my window I looked at the pavement below and envisioned myself jumping and floating safely away to some exotic beach where life was splendid and all I worried about was the next cold drink. Oddly, Brooke wasnt with me in the dream. My desk phone snapped me out of it. I had been hallucinating, not dreaming. Everything was suddenly in slow motion and I had trouble saying, Hello. The voice identified itself as a reporter and she just had a few questions about the murders. As if Im going to discuss the case with her. I hung up. An hour passed and I dont remember doing anything. I was numb and sick and just wanted to run from the building. I remembered to call Brooke and pass along the terrible news that I had one of the five. The first appearance at 2:00 p.m. was moved from a small courtroom to a larger one, and it still wasnt big enough. Because of its crime rate, Memphis had a lot of cops, and most of them were in the building that afternoon. They blocked the doors and searched every reporter and spectator. In the courtroom, they stood two abreast down the center aisle and lined the three walls. Will Fosters cousin was a Memphis city fireman. He arrived with a group of colleagues and they seemed ready to attack at any moment. A few blacks drifted to a rear corner of the other side, as far away from the victims families as possible. Reporters were everywhere, but without cameras. Lawyers who had no business being there milled about, curious. I entered the jury room through a service entrance and eased through a door for a look at the throng. The place was packed. The tension was thick, palpable. The judge took the bench and called for order. The five defendants were brought in, all in matching orange jumpsuits, all chained together. The spectators gawked at this first sighting. The artists scribbled away. More cops formed a line behind the five as a shield. The defendants stood before the bench, all studying their feet. A loud, strong voice from the rear yelled, Turn em loose, dammit! Turn em loose! Cops scrambled to silence him. A woman shrieked, in tears. I moved to a position behind Terrence Lattimore, along with my four colleagues. As I did so, I glanced at the people sitting together on the two front rows. They were obviously close to the victims, and they looked at me with sheer hatred. Hated by my client. Hated by his victims. What the hell was I doing in that courtroom? The judge rapped his gavel and said, I am going to maintain order in this courtroom. This is a first appearance, the purpose of which is to determine the identity of the defendants and make sure they are represented by counsel. Nothing more. Now, who is Mr. Lamar Robinson? Robinson looked up and mumbled something. How old are you, Mr. Robinson? Seventeen. Ms. Julie Showalter from the office of the public defender has been appointed to represent you. Have you met with her? My colleague Julie took a step closer and stood between Robinson and the next one. Since the defendants were chained together, the lawyers could only get so close. The cuffs and chains were always removed in court, and the fact that they were not in this case said a lot about the mood of the judge. Robinson glanced at Julie at his right shoulder and shrugged. Do you want her to represent you, Mr. Robinson? Can I have a black lawyer? he asked. You can hire anybody you want. Do you have money for a private lawyer? Maybe. Okay, well discuss it later. Next is Mr. Terrence Lattimore. Terrence looked at the judge as if he would like to slit his throat too. How old are you, Mr. Lattimore? Fifteen. Do you have money for a private lawyer? He shook his head, no. Do you want Mr. Cullen Post of the PDs office to represent you? He shrugged as if he didnt care. The judge looked at me and asked, Mr. Post, have you met with your client? Mr. Post couldnt answer. I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I took a step back and kept staring up at the bench where His Honor looked at me blankly. Mr. Post? The courtroom was still and silent, but my ears were ringing with a shrill piercing sound that made no sense. My knees were rubbery, my breathing labored. I took another step back, then turned around and wedged myself through the wall of cops. I made it to the bar, opened the swinging gate at my knees, and headed down the center aisle. I brushed by cop after cop and none of them tried to stop me. His Honor said something like, Mr. Post, where are you going? Mr. Post had no idea. I made it through the main door, left the courtroom behind, and went straight to the mens room where I locked myself in a stall and vomited. I retched and gagged until there was nothing left, then I walked to a sink and splashed water in my face. I was vaguely aware that I was on an escalator, but I had no sense of time, space, sound, or movement. I do not remember leaving the building. I was in my car, driving east on Poplar Avenue, away from downtown. Without intending to, I ran a red light and narrowly avoided what would have been a nasty collision. I heard angry horns behind me. At some point I realized that I had left my briefcase in the courtroom, and this made me smile. I would never see it again. My mothers parents lived on a small farm ten miles west of Dyersburg, Tennessee, my hometown. I arrived there at some point that afternoon. I had lost complete track of time and do not remember making the decision to go home. My grandparents were surprised to see me, they later said, but soon realized I needed help. They quizzed me, but all questions were met with a blank, hollow stare. They put me to bed and called Brooke. Late that night, the medics loaded me into an ambulance. With Brooke at my side, we rode three hours to a psychiatric hospital near Nashville. There were no available beds in Memphis, and I didnt want to go back there anyway. In the following days I started therapy and drugs and long sessions with shrinks and slowly began to come to grips with my crack-up. After a month, we were notified that the insurance company was pulling the plug. It was time to leave and I was ready to get out of the place. I refused to return to our apartment in Memphis, so I lived with my grandparents. It was during this time that Brooke and I decided to call it quits. About halfway through our three-year marriage, both of us realized that we could not spend the rest of our lives together, and that trying to do so would only lead to a lot of misery. This was not discussed at the time, and we rarely fought and quarreled. Somehow, during those dark days on the farm, we found the courage to talk honestly. We still loved each other, but we were already growing apart. At first we agreed on a one-year trial separation, but even that was abandoned. I have never blamed her for leaving me because of my nervous breakdown. I wanted out, as did she. We parted with broken hearts, but vowed to remain friends, or at least try to. That didnt work either. As Brooke was leaving my life, God was knocking on the door. He came in the person of Father Bennie Drake, the Episcopal priest of my home church in Dyersburg. Bennie was about forty, cool and hip with a salty tongue. He wore faded jeans most of the time, always with his collar and black jacket, and he quickly became the bright spot in my recovery. His weekly visits soon became almost daily, and I lived for our long conversations on the front porch. I trusted him immediately and confessed that I had no desire to return to the law. I was only thirty and I wanted a new career helping others. I did not want to spend the rest of my life suing people or defending the guilty or working in a pressure-packed law firm. The closer I got to Bennie, the more I wanted to be like him. He saw something in me and suggested I at least think about the ministry. We shared long prayers and even longer conversations, and I gradually began to feel Gods call. Eight months after my last court appearance, I moved to Alexandria, Virginia, and entered the seminary where I spent the next three years studying diligently. To support myself, I worked twenty hours a week as a research assistant in a mammoth D.C. law firm. I hated the work but managed to mask my contempt for it. I was reminded weekly of why I had left the profession. I was ordained at the age of thirty-five and landed a position of associate priest at the Peace Episcopal Church on Drayton Street in Savannahs historic district. The vicar was a wonderful man named Luther Hodges, and for years he had a prison ministry. His uncle had died behind bars and he was determined to help those who were forgotten. Three months after moving to Savannah I met Mr. Francois Tatum, a truly forgotten soul. Walking Frankie out of prison two years later was the greatest thrill of my life. I found my calling. Through divine intervention I had met Vicki Gourley, a woman with a mission of her own. Chapter 4 Guardian Ministries is housed in a small corner of an old warehouse on Broad Street in Savannah. The rest of the huge building is used by the flooring company Vicki sold years ago. She still owns the warehouse and leases it to her nephews, who run the business. Most of her rental income is absorbed by Guardian. Its almost noon when I park and walk into our offices. Im not expecting a heros welcome and I certainly dont get one. There is no receptionist and no reception area, no pleasant place to greet our clients. Theyre all in prison. We dont use secretaries because we cant afford them. We do our own typing, filing, scheduling, phone answering, coffee making, and trash removing. For lunch most days Vicki has a quick meal with her mother at a nursing home down the street. Her pristine office is empty. I glance at her desk, not a single sheet of paper is out of order. Behind it, on a credenza, is a color photo of Vicki and Boyd, her deceased husband. He built the business, and when he died young she took over and ran it like a tyrant until the judicial system pissed her off and she founded Guardian. Across the hall is the office of Mazy Ruffin, our director of litigation and the outfits brain trust. She too is away from her desk, probably hauling kids here and there. She has four of them and they can usually be found underfoot somewhere at Guardian in the afternoons. Once the day care starts, Vicki quietly closes her door. So do I, if Im at the office, which is rare. When we hired Mazy four years ago, she had two nonnegotiable conditions. The first was permission to keep her kids in her office when necessary. She couldnt afford much babysitting. The second was her salary. She needed $65,000 a year to survive, not a penny less. Combined, Vicki and I were not at that level, but then were not raising children, nor do we worry about our salaries. We agreed to both requests, and Mazy is still the highest-paid member of the team. And shes a bargain. She grew up in the tough projects of south Atlanta. At times she was homeless, though she doesnt say much about those days. Because of her brains, a high school teacher took notice and showed some love. She blitzed through Morehouse College and Emory Law School with full rides and near perfect grades. She turned down the big firms and chose instead to work for her people at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. That career flamed out when her marriage unraveled. A friend of mine mentioned her when we were looking for another lawyer. The downstairs is the domain of these two alpha females. When Im here I spend my time on the second floor, where I hole up in a cluttered room I call my office. Across the hall is the conference room, though there arent many conferences at Guardian. Occasionally well use it for depositions or meetings with an exoneree and his family. I step inside the conference room and turn on the lights. In the center is a long, oval-shaped dining table I bought at a flea market for $100. Around it is a collection of ten mismatched chairs that weve added over the years. What the room lacks in style and taste it more than makes up for in character. On one wall, our Wall of Fame, is a row of eight enlarged and framed color portraits of our exonerees, beginning with Frankie. Their smiling faces are the heart and soul of our operation. They inspire us to keep plugging along, fighting the system, fighting for freedom and justice. Only eight. With thousands more waiting. Our work will never end, and while this reality might seem discouraging it is also highly motivational. On another wall there are five smaller photos of our current clients, all in prison garb. Duke Russell in Alabama. Shasta Briley in North Carolina. Billy Rayburn in Tennessee. Curtis Wallace in Mississippi. Little Jimmy Flagler in Georgia. Three blacks, two whites, one female. Skin color and gender mean nothing in our work. Around the room there is a hodgepodge collection of framed newspaper photos capturing those glorious moments when we walked our innocent clients out of prison. Im in most of them, along with other lawyers who helped. Mazy and Vicki are in a few. The smiles are utterly contagious. I climb the stairs again to my penthouse. I live rent-free in a three-room apartment on the top floor. I wont describe the furnishings. Its fair to say that the two women in my life, Vicki and Mazy, wont go near the place. I average ten nights a month here and the neglect is evident. The truth is that my apartment would be even messier if I were a full-time resident. I shower in my cramped bathroom, then fall across my bed. After two hours in a coma, I am awakened by noises downstairs. I get dressed and stumble forth. Mazy greets me with an enormous smile and a bear hug. Congratulations, she says over and over. It was close, girl, damned close. Duke was eating his steak when we got the call. Did he finish it? Of course. Daniel, her four-year-old, runs over for a hug. He has no idea where I was last night or what I was doing, but hes always ready for a hug. Vicki hears voices and charges over. More hugs, more congratulations. When we lost Albert Hoover in North Carolina we sat in Vickis office and had a good cry. This is far better. Ill make some coffee, Vicki says. Her office is slightly larger, and not cluttered with toys and folding tables stacked with games and coloring books, so we retire there for the debriefing. Since I was on the phone with both of them throughout last nights countdown, they know most of the details. I replay my meeting with Frankie, and we discuss the next step in Dukes case. Suddenly we have no deadlines there, no execution date, no dreaded countdown on the horizon, and the pressure is off. Death cases drag on for years at a glacial pace until there is an appointment with the needle. Then things get frantic, we work around the clock, and when a stay is issued we know that months and years will pass before the next scare. We never relax, though, because our clients are innocent and struggling to survive the nightmare of prison. We discuss the other four cases, none of which are facing a serious deadline. I broach our most unpleasant issue when I ask Vicki, What about the budget? She smiles as always and says, Oh, were broke. Mazy says, I need to make a phone call. She stands, pecks me on the forehead and says, Nice work, Post. The budget is something she prefers to avoid, and Vicki and I dont burden her with it. She steps out and returns to her office. Vicki says, We got the check from the Cayhill Foundation, fifty grand, so we can pay the bills for a few months. It takes about a half a million dollars a year to fund our operations and we get this by soliciting and begging small nonprofits and a few individuals. If I had the stomach for fund-raising I would spend half my days on the phone, and writing letters, and making speeches. There is a direct correlation between the amount of money we can spend and the number of innocent people we can exonerate, but I simply dont have the time or desire to beg. Vicki and I decided long ago that we could not handle the headaches of a large staff and constant pressure to raise money. We prefer a small, lean operation, and lean we are. A successful exoneration can take many years and consume at least $200,000 in cash. When we need the extra money, we always find it. Were okay, she says, as always. Im working on grants and hounding a few donors. Well survive. We always do. Ill make some calls tomorrow, I say. As distasteful as it is, I force myself to spend a few hours each week cold-calling sympathetic lawyers and asking for money. I also have a small network of churches I hit up for checks. Were not really a ministry as such, but calling ourselves one does not hurt our efforts. Vicki says, I assume youre going to Seabrook. I am. Ive made my decision. Weve kicked it around for three years and Im sort of tired of the discussion. Were convinced hes innocent. Hes been in prison for twenty-two years and has no lawyer. No one is working his case and I say we go in. Mazy and I are on board. Thanks. The truth is that I make the final decision about whether to take a case or pass. We evaluate a case for a long time and know the facts as intimately as possible, and if one of the three becomes adamantly opposed to our representation, then we back off. Seabrook has tormented us for a long time, primarily because were certain our next client was framed. Vicki says, Im roasting Cornish hens tonight. Bless you. I was waiting on an invitation. She lives alone and loves to cook, and when Im in town we usually gather at her cozy little bungalow four blocks away and partake of a long meal. She worries about my health and eating habits. Mazy worries about my love life, which is nonexistent and therefore doesnt bother me at all. Chapter 5 The town of Seabrook is in the rural backwaters of north Florida, far away from the sprawling developments and retirement villages. Tampa is two hours to the south, Gainesville an hour to the east. Though the Gulf is only forty-five minutes away, on a two-lane road, the coastline there has never attracted the attention of the states manic developers. With 11,000 people, Seabrook is the seat of Ruiz County and the center for most of the commercial activity in a neglected area. The population drain has been stymied somewhat by a few retirees attracted to cheap living in mobile home parks. Main Street hangs on, with few empty buildings, and there are even some large discount houses on the edge of town. The handsome, Spanish-style courthouse is well preserved and busy, and two dozen or so lawyers tend to the mundane legal business of the county. Twenty-two years ago, one of them was found murdered in his office, and for a few months Seabrook made the only headlines in its history. His name was Keith Russo, age thirty-seven at the time of his death. His body was found on the floor behind his desk with blood everywhere. He had been shot twice in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun, and there wasnt much left of his face. The crime scene photos were grisly, even sickening, at least for some of the jurors. He was alone in his office working late that fateful December evening. Shortly before he died, the electricity to his office was cut off. Keith had practiced law in Seabrook for eleven years with his partner and wife, Diana Russo. They had no children. In the early years of their firm, they had worked hard as general practitioners, but both wanted to step up their game and escape the dreariness of writing wills and deeds and filing no-fault divorces. They aspired to be trial lawyers and tap into the states lucrative tort system. At that level, though, competition proved fierce and they struggled to land the big cases. Diana was at the hair salon when her husband was murdered. She found his body three hours later when he didnt come home and wouldnt answer the phone. After his funeral, she became reclusive