Death Penaltyby William J. Coughlin
Detroit lawyer Charley Sloan has been around the block once or twice. Down for the count, drinking heavily, a three-time loser in the marriage wars, Charley repairs his tattered career and gets back in the game. Heading his rogues' gallery of clients is the infamous, twisted angel of mercy, Doctor Death, whose patients have a strange habit of dying under very
Detroit lawyer Charley Sloan has been around the block once or twice. Down for the count, drinking heavily, a three-time loser in the marriage wars, Charley repairs his tattered career and gets back in the game. Heading his rogues' gallery of clients is the infamous, twisted angel of mercy, Doctor Death, whose patients have a strange habit of dying under very peculiar circumstances.
But now Charley steps into a case with the opportunity to do some good. The high stakes include a literal matter of life and death. And, as he quickly discovers, they also include the sinister stench of corruption that reaches to the highest levels of jurisprudence-including Charley Sloan's respected mentor. Suddenly, a rock and a hard place never looked so good.
-The Detroit News
"Bravo! Coughlin brilliantly captures the corruption of the legal system by human error and greed. Thought-provoking and timely."-Library Journal
"A wily, likeable tale."-Time
"Coughlin delivers another thoughtful, brisk-paced and fully satisfying legal mystery."
"Readers who enjoyed Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent are likely to enjoy this fast-paced novel. Will not fail to please connoisseurs of legal fiction."-American Bar Association Journal
Read an Excerpt
By William J. Couchlin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1992 Ruth Coughlin
All rights reserved.
Sometimes I like my clients, sometimes I don't. I try to convince myself that I do an adequate job either way. But sometimes I wonder. I wasn't fond of Miles Stewart, M.D., whom I had just defended in the Wayne County Circuit Court. We were in a courtroom located high up in the towering City-County Building, a governmental sky-scraper overlooking the sports-minded City of Detroit. Detroiters love all sports, especially contact sports, like mayhem. Here mayhem has been raised to a contest of Olympic proportions. Mayhem is a sport where scorekeeping is easy. Corpses, number of stitches, or artful location of bullet wounds count for points, but you truly win only if you survive. Lately, in Detroit, there had been a lot of losers.
Stewart, who had been reading a medical journal, put it down and walked to where I was sitting. His steps echoed in the nearly empty courtroom.
"They've been out a very long time," he said. "I presume that's a good sign."
"You never really know," I replied. "Juries tend to take murder cases somewhat seriously. Even in Detroit. It's been a long trial, and this is only the second day of deliberations. But common wisdom does say that the longer a jury is out the better it is for the defendant."
"I have a difficult time thinking of myself that way, as the defendant."
I studied him for a moment, wondering if at last he might be exhibiting some sign of human vulnerability. He had maintained an icy cool throughout the trial, almost a detachment. Although I had kept him off the witness stand, I knew the jurors had watched him. They had eyes. They had seen the obvious arrogance.
Dr. Stewart was tall, well over six feet, and athletically lean. He was almost sixty, but looked forty. His silky ginger hair, groomed as carefully as a television anchorman's, held no trace of gray. His alabaster skin was smooth and unwrinkled. His features would have been pleasant if it weren't for his eyes. They were two little green stones, cold and without emotion. He seldom blinked. The total effect suggested a reptilian quality.
"Do you still think I'll be convicted?" He smiled, but as usual the expression was more imperious than friendly.
"We'll see. Maybe we'll get lucky. You never know."
"And if not, if we're not lucky, what happens then?"
"It's all been arranged, Doctor. This is a front-page case, so there will be quite a fuss no matter which way it goes. Should the jury come back with a verdict of guilty, you'll be taken into custody, handcuffs and all, chiefly for the benefit of the photographers. The court officers will hold you in an office behind the courtroom for an hour and then you'll be released. The judge has agreed to continue bail."
"Does this sort of thing happen often?"
"Where both sides come together like this to orchestrate a theatrical charade for the benefit of the great unwashed." The words held the suggestion of a sneer. His reptilian eyes watched for a reaction. "Or is this how the legal system really works?"
