The living, breathing Forrest Atlee was sitting in his apartment in Little Rock busily downing his second beer in the last twenty minutes. He was determined to numb the confusion he was experiencing due to the trouble that Ray was in. He didn’t anticipate worrying about what would happen to Ray, and never expected anything other than a black eye for him. He also hadn’t counted on the stress that the money was causing him in getting it from Ellie’s house and delivering it the Caymans. That stress which was preventing him from getting the last million and putting it safely within the silent walls of his secure Grand Cayman bank. It was getting too much.
He had the TV on and was flipping through the channels with one hand while gripping the beer in the other. He had fallen into the habit of looking for the news channels, seeing if there was any word of the crash investigation or perhaps coverage of Ray’s upcoming trial. Beer number three soon made its brief appearance before making way for beer number four, which required a bathroom pit stop before he could pop the top.
Walking back into the living room, he was startled to see his own face staring back at him. He grabbed the remote to turn up the sound just in time to hear the announcer say, “Atlee is presumed dead after his car broke through a barrier on the Highway 351 bridge crossing Lake Chatoula near Clanton, Mississippi. A badly decomposed body of the similar height and weight was found eight days later but identification has proved to be difficult because there were no fingerprints, no previous dental records and inconclusive DNA testing. Atlee was evidently fleeing from a crime scene in Clanton, where his brother, Raymond Atlee, faces trial next week for double homicide. Raymond Atlee allegedly shot and killed Delroy Harper, age 36, and Nicolas Parnell, age 34, both of Memphis.” Video of Ray entering the courthouse was shown along with video of the exterior of Miller’s Garage. The news anchor then moved on to his daily coverage of Little Rock’s favorite son, outgoing President Bill Clinton.
But Forrest didn’t hear the story, as the words and pictures bounced around his now surprisingly coherent brain, bringing to life what he had been trying so hard to forget. The fourth pop top got pulled as Forrest knew he was going to be fighting a losing battle with sobriety. He also knew that he had to leave immediately because although he had altered his appearance by cutting and coloring his hair and growing a goatee to become Lincoln Allen, all it took was one nosy neighbor to ruin his plan.
He finished the can of beer while he packed, content to leave most of his belongings behind. Then he thought about fingerprints, grabbed a rag and ran around the apartment, trying to hit every surface he thought they might pull his fingerprints from. Then he thought about fibers from his clothes and cursed himself for overthinking it. He grabbed the other two beers from the fridge and started loading the car. Three trips were all it took to move all the worldly possessions he wanted to take with him to the car, not the least of which was a nice sack of cash.
Pulling out of the parking lot in the blue sedan while simultaneously popping the top on another beer, he realized that he had never made a final decision on where he would go if he had to run. He had narrowed it down to three cities that he knew well: Nashville, Shreveport and Birmingham. Once there, he would decide which Caribbean beach he wanted to end up on. He made his way onto Rodney Parham Road, heading for I-430. Ruling out Shreveport, mostly because his fuzzy head wasn’t sure he could negotiate the quick lane change necessary to go south, Forrest turned right onto the entrance ramp of I-430, heading north across Murray Lake. He glanced at the concrete work lining the sides of the bridge, aimed at preventing drivers like him from taking a swim. He shook his head, chiding himself for having gotten himself into this mess.
Turning east onto I-40, Forrest decided on Nashville for no apparent reason other than it seemed less south and therefore less toward home. He tried to plan ahead, but the thoughts simply would not come together. He was a functional alcoholic, one who had driven buzzed many times, and as such could drive quite normally, even if he couldn’t quite remember the trip once he got to where he was going.
It wasn’t long before Forrest saw the signs of another victim of the Southern practice of worshipping Civil War Confederate Generals: Forrest City, Arkansas. Like Forrest himself, it was named for General Nathan Bedford Forrest, and every time he drove this road he would pull off onto the Washington Street exit, make his way to the Super Mart and load up with another six pack. On the way back to the interstate, he would pull over at the historical marker, relieve himself on it and curse his father and the Confederacy. This trip was no different, and Forrest toasted the General on his way back out of town, aiming the car toward Nashville.
With two weeks to go before the trail, Judge Stroker had called the two sides together for a second pretrial conference. Paxton Jonas and Arnie Adams started pulling stacks of paper from their cases, both knowing that the pile of files was mostly for show. It was something that Jonas delighted in, thinking that it intimidated the defense to see all the work and preparation he and his staff had done. Arnie knew defense attorneys laughed privately at Paxton about it, but he just went with it, having given up arguing against it long ago.
Jake and Janie were on the other side, having denied Harry Rex the opportunity to come cause trouble. Jake had a slim folder in front of him, Janie had several larger files, and both had the usual legal pad. The prosecution had been had been instructed to bring a witness list and lists of physical evidence, and both sides were to bring any pretrial motions.
Jake knew that the prosecution would call the Sheriff and deputies, the pathologist who
performed the autopsy, the forensic pathologist from the state crime lab, fingerprint experts, family members of Parnell and Harper, and possibly other assorted experts. Jake had the same assortment, some who would be rebuttal witnesses and others who would be corroborating previous testimony with a twist. He would also add character witnesses, both for Ray and against Forrest.
Judge Stroker came in and greeted both parties. “Gentlemen, and lady, how are we doing? Everyone ready? Mr. Jonas?”
“Yes, your Honor, we are well prepared.”
“I’m certainly glad to hear that. Mr. Brigance?”
“Yes, your honor. I do have a motion I’d like to make.”