and mourned for months. She closed the office, sold the building, and eventually sold their home and returned to Sarasota, where she was from. She collected $2 million in life insurance and inherited Keiths interest in their joint assets. The life insurance policy was discussed by investigators but not pursued. Since the early days of their marriage the couple had believed strongly in life insurance protection. There was an identical policy on her life. Initially there were no suspects, until Diana suggested the name of one Quincy Miller, a former client of the firm, and a very disgruntled one at that. Four years before the murder, Keith had handled a divorce for Quincy, and the client was less than satisfied with the result. The judge hit him for more alimony and child support than he could possibly afford, and it wrecked his life. When he was unable to pay more attorneys fees for an appeal, Keith dropped the matter, terminated his representation, and the deadline for the appeal expired. Quincy earned a good salary as a truck driver for a regional company but lost his job when his ex-wife garnished his paychecks for delinquent obligations. Unable to pay, he filed for bankruptcy and eventually fled the area. He was caught, returned to Seabrook, thrown in jail for nonpayment and served three months before the judge turned him loose. He fled again and was arrested for selling drugs in Tampa. He served a year before being paroled. Not surprisingly, he blamed all of his problems on Keith Russo. Most of the towns lawyers quietly agreed that Keith could have been more assertive in his representation. Keith hated divorce work and considered it demeaning for an aspiring big-time trial lawyer. According to Diana, Quincy stopped by the office on at least two occasions, threatened the staff, and demanded to see his ex-lawyer. There was no record of anyone calling the police. She also claimed that Quincy called their home phone with threats, but they were never concerned enough to change numbers. A murder weapon was never found. Quincy swore he had never owned a shotgun, but his ex-wife told the police that she believed he had one. The break in the case came two weeks after the murder when the police confiscated his car with a search warrant. In the trunk they found a flashlight with tiny specks of a substance splattered across the lens. They assumed it was blood. Quincy maintained that he had never seen the flashlight, but his ex-wife said she believed it belonged to him. A theory was quickly adopted and the murder was solved. The police believed that Quincy carefully planned the attack and waited until Keith was working late and alone. He cut off the electricity at a meter box behind the office, entered through the unlocked rear door, and, since he had been in the office several times, knew exactly where to find Keith. Using a flashlight in the darkness, he burst into Keiths office, fired two shotgun blasts, and fled the scene. Given the amount of blood at the scene, it seemed reasonable that many items in the office got splattered. Two blocks away on a side street, a drug addict named Carrie Holland saw a black man running away from the area. He appeared to be carrying a stick or something, she wasnt sure. Quincy is black. Seabrook is 80 percent white, 10 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic. Carrie could not identify Quincy but swore he was of the same height and build as the man she saw. Quincys court-appointed lawyer succeeded in getting a change of venue, and the trial took place in the county next door. It was 83 percent white. There was one black person on the jury. The case revolved around the flashlight found in Quincys trunk. A bloodstain-analysis expert from Denver testified that given the location of the body, and the probable line of fire from the shotgun, and the height of both the deceased and the assailant, and the sheer volume of blood found on the walls, floor, bookshelves, and credenza, he was certain that the flashlight was present at the shooting. The mysterious specks on its lens were described as back spatter. They were too small to be tested, so there was no match with Keiths blood. Undaunted by this, the expert told the jury that the specks were definitely blood. Remarkably, the expert admitted that he had never actually seen the flashlight but had examined it thoroughly by studying a series of color photos taken by the investigators. The flashlight disappeared months before the trial. Diana testified with certainty that her husband knew his ex-client well and was terrified of him. Many times he confided to her that he was afraid of Quincy, and even carried a handgun at times. Carrie Holland testified and did everything but point a finger at Quincy. She denied she was being coerced into testifying for the prosecution, and denied she had been offered leniency on a pending drug charge. While Quincy was awaiting trial, he was moved to a regional jail in Gainesville. No explanation was given for the transfer. He spent a week there and was returned to Seabrook. However, while away, he was put in a cell with a jailhouse snitch named Zeke Huffey who testified that Quincy had boasted of the killing and was quite proud of himself. Huffey knew the details of the murder, including the number of shots fired and the gauge of the shotgun. To spice up his testimony, he told the jury that Quincy laughed about driving to the coast the following day and tossing the shotgun into the Gulf. On cross-examination, Huffey denied cutting a deal with the prosecutor for leniency. The investigator from the state police testified that none of Quincys fingerprints were found at the scene, or on the meter box behind the office, and was allowed to speculate that the assailant was probably wearing gloves. A pathologist testified and presented large color photographs of the crime scene. The defense lawyer objected strenuously, claiming the photos were highly prejudicial, even inflammatory, but the judge allowed them anyway. Several of the jurors appeared to be shocked by the vivid images of Keith covered in blood with most of his face missing. The cause of death was obvious. Because of his criminal record and other legal problems, Quincy did not take the stand. His lawyer was a rookie named Tyler Townsend, court-appointed and not yet thirty years old. The fact that he had never defended a capital murder client would have normally raised issues on appeal, but not in Quincys case. His defense was tenacious. Townsend attacked every witness for the State and every piece of evidence. He challenged the experts and their conclusions, pointed out the flaws in their theories, and mocked the sheriffs department for losing the flashlight, the most important piece of evidence. He waved its color photos in front of the jury and questioned whether the specks on the lens were actually blood. He sneered at Carrie Holland and Zeke Huffey and called them liars. He suggested to Diana that she was not the innocent widow and made her cry on cross-examination, which didnt require much effort. He was repeatedly cautioned by the judge but remained unfazed. So zealous was his defense that the jurors often could not mask their contempt for him. The trial became a brawl as young Tyler rebuked the prosecutors, disrespected the judge, and harangued the States witnesses. The defense offered an alibi. According to a woman named Valerie Cooper, Quincy was with her at the time of the killing. She was a single mother who lived in Hernando, an hour south of Seabrook. She had met Quincy in a bar and their romance had been on and off. She claimed to be certain that Quincy had been with her, but on the stand she was intimidated and not credible. When the prosecutor brought up a drug conviction, she broke down. In his passionate closing argument, Tyler Townsend used two propsa 12-gauge shotgun and a flashlightand argued that it would have been almost impossible to fire two shots at the target while holding both. The jurors, mostly from rural areas, seemed to understand this, but it made little difference. Tyler was in tears as he begged for a not-guilty verdict. He didnt get one. The jury wasted little time convicting Quincy of the murder. His punishment proved more complicated, as the jury got hung. Finally, after two days of intense and heated debate, the lone black held out for life with no parole. The eleven whites were disappointed that they could not return a death verdict. Quincys appeals ran their course and his conviction was unanimously affirmed at every level. For twenty-two years he has maintained his innocence, but no one is listening. Young Tyler Townsend was devastated by the loss and never recovered. The town of Seabrook turned against him and his fledgling law practice dried up. Not long after the appeals were extinguished he finally gave up and moved to Jacksonville, where he worked as a part-time public defender before pursuing another career. Frankie found him in Fort Lauderdale, where he seems to be living a pleasant life with a family and a good business developing shopping centers with his father-in-law. Approaching him will require care and forethought, something we do well. Diana Russo never returned to Seabrook, and, as far as we know, never remarried. But we are not certain. Working with a private security group that we hire occasionally, Vicki found her a year ago living on the island of Martinique. For another chunk of money, our spies can dig deeper and give us more. For the moment, though, we cant justify the money. Trying to have a chat with her would be a waste of time. Exonerating Quincy Miller is our goal. Finding the real killer is not a priority. To succeed at the former, we must unravel the States case. Solving the crime is someone elses business, and after twenty-two years you can bet no one is working on it. This is not a cold case. The State of Florida got a conviction. The truth is irrelevant. Chapter 6 Quincy has spent the last eight years at a prison called Garvin Correctional Institute near the rural town of Peckham, about an hour north of the sprawl of Orlando. My first visit here was four months ago when I came as a priest doing prison ministry work. I wore my old black shirt and collar then. Its amazing how much more respect I get as a priest than as a lawyer, at least around prisons. Im wearing the collar again today, just to screw with them. Vicki has done the paperwork and Im officially on record as Quincys lawyer. The guard at the front desk studies the paperwork, studies my collar, has questions but is too confused to ask them. I surrender my cell phone, get cleared through the scanners, and then wait an hour in a dingy holding room where I flip through tabloid magazines and wonder once again what the world is coming to. They finally fetch me and I follow a guard out of the first building and along a sidewalk lined with fencing and razor wire. Ive seen the inside of so many prisons Im no longer shocked by their harshness. In so many awful ways theyre all the same: squat concrete buildings with no windows, rec yards filled with men in matching uniforms killing time, scowling guards reeking of contempt because Im a trespasser there to help the lowlifes. We enter another building and walk into a long room with a row of cubicles. The guard opens a door to one and I step inside. Quincy is already there, on the other side of a thick plastic window. The door closes and we are alone. To make the visits as difficult as possible, there are no openings in the partition and we are forced to talk with bulky phones that date back at least three decades. If I want to pass a document to my client, I have to call a guard who first examines it and then walks it around to the other side. Quincy smiles and taps his fist on the window. I return the salute and we have officially shaken hands. Hes fifty-one now, and except for the graying hair he could pass for forty. He lifts weights every day, does karate, tries to avoid the slop they serve him, stays lean and meditates. He takes his phone and says, First, Mr. Post, I want to thank you for taking my case. His eyes water immediately and hes overcome. For at least the last fifteen years Quincy has not had a lawyer or any type of legal representative, not a soul out there in the free world working to prove his innocence. I know from my vast experience that this is a burden that is almost unbearable. A corrupt system locked him away, and theres no one fighting the system. His burdens are heavy enough as an innocent man, but with no voice he feels truly helpless. I say, You are indeed welcome. Im honored to be here. Most of my clients just call me Post, so lets drop the mister stuff. Another smile. Deal. And Im just Quincy. The paperwork has been filed so Im officially on board. Any questions about that? Yeah, you look more like a preacher or something. Why are you wearing that collar? Because Im an Episcopal priest, and this collar has a way of getting more respect, at times. We had a preacher once who wore one of those. Never could understand why. He was raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and their ministers and bishops do indeed wear collars. He dropped out as a teenager. At eighteen he married his girlfriend because she was pregnant, and the marriage was never stable. Two other children followed. I know their names and addresses and places of employment, and I know that they havent spoken to him since his trial. His ex-wife testified against him. His only brother is Marvis, a saint who visits him every month and sends him a small check occasionally. Quincy is lucky to be alive. One black juror saved his life. Otherwise, he would have gone to death row at a time when Florida was enthusiastically killing folks. As always, Guardians file on him is thick and we know as much about him as possible. So what do we do now, Post? he asks with a smile. Oh, we have a lot of work to do. We start with the scene of the crime and investigate everything. That was a long time ago. True, but Keith Russo is still dead, and the people who testified against you are still alive. Well find them, try to gain their trust, and see what theyre saying now. What about that snitch? Well, surprisingly, the drugs havent killed him. Huffeys back in prison, this time in Arkansas. Hes spent nineteen of his forty years behind bars, all due to drugs. Ill go see him. You dont expect him to say he lied, do you? Maybe. You never know with snitches. Professional liars have a way of laughing about their lies. Over his miserable career hes snitched in at least five other cases, all for sweetheart deals with the cops. He has nothing to gain by sticking to the lies he told your jury. Ill never forget when they brought that boy in, all cleaned up with a white shirt and tie. At first I didnt recognize him. It had been months since we were in the same cell. And when he started talking about my confession I wanted to scream at him. It was obvious the cops had fed him details of the crimecutting off the electricity, using the flashlightall that stuff. I knew right then that my ass was cooked. I looked at the jurors and you could tell they were eating it up. All of it. Every last lie he told. And you know what, Post? I sat there listening to Huffey and I thought to myself, Man, that guy swore to tell the truth. And the judge is supposed to make sure all witnesses tell the truth. And the prosecutor, he knows his witness is lying. He knows the guy cut a deal with the cops to save his ass. Everybody knew, everybody but those morons on the jury. Im ashamed to say it happens all the time, Quincy. Jailhouse snitches testify every day in this country. Other civilized countries prohibit them, but not here. Quincy closes his eyes and shakes his head. He says, Well, when you see that sack-a-shit tell him Im still thinking about him. Thinking about revenge is not helpful here, Quincy. Its wasted energy. Maybe so, but I have plenty of time to think about everything. You gonna talk to June? If shell talk. I bet she wont. His ex-wife remarried three years after his trial, then divorced, then remarried again. Frankie found her in Tallahassee living as June Walker. Evidently, she eventually found some stability and is the second wife of Otis Walker, an electrician on the campus at Florida State. They live in a middle-class neighborhood that is predominantly black and have one child together. She has five grandchildren from her first marriage, grandchildren that Quincy has never seen even in a photo. Nor has he seen their three children since his trial. For him, they exist only as toddlers, frozen in time. Why shouldnt she talk to me? I ask. Because she lied too. Come on, Post, they all lied, right? Even the experts. Im not sure the experts thought they were lying. They just didnt understand the science and they gave bad opinions. Whatever. You figure that out. I know damned well June lied. She lied about the shotgun and the flashlight, and she lied when she told the jury I was somewhere around town the night of the murder. And why did she lie, Quincy? He shakes his head as if my question is foolish. He puts the phone down, rubs his eyes, then picks it up again. We were at war, Post. Shouldve never got married and damned sure needed a divorce. Russo screwed me big-time in the divorce and suddenly I couldnt pay all that child support and alimony. She was out of work and in a bad way. When I got behind, she sued me again and again. The divorce was bad but not nearly as bad as what came after. We grew to thoroughly hate each other. When they arrested me for murder I owed something like forty thousand bucks in payments. Guess I still do. Hell, sue me again. So it was revenge? More like hatred. I aint never owned a shotgun, Post. Check the records. We have. Nothing. See. But records mean little, especially in this state. There are a hundred ways to get a gun. Who you believe, Post, me or that lying woman? If I didnt believe you, Quincy, I wouldnt be here. I know, I know. I can almost understand the shotgun, but why would she lie about that flashlight? I never saw it before. Hell, they couldnt even produce it at trial. Well, if we are assuming that your arrest, prosecution, and conviction were carefully planned to frame an innocent man, then we must assume the police leaned on June to say the flashlight belonged to you. And hatred was her motive. But how was I supposed to pay all that money from death row? Great question, and youre asking me to get inside her mind. Oh, please dont go there. Shes crazy as hell. We both have a good laugh. He stands and stretches and asks, How long you staying today, Post? Three hours. Hallelujah. You know something, Post? My cell is six feet by ten, just about the same size as this little shithole were in now. My cellie is a white boy from downstate. Drugs. Not a bad kid, not a bad cellie, but can you imagine spending ten hours a day living with another human in a cage? No. Course, we aint said a word to each other in over a year. Why not? Cant stand each other. Nothing against white folks, Post, but there are a lot of differences, you know? I listen to Motown, he likes that country crap. My bunk is neat as a pin. Hes a slob. I dont touch drugs. Hes stoned half the time. Enough of this, Post. Sorry to bring it up. I hate whiners. Im so glad youre here, Post. You have no idea. Im honored to be your lawyer, Quincy. But why? You dont make much money, do you? I mean, you cant make much representing people like me. We havent really discussed fees, have we? Send me a bill. Then you can sue me. We laugh and he sits down, the phone cradled in his neck. Seriously, who pays you? I work for a nonprofit and, no, I dont make much. But Im not in it for the money. God bless you, Post. Diana Russo testified that on at least two occasions you went to their office