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From the Publisher“A first-rate storyteller.”
Callery swallowed hard before answering. “Are you sure you want me to?”
This would be the focal point, Ben Kincaid realized, for the entire trial—all that came before and all that followed. Every murder trial had one—an indelible moment in which sympathies were polarized and the full gravity of the crime struck the jury like a ball peen hammer to the head. Even though he knew there was not a soul in the courtroom who did not already know the answer to this question in gruesome and graphic detail, this would be the moment when everything changed, and not for the better.
“I’m sure,” Assistant District Attorney Nick Dexter said. He obviously didn’t mind the delay. A little suspense preceding the big moment could only increase the jury’s attention level. “Please tell us what you saw.”
Sergeant Callery licked his lips. His eyes drifted toward the floor. His hesitation was not just for dramatic effect. He was not anxious to proceed.
And Ben didn’t blame him. Describing a crime scene was always difficult. But when it was a cop talking about the murder of another cop—one he knew personally and had worked with on many occasions—it bordered on the unbearable.
“When I arrived, I discovered that Sergeant McNaughton’s body had been stripped of clothing. He was chained naked to the base of the main fountain in Bartlett Square—right in the center of the downtown plaza. He’d been hog-tied; his arms and legs were pulled back to such an extent that some of his bones were actually broken. He’d been stabbed repeatedly, twenty or thirty times. A word had been smeared across his chest—written in his own blood.”
“And what was the word?”
“It was hard to tell at first, given the condition of the body. But when we finally got him down and put him on a stretcher, it looked to me like it said ‘faithless.’ ”
“Was there anything else . . . noteworthy about the body?”
The witness nodded. The spectators in the courtroom gallery collectively held their breath. They knew what was coming.
“His penis had been severed. Cut off—and stuck in his mouth.”
To Ben, it was an almost surreal moment, as if they were all actors in a play. After all, everyone knew what questions would be asked, as well as what answers would be given. There were no surprises; they were just going through their prescribed motions. And yet, the singular horror of the crime had an impact that left no one in the courtroom unmoved.
This case had been high drama from the outset. Everyone knew about this ghastly crime. How could they not? The body had been on display for almost an hour before the police managed to get it down. Workers going downtown that cold Thursday morning couldn’t help but see the macabre, almost sacrificial tableau.
The location had been well chosen. Downtown Tulsa was a place where people worked, but almost no one went there for any other reason. From the time the workday ended until sunup, it was virtually deserted. Even the police rarely patrolled; the inner downtown streets were inaccessible by car and there was simply no justification for mounted patrols at that time of night, when no one was present. And so the killer was able to create a grisly spectacle that had been etched into the city’s collective consciousness during the seven months since the crime occurred.
“Why are they spending so much time describing the body?” a voice beside Ben whispered. “How is that relevant to who committed the crime?”
The question came from the defendant—Ben’s client, Keri Dalcanton. She was a petite woman, barely five foot two. She had rich platinum blond hair and skin the color of milk. She was wearing no makeup today—on Ben’s advice. She was a natural beauty, with perhaps the most perfectly proportioned body Ben had observed in his entire life. And he’d had a lot of time to observe it, during the months they’d spent preparing for this trial.
Even in the courtroom, Ben was struck by how Keri exuded youth and energy. But that was not surprising. She was only nineteen.
“It isn’t relevant,” Ben whispered back. “But Dexter knows the gory details will appall most jurors and make them more inclined to convict. That’s why we’re spending so much time here.”
“But it isn’t fair,” Keri said, her eyes wide and troubled. “I didn’t do those things. I couldn’t—”
“I know.” Ben patted her hand sympathetically. He wanted to take care of his client, but at the moment it was more important that he pay attention to the testimony. If Dexter thought Ben wasn’t listening, all kinds of objectionable questions would follow.
Dexter continued. “Did you check the body for vital signs?”
“Of course. When I first arrived. But it wasn’t necessary. He was dead. As anyone could see at a glance.” A tremor passed through Callery’s shoulders. “No one could have lived in that condition.”
“Why did it take so long to free the body?”
“We weren’t allowed to alter the position of the body until the forensic teams had been out to make a video record and to search for trace evidence. Even after that was done—Sergeant McNaughton’s body had been double-chained to the fountain and the lock was buried. We couldn’t get him loose. We eventually had to bring out a team of welders. Even then, progress was slow.”