“Thank you, Mr. Brigance, we will get to that in a moment. First, I would like to clear up some previous business.” Judge Stroker glanced at his pad. “Motion for a change of venue. Do we have one?”
Jake answered, “No, your honor.”
Paxton looked at Arnie. “No, your honor.”
“Good. It would have been denied. Now, I want to move as quickly as possible through this trial. One piece of evidence that we could spend days on is the fingerprints on the gun. I would request that both parties stipulate that the fingerprints belong to the defendant.”
Jake looked at Paxton, hoping he would wade in first. He did not disappoint. “Absolutely, your Honor, the prosecution will so stipulate.” Judge Stroker looked at Jake, who simply looked at the judge.
After a moment, Judge Stroker asked, “Mr. Brigance, are you going to argue that the fingerprints do not belong to Ray Atlee?”
“No sir, we will not. We will stipulate that the fingerprints belong to my client.” Paxton Jonas had a look of surprise victory. He had expected Jake to bring in witnesses to try to prove that the fingerprints weren’t Ray’s. For Paxton, this meant one less witness to prepare. Always good news.
“But?” asked Judge Stroker.
“No buts. However, I still intend to call a fingerprint expert.”
“For what purpose?”
Jake was taken aback. “I would rather not say, Judge.”
“I don’t want waste time treading on ground that we have agreed today that we will not cover.”
“Are you saying I can’t call my own expert?”
“No, I can’t prevent you from doing that. Just make sure that there is no testimony that contradicts the stipulation. That I will not allow.”
Paxton jumped in. “Your Honor, if he’s calling an expert then I want to call in my expert as well.”
“That’s fine, but the same goes for you. Although I’m guessing that your expert won’t be contradicting the stipulation. Are we agreed?”
Jake affirmed the request as Janie watched Arnie Adams scratch notes and wondered what he was writing. She had never met him before but had heard good things about him. Certainly, others considered him sharper than Paxton Jonas.
“All right, how many witnesses do you have?”
Paxton said, “We have seven, your Honor.” He handed out copies of his list.
Judge Stroker looked over his reading glasses at Jonas. “Seven?”
“That many?” He knew Jonas would be content with one if he could get away with it. But to list only seven potential witnesses seemed almost negligent. “Are you sure about that?”
“Yes, sir?” He knew what was coming. He was ready.
“Does this list represent all of the potential witnesses in this case?”
“I would say that it represents all of the witnesses that we intend to call. There are many witnesses that we could potentially call, but we do not believe calling them advances our case against Mr. Atlee, therefore we have no reason to call them. Those witnesses are not listed.”
“Thank you for your clarification, Mr. Adams. But let me say, if anyone is called who is not on this list, there better be a pretty compelling reason for it.”
Oh, there will be, thought Paxton. He had learned not share all his ideas with Arnie.
Arnie answered the judge. “Yes, your Honor, we understand.”
“Fine,” Judge Stroker said as he handed his list to the court reporter. “Do we have a schedule for depositions?”
“We do, Judge, we’ve got depositions starting on Thursday. It’s a pretty short list. Sheriff Sawyer, the two deputies in on the arrest, I believe that’s it.”
“Mr. Jonas, any other discovery that we need to be concerned about?”
“No, your honor.”
“Mr. Brigance, anything you are waiting on?”
“No, Judge, I trust that we will not be getting any other discovery documents from the prosecution.”
“I see. Mr. Jonas, do you have anything you haven’t provided to the defense?”
While Paxton Jonas knew the true answer was ‘yes’, that was not the answer the Judge was going to get. “No, sir, everything has been turned over.”
“Glad to hear that, Mr. Jonas. Make sure it stays that way.”
“Anything else, gentlemen?” Judge Stroker asked. “If not, we are done for now, trial will start two weeks from today with jury selection.”
Jake spoke up, “Your honor, I would like to make a motion that Ray Atlee be released on a reasonable bond to be set by the court.”
“Mr. Brigance, I’ve already ruled on this motion.”
“I understand, sir, but I have reason to believe that he may be in danger at the jail.”
“In danger? How so? Does the Sheriff know this?”
“I’ve not discussed it with the Sheriff, but he has been treated badly by one of the deputies.”
“Then you need to bring it up with Sheriff Sawyer. If necessary I will get involved. We could move him to Polk County if needed. But your request for bail is denied.”
“Yes, your Honor.” It was a shot in the dark. Though he didn’t really believe Ray to be in danger, he would love to see Ray out of jail. “A question?” Jake asked. A nod from the Judge. “When will the jury pool list be provided?”
“I have instructed the list to be turned over to you the Friday before the trial starts.”
Jake looked surprised. “But your Honor, certainly the list will be ready before that.”
“Friday, Mr. Brigance, and not a day before.”
“But, Judge, that gives us only the weekend to prepare!” Jake objected.
“Then you’ll have a busy weekend, Mr. Brigance. That is all. Thank you.”
Judge Stroker got up and walked back to his office, smiling inside. He knew that the list would somehow make its way into Jake’s hands before that, but appreciated Jake’s feigned outrage anyway.
Jake and Janie packed up while Paxton and Arnie did the same. Paxton looked over at Jake, mimicking Judge Stroker. “Then you’ll have a busy weekend, Mr. Brigance.”
“Yes, I will, while you are out baiting your hook.” Paxton Jonas’ fondness for fishing was legendary, often at times when others thought he should be at his desk.