and threatened Keith. True? No. I was in his office several times during my divorce but stopped going when the case was over. When he wouldnt talk to me on the phone, I went to the office one time, and, hell yes, I was thinking about taking a baseball bat and beating his brains out. But the little receptionist out front said he wasnt in, said he was in court. It was a lie because his car, a fancy black Jaguar, was parked behind the office. I knew she was lying and I started to make a scene, but didnt. I bit my tongue and left, never went back. I swear thats the truth, Post. I swear. Diana lied, like everybody else. She testified that you called their home several times and threatened him. More lies. Phone calls leave a trail, Post. I aint that stupid. My lawyer, Tyler Townsend, tried to get the records from the phone company, but Diana blocked him. He tried to get a subpoena but we ran out of time during the trial. After I was convicted, the judge wouldnt approve a subpoena. We never got those records. By the way, have you talked to Tyler? No, but hes on the list. We know where he is. Good dude, Post, a real good dude. That young man believed me and fought like hell, a real bulldog. I know you lawyers get a bad rap, but he was a good one. Any contact with him? Not anymore, its been too long. We wrote letters for years, even after he quit the law. He told me once in a letter that my case broke his spirit. He knew I was innocent, and when he lost my case he lost faith in the system. Said he couldnt be a part of it. He stopped by about ten years ago and it was a blessing to see him, but it also brought back bad memories. He actually cried when he saw me, Post. Did he have a theory about the real killer? He lowers the phone and looks at the ceiling, as if the question is too involved. He raises it again and asks, You trust these phones, Post? Its against the law for the prison to eavesdrop on confidential talks between a lawyer and his client, but it happens. I shake my head. No. Neither do I, he says. But my letters to you are safe, right? Right. A prison cannot open mail related to legal matters, and it has been my experience that they dont try. Its too easy to notice if mail has been tampered with. Quincy uses sign language to indicate he will put it in writing. I nod. The fact that he has spent twenty-two years inside a prison where he is presumably safe from the outside, and is still worried, is revealing. Keith Russo was murdered for a reason. Someone other than Quincy Miller planned the killing, pulled it off with precision, then got away. What followed was a thorough framing that involved several conspirators. Smart guys, whoever they were, and are. Finding them may be impossible, but if I didnt think we could prove Quincys innocence I wouldnt be sitting here. Theyre still out there, and Quincy is still thinking about them. The three hours pass quickly as we cover many topics: bookshe reads two or three a week; my exonereeshes fascinated by the ones weve freed; politicshe stays abreast with newspapers and magazines; musiche loves the 1960s stuff from Detroit; correctionshe rails against a system that does so little to rehabilitate; sportshe has a small color television and lives for the games, even hockey. When the guard taps on my door I say goodbye and promise to be back. We touch fists at the window and he thanks me again. Chapter 7 The Chevrolet Impala owned by Otis Walker is parked in an employees lot behind a physical plant at the edge of campus. Frankie is parked nearby, waiting. Its a 2006 model, purchased used by Otis and financed through a credit union. Vicki has the records. His second wife, June, drives a Toyota sedan with no liens. Their sixteen-year-old son doesnt have his license yet. At five minutes after 5:00 p.m., Otis emerges from the building with two coworkers and heads for the parking lot. Frankie gets out and checks a tire. The coworkers scatter and yell goodbye. As Otis is about to open his drivers door, Frankie materializes from nowhere and says, Say, Mr. Walker, you got a second? Otis is immediately suspicious, but Frankie is a black guy with a pleasant smile and Otis is not the first stranger hes approached. Maybe, he says. Frankie offers his hand and says, My names Frankie Tatum and Im an investigator for a lawyer out of Savannah. Now Otis is even more suspicious. He opens the door, tosses in his lunch pail, closes the door and says, Okay. Frankie raises both hands in mock surrender and says, I come in peace. Im just looking for information about an old case. At this point a white man would have been rebuffed, but Frankie appears harmless. Im listening, Otis says. Im sure your wife has talked about her first husband, Quincy Miller. The name causes a slight sag of the shoulders, but Otis is curious enough to continue for a moment. Not much, he says. A long time ago. Why are you involved with Quincy? The lawyer I work for represents him. Were convinced Quincy got framed for that murder and were trying to prove it. Good luck with that one. Quincy got what he deserved. Not really, Mr. Walker. Quincy is an innocent man whos served twenty-two years for somebody elses crime. You really believe that? I do. So does the lawyer I work for. Otis considers this for a moment. He has no record, has never been to prison, but his cousin is doing hard time for assaulting a police officer. In white America, prisons are good places where bad men pay for their crimes. In black America, they are too often used as warehouses to keep minorities off the streets. Otis asks, So who killed that lawyer? We dont know, and may never know. But were just trying to find the truth and get Quincy out. Im not sure I can help you. But your wife can. She testified against him. Im sure shes told you all about it. Otis shrugs and glances around. Maybe, but it was a long time ago. She hasnt mentioned Quincys name in years. Can I talk to her? Talk about what? Her testimony. She didnt tell the truth, Mr. Walker. She told the jury that Quincy owned a 12-gauge shotgun. That was the murder weapon, and it was owned by somebody else. Look, I met June years after the murder. In fact, she had another husband before she met me. Im number three, you understand? I know she had a rough time when she was younger but our life is pretty good right now. The last thing she wants is any trouble related to Quincy Miller. Im asking for help, Otis. Thats all. We got a brother wasting away in prison not two hours from here. The white cops and white prosecutor and white jury said he killed a white lawyer. Didnt happen that way. Otis spits, leans on his door, and crosses his arms over his chest. Frankie gently presses on. Look, I served fourteen years in Georgia for somebody elses murder. I know what its like, okay? I got lucky and got out, but I left some innocent guys behind. Guys like me and you. Theres a lot of us in prison. The systems rigged against us, Otis. Were only trying to help Quincy. So whats June got to do with this? Has she ever told you about the flashlight? Otis thinks for a second and shakes his head. Frankie doesnt want a gap in the conversation. There was a flashlight with some blood on it. Cops said it came from the crime scene. Quincy never saw it, never touched it. June told the jury he had one very similar to it. Not true, Otis. Not true. She also told the jury that Quincy was somewhere around Seabrook the night of the killing. Not true. He was with a girlfriend an hour away. Otis has been married to June for seventeen years. Frankie is assuming he is quite aware of her struggles with the truth, so why beat around the bush? Youre calling her a liar? Otis said. No, not now. But you said yourself she was a different woman back then. She and Quincy were at war. He owed her a bunch of money that he couldnt pay. The cops leaned on her to take the stand and point the finger. A long time ago, man. Damned right. Ask Quincy about it. Hes spent twenty-two years in prison. Well, lets say she didnt tell the truth back then. You expect her to admit it now? Come on. I just want to talk to her. I know where she works. I couldve gone there, but we dont operate that way. This is not an ambush, Otis. I respect your privacy and Im asking you to run it by June. Thats all. Feels like an ambush. What else could I do? Send an e-mail? Look, Im leaving town. You talk to her and see what she says. I know what shell say. She aint got nothing to do with Quincy Miller. Im afraid she does. Frankie hands him a Guardian Ministries business card. Heres my phone number. Im just asking for a favor, Otis. Otis takes it and reads the front and back. You with some kinda church? No. The guy who runs it is the lawyer who got me out of prison. Hes a preacher too. Good guy. This is all he does, gets innocent folk out. White guy? Yep. Must be a bad dude. Youd like him. So would June. Give us a chance, Otis. Dont bet on it. Thanks for your time. Dont mention it. Chapter 8 At Guardian, we have a collection of brochures we use for a variety of purposes. If our target is a white guy, I use the one with my smiling face front and center. With the collar. If we need to approach a white woman, well use Vickis. Blacks get the one with Mazy arm-in-arm with a black exoneree. We like to say that skin color doesnt matter, but thats not always true. We often use it to open doors. Since Zeke Huffey is white, I sent him my brochure with a chatty letter informing him that his plight has come to the attention of our little foundation and were reaching out. Two weeks later, I received a handwritten letter on ruled notebook paper thanking me for my interest. I responded with my usual follow-up and asked if he needed anything. Not surprisingly, his next letter asked for money. I sent him a $200 MoneyGram with another letter asking if its okay to visit him. Of course its okay. Zeke is a career criminal who has done time in three states. He is originally from the Tampa area but we have found no trace of his family. When he was twenty-five he married a woman who quickly divorced him when he was convicted of drug trafficking. As far as we know, he has no children, and were assuming his visitors are scarce. Three years ago he got busted in Little Rock, Arkansas, and is currently doing five years in the Land of Opportunity. His career as a snitch began with the trial of Quincy Miller. He was eighteen when he testified, and a month after the trial his drug charges were reduced and he walked. That deal worked so beautifully that he did it again and again. Every jail has a druggie facing more time and eager to avoid it. With the proper coaching from cops and prosecutors, a snitch can be quite effective with his perjury. Jurors simply cannot believe that a witness, any witness, will take the oath, swear to tell the truth, then tell them an outlandish story of pure fiction. These days Zeke is doing time at a satellite prison in the middle of the cotton fields of northeastern Arkansas. Im not sure why it is referred to as a satellite. Its a prison, with all the usual dreary architecture and fencing. Unfortunately, the facility is operated for profit by an out-of-state corporation, which means the guards earn even less and there are fewer of them, the terrible food is even worse, the commissary gouges the men on everything from peanut butter to toilet paper, and the medical care is almost nonexistent. I suppose that in America everything, including education and corrections, is fair game for profiteers. I am led to a room with a row of enclosed booths for attorney visits. A guard locks me inside. I take a seat and stare at a thick plastic divider. Minutes pass, then half an hour, but Im in no hurry. The door on the other side opens and Zeke Huffey steps in. He offers me a smile as the guard removes the handcuffs. When were alone he says, Why are we in a lawyers room? Hes looking at my collar. Nice to meet you, Zeke. Thanks for taking the time. Oh, I got plenty of time. Didnt know you were a lawyer. Im a lawyer and a priest. How are they treating you here? He laughs and lights a cigarette. Of course the room has no ventilation. Ive seen my share of prisons and this has to be the worst, he says. Owned by the state but leased to an outfit called Atlantic Corrections Corporation. Ever heard of them? Yes. Ive been a guest in several of their units. Seriously bad stuff, right? Four bucks for a roll of toilet paper. Should be a dollar. They give us one roll per week, sandpaper that makes you limp when you walk. I guess Im lucky you sent me that money. Thank you, Mr. Post. Some of my buddies never see a dime from the outside. Hideous prison tattoos are crawling up his neck. His eyes and cheeks are sunken, the look of a street addict whos been stoned on cheap drugs for most of his life. I say, Ill send some more money when I can, but we operate on a pretty lean budget. Who is we and why are you really here? A lawyer aint gonna help me. I work for a nonprofit foundation dedicated to saving innocent men. One of our clients is Quincy Miller. Remember him? He chuckles and releases a cloud of smoke. So youre here under false pretenses, huh? You want me to leave? Depends on what you want. As a career criminal, Zeke knows that the game has suddenly changed. I want something that only he possesses, and hes already thinking about how to capitalize. He has played this game before. I say, Lets start with the truth. He laughs and says, Truth, justice, and the American way. You must be a fool, Mr. Post, searching for the truth in a place like this. Its my job, Zeke. Its the only way I can get Quincy out of prison. You and I both know that youre an experienced snitch who lied to the jury at Quincys trial. He never confessed to you. The details of the crime were fed to you by the cops and prosecutor who rehearsed your story with you. The jury bought it and Quincy has been locked up for twenty-two years. Its time to get him out. He smiles as if hes only humoring me. Im hungry. Can you fetch me a Coke and some peanuts? Sure. Its not unusual, even in a place like this, for visitors to buy snacks. I tap on my door and a guard eventually opens it. He and I walk to a wall of vending machines where I start shoving in quarters. Two bucks for a twelve-ounce soda, a dollar each for two small packs of peanuts. The guard takes me back to our room and a few minutes later reappears on Zekes side and hands him the goodies. Thanks, he says and takes a drink. Its important to keep the conversation flowing, so I ask, How did the cops convince you to testify against Quincy? You know how they operate, Mr. Post. Theyre always looking for witnesses, especially when they got no proof. I dont remember all the details. It was a long time ago. Yes. Its certainly been a long time for Quincy. Do you ever think about him, Zeke? You know how bad prison is. You ever stop and think that you helped put an innocent man behind bars for the rest of his life? Not really. Been too busy doing other things, you know? Dont know. Quincy has a chance of getting out. Its a long shot but then all of them are. This is my work, Zeke, and I know what Im doing. We need your help. Help? What am I supposed to do? Tell the truth. Sign an affidavit saying that you lied at trial and you did so because the cops and prosecutors offered you a sweet deal. He crunches on a mouthful of peanuts and studies the floor. I press on. I know what youre thinking, Zeke. Youre thinking that Florida is far away and you have no desire to get involved in a case this old. Youre thinking that if you come clean now with the truth then the cops and prosecutor will charge you with perjury and lock you up again. But thats not going to happen. The statute of limitations on perjury ran out a long time ago. Plus, theyre all gone. The sheriff retired. The prosecutor did too. The judge is dead. The system back there has no interest in you whatsoever. You have nothing to gain and nothing to lose by helping Quincy get out. Its really a no-brainer, Zeke. Do the right thing, tell the truth, and your life goes on. Look, Mr. Post, I get out in seventeen months, and Im not doing anything to screw that up. Arkansas doesnt care what you did in a Florida courtroom twenty-two years ago. You didnt perjure yourself here. These guys couldnt care less. Once youre paroled, their only concern is filling your cell with the next man. You know how it all works, Zeke. Youre a pro at this game. Hes stupid enough to smile at this compliment. He likes the idea of being in control. He sips his Coke, lights another cigarette, finally says, I dont know, Mr. Post, it sounds awfully risky to me. Why should I get involved? Why not? You have no loyalty to the cops and prosecutors. They dont care what happens to you, Zeke. Youre on the other side of the street. Do something good for one of your own. There is a long gap in the conversation. Time means nothing. He finishes one pack of peanuts and opens the second. He says, Never knew of lawyers who do what you do. How many innocent people have you sprung? Eight, in the past ten years. All innocent. We have six clients now, including Quincy. Can you get me out? he says, and it strikes both of us as funny. Well, Zeke, if I thought you were innocent I might give it a shot. Probably a waste of your time. Probably so. Can you help us, Zeke? Whens all this going down? Well, were hard at work now. We investigate everything and build a case for innocence. But its slow work, as you might guess. Theres no real rush on your part, but I would like to keep in touch. You do that, Mr. Post, and if you find a few extra bucks pass them along. Peanuts and a Coke mean fine dining in this dump. Ill send some money, Zeke. And if you find a few extra minutes of time, think about Quincy. You owe him one. That I do. Chapter 9 Carrie Holland was nineteen years old when she told Quincys jury that she saw a black man running down a dark street at the time of the murder. He was of the same height and build as Quincy and was carrying what appeared to be a stick, or something. She said she had just parked her car in front of an apartment building, heard two loud noises coming from the direction of the Russos law office three blocks away, and saw a man running. On cross-examination, Tyler Townsend attacked. She didnt live in the apartment building but said she was there to visit a friend. The friends name? When she hesitated, Tyler reacted with disbelief and mocked her. When he said, Give me the friends name and Ill call her as a witness, the prosecutor objected and the judge sustained. From the transcript, it appeared as though she couldnt remember a name. Tyler zeroed in on the dark street, one without lighting. Using a map, he pinpointed the buildings and the distance from her car to the Russos office and raised questions about her ability to see what she claimed she saw. He argued with her until the judge intervened and made him stop. She had a drug charge from the year before and Tyler assaulted her with it. He asked her if she was under the influence on the witness stand and suggested that she was still struggling with addiction. He demanded to know if it was true that she had been dating a deputy on the Ruiz County police force. She denied this. When his cross-examination dragged on, the judge asked him to speed things along. When he protested that the prosecutor seemed to be taking his time, the judge threatened him with contempt, and not for the first time. When Tyler was finished with Carrie Holland he had raised doubts about her credibility, but he had also verbally abused her to the point of making her sympathetic to the jury. Not long after the trial, Carrie left the area. She lived for a while near Columbus, Georgia, married a man there, had two kids, got a divorce and dropped out of sight. It took Vicki a year in one of her many desktop investigations to