Dying Declarationby Randy D. Singer
A Page-Turning Courtroom Thriller By Award-Winning Author Randy Singer.
Thomas and Theresa Hammonds believe in tough love and old-fashioned discipline. They do not believe in doctors. When their controversial religious practices lead to personal tragedy, however, the Hammonds face heartbreaking loss, a crisis of faith–and a charge of negligent homicide by a… See more details below
A Page-Turning Courtroom Thriller By Award-Winning Author Randy Singer.
Thomas and Theresa Hammonds believe in tough love and old-fashioned discipline. They do not believe in doctors. When their controversial religious practices lead to personal tragedy, however, the Hammonds face heartbreaking loss, a crisis of faith–and a charge of negligent homicide by a relentless prosecutor.
Defending Thomas and Theresa is freewheeling African American lawyer Charles Arnold. Charles believes in grace and mercy. But nothing in his colorful past has prepared him for the challenges of this shocking case, or for the dangerous conspiracy at its heart.
Cultures and Lawyers Collide…
Teaming with Nikki Moreno, the court-appointed guardian for the Hammonds children, Charles pursues intractable questions. Who is responsible for Joshie Hammonds’ death? Will this family’s tragedy lead to their destruction? Which will triumph–mercy or judgment? The answers hang on the traitorous testimony of a key witness…and on a dying declaration that will revolutionize the lives of everyone who touches the case.
- The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.45(w) x 8.21(h) x 1.06(d)
Read an Excerpt
They had not heard anything for almost two hours, and it worried Thomas. He was tired of the sterile ICU waiting room, the yellow plastic furniture, and the two-month-old magazines. He had seen at least two other families come and go since midnight, yet here he sat, knowing nothing and fearing the worst.
The operation had started at 11:00 but had not gone well. Dr. Armistead came by at 12:30, very businesslike, to inform them that the appendix had been removed but that Joshua was not yet out of the woods. He referred to multiple system failures or something like that. Thomas had not been allowed to see Josh. Armistead mentioned consulting with some kind of liver or kidney specialists. How those organs got involved, Thomas did not know. But it didn’t sound good.
Was God punishing him for taking Josh to the hospital? Had Thomas failed in his ultimate test of faith? If Josh didn’t pull through, would there be anyone to blame except a father who abandoned his deeply held beliefs when the pressure was on? How could God honor such flimsy faith? For the last hour Thomas had been beating himself up as he wrestled with these questions in prayer. He still had no answers and no sense of assurance that Josh would be okay. More than anything else, he just wanted to be with Josh and resented the doctors for keeping him away from his own son.
At least Tiger had finally run out of gas. He was sound asleep on the couch, mouth wide open and clinging to his blankie. Stinky had curled up on Thomas’s lap and also slept soundly. She was getting heavier by the minute, but Thomas was not about to put her down. He found security in the warmth of her touch.
Theresa was not sleeping. She was up and down, roaming the hallways and pacing the waiting room. She would alternate between unjustified optimism and unwarranted pessimism. Right now, she was just sitting and staring. It had been at least five minutes since she had speculated about why they had not heard anything for so long. It had been fifteen minutes since she had stopped an ICU nurse in the hallway, pressing for information that was not forthcoming.
What else could they do but wait?
Though Thomas and Theresa had been glancing at the doorway for most of the night, Armistead somehow entered unnoticed. When Thomas caught Armistead in his peripheral vision, the doctor was already standing a few steps inside the room, in his white lab coat, looking grim. Thomas knew. Even before Armistead spoke, Thomas knew.
Theresa jumped out of her seat, moving toward the doctor.
“How’s he doing?” she asked.
Thomas tensed but did not move. He didn’t want to shake Stinky from his lap.
“It’s not good,” said Armistead evenly, professionally. “We did everything we could, but he didn’t make it, he just–”
“No!” screamed Theresa. “No! Not my Joshie…” She collapsed on the floor, head in her hands, her words drowned out by her own sobs.