Paxton looked triumphant. “Baiting it to catch a killer!” he cackled. Jake and Janie simultaneously rolled their eyes while turning and leaving.
Janie spoke after they got out of earshot. “I can’t believe we don’t get the list until next Friday.”
“Don’t worry about list, old girl. Judge Stroker just handed us a gift. We have our secret weapon!”
“Mr. Harry Rex Vonner. The prosecution won’t have it until Friday, Harry Rex’ll have that list for us by Wednesday morning!”
Every year on the Saturday after her father’s birthday, Janie Cox would pick up her father, Henry, and the two of them would make the hour trip to the Shiloh National Military Park. Her father was a Civil War buff, like many men whose families had been in the South for several generations and had ancestors that had served in the Confederate Army. Janie’s great-great-grandfather, Col. Louis Harrison, had fought for the South with distinction, dying with thousands of others at Shiloh.
Their day followed a consistent agenda, stopping at the visitor’s center to once again read the displayed accounts of the battle which had seemed so certain at the start of the battle to be a Confederate victory. Unfortunately for the South, Union reinforcements turned a sure Union defeat into key victory that turned the tide in the war. In some ways, it was a repeatedly depressing journey of the things that were done wrong by the South. But for many, it still represented the South’s sincere desire for self-governance and the North’s desire to keep the South under its command as a subservient territory. Or at least that was how the war was thought of by many men just like Henry Harrison.
Following their stop at the visitor’s center, they walked the grounds of the battlefield, always looking for evidence of their ancestor’s involvement in the war. As they walked, Janie brought up the subject of Ray and his upcoming trial.
“How well did you know Judge Atlee, Daddy?” Janie asked.
“Oh, I knew him very well. He handled a lot of the divorce cases that I had to be involved in as a counselor.”
“What kind of man was he?”
Henry paused and thought. “He was committed to the law. I always thought that he must have taken his cases home with him and that they defined him in so many ways. While I always thought that your mother and you were the most important parts of my life, I always thought that the Judge viewed his courtroom as the most important part of his life.” Janie took note of his referring to Judge Reuben Atlee as “the Judge.” Ray wasn’t kidding when he said the everyone called him “the Judge.”
“He was very involved with charitable work and we worked on several committees over the years. You know he went to that church that you go to now, right?”
“Yes, I would see him at church while he was alive but I guess I didn’t really pay much attention until recently.” When Janie was growing up in Clanton, her family sporadically attended the Methodist church. The Atlees went to the Presbyterian Church, as eventually did Jake and Clara. While Janie and her ex-husband were still married, the and their children had gotten involved with a sizable Presbyterian church in Jackson. When Janie returned to Clanton after the divorce, she felt the need to keep the kids involved in church, and the First Presbyterian Church of Clanton seemed a good place to go. She met Clara through the women’s ministry and established a friendship that led to the job with Jake.
“You mean since the murders.”
“How do you feel about the case?”
“Do you mean, did Ray do it?”
“No, well, I just have always wondered how lawyers defend somebody who killed other people.” This was not new ground that they were covering. Janie had mostly worked for defense lawyers, and her father pretty much thought that if the law brought charges, then the person must be guilty.
Janie sighed, “Not everyone is guilty, Daddy.”
“From what I hear, it’s pretty cut and dried in this case. Fingerprints on the gun and all that.”
“It’s all circumstantial evidence.”
“Have you met him, yet?”
“Yes, he’s been at Jake’s office twice to talk about his defense.”
Henry looked at her. “Usually the lawyer visits the accused in jail.”
“Well, Sheriff Sawyer lets him go to Jake’s.”
“You mean they really let him out of the jail? In cuffs, I assume.”
“Sure. Until he gets in the door, then the deputy takes them off.”
“And then what does the deputy do?”
“He’s in and out of the office. If he’s not there when Ray’s ready to go back, we call him.”
“So, you mean to tell me that there are times that a suspect in a double murder is completely unguarded. That’s incredible!” Henry was starting to get angry. “What are they thinking?”
Janie didn’t even want to say anything about Ray going to Jake’s house for Christmas dinner and their conversation on the porch. “Daddy, he’s the least likely guy to do this. And Sheriff Sawyer doesn’t think he did it.”
“Well, then Ben Sawyer may be a fool. This is crazy!”
“Let’s talk about something else.”
“I just don’t see how Jake is okay with that.”
“Jake is fine with it, Harry Rex is fine with it. If anything, those two are more dangerous that Ray is.”
Henry frowned. “You like him, do you?”
Janie stopped and scowled. Henry took a few steps and threw a backward glance. “You used to get that same look on your face in junior high when I would say some kid that you liked had hair that was too long.”
Janie resisted the juvenile urge to turn and stomp away, knowing that her father could always push her buttons when he wanted to. “Like I said, others think he is innocent, that there was someone else there.”
Henry said, “I remember the Atlee boys when they were growing up, and they were good looking kids. If you think he’s that innocent, he must be pretty handsome now.” Janie ran forward and punched him on the arm. “Ouch, looks like I hit a sore spot,” Henry said. “Is he married?”
“Daddy, stop it.”
“I’m just looking out for my little peanut. Is he?”
“He’s divorced. Can we just look for artifacts and have you tell another story that I’ve heard dozens of times about our famous ancestor that nobody knows about?”
“Kids?” Henry asked.
“No, and stop it. Not another word.”
They walked in silence for a bit.
“I’m just going by what other people are saying that are familiar with the case,” Janie said. “They think he’s gotten framed in this whole thing.”