find the witness living as Carrie Pruitt in a remote part of western Tennessee. She works in a furniture factory near Kingsport, and lives off a county road in a mobile home she shares with a man called Buck. To her credit, she has managed to stay out of trouble. Her rap sheet has only the drug conviction from Seabrook, one that was never expunged. Were assuming that Carrie is clean and sober, and in our business thats always a plus. A month ago, Frankie eased into the area and did his usual reconnaissance. He has photos of her mobile home and the acreage around it, and of the factory where she is employed. Working with an investigator from Kingsport, he has learned that she has one son in the army and another living in Knoxville. Buck drives a truck and has no criminal record. Oddly enough, his father once pastored a small rural church twenty miles from where they live. There could be an element of stability in the family. There is also an excellent chance that neither Buck nor anyone else within five hundred miles knows much about her past. This complicates matters. Why should she revisit her brief encounter with Quincy Miller two decades earlier and upset her life now? I meet Frankie at a pancake house in Kingsport, and over waffles we discuss the photos. The mobile home is remote with a fenced dog-run out back where Buck keeps some hounds. He drives the obligatory pickup. She has a Honda. Vicki has run the tag numbers and verified ownership. Neither is registered to vote. A nice bass boat sits under a shelter beside the trailer. Buck is obviously serious about his hunting and fishing. I dont like the looks of this place, Frankie says, shuffling the photos. Ive seen worse, I say, and I certainly have. Ive knocked on a lot of doors where I expected to be met by either a Doberman or a rifle. But lets assume Buck doesnt know about her past, never heard of Quincy. If we assume that, then we can also assume she really would like to keep it quiet. Agreed. So stay away from the house. What time does she leave for work? I dont know, but she punches in at eight, out at five, doesnt leave for lunch. Makes about nine bucks an hour. Shes on an assembly line, not in an office, so you cant call her at work. And she wont talk around her coworkers. Whats the weather forecast for Saturday? Clear and sunny. Perfect day for fishing. Lets hope so. At daybreak Saturday, Frankie is pumping gas at a convenience store a mile from the trailer. Its our lucky day, or so we think for a moment. Buck and a friend roll past towing the bass rig, headed for a lake or a river. Frankie calls me, and I immediately call the listed number of their land line. A sleepy woman answers the phone. In a friendly voice I say, Ms. Pruitt, my name is Cullen Post, and Im a lawyer from Savannah, Georgia. Got a minute? Who? What do you want? The sleepiness vanishes. Cullen Post is my name. Id like to talk to you about a trial you were involved in a long time ago. You got the wrong number. You were Carrie Holland back then and you lived in Seabrook, Florida. I have all the records, Carrie, and Im not here to cause you any trouble. Wrong number, mister. I represent Quincy Miller. Hes been in prison for twenty-two years because of you, Carrie. The least you can do is give me thirty minutes. The line goes dead. Ten minutes later, I park in front of the trailer. Frankie is not far away, just in case I get shot. Carrie finally comes to the door, opens it slowly, and steps onto the narrow wooden porch. She is slim and wearing tight jeans. Her blond hair is pulled back. Even with no makeup, she is not a bad-looking woman, but the years of nicotine have bunched lines of wrinkles around her eyes and mouth. She holds a cigarette and glares at me. Im wearing my collar but she is not impressed by it. I smile and say, Sorry to barge in like this, but I just happened to be in the area. What do you want? she asks and takes a puff. I want my client out of prison, Carrie, and thats where you come in. Look, Im not here to embarrass or harass you. Ill bet Buck has never heard of Quincy Miller, right? Cant blame you for that. I wouldnt talk about it either. But Quincy is still serving hard time for a murder committed by someone else. He didnt kill anyone. You didnt see a black man running from the scene. You testified because the cops leaned on you, right? You had been dating one of them and so they knew you. They needed a witness and you had that little drug problem, right Carrie? Howd you find me? Youre not exactly hiding. Get outta here before I call the law. I raise my hands in mock surrender. No problem. Its your property. Im leaving. I toss a business card on the grass and say, Heres my number. My job will not allow me to forget about you, so Ill be back. And I promise I will not blow your cover. I just want to talk, thats all, Carrie. You did a terrible thing twenty-two years ago and its time to make it right. She doesnt move, and watches me drive away. The letter from Quincy is handwritten in neat block letters. It must have taken him hours. It reads: dear post: thank you sir once again for taking my case. you cannot know what it means to be locked up like this with no one out there believing in you. im a different person these days, post, and its all because of you. now get to work and get me out of here. you asked me if my wonderful young lawyer tyler townsend had a theory about the real murderer. he did. he told me many times that it was well-known around that part of florida that keith russo and his wife were involved with the wrong people. they were lawyers for some drug dealers. they started making a lot of money and this got noticed. there aint much money in seabrook, not even for lawyers, and folks became suspicious. the high sheriff, pfitzner, was a crook himself and tyler said he was in on the drugs. probably in on the killing too. i know this for a fact, post. somebody put that damned flashlight in the trunk of my car, and i just know it was pfitzner. the whole deal was one big frame job. they knew it would be easier to convict a black guy in seabrook than a white one and man they got that right. a friend said i should hire russo for my divorce. bad, bad advice. he charged me too much money and did a terrible job. about halfway through i could tell he didnt want to be no divorce lawyer. when the judge hit me with all that alimony and child support i said to russo, man you gotta be kiddin me. no way i can pay all that. you know what he said? said, youre lucky it wasnt more. the judge was a big church man and really disliked men who chased skirts. my ex said i was screwing around. russo acted like i got what i deserved. russo himself was a ladies man. anyway, enough of that. hes dead. tyler didnt know why they killed russo, but, when youre dealing with a drug gang you have to figure he double-crossed them in some way. maybe he kept too much of the money. maybe he was snitching. maybe his wife didnt want to lose everything they had. i met her a few times when i was in the office and didnt like her. one tough gal. after my trial, tyler got threats and he was really scared. they finally ran him out of town. he said there were some bad people back there and he was moving on. years later, after my appeals were over, and he wasnt my lawyer anymore, he told me that a deputy sheriff got killed in seabrook. said he thought it was related to the russo murder and the drug gangs. but he was only speculating by then. so there it is, post. tylers theory of who really killed russo. and he also thought that russos wife was probably involved too. but its too late to prove any of that. thanks again, post. hope this is helpful and i hope to see you soon. get busy. your client and friend, quincy miller. Chapter 10 The bloodstain expert who testified against Quincy was a former Denver homicide detective named Paul Norwood. After working crime scenes for a few years, he had decided to hand in his badge, buy a couple of nice suits, and become an expert witness. He had dropped out of college and did not have the time to pursue a degree in criminology or anything related to actual science, so he attended seminars and workshops on forensics, and he read books and magazine articles written by other experts. He was a smooth talker with a good vocabulary, and he found it easy to convince judges that he knew his stuff. Once qualified as a forensics expert, he found it even easier to convince unsophisticated jurors that his opinions were based on solid science. Norwood was far from alone. In the 1980s and 1990s, expert testimony proliferated in the criminal courts as all manner of self-anointed authorities roamed the country impressing juries with their freewheeling opinions. To make matters worse, popular television crime shows portrayed forensic investigators as brilliant sleuths able to solve complex crimes with infallible science. The famous ones could practically look at a bloodied corpse and, within an hour or two, name the killer. In real life, thousands of criminal defendants were convicted and put away by shaky theories about bloodstains, blood spatter, arson, bite marks, fabrics, glass breakage, scalp and pubic hair, boot prints, ballistics, and even fingerprints. Good defense lawyers challenged the credibility of these experts, but were rarely successful. Judges were often overwhelmed by the science and had little or no time to educate themselves. If a proffered witness had some training and seemed to know what he was talking about, he was allowed to testify. Over time, judges adopted the rationale that since a witness had been qualified as an expert in other trials in other states, then certainly he must be a genuine authority. Appellate courts got into the act by affirming convictions without seriously questioning the science behind the forensics, and thus bolstering the reputations of the experts. As r?sum?s grew thicker, the opinions grew to encompass even more theories of guilt. The more Paul Norwood testified, the smarter he became. One year before Quincys trial in 1988, Norwood spent twenty-four hours in a bloodstain analysis seminar put on by a private company in Kentucky. He passed the course, was given a certificate to prove his knowledge, and added another field of expertise to his growing repertoire. He was soon impressing juries with his scientific knowledge of the many intricate ways blood is dispersed in a grisly crime. He specialized in blood, crime scene reconstruction, ballistics, and hair analysis. He advertised his services, networked with law enforcement and prosecutors, and even wrote a book on forensics. His reputation grew and he was in demand. Over a twenty-five-year career, Norwood testified in hundreds of criminal trials, always for the prosecution and always implicating the defendant. And always for a nice fee. Then DNA testing arrived and put a serious dent in his business. DNA testing not only changed the future of criminal investigations, it brought a fresh and devastating scrutiny to the junk science Norwood and his ilk had been peddling. In at least half of the DNA exonerations of innocent men and women, bad forensics have been the cornerstone of the prosecutions evidence. In one year, 2005, three of Norwoods convictions were invalidated when DNA testing exposed his faulty methods and testimony. His three victims had spent a combined fifty-nine years in prison, one on death row. He retired under pressure after a single trial in 2006. On cross-examination, after giving his standard bloodstain analysis, he was discredited like never before. The defense lawyer painfully walked him through each of the prior years three exonerations. The questioning was brilliant, brutal, and revealing. The defendant was found not guilty. The real killer was later identified. And Norwood called it quits. However, the damage was done. Quincy Miller had long since been convicted because of Norwoods analysis of the bloody flashlight, which, of course, he had never seen. His razor-sharp analysis of the case consisted of reviewing large color photos of the crime scene and the flashlight. He never touched the most crucial piece of evidence, but rather relied on photos of it. Undaunted by this, he testified with certainty that the specks of blood on the lens were back spatter from the shotgun blasts that killed Keith Russo. The flashlight disappeared before the trial. Norwood refuses to discuss the case with me. Ive written him twice. He responded once and said he would not talk about it, not even on the phone. He claims hes in bad health; the case was a long time ago; his memory is failing; and so on. Not that a conversation would be that productive. As of now, at least seven of his convictions have been exposed as frauds and he is regularly used as the poster boy for junk science gone awry. Death penalty lawyers attack regularly. Hes even been sued. Bloggers excoriate him for the misery he created. Appellate judges detail his wretched career. An innocence group is trying to raise a fortune in funds to review all of his cases, but that kind of money is hard to find. If given an audience, I would ask him to repudiate his work and try to help Quincy, but so far he has shown no sign of remorse. With or without Norwood, we have no choice but to hire our own forensic scientists, and the best ones are expensive. Im in Savannah for a couple of days putting out fires. Vicki, Mazy, and I are in the conference room discussing forensics. On the table in front of us are four r?sum?s, our final four. All are top criminologists with impeccable credentials. Well start with two and send them the case. The cheapest wants $15,000 for a review and consultation. The most expensive gets $30,000 and theres no negotiating. As innocence work has intensified over the past decade, these guys have become highly sought-after by groups advocating for the wrongfully convicted. Our top man is Dr. Kyle Benderschmidt at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He has taught for decades and has built one of the leading forensic science departments in the country. Ive talked to other lawyers and they rave about him. We try to keep $75,000 in a war chest to pay experts, private investigators, and lawyers when necessary. We dont like to pay lawyers, and over the years we have become quite convincing at begging sympathetic litigators to go pro bono. We have a loose network of them around the country. And some scientists will reduce their fees to help an innocent person, but thats rare. Benderschmidts standard rate is $30,000. Do we have it? I ask Vicki. Of course, she says with a smile, always the optimist. If we dont have it, shell get on the phone and fire up some donors. Then lets hire him, I say. Mazy agrees. We move on to the second expert. Mazy says, Looks like youre off to another slow start on this one, Post. I mean, youve struck out with June Walker, Zeke Huffey, and Carrie Holland. So far nobody wants to talk to you. As with any office, there is a fair amount of good-natured ribbing within Guardian. Vicki and Mazy get along well enough, though each gives the other a wide berth. When Im in town I become an easy target. If we didnt love each other we would be throwing rocks. I laugh and say, No kidding. And please remind me of the last case where we got off to a fast start. Were a tortoise not a rabbit, Vicki says, offering one of her favorites. I say, Yep. It took us three years before we signed on. You want an exoneration in a month? Just show us some progress, Mazy says. I havent hit the charm button yet, I say. Mazy smiles along. When are you going to Seabrook? Dont know. Im putting it off as long as I can. No one there knows were involved and Id like to stay in the shadows. Whats the level of fear? Vicki asks. Hard to say but its definitely a factor. If Russo got himself rubbed out by a drug gang, then those guys are still around. The killer is among them. When I show up, theyll probably know it. It sounds awfully risky, Post, Mazy says. It is, but theres risk in most of our cases, right? Our clients are in prison because someone else pulled the trigger. Theyre still out there, laughing because the cops nailed the wrong guy. The last thing they want is an innocence lawyer digging through the old case. Just be careful, Vicki says. Its obvious these two have worried at length behind my back. Im always careful. Are you cooking tonight? Sorry. Bridge. Were having frozen pizza, Mazy says. She dislikes cooking, and with four kids at home she relies heavily on the frozen food section. Is James around? I ask. Mazy and her husband separated a few years back and attempted a divorce. It didnt work, but living together is not working either. She knows I truly care and Im not being nosy. He comes and goes, spends some time with the kids. I pray for you guys. I know you do, Post. And we pray for you. I dont keep food in my penthouse because it tends to rot from neglect. Since I cant squeeze a meal out of either of my colleagues, I work until after dark then go for a long walk through the old section of town. Christmas is two weeks away and the air is cool. Ive been in Savannah for a dozen years but dont really know the city. Im away too much to enjoy its charm and history, and its difficult to foster friendships with a nomadic lifestyle. But my first friend is at home and looking for company. Luther Hodges hired me out of seminary and enticed me to Savannah. Hes retired now and his wife died a few years ago. He lives in a small cottage owned by the diocese, two blocks from Chippewa Square. Hes waiting on the porch, eager to get out of the house. Hello Padre, I say as we embrace. Hello, my son, he says piously. Our standard greetings. You look thin, he says. He worries about my lifestylebad diet, little sleep, stress. Well, you certainly dont, I reply. He pats his stomach and says, I cant stay away from the ice cream. Im starving. Lets go. Were on the sidewalk, arm in arm, strolling Whitaker Street. Luther is almost eighty now, and with each visit I notice hes moving a bit slower. He has a slight limp and needs a new knee but says replacement parts are for geezers. You just cant let the old man in, is one of his favorite lines. Where have you been? he asks. The usual. Here and there. Tell me about the case, he says. He is fascinated by my work and wants updates. He knows the names of Guardians clients and follows any developments online. I talk about Quincy Miller and our typical slow start. He listens carefully, and, as always, says little. How many of us have a true friend who loves what we do and is willing to listen for hours? I am blessed to have Luther Hodges. I hit the high points without revealing anything confidential, and ask about his work. He spends hours each day writing letters to men and women behind bars. This is his ministry and hes committed to it. He keeps meticulous records and copies of all correspondence. If youre on Luthers list, you get letters along with birthday and Christmas cards. If he had money, he would send it all to prisoners. There are sixty on his list at the moment. One died last week. A young man in Missouri hung himself, and Luthers voice breaks as he talks about it. The guy had mentioned suicide in a couple of letters and Luther was concerned. He called the prison numerous times looking for help but got nowhere. We descend to the Savannah River and walk the cobblestone street near the water. Our favorite little bistro is a seafood joint thats been here for decades. Luther took me to lunch there on my first visit. At the door, he says, My treat. He knows my financial situation. If you insist, I say. Chapter 11 VCU is a city campus and seems to occupy most of downtown Richmond. On a raw January afternoon, I make my way to the Department of Forensic Science on West Main Street. Kyle Benderschmidt has chaired the department