“And during this entire time, the decedent’s naked mutilated body was on public display?”
“There wasn’t much we could do. We couldn’t cover the body and work at the same time. And there’s no way to block off Bartlett Square.”
“Were you and your men finally able to get the body free?”
“Eventually. Even then, though”—his head fell—“nothing happened the way it should. His right arm had been pulled back to such an extreme degree that when we released the chains—it snapped off. And the second we moved McNaughton’s body, his—member—spilled out onto the ground.” The man’s jaw was tight, even as he spoke. “It would’ve been horrible, even if I hadn’t known Sergeant McNaughton so well and trained under him. I’ve been on the force six years, but this was the worst, most horrible . . . goddamnedest thing I’ve seen in my career. Or ever will see.”
Ben knew Judge Hart didn’t like swearing in her courtroom, but he had a hunch she would excuse it this time.
The media representatives in the gallery—and there were a lot of them—were furiously taking notes. The McNaughton murder had dominated the papers and the airwaves for at least a month after the crime occurred, and the onset of the trial had refueled the obsessive coverage. Ben had never had so many microphones shoved in his face against his will; he’d never seen so many people insist that he had some sort of constitutional duty to give them an interview. His office manager, Jones, had even found a reporter hiding in the office broom closet, just hoping he might overhear some tasty tidbit of information. His legal assistant, Christina McCall, had the office swept for listening devices. A blockade of reporters awaited them every time they left the office; another greeted them as soon as they arrived at the courthouse. It was like living under siege.
Dexter was asking routine predicate questions to get his exhibits admitted. It was an obvious preliminary to passing the witness.
“Psst. Planning to cross?”
Ben glanced over his shoulder. It was Christina. For years, she’d been indispensable to him as a legal assistant. And now she was on the verge of graduating from law school.
“I don’t see much point,” he whispered back to her. “Nothing he said was in dispute.”
Christina nodded. “But I’m not sure this business with the body was handled properly. I think the police bungled it six ways to Sunday.”
“Granted. But why? Because they were so traumatized by the hideous death of their colleague, a fact we don’t particularly want to emphasize. And what difference does it make? None of the evidence found at the crime scene directly incriminates Keri.”
“You may be right. But I still think any cross is better than none. Whether he actually says it or not, Dexter is implying that Keri is responsible for these atrocities. We shouldn’t take that lying down.”
Ben frowned. He didn’t want to cross, but he had learned to trust Christina’s instincts. “Got any suggestions?”
She considered a moment. “I’d go with physical strength.”
“It’s a plan.” Dexter had returned to his table. Judge Sarah Hart, a sturdy woman in her midfifties, was addressing defense counsel.
“Mr. Kincaid, do you wish to cross?”
“Of course.” Ben rose and strode to the podium. “Sergeant Callery, it sounds as if you and your men had a fair amount of trouble cutting that body free. Right?”
The change in Callery’s demeanor and body language when Ben became his inquisitor was unmistakable. He drew back in his chair, receding from the microphone. “It took a while, yeah.”
“Sounds to me like it was hard and required a great deal of strength.”
“And if it was hard to get the body down, it must’ve been even more difficult to get the body up.” He paused, letting the wheels turn in the jurors’ minds. “The individual who chained Sergeant McNaughton up there must’ve been one seriously strong person, wouldn’t you agree?”
Callery had obviously been expecting this. “Not necessarily, no. The killer could’ve—”
Ben didn’t give him a chance to recite whatever explanation he and Dexter had cooked up ahead of time. “How much did Sergeant McNaughton’s body weigh?”
“I couldn’t say exactly.”
“You must have some idea.”
“It would just be a guess.”
“You were there, weren’t you, officer?”
“Ye-ess . . .”
“You were, I assume, paying some degree of attention when your men were cutting the body loose?”
Callery tucked in his chin. “Yes—”
“So how much did McNaughton’s body weigh?”
Callery frowned. “I’d guess about two ten, two twenty pounds.”
“Two hundred and twenty pounds. And of course, he was dead, right?”
“I think everyone in the courtroom is aware of that fact, counsel.”
Just like a game of cat and mouse, Ben marveled, not for the first time. Two diametrically opposed archenemies pretending to be civil. “Would it be fair to say that it’s harder to move a dead body than a live one?”