“What happened to not another word?” her father said. After a moment, “Janie?”
Henry put his arm around her. “Just be careful, ok?”
As trial day approached, Jake and Harry Rex huddled together more and more, tying together the legal strategy. Ray was brought in at various times to be informed and consulted but for the most part stayed out of it. Today was a day that brought Ray into the thick of things. The jury notices had gone out, one hundred people who would be called into the courtroom on Monday. The list was confidential but Harry Rex had always been able to get around that. This time it was different.
Jake and Ray were sitting in the conference room with Janie. Jake was saying, “Let’s decide what our perfect juror is so when Harry Rex gets here with the list we can start profiling people.”
Janie was starting to write the criteria on a whiteboard when Harry Rex walked in. Jake rubbed his hands. “Let’s see it.”
“I don’t have it.”
“What do you mean, you don’t have it? You always have it.”
“Just a delay. I’ll have it by the end of the day.”
Jake frowned, “That doesn’t give us much of a jump. What’s the matter, old man, you losing your touch? “
“Let’s just say an unnamed person on whom I have a great piece of blackmail called in sick this morning.”
“Knew you were coming?”
“Probably. Something like that,” Harry Rex said.
Ray asked, “So what does this mean?”
“What it means is,” Jake paused for effect, “is that our beloved Harry Rex is a mere mortal, no longer the godlike figure that we thought he was.” Harry Rex just laughed, but Ray didn’t seem amused.
“Seriously, what does this mean?”
“It just means that we will get the list one day early, rather than two days. It means that we will have to hustle our butts to get the lowdown on all these people, and we better get started now. Finch will be here this afternoon, and we’ll have to catch him up.” Jake had already informed the others about his involvement. He moved to the whiteboard. “These are the criteria we will use. Education, race, age, gender, etc. Let’s start with gender.”
“Women,” Harry Rex said.
“Why?” Janie asked.
“He’s single, makes a bundle, and not bad looking.”
“Agreed,” Jake said.
“That’s pretty shallow,” Janie said.
“Men, college. Women, high school.”
Janie looked at Harry Rex. “Ok, why.”
“Men with college degrees will identify more with a college professor. Men with high school diplomas will tend to not extend any sympathy to him. He thinks he’s better than them, is what they will think. Women could be either, but the less educated will be more impressed by him.”
“Why are the less educated more impressed?” She looked at Ray. “No offense.”
“None taken. Given my potential future dating opportunities this could be helpful.” He spoke into his wrist. “Note to self, I appeal to men with college degrees.”
Janie was annoyed that there was so much good-natured bantering given the high stakes. “I’m serious, why?
“Why what?” Jake said, used to her more serious nature and enjoying any opportunity to poke at it.
“Why would less educated women be better?”
Harry Rex said, “Simple, they will compare him to their husbands or boyfriends who make a quarter of what Ray does and they will look more favorably at Ray.”
Jake added, “And the home lives of those men just got worse.”
“Why can’t you be more like Ray Atlee?” Harry Rex said in falsetto.
“Oh, please. Can we move on?” Janie said as the laughter rolled among the three. She shot Ray a look that he recognized from his married days, the one that was normally followed by a rolling of the eyes and an audible sigh. When Janie’s eyes did indeed roll, he beat her to the punch with an exaggerated sigh.
“That’s enough out of you, Raymond Atlee,” said Ray in his own exaggerated falsetto.
Harry Rex whined, “Yes, dear.”
“That’s enough out of you, too, Harry Rex Vonner! I’m going to get some coffee and let you all enjoy your jokes,” Janie said as she headed toward the door.
“Black, two sugars, Sugar,” Harry Rex called after her.
Her answer was a very impolite gesture.
Janie got her coffee as Mary chuckled softly at her desk. “Why do you let them get to you? They have always been like this.”
Janie stirred in her creamer. “Somehow this is different. And no, not just because he’s cute, so don’t start.”
Mary poured out the last of the coffee for herself and then began making a new pot. “You’re right, this is different. This is different because Jake is different and because this is the Judge’s son. Jake is different because he finally has another exciting trial. Let’s face it, since we’ve been here it’s pretty much been a steady stream of wills, property disputes and an occasional drunk driving. Boresville. He had Hailey and Hubbard and then life got predictable and boring.”
“Of course, it’s boring,” Janie said. “I call that the legal world.”
“Sure, to you and me, but when you’ve gone to trial up against Rufus Buckley and won, and the reporters are clamoring for a quote, and everyone wants to be your friend, it’s a letdown when the adrenaline rush is over. Property boundary disputes pretty much don’t stack up. They don’t feed the ego.”
“Jake does seem to have a problem in that area.”
“He’s a man, so yes, his ego needs to be stroked. Unlike, say, Harry Rex who strokes his own ego. Or Ray, who I don’t think has one. From what I’ve seen, anyway. The other thing is, Ray is the Judge’s son, so Jake sees getting Ray off as repayment of a debt.”
“Judge Atlee had Jake’s back at every turn in the Hubbard trial, and handed him the trusteeship after it got settled. Some in town believed that the Judge viewed Jake as the son he wanted to have, who stayed home to practice in Clanton, not the one who left the state for a job in the dreaded North.”
“Judge Atlee considered Virginia north?”
“Well, yes, but Ray’s first job was in Massachusetts. The point is, the Judge always wanted Ray to return to Clanton after college and start their own firm. He viewed Ray’s actions as disloyal and was very disappointed in him.”
“How do you know this?”