for two decades and rules the place. His suite occupies an entire corner of the floor. A secretary offers coffee and I never decline. Students come and go. At exactly 3:00 p.m., the renowned criminologist appears and welcomes me with a smile. Dr. Benderschmidt is in his early seventies, lean and energetic, and still dresses like the old frat boy he was back in the day. Starched khakis, penny loafers, a button-down shirt. Though he is in demand as an expert, he still loves the classroom and teaches two courses each semester. He does not like courtrooms and tries to avoid testifying. He and I both know that if we get as far as a retrial in Quincys case, it will be years away. Typically, he reviews a case, prepares his findings, offers his opinions, and moves on to the next one as the lawyers go about their business. I follow him into a small conference room. On the table is the stack of materials I sent him three weeks ago: photos and diagrams of the crime scene, photos of the flashlight, the autopsy report, and the entire trial transcript, almost 1,200 pages. I wave at the paperwork and ask, So what do you think? He smiles and shakes his head. Ive read everything and Im not sure how Mr. Miller got convicted. But then this is not unusual. What really happened to the flashlight? There was a fire in the storage unit where the cops stored evidence. It was never found. I know, I read that part too. But what really happened? Dont know yet. We havent investigated the fire and probably wont be able to. So, lets assume the fire was deliberate and somebody wanted the flashlight to disappear. There is no link to Miller without it. What do the police gain by destroying it and keeping it away from the jury? I feel like Im a witness getting peppered on cross-examination. Good question, I say and sip my coffee. Since were working with assumptions, then lets assume the police did not want a defense expert taking a close look at it. But there was no defense expert, he says. Of course not. It was an indigent defense case with a court-appointed lawyer. The judge refused to provide funds for an opposing expert. The cops probably anticipated this, but decided not to take a chance. They figured they could find a guy like Norwood who would be happy to analyze and speculate using only the photos. I suppose that makes sense. Were just guessing here, Dr. Benderschmidt. Its all we can do at this point. And maybe those little specks of blood belong to someone else. Precisely, he says with a smile, as if hes already figured out something. He takes an enlarged color photo of the two-inch flashlight lens. Weve examined this with all sorts of image enhancers. Me and some of my colleagues. Im not even sure these specks are human blood, or blood at all. If theyre not blood, then what are they? Its impossible to tell. What is so troubling about this is that the flashlight was not recovered from the crime scene. We dont know where it came from or how the blood, if its blood, made it to the surface of the lens. There is such a small sample to work with, its impossible to determine anything. If its back spatter, wouldnt the shotgun and even the killer be covered as well? More than likely but well never know. Neither the shotgun nor the killers clothing were recovered. But, we know it was a shotgun because of the buckshot. Two blasts in such a confined area will produce an enormous amount of blood. I guess the photos prove that. What is surprising is that there were no bloody footprints made by the killer as he left. There is no record of any. Then Id say the killer went to great lengths to avoid detection. No fingerprints, so he probably wore gloves. No shoe or boot prints, so he probably had some type of covering on the soles of his feet. Sounds like a pretty sophisticated killer. It couldve been a gang killing, by a professional. Well, thats your business. I cant go there. Is it possible to fire a shotgun with one hand while holding the flashlight with the other? I ask, though the answer is fairly obvious. Highly unlikely. But its a small flashlight with a two-inch lens. It would be possible to hold the flashlight in one hand and use that same hand to steady the forestock of the shotgun. Thats assuming you buy into the prosecutions theory. But I doubt seriously that the flashlight was at the scene. But Norwood testified that this is blood on the flashlight and it is back spatter. Norwood was wrong again. He should be locked up himself. So your paths have crossed? Oh yes. Twice. Ive debunked two of his convictions, though both men are still in prison. Norwood was well-known in the business back in his heyday, just one of many. Mercifully he quit, but there are plenty of these guys still out there, still at it. It makes me sick. Benderschmidt has been vociferous in his criticism of the one-week seminars in which police officers, investigators, anyone, really, with enough money for the tuition, can be trained quickly, get a graduation certificate, and declare themselves experts. He continues, It was grossly irresponsible for him to tell the jury that these specks are blood that came from Russos body. He shakes his head in disbelief and disgust. There is simply no scientific way to prove it. Norwood told the jury that back spatter cannot travel more than forty-eight inches through the air, a common belief back then. Therefore, the barrel was close to the victim. Not so, says Benderschmidt. The distance blood travels varies greatly with each shooting, and for Norwood to be so precise was flat out wrong. There are just far too many variables involved here to give opinions. So whats your opinion? That there is no scientific basis for what Norwood told the jury. That there is no way to know if the flashlight was even at the scene. That there is an even chance that these specks of blood are not even blood. Lots of opinions, Mr. Post. Ill dress em all up in beautiful language that leaves no doubt. He looks at his watch and says he needs to take a call. He asks if I mind. Of course not. While hes gone, I pull out some notes, some questions that I cannot answer. Neither can he, but I value his thoughts. Im certainly paying for them. He returns in fifteen minutes with a cup of coffee. So whats bugging you? I ask. Forget the science and lets do some speculating. Thats almost as much fun as the science, he says with a grin. Question one: If the police planted the flashlight in the trunk of Millers car, why didnt they go ahead and plant the shotgun too? Ive asked myself the same question a hundred times. Maybe they were worried about proving he owned it. Im sure it was not registered. Or maybe it would have been harder to plant in his trunk. The flashlight is much smaller and easier to simply place there. Pfitzner, the sheriff, testified that he found it when he was searching the trunk. There were other cops at the scene. He listens intently and nods along. Thats plausible. It would have been easy to simply pull the flashlight out of a pocket and drop in the trunk. Not so with a shotgun. He keeps nodding. I can buy that. Next question: According to the snitch, Miller said he drove to the Gulf the next day and tossed the shotgun into the ocean. Why wouldnt he have tossed the flashlight too? Both were at the crime scene. Both had blood on them. It makes no sense not to dispose of both. I respond, I have no answer to that and its a huge gap in the fiction the cops fed to the snitch. And why the ocean where the water is shallow and the tides rise and fall? It makes no sense, I say. It does not. Next question: Why use a shotgun? They make too much noise. The killer got lucky when no one heard the blasts. Well, Carrie Holland said she heard something, but shes not credible. They used a shotgun because thats what a guy like Miller would have used, maybe. A pro would have used a pistol with a silencer, but they werent framing a pro. They wanted Miller. Agreed. Did Miller have a history of hunting? None whatsoever. Says he never hunted in his life. Did he own guns? He says he kept two pistols in the house for protection. His wife testified that he owned a shotgun, but shes not credible either. Youre pretty good, Post. Thanks. Ive had some experience on the streets. So have you, Dr. Benderschmidt. Now that you know the case, Id like to hear your version of educated guessing. Put the science aside and tell me how this murder happened. He gets to his feet and steps to a window for a long gaze. Theres a brain at work here, Mr. Post, and thats why youre not likely to solve this crime, short of a miracle. Diana Russo told a convincing story of the conflict between Miller and her husband. I suspect she exaggerated, but the jury believed her. She pointed to a black guy in a white town. And one with a motive, at that. They, the conspirators, knew enough about crime scene evidence to use the flashlight as the link to Miller. The real killer left behind no traceable clues, which is remarkable and says a lot about his high level of planning. If he did make a mistake, the cops missed it or perhaps covered it up. After twenty-two years, it is indeed a cold case, and one that looks impossible to solve. You wont find the killer, Mr. Post, but you might succeed in proving your client innocent. Is there a chance hes guilty? So you have doubts? Always. The doubts keep me awake at night. He returns to his chair and takes a sip of coffee. I dont see it. Motive is weak. Sure, he may have hated his former lawyer, but blowing his head off is a sure ticket to death row. Miller had an alibi. There is nothing that links him to the crime scene. My best educated guess is that he didnt do it. Thats good to hear, I reply with a smile. He is no bleeding-heart and has testified for the prosecution more than the defense. He shoots straight and is not afraid to criticize another expert, even a colleague, when he disagrees. We spend a few minutes talking about other famous blood-spatter cases, and its soon time to leave. Thanks, Doctor, I say as I gather my things. I know your time is valuable. Youre paying for it, he says with a smile. Yep, $30,000. As I open the door, he says, One last thing, Mr. Post, and this is even farther from my expertise, but that situation down there could get sticky. None of my business, you know, but youd better be careful. Thanks. Chapter 12 My travels take me to the next prison on my little checklist. Its called Tully Run and its hidden at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the western part of Virginia. This is my second visit here. Because of the Internet, there are now hundreds of thousands of convicted sex offenders. For many reasons, they do not fare well in general prison populations. Most states are trying to segregate them into separate facilities. Virginia sends most of its to Tully Run. The mans name is Gerald Cook. White male, age forty-three, serving twenty years for molesting his two stepdaughters. Because I have so many other clients to choose from, I have always tried to avoid sex offenders. However, in this line of work Ive learned that some of them are actually innocent. In his younger days, Cook was a wild man, a hard-drinking redneck prone to brawling and chasing women. Nine years ago he caught the wrong one and married her. They spent a few rough years together taking turns moving in and out. Both had trouble keeping jobs and money was always an issue. A week after his wife filed for divorce, Gerald won $100,000 in the Virginia State Lottery and tried to keep it quiet. She heard about it almost immediately and her lawyers got excited. Gerald fled the area with his loot and the divorce dragged on. To get his attention, and at least some of the money, she conspired with her daughters, then ages eleven and fourteen, to accuse him of sexual abuse, crimes that had never been mentioned. The girls signed sworn written statements detailing a pattern of rape and molestation. Gerald was arrested, thrown in jail with an exorbitant bond, and has never stopped claiming he is innocent. In Virginia, it is difficult to defend such charges. At his trial, both girls took the stand, and in wrenching testimony described the horrible things their stepfather had allegedly done. Gerald countered with his own testimony but, being a hothead, made a poor witness. He was sentenced to twenty years. By the time he left for prison, his lottery winnings were long gone. Neither stepdaughter finished high school. The older has led a life of astonishing promiscuity, and, at the age of twenty-one, is in her second marriage. The younger has a child and works for minimum wage at a fast-food restaurant. Their mother owns a beauty salon on the outskirts of Lynchburg, and has a big mouth. Our investigator there has affidavits from two former clients who describe the woman constantly telling hilarious stories of framing Gerald with the bogus charges. We also have an affidavit from a former boyfriend with similar stories. She frightened him so bad he moved out. Cook came to our attention two years ago with a letter from prison. We receive about twenty per week, and the backlog is frustrating. Vicki, Mazy, and I spend as much time as possible reading them and trying to weed out the ones we cannot help. The vast majority are from guilty inmates who have plenty of time to work on their claims of innocence and write long letters. I travel with a stack that I read when I should be sleeping. At Guardian, we have a policy of answering every letter. Cooks story sounded plausible and I wrote back. We swapped a few letters and he sent his trial transcript and file. We did a preliminary investigation and became convinced that he was probably telling the truth. I visited him a year ago and disliked him immediately. He confirmed what I had learned through our correspondence: he is obsessed with thoughts of revenge. His goal is to get out and either do bodily harm to his ex-wife and her daughters, or, more likely, to frame them on drug charges and see them locked up. He dreams of one day visiting them in prison. I have tried to temper this by explaining that we have expectations of our clients once they are free, and that we will not be involved with anyone plotting retribution. Most of the inmates I visit in prison are subdued and thankful for the face time. But, again, Cook is belligerent. He sneers at me through the Plexiglas, grabs the phone and says, Whats taking so long, Post? You know Im innocent, now get me out of here. I smile and say, Nice to see you, Gerald. How are you doing? Dont give me that happy horseshit, Post. I want to know what youre doing out there while Im stuck in here with a bunch of perverts. Ive been fighting these fairies off for seven years now and Im damned tired of it. Calmly I say, Gerald, perhaps we should start over with this session. Youre already yelling at me and I dont appreciate it. Youre not paying me. Im a volunteer. If you cant keep things pleasant then Ill leave. He lowers his head and starts crying. I wait patiently as he tries to collect himself. He wipes both cheeks on his sleeves and doesnt make eye contact. I am so innocent, Post, he says, his voice cracking. I believe that or I wouldnt be here. That bitch put those girls up to lying and all three are still laughing about it. I believe that, Gerald. I really do, but getting you out will take a long time. There is simply no way to speed things along. As I told you before, its fairly easy to convict an innocent man and virtually impossible to exonerate one. This is so wrong, Post. I know, I know. Heres my problem right now, Gerald. If you walked out tomorrow, Im afraid you would do something really stupid. Ive cautioned you many times about harboring thoughts of revenge, and if thats still on your mind, then Im not getting involved. I wont kill her, Post. I promise. I wont do something stupid enough to get my ass thrown back into a place like this. But? But what? But what might you do, Gerald? Ill think of something. She deserves to do some time after what shes done to me, Post. I cant just let it go. You have to let it go, Gerald. You have to go somewhere far away and forget about her. I cant do it, Post. I cant keep my mind off that lying bitch. And her two daughters. I hate them with every bone in my body. Here I sit, an innocent man, and theyre going about their lives laughing at me. Where is the justice? Because I am cautious out of necessity, I am not yet his attorney. Though Guardian has spent almost $20,000 and two years investigating, we are not officially involved. He worried me from the beginning and Ive kept the escape hatch open. You still want revenge, dont you, Gerald? His lip quivers and his eyes water again. He glares at me and nods yes. Im sorry, Gerald, but Im saying no. I will not represent you. He suddenly erupts in a fit of rage. You cant do that, Post! he screams into the phone, then flings it and lunges at the Plexiglas partition. No! No! You cant do that, dammit! Ill die in here! He begins slapping the Plexiglas. I am startled and move back. You gotta help me, Post! You know Im innocent! You cant just walk out of here and leave me to die. Im innocent! Im innocent and you damned well know Im innocent! The door behind me jerks open and a guard steps in. Sit down, he yells at Gerald who is pounding the Plexiglas with his fists on the other side. The guard yells at him as the door behind him opens and another guard appears. He grabs Gerald and pushes him away from the partition. As I ease through the door to escape hes screaming, Im innocent, Post! Im innocent. I can almost hear him as I drive away from Tully Run. Four hours later I enter the grounds of the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women (NCCIW) in Raleigh. The parking lot is full and, as always, I grumble about the money spent on corrections in this country. Its a huge business, quite literally a profit-maker in some states, but certainly a big employer for any community lucky enough to get itself a prison. In the U.S. there are over two million people locked up, and it takes one million employees and $80 billion in tax dollars to take care of them. NCCIW should be closed, like all womens prisons. Very few women are criminals. Their mistakes are picking bad boyfriends. North Carolina sends its female death row inmates to NCCIW. There are seven of them now, including our client, Shasta Briley. She was convicted of murdering her three children about twenty miles from where she is now incarcerated. Hers is another sad story of a kid who never had a chance. She was a crack baby who was bounced from foster homes to orphanages to in-laws in the projects. She dropped out of school, had a baby, lived with an aunt, worked here and there for minimum wages, had another baby, became an addict. After her third child was born, she got a break and found a room in a homeless shelter where a counselor helped her get clean. A man from a church gave her a job and sort of adopted her and the kids, and she moved into a small rental duplex. Every day was a struggle, though, and she was arrested for bad checks. She sold her body for cash, and then began selling drugs. Her life was a nightmare; thus, she was easy to convict. Eight years ago her duplex caught on fire in the middle of the night. She escaped through a window, with cuts and burns, and ran around the outside of the house screaming as neighbors rushed to help. Her three daughters perished in the fire. The community rallied around her after the tragedy. The funeral was gut-wrenching and made the local news. Then the state arson investigator came to town. When he mentioned the word arson, all sympathy for Shasta vanished. At her trial, the State proved that she had been busy buying insurance in the months before the fire: three policies of $10,000 for the life of each child, and a $10,000 policy on the contents of her