Thomas stood and placed Stinky softly in the chair. Stinky woke, looked confused, and blinked the sleep out of her eyes. “What’s the matter?” she asked.
“It’ll be okay,” Thomas mumbled as he tried to absorb the unthinkable. A numbness washed over him. He sat down on the floor next to Theresa and wrapped his arms around her. She buried her head on his shoulder.
Tiger, who had been startled awake by his mother’s scream, rubbed his eyes and hopped down from the couch. He walked quickly toward his mom and dad and shot a mean glance at Dr. Armistead. He took his special blankie, his comforter, and spread it across his mom’s shoulders. Then he reached out and hugged his mommy’s neck. Thomas embraced them both in a three-person hug. In a flash, Stinky joined them and made it four.
“Is Joshie okay?” Stinky whispered into her daddy’s ear.
Thomas couldn’t find the words or the heart to tell her.
State law required that he report suspected child abuse. He had no choice in the matter. And so, after working a double shift, Sean Armistead reached for his cell phone while driving home, called directory assistance, and got the number for the Virginia Beach Department of Child Protective Services. He stayed on the line as the directory-assistance computer dialed the number.
It did not surprise him to hear the answering machine kick in. He did not really expect anyone to be at the office at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. He left a message, then speed-dialed another number. He counted three rings before it was answered.
“Hello,” said a gruff female voice at the other end. The voice belonged to Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Rebecca Crawford.
“I thought you’d be at the office by now. You’re slipping.”
“Your friendly neighborhood doc with your weekend wake-up call.”
“Fat chance. I’ve already finished my workout. It’s almost lunchtime for me, Doc.”
“You’ve got to get a life.”
“I’ve got one–remember? I put the guys behind bars that you stitch up and throw back out on the streets.”
As he listened to her on the phone, she crystallized in his mind. Thirtyeight and fighting the years with every ounce of her strength. Short, blonde hair with a layered cut, the roots beginning to turn brown. Tanned skin abused by too many long summers in the beach sun. The first signs of wrinkles had been ironed out with a facelift at age thirty-five. She had never admitted it to Sean, but he had his sources. She was not a natural athlete but worked hard to whip her body into shape, with fairly impressive results. She was only five-five, with big bones and a slow metabolism. She had to stay disciplined to keep off the weight.
Her face would be described by most as handsome but not stunning. The angles a little too sharp, the eyes a little too narrow, the cheeks a little too hollow. Regardless, it worked for him. She always applied her makeup with precision, hiding every flaw and accentuating the positives. And her mouth was truly beautiful–full lips, always covered with dark lipstick, and straight white teeth. You found yourself staring at her mouth when she talked, the way you did with Julia Roberts. Armistead had been mesmerized by her mouth on more than one occasion, a trait he was sure he shared with many jurors.
“So what’s up? You don’t call at seven in the morning to chat.”
Armistead smiled to himself. All business. He loved it.
“I think I’ve got an interesting case for you. High stakes. Big publicity. Sympathetic victim.”
“A two-year-old child died last night in the emergency room because his parents refused to get medical help for a ruptured appendix for three days. We did everything we could to bring him around, but it was too late. Plus, though I can’t prove it yet, I think the parents might have abused this child and their other two kids as well–a five-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl.”
Armistead paused, allowing the magnitude of his favor to kick in. “I thought you might be interested,” he said.
“Interested,” replied Rebecca. “You could say I’m interested.” She sounded energized. “Meet me at the office in an hour. I’ll need an affidavit.”
“I’ll be there,” he promised.
There was silence for a brief moment. “What’s the kid’s name?” Rebecca asked.
“What did he look like?”
This strange question caught Armistead a little off-guard. Honestly, he couldn’t much remember. “Typical two-year-old. Blond hair, I think, pudgy… Why is that important?”
“It’s not, really. I just like to put a face with my files. On a murder case, I usually tape a picture of the victim to the inside cover of my trial notebook. Helps me remember what the case is about.”