“It’s a small town, and girls talk. The worst part is that Ray knew how the Judge felt about Jake. Ray knew that his father had chosen someone else to take his place.”
At that moment, her attitude lost all its annoyance. “Ouch. It’s a wonder Ray will even talk to Jake.”
“It’s a miracle all right. At first, he didn’t want to. But at some point, I guess he decided Jake was the best lawyer for the job.”
“We all have to be the best.” Janie took her coffee and went into the conference room. When Ray looked up at her, she gave him a sad, sympathetic smile. Ray took it as an, “you’re an idiot” smile.
“Sorry I made fun of you,” said Ray. “Guess I got carried away.”
“You, I forgive.” She looked at Harry Rex and Jake. “Those two? Never.” Janie went back to the board. “Now, can we get busy finding a way to get this man out of jail?” As she started writing down more criteria, she felt sadness for Ray and the situation with his father and Jake. She had the urge to sneak a look at him and when she did, she caught Ray staring at her backside. Instead of the usual averting of the eyes and the embarrassment at getting caught, Ray just followed the trail up to her eyes, and broke out into that same smile she had seen at the lake. Now it was Janie who averted her eyes, glancing to see if the others had seen it, but they were involved in their own conversation. She looked slowly back to Ray, pursed her lips but smiled with her eyes and said, “That’s enough out of you Raymond Atlee!”
The team continued the discussion of the makeup of the jury, and soon Jake called a recess for lunch. Ray was jokingly given the choice of having sandwiches at the office or going back to the jail for what was called “prison food.” He smiled at the joke but became subdued from being reminded that he would soon have the rest of his life decided for him. Not surprisingly, he opted for a sandwich at the office.
After their sandwiches, the discussion resumed. “Okay, let’s go,” Jake said. “Moving on. Next subject is race.”
“Black,” said Harry Rex.
“White,” said Janie, just because Harry Rex said black.
“The answer is, it doesn’t matter,” said Jake. “Ray’s generation is more race agnostic; the other criteria are more important.”
“I disagree, the Judge was very well regarded in the black community. A lot of families were helped by him,” said Harry Rex.
“I agree, that why it doesn’t matter. A lot of white families were helped by him, too.”
“Good point,” allowed Harry Rex.
“Age,” said Jake.
“Old,” said Harry Rex.
“He’s their son. The good one. They will remember the Atlee boys, and they will think about how well Ray turned out, and he couldn’t possibly have done this.”
“So, sixty or older?”
“Hmm, fifty-fiveish, and, remember that the other thing is that if we remind them that Forrest was supposed to be there, and his car was at the scene at the time of the murders, they will say, ‘Of course it was Forrest, that boy was always trouble.”
Ray said, “Can we leave Forrest out of this?”
Jake said, “Nope. He may be your best hope.”
Harry Rex added, “And he never worried about his reputation, so you have nothing to protect. If you want to rebuild his reputation, do it after the trial when you’re free.” As usual, the reminder that he was going to trial succeeded in sobering him and keeping him in a more realistic mindset. Which was to do what it would take to avoid conviction.
Ray said determinedly, “No, let’s not leave Forrest out it. Let’s do what we have to do.”
Just then Finch McDonald arrived and was introduced to the others. After the introductions, Jake went to the whiteboard. “Ok, let’s recap for the newest member of the defense team. I believe we settled on a sixty-year-old high school educated woman.”
“And how did you come to that conclusion?” asked Finch. Jake quickly went through their notes on the board. Finch held his comments until Jake was done.
“What do you think?” Jake asked.
“That’s a great list. Now here’s a couple of other things to think about. How about occupation, religion, manner of dress, hair style, attitude toward law enforcement?
“Let’s look at what we have. A law abiding well educated citizen from a well-known legal family who was caught in a precarious situation brought on by an unbalanced brother.” Finch looked at Ray. “Sorry, Ray, that was thoughtless. In my experience, the defendant is not in this type of meeting. I do apologize.”
Ray nodded. “No apologies needed. I’m over that. What I need is straight talk.”
“Ok, so, what you have been analyzing is all good. Education, sex, and race are all important. But equally important is the individual experience of each juror and how they will relate to Ray’s situation. Which of course, we will mostly find out about the day we start with jury selection. But in the meantime, we want to determine not who our ideal juror is, but who our ideal juror isn’t.”
The others just looked at each other. Jake simply said, “You may well be worth the minimum wage I’m paying you.” Jake looked thoughtful. “None of that had occurred to me.” Then he grinned. “Welcome to the team.”
The next day at mid-morning, Harry Rex came through with the list of potential jurors. All the theoretical discussion that had continued from the day before was put on hold as copies were printed and notes began to get made. Mary began creating note cards for each juror with their name written on the top. As information was discovered about each juror, comments would be added to the cards. The criteria that had been decided upon were noted where possible and Jake and Finch would begin the study of each for the jury selection.
Ray, knowing very few of the names on the list, lost his focus and began watching the others. Jake was circling and writing furiously, Finch was marking each address on a local map and Janie was sorting the cards alphabetically and adding addresses as Mary created each one. Harry Rex was on the phone, leaning on friends and acquaintances who operated in wide circles. Whether they were getting anywhere he couldn’t tell. Janie looked up and met his eyes.
“Hey, do you need something to do? Help me put addresses on these cards.”
Ray said, “I’m the client. Shouldn’t I get to just sit back and watch you work?”
“No, you may not. All legal talent in the room better be working. Even those who come from an ivory tower.”