I restrained myself. I had often had to practice such restraint during the course of our lawyer-client relationship. It seemed to please him when he could provoke an angry response. I paused and then spoke in a carefully measured tone. "I have no idea about medicine, but the law lends itself to compromise, real as well as for show. I worked out this arrangement to save you a night in jail. The prosecutor knows you would eventually get out on bond, pending appeal, no matter how vigorously he objected. He just wants his triumphant moment in the camera's eye if you're convicted. I admit it's for show, but this way no one is inconvenienced, especially you."
"How thoughtful." His words dripped with contempt. He turned away from me, no longer interested.
Boredom permeated the almost empty courtroom. A few newspeople sat around talking. A court officer, his face slack, his eyelids heavy, was losing his fight against sleep.
My client walked to a courtroom window and looked down on the city below.
The press had tagged him Doctor Death. His face caught the outside light, lending shadow and texture to his angular features, accentuating his unusual eyes and producing an effect that suggested something sinister. It was the way villains in the old horror pictures were lighted, just before they bit someone in the throat. There wasn't a discernible trace of human concern or care in that face. The prosecutor had called him an executioner. At the moment, he looked exactly that.
If a sulfuric mist had suddenly swirled up about him, it wouldn't have seemed at all out of place.
Despite a certain oily charm, a facile quality he could call forth when it suited him, I hadn't liked Miles Stewart even the first time we had met. That very negative reaction had grown with each day we had spent together.
The case against him wasn't legally strong, mostly just a weak web of circumstances and suspicions. But the judge had purposely allowed the prosecutor to enter grossly inadmissible evidence against my client. Judge Gallagher, who didn't like doctors and especially doctors accused of killing their patients, had his own ethical idea about how the case should come out. The trial was drawing national attention, and legal or not, the judge wanted to send a public message. A warning to all doctors. And it was a very, very public warning. It was that kind of public case, the kind tabloid editors dream about, the kind that produced wonderful headlines like TYCOON CONTRACTS FOR OWN MURDER.
The tycoon, Francis X. Milliard, had been just that, a financial wizard who had gobbled up half the manufacturing companies in America. Milliard, the father of three grown sons, had divorced his socialite wife and then stepped out of the closet and into the leather bars. But he had danced with the wrong partner and had contracted AIDS, although his publicity people had artfully concealed his condition, even at the last.
Despite his billions, Milliard couldn't buy a cure for the deadly disease that had been slowly killing him. No amount of money could buy that. But the prosecutor said Milliard did have sufficient funds to acquire the sinister services of Dr. Miles Stewart, purchasing a happy little injection and a quick, painless way out of a bad situation.
The right-to-die people rallied to the cause of Dr. Stewart, calling him a pathfinder, an angel. The other side did everything but put a bounty on him.
The officer assigned to shepherd the jury came hurrying into the courtroom. His excited whisper had the force of a shout. "They got a verdict!"
Boredom evaporated instantly.
Within minutes every seat in the courtroom was filled. The jury came trudging in slowly, as if they had done something wrong and expected trouble. They looked solemn, mournful. They awkwardly formed a ring before the judge.
"Have you reached a verdict," the court clerk spoke the formal question, "and if so, who will speak for you?"
"We have, and I shall speak," the rotund little woman who was a computer programmer answered. Her words had a distinct tremor, and she continued in an unnaturally loud voice. "We find the defendant guilty as charged, guilty of second-degree murder."
No trial lawyer likes to lose, but I had expected the verdict. During the trial, old Judge Gallagher had committed more errors than a blind shortstop.
I would take the case up to the court of appeals and I would win there. They would order a retrial, a fair one.
But the jury case was a public loss, and I had to face the press and television cameras out in the hallway. They didn't like my client any more than I did, so their questions seemed unusually vicious.
After that ordeal I made sure my original deal was carried out. It was, and Doctor Death was eventually spirited away to freedom, on bond, far from the prying eyes of the camera crews.
It all took more time than I had anticipated, but finally I was finished, although I was beginning to experience the tiring drain of an emotional cool down. In the old days I would have sucked up some quick liquid energy at the nearest saloon. That seemed so long ago now.