This side of Rebecca surprised him. It also shamed him a little. He couldn’t remember what this kid’s face looked like if his own life depended on it. The thought that a ruthless prosecutor had more compassion than he did was disturbing.
“Maybe you should tape your own picture there,” Armistead suggested. “This case is about getting you a promotion.”
She huffed. “You’re such a jerk sometimes.”
That’s better. That’s the Rebecca he knew. Combative, biting…irresistible.
“I’ll make it up to you later,” he promised.
Rebecca took a quick shower and threw on a pair of tight-fitting jeans and a loose-fitting tank top. Birkenstocks with no socks. She applied liberal amounts of blush, eye shadow, lipstick, and mascara in near record time. She layered on the deodorant and perfume. She was on her way in thirty minutes.
She formulated a strategy during the twenty-minute drive from her condo. She would talk to Child Protective Services on Monday. She could have a grand jury indictment by Tuesday. She would have an arrest warrant issued for the parents on Tuesday evening and request an arraignment and bond hearing for Wednesday morning. She would charge them with criminally negligent homicide, requesting a huge bond. She would seek a foster home for the children while the parents were behind bars. Even if the parents made bond, she would ask that it be conditioned on foster care for the kids pending trial on the theory that the best interest of the children required caregivers who would seek appropriate medical help.
She would pull the kids into her office and get some powerful videotaped statements before shipping them off to the foster home. She had cut her teeth on domestic-violence cases. She knew how to work the kids.
She would alert the media and promise exclusive interviews. And she would handle everything herself.
She thought about Sean’s comment, and the anger seeped in. This case wasn’t about her. Like every other case, it was about justice. She would be the voice for an innocent two-year-old kid who never had a chance. He died because of uncaring parents, just as surely as if they had slit his tiny throat themselves. Sure, they would come to court and cry about how much they loved their baby. But Joshua was dead. And no amount of crying could change that. Rebecca believed he would never rest in peace until those responsible had been brought to justice.
If doing her job on this case resulted in a promotion, so be it. It was about time Virginia Beach had someone heading up the commonwealth’s attorney’s office who cared about the victims. Career politicians had been running the place long enough.
She had labored for twelve long years in this depressing office. She had patiently waited the last five for Commonwealth’s Attorney Harlan Fowler to retire or get a judicial appointment. It was not going to happen. She had to take matters into her own hands now.
She was planning a run against her boss in November. She would make an announcement two months from now–in August. Sean had nearly perfect timing. She could indict the parents, demonize them in the press, and not have to worry about a trial until after the election.
Finally, the break she needed. The one she deserved.
She glanced at the clock and pulled into a 7-Eleven. She had a few extra minutes and was in the mood to celebrate. She grabbed some coffee with two creams and a glazed donut. She turned up her nose as she walked past the yogurt.
They hauled Charles Arnold before the magistrate on Saturday morning. He was still sporting his orange jumpsuit. The commonwealth’s attorney never attended bond hearings on a misdemeanor. The arresting officers represented the interests of the state.
“Case number 04-3417,” announced the clerk. “Commonwealth versus Charles Arnold.”
Charles stepped up to the magistrate’s bench. Officer Thrasher, the beefy cop with the pockmarked face, stood to his left. The deputies who had escorted the prisoners from the holding cell stood casually behind him.
Everyone in the courtroom looked bored.
“You are charged with violating a noise ordinance and resisting arrest,” said the magistrate without looking up. “You’re entitled to a lawyer on the resisting-arrest charge. Can you afford your own lawyer, or do you want to see if you can qualify for the public defender?”
“Excuse me, Your Honor,” interrupted Thrasher. “We’re dropping the resisting-arrest charge and have no objection to a PR bond.”
Charles expected as much. They had no basis for resisting arrest. They just wanted him locked up for the night. Teach him a lesson. Respect the boys in blue.
“I’m assuming the defendant has no objection?” The magistrate glanced up at Charles.