“An ivory tower? I have a tiny office.”
“You know what I mean. Those who dispense judgement from on high as opposed to those who work in the trenches.”
“Who do you think teaches those in the trenches?” Ray asked, faking offense.
“I’ve worked with first year lawyers. I wouldn’t brag about being their teacher.”
Jake called across the room, “I’d give it up, Ray, she’s got an answer for everything. And besides, she knows more law than Harry Rex has forgotten. Which is a ton. Ask any of his clients.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, all evidence to the contrary,” said Harry Rex.
Ray walked over and began writing addresses on the cards and sorting them. Several times his hands ran into Janie’s as they were assembling the stack. Ray wondered if Janie could tell that he was enjoying the contact. Janie was wondering the same about Ray.
By mid-afternoon, they had their stack of index cards and had added as much research to them as they could muster between themselves. Harry Rex left to discreetly cover the list with trusted associates that could fill in some of the information they lacked on people they didn’t know.
“Ok, let’s try to nail down our profile,” said Jake. “If I remember, a sixty-year-old high school educated female is where we left off.”
“I’d like to push back on the high school education,” said Finch.
“Ok, go ahead.”
“I think that education is a primary factor in this case. Financial status is a close second, and certainly advanced education contributes to financial success. My thinking is that Ray’s income level and law degree will separate him from those with lower education levels and financial status.”
“So, they wouldn’t relate as closely to him as a more educated person?” asked Janie.
“Exactly,” Finch answered. “He would be at a disadvantage from the start with those jurors. We need to try to get a jury that is truly made of Ray’s peers that will relate with him and thus be more skeptical of the charges against him.”
“How does that make them skeptical?”
“If they identify with him, they can more easily see themselves sitting right there being accused. The other aspect of wanting those with higher education is that we want people who will analyze the data more objectively. Less educated people tend to vote more emotionally.”
Jake asked, “Is that right? I’ve seen all kinds vote emotionally. Take Hailey for instance.”
“Hailey was emotional because they raped and beat a little girl. The prosecution will have a hard time make these two thugs sympathetic. They’re just not going to be able to appeal to people’s feelings on this one.”
“They could get someone to testify that they were good family men just trying to provide for their families,” Jake said, remembering his conversation with Tyler Price.
“Sure, but don’t forget, they reason that they were there was to rough up Ray. That’s our advantage. With the absence of direct evidence, such as a witness who saw Ray pull the trigger, the perception of the jurors will be extremely important. We must cast doubt on the certainly of the charges, things such as what happened before Ray arrived at the garage. We have to cast doubt on every aspect of their case.”
“What about evidence that is cut and dried? Like the fingerprints on the gun?”
“We don’t argue about things that we know are indisputable, such as the prints. We acknowledge that the prints are Ray’s, but we have a reason that the prints were on the gun, we have proof that the gun went missing, and we only have to cast doubt that Ray absolutely had it and used it for the killings.”
“Which will prevent an intelligent jury from finding Ray guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt,” finished Janie.
“Exactly. We want people we can reason with,” said Finch.
“All right,” Jake said as he looked at his list, “We don’t have much time, people. Who on this list do you know?”
Ray’s eyes were open when the sun’s first light came filtering through the barred and thickly glazed windows down at the end of the hall. As always, his mind still had trouble comprehending his situation. He knew that his life was in danger, for if he was indeed convicted, he could face the death penalty. It would be bad enough to be in this situation if he had done the crime, but to be innocent of it, truly innocent, was beyond belief.
He knew that Harry Rex believed him, he was fairly confident that Ben believed him, and he wasn’t sure about Jake. Then again, he really wasn’t concerned about whether Jake believed him or not. He knew that Jake would try his best to get Ray acquitted. And despite the truce, he still occasionally felt a dislike for Jake when his thoughts went back to the scene of seeing Jake and the Judge enjoying a late afternoon drink on the porch of Maple Run. Sometimes he could shake it off, and sometimes it wasn’t so easy.
And, as was happening more and more frequently, he thought of Janie. He wanted desperately for Janie to believe him and know that he wasn’t a killer. He hadn’t been truly interested in a woman since the divorce, and he thought it was a cruel twist of fate that now would be the time for that to happen. Even if he were found not guilty he knew that the doubt would remain in her. And despite the apparent attraction on her part, the lingering questions would prevent a serious relationship from ever happening. He wanted her to know with certainty that he didn’t do it. Unless the real killer was caught, that was unlikely to happen.
Sunday morning, he thought. One day to go until the trial begins. Where he would face his accuser, the State of Mississippi. He now wished Jake a made a motion for a continuance, if nothing else but to put it off a little longer. As a defendant, he wanted it over with, but as an attorney he wanted more time to prepare. Yes, the evidence was circumstantial, and there was a serious hole in the chain of custody of the gun, but even a jury of twelve reasonable people could decide that he was guilty. He had taught on cases where flimsier evidence
Who was going to care if he got convicted? He had no family anymore. His ex-wife wouldn’t care. If she even found out. Some of the people at the law school would find out when Ray didn’t come back. Carl Mirk would care. What was that cute administrator’s name? He sometimes thought they would have a thing. Harry Rex would care. Jake would care on some level. Janie. Would Janie care? Hope so, Ray thought.
I hope so.
The call came in unexpectedly and anonymously.
“I need to speak to the person in charge of the Atlee case.”
“Who may I say is calling?”
“Let’s just say I have information about the case that could be helpful.”
“May I ask your name?”
“Not until I talk to the person in charge.”