duplex. A relative testified that Shasta had offered to sell her the children for $1,000 each. The arson expert was clear with his opinions. Shasta had plenty of baggage: a criminal record, three children by three different men, and a history of drug use and prostitution. At the scene, her neighbors had told the police that she tried to enter the burning duplex but the flames were too much. She was covered in blood, had burns on her hands, and was frantic out of her mind. However, once the arson theory was circulated, most of the neighbors backed off. At trial, three of them told the jury that she had seemed unconcerned as the fire raged. One was allowed to speculate that she was probably stoned. Seven years later, she spends her days alone in a cell with little human contact. Sex is the currency in a womens prison, but so far the guards have left her alone. She is frail, eats little, reads the Bible and old paperbacks for hours, and speaks in a soft voice. We talk through a screen, so phones are not necessary. She thanks me for coming and asks about Mazy. With four kids, Mazy seldom leaves Savannah, but she has visited here twice and has bonded with Shasta. They swap letters weekly and talk by phone once a month. By now, Mazy knows more about arson than most experts. Got a letter from Mazy yesterday, she says with a smile. Sounds like her kids are doing well. Her kids are doing great. I miss my kids, Mr. Post. Thats the worst thing of all. I miss my babies. Today time is not important. Here they allow the lawyers to stay as long as we want, and Shasta enjoys being out of her cell. We talk about her case, Mazys children, the weather, the Bible, books, anything that interests her. After an hour I ask, Have you read the report? Every word, twice. Sounds like Dr. Muscrove knows his stuff. Lets hope so. Muscrove is our arson expert, a genuine scientist who has thoroughly debunked the States investigation. He is of the firm opinion that the fire was not deliberate. In other words, there was no crime at all. But getting his report in the hands of a sympathetic judge will be difficult. Our best shot will be an eleventh-hour pardon from the Governor, another unlikely scenario. As we talk, I remind myself that this is a case we will probably lose. Of our six current clients, Shasta Briley has the worst chance of survival. We try to talk about Muscroves report, but the science is often overwhelming, even for me. She drifts back to the latest romance novel shes read, and I happily go along. I am often amazed at how literate some of these inmates become during their incarcerations. A guard reminds me that its late. Weve been chatting for three hours. We touch hands at the screen and say goodbye. As always, she thanks me for my time. Chapter 13 At the time of the Russo murder, Seabrooks police chief was Bruno McKnatt, who, according to our research, apparently had little to do with the investigation. In Florida, the county sheriff is the principal law enforcement official and can assume jurisdiction over any crime, even those within municipalities, though in the larger cities the police departments run things. Russo was murdered inside the city limits of Seabrook, but McKnatt was shoved aside by Bradley Pfitzner, the longtime sheriff. McKnatt was police chief from 1984 through 1990, then moved on to police work in Gainesville. There his career sputtered and he tried selling real estate. Vicki found him in a low-end retirement village called Sunset Village near Winter Haven. He is sixty-six and drawing two pensions, one from Social Security, the other from the State. He is married with three adult children scattered around south Florida. Our file on McKnatt is thin because he had little to do with the investigation. He did not testify at trial and his name is barely mentioned. Contacting McKnatt is my first real foray into Seabrook. He is not from the town and spent only a few years there. I am assuming he left behind few contacts and had little interest in the murder. I called him the day before I arrived and he seemed willing to talk. Sunset Village is a series of neat circles of tidy mobile homes around a central community center. Each home has a shade tree beside a concrete driveway, and each vehicle is at least ten years old. The residents seem eager to escape the confines of their cramped quarters and there is a lot of porch sitting and socializing. Many of the trailers have jerry-rigged ramps for wheelchairs. As I loop around the first circle, I am carefully observed. A few of the old folks offer friendly waves but most stare at my Ford SUV with Georgia plates as if noting the intrusion of a trespasser. I park near the community center and watch for a moment as some elderly men slowly go about a game of shuffleboard under a large pavilion. Others are playing checkers, chess, and dominoes. At sixty-six, McKnatt is definitely on the younger side of this population. I spot him wearing a blue Braves baseball cap and walk over. We sit at a picnic table near a wall with dozens of posters and bulletins. Hes overweight but seems to be in decent shape. At least hes not on oxygen. He says, somewhat defensively, I like it here, lots of good people who take care of each other. No one has any money so theres no pretense. We try to stay active and theres plenty to do. I offer something banal, like it seems to be a nice place. If hes suspicious he doesnt appear so. He wants to talk and seems proud to have a visitor. I walk him through his career in law enforcement for a few minutes, and he finally gets to the point. So why are you interested in Quincy Miller? Hes my client and Im trying to get him out of prison. Been a long time, hasnt it? Twenty-two years. Did you know him? No, not till the murder. Were you at the crime scene? Of course I was. Pfitzner was already there, got there pretty fast, and he asked me to take Ms. Russo home. Shed found the body, you know, and called 911. Poor lady was a mess, as you might guess. I drove her home and sat with her until some friends came over, it was awful, then I went back to the scene. Pfitzner was in charge, as always, and he was barking orders. I said I thought we should call the state police, which is what we were supposed to do, but Pfitzner said he would do it later. Did he? The next day. He took his time. He didnt want anybody else working the case. What was your relationship with Pfitzner? I ask. He smiles but not in a pleasant way. Ill be honest with you, he says, as if he has been dishonest so far. Pfitzner got me fired, so I have no use for the man. Hed been the sheriff for twenty years when the town hired me as chief, and he never respected me or any officer in my department. He had an iron grip on the county and didnt want anybody else with a badge trespassing on his turf. Thats just the way it was. Why did he get you fired? McKnatt grunts and watches the old men play shuffleboard. He finally shrugs and says, You gotta understand small-town politics. I had about a dozen men, Pfitzner had twice that. He had a big budget, whatever he wanted, and I got the leftovers. We never got along because he saw me as a threat. He fired a deputy, and when I hired the guy Pfitzner got pissed. All the politicians were afraid of him and he pulled some strings, got me sacked. I couldnt leave town fast enough. You been to Seabrook? Not yet. You wont find much. Pfitzners been gone for a long time and Im sure all his tracks are covered. It is a loaded statement, as if he wants me to jump in, but I let it slide. This is the first meeting, and I dont want to seem too eager. I have to build trust and that takes time. Enough of Sheriff Pfitzner. Ill circle back in due course. Did you know Keith Russo? I ask. Sure. I knew all the lawyers. Its a small town. What was your opinion of him? Smart, cocky, not one of my favorites. He roughed up a couple of my men once in a trial and I didnt like it. Guess he was just doing his job. He wanted to be a big-shot lawyer and I guess he was on his way. One day we looked up and he was driving a sleek new black Jaguar, probably the only one in town. Rumor was he settled a big case down in Sarasota and made a killing. He was flashy like that. And his wife, Diana? He shakes his head as if in pain. Poor lady. I guess Ill always have a soft spot for her. Can you imagine what she went through finding his body like that? She was a mess. I cannot. Was she a good lawyer? Well regarded, I guess. I never had dealings with her. A knockout, though, a real beauty. Did you watch the trial? No. They moved it next door to Butler County, and I couldnt justify taking time off to sit through a trial. At the time, did you think Quincy Miller committed the murder? He shrugs, says, Sure. I never had any reason to doubt it. As I recall, there was a pretty strong motive for the killing, some bad blood. Wasnt there a witness who saw him running away from the scene? Yes, but she didnt make a positive ID. Didnt they find the murder weapon in Millers car? Not exactly. They found a flashlight with some blood on it. And the DNA matched, right? No, there was no DNA testing in 1988. And the flashlight disappeared. He thinks about this for a moment and its obvious he doesnt remember the important details. He left Seabrook two years after the murder and has tried to forget the place. He says, I always thought it was an open-and-shut case. I suppose you think otherwise, right? I do, or else I wouldnt be here. So what makes you think Millers innocent after all these years? Im not about to share my theories, not at this point anyway. Maybe later. I reply, The States case doesnt hold up, I say vaguely, then move on with Did you maintain any contacts in Seabrook after you left? He shakes his head. Not really. I wasnt there very long and, as I said, sort of left in a hurry. It was not the highlight of my career. Did you know a deputy named Kenny Taft? Sure, knew em all, some better than others. When he got killed I read about it in the newspapers. I was in Gainesville doing narcotics. I remember his photo. Good guy. Why are you curious about him? Right now, Mr. McKnatt, Im curious about everything. Kenny Taft was the only black deputy working for Pfitzner. Drug thugs dont care if youre black or white, especially in a gun battle. Youre right about that. Just curious if you knew him. An elderly gent in shorts, black socks, and red sneakers approaches and sets two paper cups of lemonade on our table. McKnatt says, Well, thank you, Herbie. Its about time. Herbie snaps, Ill send you the bill, and moves on. We sip our drinks and watch the slow-motion shuffleboard. McKnatt asks, So, if your boy Miller didnt kill Russo, who did? I have no idea, and well probably never know. My job is to prove Miller didnt do it. He shakes his head and smiles. Good luck. If somebody else did it, then hes had twenty-plus years to run away and hide. Talk about a cold case. Ice cold, I agree with a smile. But then all of my cases are like this. And this is all you do? Solve old cases and get people out of prison? Thats it. How many? Eight, in the past ten years. And all eight were innocent? Yes, as innocent as you and me. How many times have you found the real killer? Not all were murders, but in four of the cases we identified the guilty parties. Well, good luck with this one. Thanks. Ill need it. I move the conversation to sports. Hes a real Gators fan and proud that his basketball team is winning. We touch on the weather, retirement, a bit of politics. McKnatt is not the sharpest guy Ive met and seems to have little interest in Russos murder. After an hour, I thank him for his time and ask if I can come back. Certainly, he says, eager to have a visitor. Driving away, Im struck by the fact that he offered no warning about Seabrook and its shady history. Though he clearly has no affection for Sheriff Pfitzner, he did not offer the slightest hint of corruption. There is more to his story. Chapter 14 Two months into a slow start, we get our first break. It comes with a phone call from Carrie Holland Pruitt, and she wants to talk. I leave before dawn on a Sunday morning and drive six hours to Dalton, Georgia, about halfway between Savannah and Kingsport, Tennessee. The truck stop is just off Interstate 75 and its one Ive been to before. I park with a view of the entrance and wait on Frankie Tatum. We chat on the phone and twenty minutes later he parks near me. I watch as he enters the restaurant. Inside he selects a booth near the rear and orders coffee and a sandwich and opens a newspaper. On the table next to the wall is the usual assortment of condiments and a dispenser with paper napkins. With the newspaper as a shield, he removes the salt and pepper shakers and replaces them with our own versions, cheap stuff from any grocery store. At the bottom of our salt shaker is a recording device. When his sandwich arrives, he sprinkles some salt to make sure there is nothing suspicious. He texts me and says all is well, the place is not that crowded. At 1:00 p.m., our agreed-upon meeting time, I text Frankie and tell him to eat slow. There is no sign of either Bucks pickup or Carrie Pruitts Honda. I have their color photos in my file and Ive memorized their Tennessee license plate numbers. At 1:15, I watch the truck slow on the exit ramp and text Frankie. I get out of my SUV, walk into the restaurant, and see Frankie at the counter paying his bill. A waitress is clearing his table and I ask if its okay to sit there. Carrie has brought Buck with her, which is a good sign. Shes obviously told him her backstory and needs his support. Hes a burly guy with thick arms and a graying beard and, I assume wrongly, a short fuse. As soon as they walk in the door, I jump up and wave them over. We make awkward introductions and I motion to the table. I thank her for the meeting and insist that they order lunch. Im starving myself and ask for eggs and coffee. They order burgers and fries. Buck stares at me with many doubts. Before I can get to the point he says, We checked you out online. Guardian Ministries. You a preacher or a lawyer? Both, I say with a winning smile and then ramble a bit about my background. He says proudly, My daddy was a preacher, you know? Oh, we know. Four years ago, his daddy retired after thirty years at a small country church far outside of Blountville. I feign interest and we tiptoe around theology lite. I suspect Buck strayed from the faith a long time ago. In spite of his rustic appearance, he has a soft voice and a pleasant manner. Carrie says, For a lot of reasons, Mr. Post, Ive never told Buck much about my past. Please, its just Post, I say. She smiles and Im once again struck by her pretty eyes and strong features. Shes wearing makeup and has pulled back her blond hair, and in a different life her looks could have opened more promising doors. Buck says, Okay, first things first. How do we know that we can trust you? He is asking this of a man whos secretly recording them. Before I can respond, he says, I mean, Carrie told me what happened back then, what she did, and obviously were concerned or we wouldnt be here. But this looks like trouble to me. She asks, What do you really want? The truth, I say. You aint wearing no wire or anything like that, are you? Buck asks. I snort at this and raise my hands as if I have nothing to hide. Come on, Im not a cop. You want to pat me down, go ahead. The waitress arrives with more coffee and we clam up. When shes gone I take the initiative. No, Im not wearing a wire. I dont operate like that. What I want is simple. Ideally, you tell me the truth, then sign an affidavit that I may one day use to help Quincy Miller. Im also talking to the other witnesses and trying to get the same thingthe truth. I know that much of the testimony at trial was fabricated by the cops and prosecutor, and Im just trying to piece it all together. Your statement will certainly help, but its just one part of the big picture. Whats an affidavit? Buck asks. Just a sworn statement, under oath. Ill prepare it and you guys review it. Then Ill keep it under wraps until its needed. No one around Kingsport will ever know. Seabrook is too far away. Do I have to go to a courtroom? she asks. Unlikely. Lets assume I can convince a judge that Quincy did not get a fair trial. That, frankly, is a long shot. But if it happens, then there is the remote possibility that the prosecutor will decide to try him again for the murder. That could be years down the road. If so, you could be called as a witness, which is quite unlikely because you did not see a black man running from the scene, right? She doesnt nod or say anything for a moment. Our plates arrive and we prepare our food. Buck likes ketchup. Neither wants salt or pepper. I sprinkle salt on my eggs and place the shaker in the center of the table. Carrie nibbles on a French fry and avoids eye contact. Buck chomps on his burger. Theyve obviously talked about the situation at length without making a decision. She needs prodding and I ask, Who convinced you to testify? Sheriff Pfitzner? She says, Look, Mr. Post, Ill talk to you and tell you what happened, but Im not sold on the idea of getting involved. Im gonna think long and hard before I sign any affidavit. You cant repeat what she says, can you? Buck asks as he wipes his mouth with a paper napkin. I cant repeat it in court, if thats what youre asking. I can talk to my staff about it, but thats as far as I can go. Any judge will require an affidavit from a witness. Im worried about my boys, she says. They dont know. Id be ashamed if they found out their mother lied in court and sent a man to prison. I reply, I understand that, Carrie, and you should be concerned. But theres also the likelihood that they will be proud of the fact that you came forward to help free an innocent man. We all did bad things when we were twenty, but some mistakes can be corrected. Youre worried about your boys. Think about Quincy Miller. He has three kids he hasnt seen in twenty-two years. And five grandchildren hes never seen, not even in a photograph. They absorb this and stop eating for a moment. They are overwhelmed and frightened, but the wheels are turning. I say, We have the records and they tell us that your drug charge was dismissed a few months after the trial. Pfitzner convinced you to take the stand, tell your story, and the prosecutor promised to lose the drug charge, right? She breathes deeply and looks at Buck, who shrugs and says, Go ahead. We didnt drive five hours for cheeseburgers. She tries to drink from her coffee cup but her hands are shaking. She puts it down and shoves her plate a few inches away. Staring straight ahead, she says, I was dating a deputy named Lonnie. We were doing drugs, lots of drugs. I got caught but he kept me out of jail. Then the lawyer got murdered and a few weeks later Lonnie told me he had things worked out. If I would claim that I saw a black man running away from the lawyers office, then the drug charge would get dismissed. Just like that. So he took me down to Pfitzners office and I told my story. The next day, Lonnie and Pfitzner took me to see the prosecutor, cant remember his name. Burkhead, Forrest Burkhead. Thats him. And I told the story again. He recorded me, but didnt say a thing about the drug charge. When I asked Lonnie about it later, he said the deal had been worked out between Pfitzner and Burkhead, not to worry. Lonnie and I were fighting, mainly about the drugs. Ive been clean and sober for fourteen years now, Mr. Post. Thats wonderful. Congratulations. Buck got me through it. Buck said, I like my beer but always stayed away from drugs. I knew my daddy would shoot me. Anyway, they took me to Butler County for the trial and I testified. I felt rotten about it but I really didnt want to spend a lot of time in jail. I figured it was either me or