I set about gathering up my court papers and possessions for the hour-long drive back to Pickeral Point.
Pickeral Point is a small Michigan city approximately forty miles northeast of Detroit. It is a river city. I moved there after my trouble. That's all behind me now, I hope, but I still live in Pickeral Point, and my office is there, although I'm doing Detroit trial work once again.
I had been alone in the deserted courtroom. I turned to see who had come in.
At first I didn't recognize him. I hadn't seen him for six or seven years.
"It's me. Mickey Monk." He grinned, exhibiting the familiar crooked smile. It was a beguiling choirboy grin, the kind that belonged on a fresh innocent face. But the face I was looking at wasn't innocent or fresh. It was puffy, and the skin color resembled something you might see on ice in a fish market. Fleshy bags hung below cornflower blue eyes. Only the eyes and the smile looked healthy.
"How are you, Mickey? It's been a while."
We shook hands. His was warm and sweaty.
"Jesus, I hear the jury jammed it up Doctor Death's ass. Too bad."
"It won't stick. The court of appeals will overturn it."
"You got the fix in?"
I laughed. "I don't need a fix. This thing will practically appeal itself."
I took a closer look at him. Mickey, a lawyer too, and I were old drinking buddies, brothers at the bar in more ways than one. We were about the same age, with the big five-oh looming just down the road for us both. He had put on weight, a lot of weight. His clothes, expensive but wrinkled, strained against thigh and belly.
"Let's go grab a drink, Charley."
I shook my head. "I don't drink anymore."
He nodded slowly. "I heard that. Was it tough? Quitting, I mean?"
"Depends on how you define tough. Why? Are you interested in giving it up?"
He laughed, his puffy cheeks shaking from the effort. "Hell, no. If I stopped drinking, the national economy of Scotland would collapse. How about coming with me while I get a quick one?"
"I try to avoid saloons these days."
"Hell, Charley, you got your law license back. You're doing okay again. Relax, enjoy life a bit. One snort won't kill you."
"I'll pass, Mickey. Thanks anyway."
He ran a meaty hand through his thinning blond hair. "I gotta confess I didn't just happen by. I heard you were up here so I came looking for you."
"You've found me. What's up?"
"I'd talk better if I had a drink."
I remember the need I saw in his eyes. My eyes used to look that way, too, the need bordering on pain. In those days I was never very long between drinks.
"Okay, where do you want to go?"
He brightened. "Mulrooney's, of course."
Mulrooney's, one of the oldest bars in the city, was the traditional watering hole for circuit court lawyers, judges, and clerks. I thought I probably held some kind of record there for number of consecutive times drunk.
"Anyplace but Mulrooney's," I said.
He looked disappointed. "Well, there's a nice bar over at the Westin Hotel. And it's close."
During the trip over I noticed even the short walk tended to wind him and his puffy face began to glisten with sweat. Mickey filled me in on his life as we walked. His second wife was talking divorce, and his kids were in perpetual trouble of various kinds. He was in a downtown Detroit office with three other personal injury lawyers. Business was up and down, mostly down.
I told him of my little one-man office located above an insurance agency and looking out on the St. Clair River. He wasn't impressed. And I told him about my daughter, although I didn't tell him she was a recovering alcoholic just like her dear old dad. I did tell him, brag would be the better word, that she was an honor student at the University of Pennsylvania and thinking about going on to law school. He remembered my third wife, who had divorced me years ago. He had some unkind things to say about her. I didn't object. They were all true.
By the time we got to the bar we were all caught up on personal history.
Mickey ordered a double scotch, straight up, and gulped it down, then ordered another. Sometimes it bothers me to watch people drink. Sometimes it doesn't. This time I wasn't bothered. I sipped my Coke and waited for him to tell me what had prompted him to search me out.
"Are you going to handle the Doctor Death appeal yourself?" he asked. "I mean, prepare and brief it yourself and then argue the case?"
He worked a bit slower on the second drink. "As I remember, you got some friends over there on the court of appeals, right?"
"I do, but that won't count for a hell of a lot. I know a couple of the judges there. So do you."
"Not as well as you do," he said quickly.
"What's your point, Mickey?"
