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Last week People magazine called me "the Seer."
I wasn't pleased.
They ran a nice article that made for great publicity, but the word seer conjures up images of crystal balls and hocus-pocus, and neither one has anything to do with my work. I rely on facts and evidence, not paranormal vibrations and intuition.
Once I dismissed a man based on something that felt strangely like a hunch, but in hindsight I found several revealing clues that must have tipped off my subconscious and tripped a mental alarm. Since then, I've learned to turn my eyes and ears into nets with which I catch the whispers, glances, sighs, and the barely noticeable gestures that are the real message carriers in this raucous world.
My business card says I'm a jury consultant and communications expert.
I like to think of myself as a people reader. It was in my role as a jury consultant that I found myself perspiring in a New York courthouse on a cool morning in September.
"Men and women of the jury, my client's life lies in your hands."
Ross Colby, defense lawyer extraordinaire, paced before the jury box, his erect posture revealing his military background as clearly as his word choice. Most lawyers, including Howard Nardozzi, the prosecuting attorney for the state of New York, decorously addressed the "ladies and gentlemen of the jury," but I knew lawyers like Colby thought in terms of black or white, man or woman, guilty or innocent. And Colby desperately wanted these twelve men and women to believe that his client, U.S. Senator Chad Mitchell, was innocent of murder in the first degree.
From my seat in the first row of the spectators'gallery, I shifted slightly to study the twelve faces I had come to know nearly as well as my own. The law office of Wilt, Kremkau, Colby, and Stock had hired me in late February; it was now the seventh of September, and within a few hours we would all discover whether their decision had been wise. One of Colby's paralegals once let it slip that the senator had pressed Colby to hire Elaine Dawson, the jury consultant who rose to national prominence after the Marvin Maxwell trial, but apparently Elaine hadn't been available.
Her loss. My gain-perhaps. If the jury came back with a not guilty verdict, my star might rise as high as my former mentor's. But if the senator went to prison, I'd probably be pounding the pavement within a week.
I let my gaze rove over the assembled jury members while Colby continued his closing arguments.
"Yes, Senator Mitchell did visit Stephanie Glazier on the afternoon of June 25, and yes, they did quarrel. He has freely admitted as much. Yes, they were involved in a romantic relationship. But that morning Senator Mitchell had confessed the affair to his wife, and he visited Stephanie Glazier's apartment for no reason other than to break off the liaison. When he left that apartment, Miss Glazier was alive and well."
A movement from the jury box caught my eye-Laurie Dorset, juror number ten, had shaken her head slightly. A headshake could mean many things-annoyance, boredom, even flirtation-but it was also a strong signal of disbelief. Would she create trouble during deliberations? I opened my case notebook and lightly drew a question mark next to her name.
As Colby continued his summation, I scanned the list of men and women who would decide the senator's fate. Juror number one, Alan Armstrong, was tailor-made for our purposes. A white middle-class sales executive from Manhattan, he despised the current conservative resident of the White House and practically worshiped the liberal senator.
Juror number two, a retired schoolteacher, had worn a stony expression throughout the pretrial proceedings, but once testimony was under way, her flinty glances melted into an almost maternal concern and affection. She smiled gently whenever the senator glanced in her direction and reserved her granite frowns for the prosecutor. Unlike the other jurors, who scarcely glanced up as they entered and exited the courtroom, Ms. Schoolteacher stared at the senator as she came in, literally inviting him to connect with her. The man could be as guilty as Cain-and most likely was-but she'd vote for an acquittal.
I put a check by numbers one and two. Juror number three was another certain vote for the defense. The sultry blonde, Veronica Wade, had been obviously salivating over the handsome defendant since day one of the trial. The prosecution had wanted to bump her from the jury pool but used up all their peremptory challenges before Wade could be excused.
Juror four worried me. A manager for the Hilton hotel chain, Elizabeth Mattingly seemed polite, respectful, and solicitous toward the judge and both lawyers. But I had noticed that she often pushed through the jury box as if the other jurors didn't exist, and more than once I saw her allow the courtroom door to close behind her even though a fellow juror followed at her heels. Polite to authority figures, rude to everyone else-how would her innate self-centeredness influence our case? After musing on the matter, I put a solid check next to her name. Anyone who routinely behaved so thoughtlessly would not be so attuned toward ideals of right and wrong that she would vote to condemn my client. And the senator was an authority figure, so Ms. Mattingly would want to curry his favor.
I exhaled softly as I glanced over at Senator Chad Mitchell. If I were a wagering sort, I'd lay odds that Ms. Mattingly would be calling the senator after the trial, perhaps for drinks, perhaps for a job interview. She'd probably have to stand in line, of course, because I counted at least four female jurors who evidenced more than a professional interest in the defendant.