Quincy Miller and Ive always been loyal to me. Every dog for himself, you know? Over the years Ive tried to forget about the trial. That young lawyer made a fool out of me. Tyler Townsend. Thats him. Ill never forget him. And then you left town? Yes sir. As soon as the trial was over, Pfitzner called me to his office, thanked me, gave me a thousand dollars in cash and told me to get lost. Said if I came back to Florida within five years hed have me arrested for lying to the jury. Can you believe that? A deputy drove me to Gainesville and put me on the bus to Atlanta. Never been back and dont want to go. I didnt even tell my friends where I was. Didnt have many. It was an easy place to leave. Buck wants some credit and says, When she first told me about this a few weeks ago, I said, You gotta tell the truth, babe. That mans been locked up because of you. Theres still a drug charge on your record, I say. That was the first one, a year before. You should get it expunged. I know, but it was a long time ago. Buck and I are doing okay these days. We both work hard and pay our bills. I dont really want to be bothered with the past, Mr. Post. If she signs the affidavit, can they get her for perjury in Florida? Buck asks. No, the statute of limitations has run out. Besides, no one really cares anymore. Theres a new sheriff, new prosecutor, new judge. When will all this happen? she asks, obviously relieved now that shes told the truth. Its a slow process, could take months or years, if it happens at all. First you have to sign the affidavit. Shell sign it, Buck says, then takes another bite. With his mouth full, he adds, Wont you, babe? I gotta think about it, she says. Buck says, Look, if we have to go to Florida, then Ill drive you down there and punch anybody who causes trouble. There will be no trouble, I can assure you. The only downside for you, Carrie, is telling your sons. The rest of your family and your friends will probably never know. If Quincy Miller walked out of prison tomorrow, who in Kingsport, Tennessee, would hear about it? Buck nods in agreement and takes another bite. Carrie picks up another fry. Buck says, Theyre good boys, her two. I got a couple of wild ones, but Carries are fine boys. Hell, like you say, Ill bet theyll be proud of you, babe. She smiles but Im not sure shes convinced. Buck, my new ally, is confident. I finish my eggs and begin prodding her about the drug scene in Seabrook back then. Cocaine and pot were the preferred choices, and Lonnie always had a supply. Their romance was on and off and she did not spend time with the other deputies, though some were known to deal in small quantities. She claims she knew nothing about Pfitzners alleged role in the trade. When the table is cleared I ask for the check. I graciously thank them and offer my admiration for her courage in coming forward. I promise not to prepare the affidavit until she makes up her mind. We say goodbye in the parking lot and I watch them drive away. I return to the restaurant and walk to our table to fetch a baseball cap I deliberately left behind. When no one is looking I swap the salt and pepper shakers with two from my pocket. Three miles down the road, I exit the interstate and pull into the parking lot of a shopping center. Seconds later, Frankie wheels in, parks next to me, and gets into the front seat, all smiles. He holds a small recorder and says, Clear as a bell. This can be a dirty business. We are forced to deal with witnesses who have lied, police who have fabricated evidence, experts who have misled juries, and prosecutors who have suborned perjury. We, the good guys, often find that getting our hands dirty is the only way to save our clients. If Carrie Holland Pruitt refuses to cooperate and sign an affidavit, then Ill find a way to get her statements into the court record. Ive done it before. Chapter 15 Our hands get even dirtier. Frankie has hired an investigator out of Birmingham to stalk Mark Carter, the man who raped and murdered Emily Broone. He lives in the small town of Bayliss, ten miles from Verona, where Duke Russell was convicted. Carter sells tractors for a dealer in Verona, and he ends most workdays at a dive where he meets some buddies for a few beers and pool. He is at a table drinking Bud Light from a bottle when a man stumbles and crashes into the little party. Bottles fly as beer is spilled. The man gets to his feet, apologizing profusely, and the situation is tense for a moment. He scoops up the half-empty bottles, buys another round, and keeps apologizing. He sets four fresh bottles on the table and cracks a joke. Carter and his pals finally laugh. All is well as the man, our investigator, retreats to a corner and pulls out his cell phone. In a coat pocket he has the beer bottle Carter was working on. The next day, Frankie drives it to a lab in Durham and hands it over, along with a single pubic hair we filched from the police evidence file. Guardian pays $6,000 for an expedited test. The results are beautiful. We now have DNA proof linking Carter to the rape and murder. At Dukes trial, seven pubic hairs were entered into evidence by the State of Alabama. They were supposedly collected from the crime scene, from Emilys body. Duke submitted samples of his own. With great certainty, the States expert testified that they matched those found on the corpse, overwhelming proof that Duke raped Emily before he strangled her. Another expert testified that he also bit her several times during the assault. There was no semen found in or around her body. Undaunted by this, the prosecutor, Chad Falwright, simply told the jury that Duke had probably just used a condom. There was no proof of this, one was never found, but this made perfect sense to the jury. To get a death verdict, Falwright had to prove murder plus rape. The victim was naked and had probably been sexually assaulted, but the proof was weak. The pubic hairs became crucial evidence. In a sober moment, Dukes lawyer asked the court for money to hire his own expert hair analyst. The court said no. The lawyer either knew nothing about DNA testing or didnt want to bother with it. He may have assumed the court would not authorize it. Thus, the seven pubic hairs were never tested. But they were certainly analyzed. The expert testimony sent Duke to death row, and three months ago came within two hours of getting him killed. Now we have the truth. Verona sits in the center of the state, in a desolate, sparsely populated flatland packed with piney woods. For its 5,000 inhabitants, a good job is driving a pulpwood truck, a bad one is sacking groceries. One in five has no job at all. Its a depressing place, but then most of my stops are in towns that time has passed by. Chad Falwrights office is in the courthouse, just down the dusty hallway from where Duke was convicted nine years ago. Ive been here once before and would prefer to avoid it in the future. This meeting will not be pleasant, but Im accustomed to that. Most prosecutors despise me and the sentiments are mutual. As agreed upon, I arrive at 1:58 p.m. and give a nice smile to Chads secretary. Its obvious she does not like me either. Hes busy, of course, and she invites me to have a seat under a dreadful portrait of a scowling and, hopefully, dead judge. Ten minutes pass as she pecks away at a keyboard. There are no sounds coming from his office. Fifteen minutes. After twenty minutes, I say rudely, Look, we made an appointment for two p.m. I drove a long way to get here, now what the hell is going on? She glances at an old desk phone and says, Hes still talking to a judge. Does he know Im out here? I demand, loud enough for him to hear. Yes. Now please. I sit down, wait ten more minutes, then walk to his door and knock loudly. Before he or she can say anything, I barge in and find Chad not on the phone but at his window, as if enthralled by the vibrant city below. We agreed on two oclock, Chad. What the hell? Sorry, Post. I was on the phone with a judge. Come on in. Dont mind if I do. I drove five hours to get here. A little courtesy would be nice. My apologies, he says sarcastically and falls into his large leather swivel. Hes about my age and has spent the last fifteen years prosecuting criminals, primarily cookers and peddlers of meth. By far his most thrilling case was Emilys murder. Three months ago, as the clock ticked, he chased every TV reporter within sight and chatted about the burdens of his job. No problem, I say and take a seat. Whats on your mind? he asks and glances at his watch. Weve done some DNA testing, I say and manage to maintain my sour expression. What I want to do is get in his face with some serious smack. We know who the real killer is, Chad, and it aint Duke Russell. He takes it well. Do tell. Do tell. We obtained a sample from the killer and matched it with one of the States pubic hairs. Bad news, Chad. You got the wrong man. You tampered with our evidence? Brilliant. Youre more concerned with my sins than with your own. You almost executed an innocent man, Chad. Dont worry about me. Im just the guy whos found the truth. How did you steal a pubic hair? It was easy. You gave me the file, remember? A year ago, down the hall. For two days I sweated in that cramped little room and went through the evidence. One pubic hair stuck to my finger. A year has passed and no one here has even realized it. You stole a pubic hair. Unbelievable. Didnt steal it, Chad. I just borrowed it. You refused DNA testing, so somebody had to do it. Indict me, I dont care. You have bigger problems right now. He exhales as his shoulders sag. A minute passes as he collects his thoughts. Finally, Okay, who killed her? The last man seen with her before she was murdered. Mark Carter. They had a history from high school. The cops should have pursued him, but didnt for some reason. How do you know its him? Got a sample. How? A beer bottle. He likes beer, leaves behind a lot of bottles. We ran to the lab and Ive brought you a copy of the test results. You stole a beer bottle too? Indict me again, Chad, and keep playing games. Look in the mirror, man, and give it up. Your bogus prosecution is going down the drain and youre about to be humiliated. He offers a goofy grin and gives me a prosecutors favorite line: No way, Post, I still believe in my case. Then youre an idiot, Chad. But we knew that a long time ago. I toss a copy of the report on his desk and head for the door. Wait a minute, Post, he says. Lets finish the conversation. Assuming youre telling the truth here, what, uh, whats next? I sit down calmly and crack my knuckles. Duke will get out earlier if I can persuade Chad to cooperate. If he fights me, which prosecutors usually do, then the exoneration will take months instead of weeks. Heres the best way out of this, Chad, and Im not going to argue strategy here. For a change, Im holding all the cards. There are six other pubic hairs. Lets get them tested too, so well know a lot more. If all seven exclude Duke, then he walks. If all seven nail Carter, then you have a new case on your hands. If you agree to the additional testing, then things will go smooth. If you block it, then Ill file in state court, probably lose, then go to federal court. Eventually, Ill get the testing done and you know it. Reality sets in and he is angry. He pushes his chair back and walks to the window, deep in thought. He breathes heavily, rolls his head around as his neck crackles, strokes his chin. What all of this produces should surprise me, but it doesnt. Not anymore. He says, You know, Post, I can see both of them there with Emily, taking turns. You cant see the sky, Chad, because you dont want to. I stand and walk to the door. I believe in my case, Post. Heres the plan, Chad. You have two weeks. If youre still delusional in two weeks, Ill file my motion for testing and Ill also sit down with Jim Bizko at The Birmingham News. As you know, hes covered the case and were acquaintances. When I tell him about the DNA, youll be front-page news and it wont be the headlines you dream about. Between Bizko and myself, we can paint you as one enormous fool, Chad. Wont be that hard. I open the door and leave. My last image of Chad is him standing at the window, gawking at me, stunned, mouth-breathing, thoroughly defeated. I wish I could have taken a photo. I leave Verona in a hurry and settle in for the long drive to death row. Duke doesnt know about the DNA results. I want to tell him in person. Our meeting will be a wonderful occasion. Chapter 16 There is no urgent need for me to visit Seabrook. All of the players in Quincys trial have either died, retired, fled, or disappeared under mysterious circumstances. I have no idea who Im supposed to be afraid of, but there is a palpable sense of fear. So I send Frankie on reconnaissance. He spends two days and two nights there moving through the shadows as only he can do. His verbal report is typically blunt: Aint much to it, boss. He leaves and drives several hours to Deerfield Beach, near Boca Raton. He roams the streets, works the Internet, scopes out locations, and in short order puts on a handsome suit and makes the call. Tyler Townsend agrees to meet him at a new shopping center his company is finishing. Big signs announce plenty of space to lease. Frankie claims he and a partner are looking at prime spots for a sporting goods store. Its a new company, one with no presence online. Tyler seems friendly enough, but a bit wary. Hes fifty now, and he left the law a long time ago, a good move. Hes prospered in south Florida real estate and knows his business. He and his wife have three teenagers in their spacious home. Property taxes on it were $58,000 last year. He drives a fancy import and dresses and looks like money. Frankies ruse doesnt last long. They step into a 4,000-square-foot space with drying plaster and Tyler asks, Now what was the name of your company? No name, no company. Im here under false pretenses but its still important. Are you a cop? Anything but. Im an ex-con who spent fourteen years in a Georgia prison for somebody elses murder. A young lawyer took my case and proved I was innocent, got me exonerated, and dear old Georgia forked over some cash. My record is clean. From time to time I work for the lawyer. Figure its the least I can do. Is this by chance related to Quincy Miller? It is. The lawyer now represents him. We know hes innocent, as do you. He gives a deep breath and actually smiles, but only for a moment. He walks to a large front window and Frankie follows him. They watch an asphalt crew pave the parking lot. Tyler asks, And your name? Frankie Tatum. He hands over a Guardian business card and Tyler examines both sides. He asks, So how is Quincy doing? Its been twenty-two years. I did only fourteen as an innocent man, somehow managed to keep my sanity. But every day is another nightmare. Tyler hands the card back as if hes removing the evidence. Look, I really dont have time for any of this. I dont know what you want, but Im not getting involved, okay? Sorry and all that, but Quincy is a closed chapter in my book. You were a helluva lawyer, Tyler. You were just a rookie, but you fought for Quincy. He smiles, shrugs, says, And I lost. Ill ask you to leave now. Sure. Your property and all. My boss is a lawyer named Cullen Post, check him out. Hes exonerated eight people and he didnt do that by taking no for an answer. He wants to talk to you, Tyler, somewhere private. Very private. Believe me, Tyler, Post knows the game, and he aint going away. You can save a lot of time and trouble if youll just meet with him for fifteen minutes. And hes in Savannah? No. Hes across the street. Frankie points in my direction. The three of us walk around the corner to a family-style restaurant that Tylers company is building. Its unfinished and workers are taking chairs out of boxes. The avenue beyond is choked with new buildings: car dealerships, fast-food huts and drive-throughs, strip malls, a car wash, gas stations, a couple of branch banks. Florida sprawl at its finest. We stand in a corner, away from the workers, and Tyler says, Okay, lets have it. I get the impression that this conversation may end abruptly, so I ditch the small talk with Is it possible to prove Quincy is innocent? He considers this and shakes his head. Look, Im not getting involved in this. Years ago I tried my best to prove his innocence and I failed. That was another life. Now I have three kids, a beautiful wife, money, no worries. Im not going back there. Sorry. Wheres the danger, Tyler? Oh, youll find out. I mean, I hope not, for your sake anyway, but youre walking into a bad situation, Mr. Post. All of my cases are bad situations. He grunts as if I have no idea. Nothing like this. Were about the same age, Tyler, and we quit the law at the same time because we were disillusioned. My second career didnt exactly work and then I found a new calling. I spend my time pounding the streets looking for a break, looking for help. Right now, Tyler, Quincy needs your help. He takes a deep breath and has had enough. I suppose you have to be pushy in your line of work, but Im not getting pushed, Mr. Post. Good day. Leave me alone and dont come back. He turns around and walks out the door. Not surprisingly, Chad Falwright digs in. He will not agree to DNA testing of the other six pubic hairs. He now has them under lock and key, along with the other evidence. And, to show what a tough prosecutor he really is, hes threatening to have me indicted for tampering. Alabama prohibits it, as do all states, though with varying penalties, and he gleefully writes that I could face up to a year in jail. Locked up over one lousy pubic hair. In addition, he says he plans to file ethics complaints against me with the Alabama and Georgia bar associations. I laugh at this. Ive been threatened before, and by far more creative prosecutors. Mazy prepares a thick petition for post-conviction relief. Procedurally, it has to be filed first in state court, in Verona. The day before we file it, I drive to Birmingham and meet with Jim Bizko, a veteran reporter who covered Dukes trial. He followed the case as the appeals dragged on and expressed doubts about the fairness of the trial. He was especially harsh with his criticism of Dukes defense lawyer. When the poor guy died of cirrhosis, Jim covered it and suggested that another investigation into the murder would be appropriate. He is delighted by the news that DNA testing has cleared Duke. Im careful not to name Mark Carter as the killer. That will come later. The day after we file the petition, Bizko runs a lengthy article that lands on the front page of the Metro section. Chad Falwright is quoted as saying: I remain confident that we got the right man and Im working diligently to bring about the execution of Duke Russell, a ruthless killer. DNA testing means nothing in this case. After two more conversations with Otis Walker, both by phone, Frankie is convinced that June Walker wants nothing to do with Quincy Miller. Obviously, their chaotic divorce left permanent scars and she is adamant in her determination not to get involved. Theres nothing in it for her except bad memories and the embarrassment of confronting old lies. Otis warns Frankie to leave them alone. He promises to do so. For now. Chapter 17 There are twenty-three lawyers working in Seabrook these days and we have a thin file on each of them. About half were in town when Russo was murdered. The senior barrister is a ninety-one-year-old gentleman who still drives himself to the office every day. Two rookies showed up last year and hung out a shingle. All are white, six are female. The most prosperous appear to be a couple of brothers whove spent twenty years doing bankruptcies. Most of the local bar seems to be barely hanging on, same as in most small towns. Glenn