“I suppose not,” said Charles. “But Judge, they kept me locked up all night on a baseless charge, they processed me like a felon, and now they just waltz into court–”
The magistrate held up his palm, and Charles stopped midsentence. “Look, buddy, even if all that were true, there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m here to set bond, and the captain has generously offered you a personal recognizance bond. You get to go free as long as you sign a statement promising to appear on the trial date. It doesn’t get any better than that, pal, and I’ve got a lot of other folks to process.”
“Okay,” said Charles reluctantly. “But when is my trial date?”
“I set it for the first Tuesday of next month,” said Thrasher. “I’ll be in court that day on a number of other matters anyway.”
“That’s a month away,” complained Charles. A month of ribbing from his summer-school students. A month of explaining his innocence to everyone he knew.
And what if his ex-wife found out? He could hear her tsk, tsk, tsking him now. She’d find a way to blame it on him and the cops at the same time. She’d tell him to call the NAACP, countersue for a civil rights violation, show a little spine. No, he didn’t need this charge hanging over his head for a month. The sooner he could get it behind him, the better.
“I want the first available trial date.”
The magistrate grunted. It had probably been awhile since a defendant asked for an early trial date. “You got anything sooner?” he asked Thrasher.
The officer checked his black book. “Well, actually, Judge, I’m in court this Wednesday morning. I’m just not used to defendants who are released on a PR bond being so anxious to get back to court.”
The magistrate chuckled. “Me either.” Then to Charles. “Does Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. work for you, Mr. Arnold?”
“Very well, then, gentlemen, this case will be heard Wednesday morning. And, Mr. Arnold, if for any reason you don’t appear, I’ll have a warrant issued for your arrest. Is that clear?”
“Crystal clear, Your Honor.”
“Call the next case,” ordered the magistrate.
On the way past the holding cell, Charles noticed Buster standing against the front of the cell, holding the bars in each hand, pressing his face against the steel. Charles stopped and moved closer.
“You bustin’ out?” asked Buster.
“I’m ghost,” said Charles. “Already got the resisting-arrest charge dropped.”
“I told you he was good,” Buster said over his shoulder to the other inmates. “Cash money.” He turned again to Charles, lowering his voice. “Don’t forget about me, man.”
“I won’t,” said Charles. “I couldn’t if I tried.”
They grabbed hands through the bars, another soul handshake. Charles sensed the man’s guarded desperation and decided to take another run at the Bible study.
“See you next Saturday night?” asked Charles.
Buster hesitated for just a moment. “Might as well,” he mumbled. “I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
“Seven o’clock,” said Charles. He turned quickly to leave before Buster could change his mind.
What are we going to do with all this food?” asked Theresa Hammond as she busied herself in the kitchen. “Everyone at church has just been incredible.”
Thomas sat in his favorite recliner in the living room. The kids were in bed. It was Tuesday night, the night after Joshie’s funeral. And it was like they had entered into an unspoken pact not to talk about Joshie’s death. Every time Thomas tried to bring it up, Theresa would cry. And so he learned. The emotions were still too raw. Pretend it hadn’t happened. Shelter yourself in the shock of it all. Deal with it later.
“Beats me,” said the big man, staring at the spot on the floor where he would wrestle with Tiger and wait for Joshie to pile on.
“You think the kids will make it through the night?” Theresa asked between the clinking of dishes.
“Prob’ly not. Stinky’ll come climbin’ into our bed about midnight, then Tiger’ll holler ’bout nightmares a few hours later.”
“You hungry?” She seemed desperate to talk about something–anything but Joshie.
“’Course not. Been doin’ nothin’ but eatin’ and talkin’ to visitors all day. Why does everybody in church think they’ve gotta bring food over, like we can’t cook our own meals anymore?”
“I guess they just don’t know what else to do.” As she talked her voice quivered. Thomas could tell she was on the verge of tears again. He got up out of his seat and stepped into the kitchen. He leaned against the doorway and watched her for a moment. He saw the vacant stare in her puffy eyes and shared her bone-deep grief. Though she had never said as much, he sensed that Theresa blamed him. And why not? His lack of faith had surely caused this. It would be a burden that would haunt him the rest of his life.