The defense had done a stellar job of painting the victim as a conniving tramp, and I couldn't help but notice that most of the male jurors had dipped their heads in agreement when Ross Colby began his defense by stating: "Stephanie Glazier's death was a tragedy-but so was her life. She collected men the way some little girls collect stuffed animals, but Stephanie Glazier was no innocent girl. She had to know that sooner or later one of her men would not appreciate being treated like a toy. One of those men lost patience with her immature games, but my client was not that man."
I looked over the rest of the list, checking off the remaining jurors, all men except for Laurie Dorset, the head shaker. Not much I could do about her now. My last-minute vote count was a futile exercise, at best-the most important part of my work had occurred during voir dire, when the jurors were questioned about any prejudices and/or opinions they might hold against the defendant.
Some people think voir dire is the art of picking the perfect jury, but it's really the skill of striking the worst jurors. We had successfully challenged and excused two clergymen, a woman whose teenage daughter had been murdered by an older man, a cop's wife, an abused wife, and a rabid proponent of the death penalty. Because the senator was a Democrat, we had also challenged five registered Republicans. They, in fact, were the first to be excused.
Closing my notebook, I returned my attention to Ross Colby. "I know you do not take this responsibility lightly," Ross was saying, his brilliant blue eyes sweeping over the rows of upturned faces. "And I know you will not disappoint. You are charged with upholding justice and deciding truth, and I know you have the intelligence to see the truth as these witnesses have presented it to you. Chad Mitchell was in his Manhattan office at the hour Ms. Glazier was murdered. Chad Mitchell had no motive for killing Ms. Glazier. Furthermore, Chad Mitchell had no desire to kill Ms. Glazier. Why would he want to bring the stain of shame upon his good name? He is a respected representative of the United States Senate and the proud father of four children. For what earthly reason would he risk his family and reputation by killing a woman like Stephanie Glazier?"
As Colby's rhetorical questions reverberated in the cavernous courtroom, I could almost see the progression of painted suggestions parading through the panelists' minds. They watched him with eyes wide and open; their heads followed Colby's pacing movements like entranced spectators at a slow-motion tennis match. They had forgotten that Mitchell had no evidence to support his alibi. They had either discounted or ignored the tearful testimony of Glazier's roommate. Stephanie Glazier had no other current male friends, the roommate testified, and no intention of breaking off her affair with the senator, for Stephanie had just discovered she was pregnant. Earlier in the week the roommate had heard Glazier call the senator and issue an ultimatum-marriage or exposure. That ultimatum had paid off in an unexpected currency.
Every instinct and skill I possessed assured me that Senator Chad Mitchell had murdered his mistress. Though outwardly he was the image of charm and respectability, several things about him didn't add up. First, the man had a tan-the backs of his hands were at least four shades darker than his palms, and that seemed odd for a man who supposedly spent ten hours a day laboring for the good people of New York State. His hands, furthermore, were soft and supple, with each finger tipped by a manicured nail. That told me the senator probably didn't acquire his tan outdoors visiting his constituents, but in a tanning salon. Our defendant was conscious of his public image, as were most senators, but Mitchell was also extremely vain.
The senator's clothing choices supported my initial observations. In court and in the law office, even after work hours, he wore ties color-coordinated to match the scarves in his coat pocket. His watch was a Rolex, his loafers Italian. Words flowed from his lips in the cultured accents of a man who'd been educated in Ivy League schools, and summers spent studying at Oxford had resulted in a British affectation of replacing "ay" sounds with "ah." The senator didn't ask women to dance-he AHsked them to dAHns. His carefully cultivated charm had not been lost on the female members of the jury, the press, or the public.
Every day for the last six months I had fought my way through the churning crowd outside the courtroom and taken my reserved seat in the visitors' gallery; every evening I caught a cab to the law offices of Wilt, Kremkau, Colby, and Stock, where the lawyers and I conferred about the day's events. While the associate lawyers second-guessed each other, Colby quizzed me about each of the jurors-what they'd been wearing, how their expressions had changed, and when their attention had begun to lag. I consulted my notes and responded, giving him a complete mental picture of each juror, then leaned back in my leather chair with a sigh of relief when he turned to crucify his associates for whatever lapses had occurred in the courtroom.
In all that time, Colby never asked me for my impressions about his client. If he had, I'd have said that Senator Chad Mitchell not only murdered Stephanie Glazier, but day by day he also was growing more confident in his ability to beat this charge. The first time I met the senator in Colby's office, I noted several indicators of nervousness-he flicked specks of invisible lint from his lapel, played with his pen, and even engaged in hand rubbing, that guilty gesture of appearing to wash the hands with invisible soap. Today, however, Mitchell sat erect in his chair, a smile upon his lips, his gaze forthright and direct, his hands calmly at rest, one at his belt, the other on the table. To display any more confidence, he'd have to prop his feet up on the desk and grin at the judge. The hand at the belt, furthermore, was an understated courtship signal, and the women in the jury box were picking it up like long-range satellite dishes.