Callery nodded. “Much.”
“So we’re talking about two hundred and twenty pounds of pure deadweight, right?”
The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers. --Henry IV, Part 2You've heard it on television, you've seen it on T-shirts, but does anyone actually know what this quote means? Did Shakespeare have a bad-on for lawyers? Well, no -- just about the opposite, as it happens. This line in the play is spoken by a member of a group of anarchists who are hoping to take advantage of some momentary civil strife to bring down the government. He recognizes that in order to do so, however, he must eliminate the lawyers -- the people who enforce the law and make the government run as it should. Far from being a criticism, the line is actually a token of Shakespeare's understanding of the important and fundamental role lawyers play in civil government.
Which hasn't in the least prevented lawyers from being the cheap and easy target of the imitative, the poorly educated, and those desperately seeking a punchline. And criminal defense lawyers seem to get it worst of all. Although we all learned in eighth-grade civics that everyone is entitled to a fair defense, many people are outraged if a defense attorney has the audacity to be successful. Many people still assume that anyone prosecuted is guilty, despite DNA evidence that has proven that scores of innocent people are currently in prison -- even on death row. When defense attorneys make statements on television, often in response to the "law-and-order" declarations from the prosecution, they are often criticized by the hoi polloi for "just trying to promote themselves." (Presumably, prosecutors have no career ambitions). It's a classic no-win scenario for defense attorneys -- even if they win the case, they lose the war.
It's no accident that I made my series protagonist, Ben Kincaid, a defense attorney. I wanted a hero who really was a hero -- not because he has big muscles (Ben doesn't), not because he's flawlessly brilliant in the courtroom (no one is), but because he performs an important but virtually thankless job and does it well. I mean, half the time Ben doesn't even get paid decently. He never has "the inside track." Public opinion, not to mention the evidence, is usually stacked against him. But he keeps at it. He does what he believes is right, period. He doesn't shrink from the tough cases, and he doesn't quit until the job is done. To me, that's a hero.
Murder One is something of a landmark for me -- the tenth Ben Kincaid novel. Who'da thought? I can promise you that when I started the first one (Primary Justice), scribbling down scenes on the backs of legal pads when no one was looking, I never anticipated that I would be spending the next decade with this guy. But the audience for Ben's adventures has turned out to be larger than I imagined in my most optimistic dreams, and I like to think that it's in part because he's a flawed but fundamentally decent human being. One of the happier aspects of writing multiple books about a character is the opportunity it affords for painting on a larger canvas. In the context of this ten-book "meganovel," I've been able to show how Ben changes and matures (or doesn't) as he marches through his life. People ask me sometimes if Ben is based on me. Well, there are naturally a few superficial similarities, but I've never solved a murder, and I was much better in the courtroom than Ben, at least in his earliest books. Ben isn't me; but Ben is someone I could aspire to be. Quirks and all, he's what a lawyer should be.
Many of my books, in the grand Dickensian tradition, have involved various social issues that I thought needed discussing, such as the environment (Dark Justice) and racism (Perfect Justice). But Murder One isn't one of them. In this book, the focus is on people and personalities. It's a psychological thriller, with a sexy defendant (a 19-year old stripper) to whom Ben is undeniably attracted, and a crime so horrific it rivets the attention of the entire city. It also has several twists and turns between the first page and the final verdict that I can just about guarantee you won't see coming. The authors is typically a poor judge, but I think this may well be the best book in the series.