"You know what I do, right?"
"I'm a personal injury lawyer," he said, staring at the ice cubes in his glass. "I used to be pretty good, or at least I thought I was. Made money, too. It's tougher now, Charley. No-fault this, no-fault that. It's hard to make an honest buck anymore. At least it is for someone like me who handles mostly small stuff. Quantity, not quality, that's what pays my rent, you know?"
"I finally got my teeth into something good, real good. Big bucks, you know? But it's on appeal. I've handled appeals before but not many, and none that were really big. I don't think I want to do this one all on my own."
"The town is full of appellate experts, Mickey. Hire someone to help you."
He shrugged and signaled for another drink. "I know those guys. Paperwork men, nothing more. I need someone who has a wire in over there."
"I don't have a wire in, if that's what you mean. No one does, as far as I know."
He laughed, but it had a mocking sound. "You been away from the action around here, Charley. Things have changed."
"There's a whisper that a judge or two over there is up for sale."
"I don't know. It's just a rumor, but I think it's probably true. It's one of those things you hear a lot. You know the old wheeze, where there's smoke there's fire."
"There's always that kind of rumor floating around, no matter what court it is. You know that, Mickey."
"What about Judge Newark in Recorder's Court? Would you call that a rumor?"
I laughed. "No matter what they may say about him he's still on the bench. I understand the grand jury came close a few times, but they couldn't nail him."
Mickey looked around to make sure no one could hear what he was about to say. Then he spoke in a near whisper. "I know how he does it."
"Remember Sid Williams?"
A memory flashed in my mind, a picture of a sleazy little lawyer with bulging eyes and the world's worst toupee. Sid was a fixture in Recorder's Court. He had no law office but practiced out of a bondsman's storefront. "I remember Sid."
"He's Judge Newark's partner."
"C'mon! Newark wouldn't have anything to do with a slime like Sid."
"You wouldn't think it, would you? Maybe that's why it works so well." Monk sipped his drink. "Sure you won't have one of these, Charley?"
"No. Go on. Tell me about Sid and the judge."
He flashed that boyish grin, then chuckled. "Suppose you got a criminal case in front of Judge Newark. Say, for instance, you got a client charged with sale and possession of narcotics. He's got a record, and they got a good case on him. He's looking at twenty years. The prosecutor won't go for a lesser plea and your man is desperate. What do you do?"
Monk nodded. "You do, but you waive a jury so that Newark will make the ultimate decision. But before you try it, you quick find Sid Williams. Only you don't discuss that case, not a word, nothing. But you hire Sid to be your cocounsel on another case. It doesn't matter what case, civil, criminal, whatever. You pay Sid maybe four thousand dollars, then you go to trial before Newark."
"And you win."
"No. You lose. That's the neat part. You lose, but the judge finds your man guilty of a lesser offense. And he does some time too, but not much, maybe six months. Nobody complains. The prosecutor and the police aren't happy, maybe, but they're satisfied. The fucking dope dealer is ecstatic. You get the four grand from him, plus a bonus. You're a hero, the judge looks good, and there's no way to trace anything. Even if you were trying to make a case and were wearing a wire it wouldn't do any good. You and Sid never talk about the matter up before Newark."
Excerpted from Death Penalty by William J. Couchlin. Copyright © 1992 Ruth Coughlin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
William J. Coughlin, a former defense attorney and judge in Detroit for twenty years, was the author of sixteen novels. He lived in Grosse Point Woods, Michigan, with his wife, Ruth, an author and book critic.
William J. Coughlin, a former defense attorney and judge in Detroit for twenty years, was the author of sixteen novels, including The Heart of Justice, In the Presence of Enemies, and Shadow of a Doubt. He lived in Grosse Point Woods, Michigan, with his wife, Ruth, an author and book critic.
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This book was excellent from start to finish without any lull in the story. Coughlin's characters have wry humor and vulnerabilities just like the average person which makes it easy to root for them. If I didnt know better I would swear that this was written by John Grisham.
Hey umm ur gonna get forcemated im warning u.. unless u posted the ad and u wanna get forcemated well bye.
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Nothing special and a very predictable outcome.