It doesn't matter, I told myself, glancing down at the floor. Every American citizen was entitled to a full and capable defense.
Moving in for the coup de grace, Colby walked to the jury box and braced his hands against the railing, leaning toward the panel members as if he would plead face to face with each of them if he could. "Let me remind you, my friends, that my client is cloaked with the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that our outstanding senator murdered a helpless pregnant woman in cold blood." Colby paused and shivered, theatrically demonstrating that he found the idea incomprehensible. "The state has not convinced me. And I know the prosecutor has not convinced you."
The beeper at my belt vibrated softly, and I glanced down at the number on the screen. My office was calling, and I couldn't help hoping my secretary had good news. I'd had to clear our calendar for the Mitchell trial, and now that it was wrapping up, a huge stretch of white space dominated our calendar for weeks to come.
The prosecutor for the state of New York rose from his chair and faced the jury. In quick, no-nonsense words, he outlined his case: The senator's fingerprints were all over Ms. Glazier's apartment, and a neighbor had seen him enter the apartment at 9:00 p.m., well into the evening. Senator Mitchell claimed to be in his Manhattan office at that time, but not a single witness, human or mechanical, could affirm his assertion. The medical examiner had ruled that Stephanie Glazier died of strangulation at approximately 9:15 p.m., and security cameras in the apartment lobby had captured the blurry image of a man who looked remarkably like Senator Chad Mitchell at 9:20.
The prosecutor finished his remarks and took his seat. I edged toward the end of the wooden bench and leaned forward, studying the jurors' faces as the judge gave them his parting instructions. A quick appraisal of the twelve jurors and two alternates confirmed my earlier evaluation-it might take a few days for them to convince Laurie Dorset, but this panel would acquit Senator Mitchell.
I had staked my career on it.
As the jury stood and turned toward their exit, I rose from my seat and moved toward the double doors at the back of the courtroom, eager to get away before Colby caught me and demanded another dose of reassurance.
I slipped through the crowd of reporters outside the courtroom and wound through the marble hallways, finally ducking into a ladies' room. After a quick peek beneath each stall door to make certain I had the space to myself, I leaned against the wall in a corner, fished my cell phone from my purse, and punched in my office number.
Rory Metcalf, my secretary, answered on the first ring. "Fischer Consulting."
"Hi, it's me. You beeped?"
Rory knew better than to make idle conversation when I was involved in a trial. I'd called him from rest rooms before, and though a ladies' lounge was often one of the quietest rooms in a public building, I never knew when one of the enemy camp might decide to pop in and eavesdrop.
"Nothing urgent, but I thought you'd appreciate your messages," Rory said, his voice clipped. "Floyd Wilkerson called this morning. He said it's urgent that he speak to you as soon as possible."
I groaned. Wilkerson was an officer at the bank where two years ago I'd taken out a short-term loan to establish my own litigation consulting office. The balloon payment on that loan was now six months past due.
Shoving the matter aside, I decided Wilkerson would have to wait. If this jury found Senator Mitchell guilty, I'd probably have to initiate bankruptcy proceedings.
"Hold Wilkerson. What's next?"
"Your sister called and wanted to know if you're still coming up this weekend."
"Call her back and tell her yes-unless we lose this case. If that happens, I'm locking myself in my apartment and sewing a sackcloth robe."
Rory ignored my melodramatic moment. "Karl called-are you two still on for dinner tonight?"
I held up my free hand and idly inspected the diamond in the center of my platinum engagement ring.
"Sure. Call his office and leave word that I'll see him at the Rainbow Room at eight."
The plastic chatter of Rory's keyboard echoed over the phone line. "Got it. There's just one more thing." His voice took on a coolly disapproving tone. "Elaine Dawson called right before I paged you. She was watching the summation on TV and says you've got it all wrapped up."
A warm rush flowed through me, and for an instant I forgot that Elaine and I had gone from being best friends to archrivals in the last two years. Because she had been my mentor and employer, her opinion still mattered a great deal to me. It was nice of her to call . . . as long as her call wasn't designed to give me false confidence. If we lost this case, I knew she'd phone again and offer condolences, but she'd be secretly delighted that her position as America's foremost jury consultant was secure.
"Nice of her to notice us." I pulled myself off the wall, then turned and studied the empty stalls. "Anything else?"
"Nothing. I'll return these calls to Karl and your sister." He paused a moment, and I could almost see him smile. "I saw the summation too, and I've got to agree with Elaine. That jury was eating out of Colby's hand."
"Let's hope so." The door from the hallway opened, and a short woman with frowsy blo