A pause. “One moment, please.”
Paxton Jonas was going through the jury list with Arnie Adams. As usual, Arnie was trying to keep Paxton on track. Paxton’s secretary buzzed in.
“There is somebody on line one who claims to have information about the Atlee case.”
“Who is it?”
“He won’t say. He won’t reveal it until he talks to you.”
“Great. Another crackpot. Tell him to leave his contact information and I’ll call him back.” Which was never going to happen.
“Yes, Mr. Jonas.”
Paxton began again. “Now, as I was saying, we have to continually remind people of the trouble Forrest had been, and explore this theme of Forrest and Ray cooking up this plot to ambush them.”
“We can’t prove that,” Arnie argued.
“Again, we don’t have to prove it, we just plant it in the juror’s mind and talk about it continually and eventually it’ll become the prevalent theory. And even though we can’t prove that, only Ray can disprove it, and I’ll bet he won’t testify.”
“What if he does?”
“I would love to get him on the stand. We can throw enough doubt on his version of the story to have ours make as much sense as any.”
Arnie thought, as stupid as he makes that sound, it does make a certain kind of sense. A knock on the door, and Paxton’s secretary stuck her head in. “Sorry to interrupt, Mr. Jonas, but you may want to talk with this guy. He’s claiming that Judge Atlee had millions in cash and that the sons were fighting over it.”
Paxton and Arnie looked at each other. Arnie shrugged and Paxton looked over at his secretary. “Put him through.” A moment later, Paxton picked up the beeping phone.
“This is Paxton Jonas, District Attorney.”
“Yes, I, um, have some information about the Atlee boys.”
“I see. And what is that?”
“Judge Atlee had a bunch of cash and the sons were fighting over it.”
“And you know this how?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“I need money.”
Paxton looked over at Arnie and mouthed, “He needs money,” while rolling his eyes. “And I’m supposed to pay you money for you to tell me?”
“Yes. You guys do it all the time. Like informants.”
“I’m sorry, what was your name?”
“No way, I’m not stupid. And I’m on a pay phone, so don’t try to trace this call.”
Paxton laughed under his breath, gave Arnie a look that said, “nut job”, and replied, “You’re going to have to do better than that, pal. You’re wasting my time.”
“No, seriously, the Judge got boxes of cash before he died.” With that, Paxton’s demeanor changed.
“What do you mean boxes of cash? How do you know this?”
“I told you, I can’t tell you. But I do know that he got boxes of cash delivered to his house.”
“Some lawyer on the coast.”
Now it was getting specific. “When was this?”
“Look, I’ve told you enough. No more without a deal.”
“Where are you?”
“Not without a deal!”
“Just a minute, I need to talk to someone.”
“No, you’re tracing it. I’ll call back in an hour. Don’t bother trying to locate me. I know all the tricks.” And with that he was gone.
Paxton slowly hung up the phone. Arnie looked at him expectantly, having caught about half of the conversation. Paxton punched the intercom and asked for more coffee. Arnie waited, then asked. “Well?”
Paxton Jonas began to tap a pencil on the desk, slowly at first and then building into a rather impressive drumroll. Arnie knew to wait patiently when that started because something profound in Paxton’s mind was coming. When Paxton hit the lampshade as his cymbal, he turned to Arnie and grinned. “Well?” repeated Arnie.
“Judge Atlee got a big box of cash.”
“From a lawyer.”
“Uh-huh.” Usually the task was getting Paxton Jonas to shut up. These moments of pulling teeth were maddening. “Out with it!”
That just made Jonas grin. “He got it from a lawyer on the coast.”
“Judge Atlee was taking bribes.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“But what if? And this is part of it and Ray’s trying to cover it up?”
“Still sounds like a crackpot.”
“I know. But let’s follow it. The Judge gets boxes of cash from a lawyer on the coast, millions the guy said, and then Ray and Forrest are fighting over it. Ray sets this up thing up to get rid of Forrest. But why did Ray kill the hoods? Unless, they saw the cash and had to be eliminated, too. Or they knew the Judge was taking bribes.”
“What, and then Forrest randomly runs off the road?”
“Ray drove him off the road.”
“He would have had to drive him off the road, drive back to Clanton, meet those guys and shoot them,” said Arnie with skepticism.
“I like it,” Paxton said as he stood up and began pacing. “We need to find out more from this guy. Let’s get Orville involved.” Orville Thompson was a police detective who worked the seamier side of Smithville and was well versed in the art of dealing with people of dubious reputation who were looking to sell information. “Call him, see if he can come over.”
Dumas Lee began his story. “The trial of Raymond Atlee begins on Monday when a jury will be selected in the double homicide case that will determine the guilt or innocence of a member of one of Ford County’s most well-known families. Atlee, accused of killing Delroy Harper and Nicolas Parnell, both of Memphis, is the son of the late Chancellor Reuben Atlee. Prior to his death, Chancellor Atlee was well regarded in the community, notably as a most charitable person, sending monthly college support checks to some of Clanton’s most promising youth as they fulfilled their dreams of higher education. If convicted, Raymond Atlee could face the death penalty for his alleged crimes.”
Dumas sat back and read through it again, shaking his head in disbelief. While the paragraph was factually correct, the scenario it described was unbelievable. He certainly enjoyed the prospect of a high-profile murder trial, but he really could not personally conceive of Ray Atlee having killed those men. Normally he didn’t have any trouble separating his stories from his personal feelings, but this story was throwing him for a loop.