Will Ben triumph in the end? Will he get his client off? Sorry, but for those answers you have to read the book. I can guarantee one thing, though. Ben will work hard to give his client the best defense possible. Because that's what criminal defense attorneys do. And we should all be grateful. (William Bernhardt)
Posted December 8, 2003
This is the 2nd book I have read by this author which ends in a highly implausible manner - so much so that I now need to tell my wife that, contrary to what I had told her a few chapters back, I can no longer recommend that she read this book. The ending was just so contrived that it simply tainted what had been, up that point, a good read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 5, 2001
I always look forward to William Burnhart's books...and this one did not disappoint. A gruesome murder, many possible culprits, unexpected twists and turns and a bang-up ending. As always, Ben Kincaid picked a case that no lawyer could ever conceive of winning. In the course of trying to do so, he and his staff enountered tremendous obstacles and endured much more than their meager paychecks could justify. But, it was definitely a page turner that I couldn't put down.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 11, 2001
When the body of veteran detective Joe McNaughton is found mutilated, hanging naked from a public fountain with the word FAITHLESS scrawled across his chest, in his own blood, the people of Tulsa, Ohlahoma want justice. The prime suspect is nineteen year-old stripper Keri Dalcanton. Keri was involved in a kinky relationship with the married detective, and the entire police force is convinced she is the killer. Attorney Ben Kincaid is NOT convinced Keri is the killer, although the evidence against her is overwhelming, Ben steps in to defend Kerri, and when he exposes a major police blunder, the case gets thrown out of court, setting her free. The police, outraged over what happened, put the 'blue squeeze' on Ben, and after a raid on his office uncovers the murder weapon, Ben the attorney becomes Ben the defendant. Ben, thrust in the middle of a legal battle where nothing is as it seems, will fight for himself, and for justice to prevail by bringing the real killer down. 'Murder One' is an action packed legal thriller-that actually thrills-from the first page right up until the last the suspense keeps mounting to an explosive climax. William Bernhardt has been writing great thrillers for many years, and his new novel is his best; it is totally un-putdownable, with twist after twist, to keep readers guessing all the way through. Fans of fast paced entertainment will enjoy this, and with any luck it will rocket up the bestseller list's, and propel Mr. Bernhardt among the ranks of Grisham, Baldacci, Lescroart, and Martini. A MUST read!!! Nick GonnellaWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
In Tulsa, Ben Kincaid defends stripper Keri Dalcarton against a charge of brutally killing police officer Joe McNaugton in a bestial manner left for public viewing. The trial goes badly as witness after witness provides testimony insures Keri¿s conviction. However, Ben notices that the two search warrants used to look inside Keri¿s car and home were illegal, forcing the judge to throw out the case on a technicality. The cops are outraged, as Keri is not only free, but also protected under the Double Jeopardy clause of the Constitution. <P>Officer Arlen Matthews, who looked incompetent on the stand, persuades his cohorts to pull the ¿blue squeeze¿ on Kincaid. With a legal search warrant in hand, the police rummage through Kincaid¿s office to find the McNaugton murder weapon. Initially Ben is accused of obstructing justice, but then the charge is changed to MURDER ONE. Ben¿s legal assistant now a lawyer of two days serves as his defense attorney with more trouble awaiting Kincaid. <P> The previous Kincaid legal thrillers were excellent novels, but the newest tale, MURDER ONE, is superior to even that high standard. William Bernhardt grips the audience with a thriller that never eases up until the final twist and turn. Kincaid and his crew remain fun to observe as they struggle with this too personal case and the potential second round in the Dalcarton defense in spite of the Double Jeopardy clause. Mr. Bernhardt has written a fabulous story that if justice were simple would lead to the top of the best seller lists. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 22, 2001
Nobody does edge-of-your seat, courtroom dynamics better than award-winning William Bernhardt. His hard-hitting series hero, quixotic defense attorney Ben Kincaid has a positive affinity for apparently lost causes at impossible odds, time and again snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. MURDER ONE provides Ben and his off-beat but devoted staff with the toughest challenge of his legal career to date: defending an accused murderess, stripper Keri Delcannon (on-trial for the appallingly brutal mutilation-murder of her policeman lover) not once, but twice after he, himself (subsequent to getting his unpopular client released on a technicality during the first trial) has been accused of complicity in that murder, framed, arrested and jailed by vindictive cops in a 'Blue Squeeze' manoeuver. When Keri's double jeopardy protection is invalidated on another technicality and the District Attorney starts playing hardball, Ben and his associates sift through a maze of false trails and double-dealing, searching for just one solid piece of evidence that will prove her innocence and once again set her free. The second trial finds Ben and his newly-graduated, former legal assistant (now partner), Christina McCall, going head-to-head with the DA in a series of increasingly dramatic courtroom confrontations that lead inevitably to an absolutely logical but emotionally shattering verdict. But it's 'not over 'til it's over', and, after the smoke of battle clears, Ben must face a shocking new truth that tests his convictions to the core, leaves the reader gasping and should make this must-read genre stunner the most talked about courtroom thriller of the year.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 4, 2009
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Posted March 4, 2009
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