Maybe he should walk over and rub her shoulders. Maybe he should just hold her and lie to her–tell her it would be all right. Truth was, he didn’t really know what to do. Emotions were not his thing.
“You all right?”
He nodded, then turned around to walk down the narrow hallway toward the bedroom. A firm but polite knock on the front door stopped him.
“Can you get that?” called Theresa from the kitchen.
“I reckon,” he murmured to himself. “It’s prob’ly another casserole.”
When Thomas opened the door, the two men standing on the small wooden porch of the trailer were not smiling. They were dressed in the brown garb of the Virginia Beach Sheriff ’s Department. Their badges glistened in the light from the one bulb that had not yet burned out.
“Can I help you?” asked Thomas, standing in the doorway.
“Are you Mr. Hammond?”
He hesitated. “That’s me.”
“Well, Mr. Hammond, we don’t enjoy doing this under any circumstances –but we’ve got a job to do and hope you’ll understand.” The officer thrust some official looking papers at Thomas.
“What in Sam Hill?”
“We’re serving you with a summons for your arrest on charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide,” said the officer. “You are to appear tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. in Virginia Beach General District Court for your arraignment and bond hearing.”
“Thomas…who is it?” Theresa called from the kitchen.
“Nobody you know, Theresa,” Thomas replied. He stepped outside and closed the door behind him.
“Was that Mrs. Hammond?” asked the officer politely.
Thomas scowled. “Yes.”
“We have a summons for her as well. Same charges. You can deliver it to her yourself if you want to.”
Thomas reached out and took the papers without saying a word. The men did not leave.
“Is that it?” growled Thomas. They might just be doing their job, but he didn’t have to make it easy. “Are you fixin’ to take me to jail?”
“Not tonight,” replied the officer evenly. “The commonwealth’s attorney could have requested a warrant for your arrest tonight. Instead, this summons is basically saying that you’re being trusted to show up on your own.”
“Will I go to jail tomorrow?” Thomas pressed them. “Will I lose the kids?”
“You might go to jail. Depends on what the judge says about bond. As for the kids, well…the commonwealth is basically claiming that child neglect caused the death of your son. If you have other kids, there’s a chance you could lose custody of them pending trial.” As the officer spoke, he shuffled slowly back to the edge of the porch. Both officers eyed Thomas warily.
Thomas felt the warmth rise in his neck. His head started spinning and burning with anger. Who did these guys think they were? They come to his house the night after he buries his own son, they matter-of-factly accuse him of murder, and then they just stand there and calmly say they might take his other children from him as well. He looked down at his clenched fists and thought about how good it would feel to pop these guys.
“Leave,” he sneered.
“Mr. Hammond, I know this is incredibly tough, but don’t do anything drastic. Get yourself an attorney–”
“Leave,” he said louder. “Now!”
“We’re just doing our job, sir.”
“Nobody takes my kids from me.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked the officer who had not yet said a word, still hovering near the edge of the porch.
“You know exactly what I mean,” replied Thomas, taking a step toward him. “Now, if you’ve finished your job, get out of here.”
Both men backed down the steps without taking their eyes off Thomas.
He stood on the small porch, arms folded across his chest, until the unmarked brown sedan backed out of the parking space next to his trailer and headed out of the trailer park.
Only then did he begin to read the official-looking papers that he held in his trembling hand. When he had finished, he punched the side of the trailer, and heard the pop of the siding as it yielded to the force of his blow.
“Over my dead body,” he said. Then he braced himself to tell Theresa.
Meet the Author
Randy Singer previous books include Irreparable Harm and Directed Verdict, a previous winner of the Christy Award for best suspense novel. A veteran trial lawyer, he now serves as Vice-President of the North American Mission Board and as a Legal Advisor for the American Center for Law and Justice; formerly, he was a law school professor and head of the trial section in a large Virginia firm.
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