Colacurci once served in the Florida Senate. His district covered Ruiz County and two others, and he was in his third term at the time of the murder. Keith Russo was a distant relative. Both came from the same Italian neighborhood in Tampa. In his younger years Colacurci ran the biggest law firm in town and hired Keith out of law school. When he showed up in Seabrook he brought a wife with him, but Colacurci had no position for her. Keith didnt last long, and a year later the Russo firm was founded in a two-room walk-up above a bakery on Main Street. I select Colacurci because his file is slightly thicker, and because hell probably know more about Keith. Of all the active lawyers in town, hell have a better recollection of history. On the phone he says he can spare half an hour. Driving through Seabrook for the first time, I feel as though I know the place. There are not that many points of interest: the office building once owned by Keith and Diana and the place where the crime occurred; the street behind it where Carrie Holland claimed to have seen a black man making his escape; the courthouse. I park across from it on Main Street and sit and watch the languid foot traffic. I wonder how many of these people remember the murder. How many knew Keith Russo? Quincy Miller? Do they know the town got it wrong and sent an innocent man to prison? Of course not. When its time, I join them on the sidewalk and go half a block to the office. In thick black letters of peeling paint, the sign on the windows says: colacurci law firm. An old bell jingles on the door as I step inside. An ancient tabby cat slides off a sofa and disturbs a layer of dust. To my right is a rolltop desk with a manual Underwood typewriter, as if just waiting for a gray-haired secretary to return and resume pecking away. The smell is of old leather and stale tobacco, not altogether unpleasant but begging for a good cleaning. Remarkably, though, in the midst of an earlier century, a stunning young Asian woman in a short skirt appears with a smile and says, Good morning. May I help you? I return the smile and say, Yes, Im Cullen Post. I talked to Mr. Colacurci yesterday and we agreed to meet this morning. She manages to grin and frown at the same time as she steps to a slightly more modern desk. Quietly, she says, He didnt tell me. Sorry. My name is Bea. Is he here? I ask. Sure. Ill get him. Hes not that busy. She smiles again and glides away. A moment later she waves me back and I enter the big office where Glenn has held court for decades. He is standing by his desk as if pleased to have a visitor, and we go through quick introductions. He motions to a leather sofa and says to Bea, Fetch us some coffee, please. He hobbles on a cane to a chair that would hold two people. Hes almost eighty and certainly looks it, with extra weight and white beard and a mass of unkempt white hair in bad need of a trimming. At the same time, he looks sort of dapper with a pink bow tie and red suspenders. Are you a priest or something? he asks, staring at my collar. Yes. Episcopal. I give him the quick version of Guardian Ministries. As I talk he rests his fuzzy chin on the grip of his cane and absorbs every word with piercing green, though apparently bloodshot, eyes. Bea brings the coffee and I take a sip. Lukewarm, probably instant. When she leaves and closes the door, he asks, What exactly is a priest doing sticking his nose into an old case like Quincy Miller? Great question. I wouldnt be here if I didnt think he is innocent. This amuses him. Interesting, he mumbles. Ive never had a problem with Millers conviction. There was an eyewitness, as I remember. There were no witnesses. A young woman named Carrie Holland testified she saw a black man running away from the scene carrying what was implied to have been a shotgun. She lied. She was a druggie who cut a deal with the authorities to avoid jail. She has now admitted she lied. And she wasnt the only liar at trial. He takes his fingers and sweeps back his long hair. Its oily and appears to be unwashed. Interesting. Were you close to Keith? A grunt in frustration and half a smile. What do you want from me? Just background. Did you watch the trial? Naw. Wanted to, but they moved it next door to Butler County. I was in the senate back then and pretty busy. Had seven lawyers working around here, biggest firm in these parts, and I couldnt exactly spend my time sitting in a courtroom watching other lawyers. Keith was a relative, right? Sort of. Quite distant. I knew his people down in Tampa. He pestered me for a job and I gave him one, but he never fit. He wanted me to hire his wife too, but I didnt want to. He hung around here for a year or so, then struck out on his own. I didnt like that. Italians place a premium on loyalty. Was he a good lawyer? Why is that important now? Just curious. Quincy says that Keith did a terrible job handling his divorce, and the court file tends to support this. The prosecutor played up their conflict to prove motive, which is kind of a stretch. I mean, a client is so disgruntled he blows off his lawyers face? Never happened to me, he says and roars with laughter. I gamely laugh along. But Ive had my share of crazy clients. Had a guy show up one time with a gun, years ago. Pissed off over a divorce. At least he said he had a gun. Every lawyer in the building had a weapon and it couldve been ugly, but a cute little secretary calmed him down. Ive always believed in cute secretaries. Old lawyers would rather tell war stories than eat lunch, and I would like nothing better than to get him cranked up. I say, You had a big firm back then. Big for this part of the state. Seven, eight, sometimes ten lawyers, a dozen secretaries, offices upstairs, clients lined up out the front door. It was pretty crazy back in those days, but I got tired of all the drama. I spent half my time refereeing my employees. You ever practiced? Im practicing now, just a different specialty. Years ago I worked as a public defender but burned out. I found God and he led me to the seminary. I became a minister and through an outreach program met an innocent man in prison. That changed my life. You get him out? I did. Then seven more. Im working on six cases now, including Quincys. I read somewhere that maybe ten percent of all people locked up are innocent. You believe that? Ten percent might be on the high side, but there are thousands of innocent people in prison. Im not sure I believe that. Most white folks dont, but go to the black community and youll find plenty of believers. In his eighteen years in the state senate, Colacurci voted consistently on the side of law and order. Pro death penalty, pro gun rights, a real drug warrior and big spender for whatever the state police and prosecutors wanted. He says, I never had the stomach for criminal law. Cant make any money there. But Keith made money on the criminal side, didnt he? He glares at me with a frown, as if Ive stepped out of bounds. Eventually he says, Keiths been dead for over twenty years. Why are you so interested in his law practice? Because my client didnt kill him. Someone else did, someone with a different motive. We know Keith and Diana were representing drug dealers in the late eighties, had some clients in the Tampa area. Those guys make good suspects. Maybe, but I doubt if theyll do much talking after all these years. Were you close to Sheriff Pfitzner? He glares at me again. In a not so subtle way, Ive just linked Pfitzner to the drug dealers, and Colacurci knows where Im fishing. He takes a deep breath, exhales loudly, says, Bradley and I were never close. He ran his show, I ran mine. We were both after the same votes but we dodged each other. I didnt mess with the criminal side so our paths seldom crossed. Where is he now? I ask. Dead, I presume. He left here years back. Hes not dead but living a good life in the Florida Keys. He retired after thirty-two years as sheriff and moved away. His three-bedroom condo in Marathon is assessed at $1.6 million. Not a bad retirement for a public servant who never earned more than $60,000 a year. Youre thinking Pfitzner was somehow involved with Keith? he asks. Oh no. Didnt mean to imply that. Oh yes. But Colacurci is not taking the bait. He narrows his eyes and says, This eyewitness, she says Pfitzner convinced her to lie on the stand? If and when Carrie Holland recants her false testimony, it will be included in a court filing for everyone to see. However, Im not ready to reveal anything to this guy. I say, Look, Mr. Colacurci, this is all confidential, right? Of course, of course, he readily agrees. He was a stranger until about fifteen minutes ago and hell probably be on the phone before I get to my vehicle. She didnt name Pfitzner, just said it was the cops and prosecutor. I have no reason to suspect Pfitzner of anything. Thats good. This murder was solved twenty years ago. Youre spinning your wheels, Mr. Post. Maybe. How well did you know Diana Russo? He rolls his eyes as if she is the last subject he wants to discuss. Not well at all. I kept my distance from the beginning. She wanted a job but back then we didnt hire girls. She took it as an insult and never liked me. She soured Keith on me and we never got along. I was relieved when he left, though I wasnt finished with him. He became a real pain in the ass. In what way? He gazes at the ceiling as if debating whether or not to tell me a story. Being an old lawyer, he cant help himself. Well, this is what happened, he begins as he shifts weight and settles in for the narrative. Back in the day, I had all the tort business sewed up in Ruiz County. All the good car wrecks, bad products, med-mal, bad faith, everything. If a person got injured, they showed up here, or sometimes I went to see them in the hospital. Keith wanted some of the action because its no secret that injuries are the only way to make money out there on the streets. Big-firm guys in Tampa do okay, but nothing like big tort lawyers. When Keith left my office he stole a case, took it with him, and we had one helluva fight. He was broke and needed the cash but the case belonged to my firm. I threatened to sue him and we fought for two years. He eventually agreed to give me half the fee, but there was bad blood. Diana was in the middle of it too. Law firms blow up every week and its always over money. Did you and Keith ever reconcile? Sort of, I guess, but it took years. Its a small town and the lawyers generally get along. We had lunch the week before he was murdered and had a laugh or two. Keith was a good boy who worked hard. Maybe a bit too ambitious. I never warmed up to her, though. But you had to feel sorry for her. Poor girl found her husband with his face blown off. Handsome guy too. She took it hard, never recovered, sold the building and eventually left town. No contact since then? None whatsoever. He glances at his watch as if hes facing another hectic day and the hint is clear. We wind down the conversation, and after thirty minutes I thank him and leave. Chapter 18 Bradley Pfitzner ruled the county for thirty-two years before retiring. During his career he avoided scandal and ran a tight operation. Every four years he was either unopposed or faced light opposition. He was succeeded by a deputy who served seven years before bad health forced him out. The current sheriff is Wink Castle, and his office is in a modern metal building that houses all local law enforcementsheriff, city police, and jail. A dozen brightly painted patrol cars are parked in front of the building at the edge of town. The lobby is busy with cops and clerks and sad relatives checking on inmates. Im led to Castles office and he greets me with a smile and firm handshake. Hes about forty and has the easy manner of a rural politician. He did not live in the county at the time of the Russo murder, so hopefully he carries no baggage from those days. After a few minutes of weather talk, he says, Quincy Miller, huh? I looked through the file last night to get up to speed. Are you a priest or something? A lawyer and a minister, I say, and spend a moment talking about Guardian. I take old cases that involve the innocent. Good luck with this one. I smile and say, Theyre all difficult, Sheriff. Got it. So how do you plan to prove that your client did not kill Keith Russo? Well, as always, I go back to the scene and start digging. I know that most of the States witnesses lied at trial. The evidence is shaky at best. Zeke Huffey? Typical jailhouse snitch. I found him in prison in Arkansas and I expect him to recant. Hes made a career out of lying and recanting, not unusual for those guys. Carrie Holland has already told me the truthshe lied under pressure from Pfitzner and Burkhead, the prosecutor. They gave her a good deal on a pending drug charge. After the trial, Pfitzner gave her a thousand bucks and ran her out of town. She hasnt been back. June Walker, Quincys ex-wife, lives in Tallahassee but so far has refused to cooperate. She testified against Quincy and lied because she was angry over their divorce. Lots of lies, Sheriff. This is all new to him and he absorbs it with interest. Then he shakes his head and says, Still a long way to go. Theres no murder weapon. Right. Quincy never owned a shotgun. The key, obviously, is the blood-spattered flashlight that mysteriously disappeared not long after the murder. What happened to it? he asks. Hes the sheriff. I should be asking him. You tell me. The official version, according to Pfitzner, is that it was destroyed in a fire where they kept evidence. You doubt that? I doubt everything, Sheriff. The expert for the State, a Mr. Norwood, never saw the flashlight. His testimony was pretty outrageous. I reach into my briefcase, pull out some papers, and place them on his desk. This is our summary of the evidence. In there youll see a report from a Dr. Kyle Benderschmidt, a renowned criminologist, that raises serious doubts about Norwoods testimony. Have you looked at the photographs of the flashlight? Yes. Dr. Benderschmidt believes that the specks, or flecks, on the lens are probably not even human blood. And the flashlight was not found at the scene. Were not sure where it came from and Quincy swears he had never seen it. He takes the report and takes his time flipping through it. When he gets bored he tosses it onto his desk and says, Ill spend some time with it tonight. What, exactly, do you want me to do here? Help me. Ill file a petition for post-conviction relief based on new evidence. It will have reports from our experts and statements from the witnesses who lied. I need for you to reopen the investigation into the murder. It will be a tremendous help if the court knows that the locals believe the wrong man was convicted. Come on, Mr. Post. This case was closed over twenty years ago, long before I came to town. Theyre all old cases, Sheriff, old and cold. Thats the nature of our work. Most of the actors are gonePfitzner, Burkhead, even the judge is dead. You can look at the case with a fresh perspective and help get an innocent man out of prison. Hes shaking his head. I dont think so. I cant see getting involved in this. Hell, I never thought about the case until you called yesterday. All the more reason to get involved. You cant be blamed for anything that went wrong twenty years ago. Youll be seen as the good guy trying to do the right thing. Do you have to find the real killer to get Miller out? No. I have to prove him innocent, thats all. In about half of our cases we manage to nail the real criminal, but not always. He keeps shaking his head. The smiles are gone. I cant see it, Mr. Post. I mean, you expect me to pull one of my overworked detectives off his active cases and start digging through a twenty-year-old murder that folks around here have forgotten about. Come on, man. Ill do the heavy lifting, Sheriff. Thats my job. So whats my job? Cooperate. Dont get in the way. He leans back in his chair and locks his hands behind his head. He stares at the ceiling as minutes pass. Finally, he asks, In your cases, what do the locals normally do? Cover up. Stonewall. Hide evidence. Fight me like hell. Contest everything I file in court. You see, Sheriff, in these cases the stakes are too high and the mistakes are too egregious for anyone to admit they were wrong. Innocent men and women serve decades while the real killers roam free, and often kill again. These are enormous injustices, and Ive yet to find a cop or a prosecutor with the spine to admit they blew it. This case is a bit different because those responsible for Quincys wrongful conviction are gone. You can be the hero. Im not interested in being a hero. I just cannot justify spending the time. Believe me, Ive got enough to worry about. Sure you do, but you can cooperate and make my job easier. Im just searching for the truth here, Sheriff. I dont know. Let me think about it. Thats all I ask, for now anyway. He takes a deep breath, still unconvinced and definitely uncommitted to the cause. Anything else? Well there is one other matter, another possible piece of the puzzle. Are you familiar with the death of Kenny Taft? Happened about two years after the murder? Sure. He was the last officer killed on duty. His photo is hanging on the wall out there. Id like to see the case file without having to go through the Freedom of Information Act and all that crap. And you think it was somehow related to Quincy Miller? I doubt it, but Im just digging, Sheriff. Thats what I do, and there are always surprises along the way. Let me think about it. Thanks. The fire chief is a potbellied, grizzled old veteran who goes by Lieutenant Jordan and is not nearly as friendly as the sheriff. Things are slow around the firehouse two blocks off Main Street. Two of his men polish a shiny pumper in the driveway, and inside an ancient secretary fiddles with paperwork on her desk. Jordan eventually appears, and after a brief round of forced pleasantries leads me to a cramped room with banks of 1940s-style file cabinets. For a moment he searches through history and finds the drawer for 1988. He opens it, flips through a row of dingy files, finds what Im after and pulls it out. Not much of a fire, as I recall, he says as he places it on the table. Help yourself. He leaves the room. Back then, the sheriffs office was several blocks away in an old building that has since been razed. In Ruiz County, as in hundreds of other places, it was not at all unusual to store crime scene evidence anywhere there happened to be an empty space or closet. Ive crawled through courthouse attics and suffocating basements in search of old records. To alleviate the shortage of storage space, Pfitzner used a portable shed behind his office. In the file there is a black-and-white photo of it before the fire, and a heavy padlock on the only door is visible. There were no windows. I estimate it was thirty feet long, twelve feet wide, eight feet in height. A photo taken after the fire shows nothing but charred rubble. The first alarm came at 3:10 a.m. and the firemen found the shed fully engulfed. The fire was extinguished in a matter of minutes with nothing salvageable. Its cause is listed as Unknown. As Jordan said, it wasnt much of a fire. The flashlight found in Quincys trunk was apparently destroyed. No trace was found. Conveniently, the autopsy reports, witness statements, diagrams, and photos were safely locked away inside Pfitzners desk. He had what he needed to convict Quincy Miller. For the moment, the fire is a dead end.

  • The Lion King /   (Disney, 2012)    The Lion King /
  • The Little Mermaid. Ariel And The Prince /  .    (Disney, 2012)    The Little Mermaid. Ariel And
  • The Jungle Book /   (Disney, 2012) -   The Jungle Book /
  • Sycamore Row /   (by John Grisham, 2013) -   Sycamore Row /
  • .

  • ,