It was cut and dried. Jake had summarized his conversation with Tyler Price, where the conclusion was that Forrest had brought Price’s men to the garage for Ray to ambush. Then Forrest died fleeing the scene. He didn’t believe that Forrest was dead, he didn’t believe that Ray could assassinate two men, and he did believe that there was someone else involved. But his feelings didn’t match the facts. Why was it so hard to accept the apparent facts on this one? he thought. Dumas dealt in facts, but somehow the facts were not supporting what he felt. That was not supposed to happen! So, maybe, a part of him knew that he didn’t have all the facts. His intuition was telling him there was more to the story, meaning that either Ray did the killings but for some other reason, or someone else did, namely Forrest, and pinned it on Ray.
Dumas’ money was on Forrest.
Forty minutes later Detective Thompson was sitting in the outer office drinking a hot cup of surprisingly good coffee. Having spent 20 years in and around a police station, he certainly knew what bad coffee tasted like. He didn’t particularly like Paxton Jonas, but Thompson’s career had become stalled until he had been particularly effective on a case dealing with a hesitant witness. That had been five years earlier when Jonas was an Assistant District Attorney. Paxton won the case in large part because of the witness and had been grateful enough to say the right things to the right people. As a result, the Detective had gotten a commendation and a raise with better duty.
Soon Paxton’s secretary ushered Thompson into the inner office where Paxton and Arnie were talking into separate phones. Paxton motioned Thompson into a chair and finished his conversation. “Orville, good to see you. How’s Debbie?”
“She’s fine, thanks for asking. Thinking of tearing out the whole damn kitchen.”
“Sounds like fun! Good luck with that. Listen, we’ve got an interesting little situation that’s come up in the last hour or so, and I think you can help us with it. We received a call from an anonymous man who claims that Judge Reuben Atlee received boxes of cash from a lawyer, and that it is what led to the murders. He’s going to call back in a few minutes to make a deal for the information.”
Orville laughed. “Paxton, you don’t need a deal.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, unless this guy has names and dates, and actually saw the cash, you don’t need him. He’s right, but it’s not a secret.”
“What?” Paxton stood up.
“It’s fairly common knowledge that certain lawyers like to spread cash around as thank you notes, and that sometimes it ends up on the front porch of a judge.”
“But Judge Atlee?”
“That’s the rumor. About a year ago, maybe more. Certain bad actors tend to run in the same circles and stories get told. Some are true, some are not. Some people think this one is true.”
“But that’s corruption! Why don’t I know any of this?”
“Paxton, there is a lot of stuff that makes the rounds that will never be able to be proved or disproved, and a ton of stuff that crosses our desks never goes anywhere. This is one of those dubious stories that make for good telling, and that’s about it. Far as I know, Judge Atlee was an honest judge. So again, unless this guy is an eyewitness with names and dates, I’d blow him off.”
“I can’t believe this. Judge Atlee. Unbelievable.”
“Again, I’m not saying he did or didn’t. And, if he did get it, he didn’t spend any of it. My sister lived down the street from him and she often commented about how the house was getting run down. I can talk to this guy, but I wouldn’t plan on it going anywhere.”
“Speak with him and see what you think. He wants a deal and I figure you can walk that line to see if he has anything before we make any promises. What’s the going rate for information?” asked Paxton.
“Depends on what he’s got. For a one-time dump that leads somewhere good, two to five thousand is not out of the realm of possibility. We’ve got a kitty we could pull from.”
“Ok, well, let’s see if he calls in. Should be soon.” Arnie had finished his conversation and was listening in. He began filling Paxton in on his conversation when Cynthia buzzed in.
“Mr. Jonas, the man is on line one.”
“Put him through.” Paxton picked up the phone and handed it to Thompson.
Thompson was to the point. “I hear you want to make a deal.”
“Who is this?”
“I’m Detective Thompson with the Smithville P.D. Who are you?”
“I don’t want to talk to no cop. What happened to the D.A.?”
“He’s right here, but I’m his negotiator, so if you want to make a deal, you’ll keep talking to me. So, what do you know?”
“I know that Judge Atlee got boxes of cash from a lawyer on the coast.”
“And how do you know this?”
“Like I told the D.A., no more unless I have a deal.”
“Well, listen, pal, right now I don’t know any more than I knew five minutes ago, so unless you got something worth something, we’re done.”
“Ok, it was a million dollars and change.”
“How do you know?”
“I counted it.”
Orville Thompson looked up quickly at Paxton Jonas who was trying to hear the conversation. “When did you count it?”
“After the Judge had hid it in his house. I found the money hidden in boxes in his office. Now, no more until I have a deal.”
“Hang on two seconds.” Thompson put his hand on his phone. “He may have something.”
Arnie handed him a piece of paper with names written on it. “See if he knows who the lawyer was. We think this was one of these. Say this one last.” He pointed at a name.
Thompson turned back to the phone. “Okay, but one more question. The lawyer on the coast, who was it?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Then how do you know it was a lawyer, and he or she was from the coast?”
“There was a business card in the box. I remember it had his name, said attorney at law, and the address was Biloxi. On the back was a note, signed with his first name, but I don’t remember what it was.”
“Would you recognize his first name if I said it?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
A pause. “Patton, that’s it. Like the general.”
Thompson smiled. “How much are you looking for?”
“It’s Patton, isn’t it?”
“Maybe. How much do you want?”
“I know I got it right. I want a thousand dollars. Not a penny less.”
Orville paused dramatically. “Let’s make a deal.”