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"I'm Not the Monster I've Been Made Out to Be"
Perry March walked awkwardly toward the Northwest Airlines departure gate at Los Angeles International Airport, a white terry- cloth towel thrown over his hands to disguise the handcuffs binding his wrists. He was slovenly dressed. He had not shaved in almost a week.
If Perry was embarrassed by his unusual circumstances, he tried hard not to show it to the other passengers in the terminal, who hardly gave the unkempt man a glance. As he neared the Jetway, he felt the chain belt around his waist tighten. That's when two six- foot detectives on either side of him abruptly grabbed him under the arms and hustled Perry down into the cabin. It was nearly 10 a.m. They were the last passengers to board the plane that morning of August 12, 2005, for what was to be for Perry the first leg of the flight to Memphis, then on to Nashville before reaching his final destination-a jail cell.
Perry's deep dark eyes darted around the cabin of the crowded Airbus A319 as the detectives nodded for him to take the window seat in the last row of the jet.
Looking like a death row inmate about to keep a date with "the needle," Perry seemed bewildered, as though in a daze. Until now, he was used to controlling not only his own life, but other people and events. Yet here he was on a jet, cuffed and chained and trapped with nowhere to run. Next to him, calling the shots, were two no- nonsense detectives.
As he sat strapped in his seat in disbelief, Perry March had to wonder whether what was happening to him was a bad dream, and whether he would soon wake up. After all, he had had a beautiful wife. Two adoring children, Samson, called Sammy, and Tzipora, known as Tzipi-Hebrew for "bird." He was a graduate of the prestigious Vanderbilt University Law School. He was a brilliant lawyer who'd worked for one of Nashville's most influential law firms. He was well- respected by his affluent friends and for the most part enjoyed the lifestyle of the idle rich.
But as the jet roared down the runway, the deafening sound of the powerful engines jolted Perry back to reality- that he was under arrest for murdering his wife, Janet Levine March, almost ten years earlier.
During the flight, Perry at first quietly read a magazine, dozed briefly, and ate a snack supplied by the airline. About forty- five minutes into the trip, he nervously started up an unusual conversation with 54- year- old Sergeant Pat Postiglione, the twenty- seven- year veteran of the Nashville Police Department next to him in the center seat. Postiglione's 52- year- old partner, Bill Pridemore, a thirty- year veteran with the department, was close by in the aisle seat, within earshot of the conversation.
"I'm ready to close this chapter in my life if we can work out a deal." Perry seemed to be reciting. "My attorneys will be contacting the police again soon." He went on nervously, eager to see if he had pushed the detective's buttons.
The deal he outlined was simple: "What if I plead guilty that I killed my wife, Janet, on August fifteenth, 1996, and in exchange do no less than five years and no more than seven years in prison?"
Postiglione was surprised by what Perry, a brilliant corporate lawyer, was saying, and he elected to listen.
The two detectives had been on many of these trips, picking up prisoners from different cities and bringing them back to Nashville, and it was not unusual for prisoners to remain completely silent from the airport to the plane until they were put in jail. "Until now, I've never had a prisoner talk about making a plea deal," Postiglione later said. But that was not the case here.
Perry talked non- stop. It was obvious to Postiglione that Perry was very interested in knowing what type of evidence prosecutors had against him-whether it was circumstantial or if there was any physical proof of his guilt.
Postiglione reminded him that only Tom Thurman, with the district attorney's office, could make such a plea agreement. It was obvious to the seasoned detective that Perry had an agenda, and that this was his method of controlling the situation.
Both homicide detectives, members of the elite Cold Case Unit, had spent countless hours over the past several years attempting to bring closure to the mysterious 1996 disappearance of Janet Levine March that started out as a missing persons case and ultimately turned into a murder investigation.
Postiglione, a transplanted New York City resident, had been born and raised in an Italian neighborhood in the borough of Queens. He'd spent a good part of his youth in the middle- to upper- class neighborhood of Forest Hills, and as a young boy, had wanted to be a police officer solving homicide cases, particularly after his cousin was murdered. But when he applied to the NYPD, the waiting list was long, so he went into construction.
A vacation trip to Nashville prompted him to apply to the Metro police force, where in 1980 he was accepted as a patrol officer. Eventually he made detective and in 1987 was assigned to Homicide.
And here he was, seated next to Perry March, a man accused of murdering his wife in 1996.
After munching his snack, Perry wasted no time settling into his new situation: attempting to work a compelling con on the cops. He had it all mapped out, and began speaking at length to Postiglione about the charges against him. He had already dropped the first rather absurd bombshell. The next phase started by his asking Postiglione about a picture that had appeared in a Mexican newspaper in 2004, which he had sent to prosecutors a year earlier. It showed a female spectator with three friends watching the Olympics in Athens, Greece. Perry and his new wife, Carmen Rojas, were adamant that the woman in the photo was Janet, and that it was proof she had been alive when she'd left Nashville. For months they had been showing the photo to anyone who would pay attention.
"Did the police check it out?" Perry persisted. "She looks like Janet, and she could be alive, maybe in Quebec."
"It was checked out enough to determine it was not your wife," Postiglione replied routinely.
Perry wouldn't give up, certain that Janet had been in Athens. But like all those who practice to deceive, he got tripped up and forgot the obvious. When reporting Janet missing, he'd told police she had taken her passport with her. Since it had been found in her purse when the Volvo was located, Perry had no explanation as to how Janet could have gotten to Athens, much less Canada or even Mexico, without it.
But it didn't stop him from questioning the strength of the case against him. "Have you been able to establish that Janet is dead? How strong is the case against me? Do you have any physical or direct evidence? Can you be sure she's dead? Have you found her?"
"If we didn't think Janet was dead, you wouldn't be sitting here charged with her homicide," said Postiglione wryly.
"Well, are you charging me because the civil suit declared her dead? Is that why the police department is charging me with her death?"
Postiglione patiently explained that the civil suit had nothing to do with his investigation. "Am I the only one indicted?" Perry asked in disbelief.
Perry had initially denied any involvement in Janet's disappearance. But as the five-hour flight wore on and the plane neared Nashville, he began getting worried, realizing he was running out of time and that the detective didn't appear to be interested in listening to any of his arguments for a plea bargain.
But he persisted in attempting to discuss the evidence with the detective, and Postiglione was just as per sis tent in not answering any of his questions.
"I understand, but I wanted to tell you anyway so you could tell Tom Thurman," Perry emphasized in an effort to sound sincere.
So Perry raised the ante one more time. "Look, I will plead guilty even though I'm not guilty, so I can avoid the possibility of being convicted and sentenced to thirty years," he said.
Then the questions came fast and furious. Perry asked about the prison facilities in Tennessee. Was it possible to go to a minimum security prison?
Then he switched gears. "Speaking in hypothetical terms, what if it was an accident? If I were to admit culpability to something along those lines, would it still be second- degree murder?"
Perry became antsy when informed again that it was Thurman's decision. "I need you to get with him as soon as possible to night, and discuss the possibility of a plea. But Tom has to be reasonable and honest with me. He has to lay his cards on the table and convince me that his case against me is strong.
"After all, I might be able to get an acquittal, and I'm not sure I want to roll the dice, get convicted and do thirty years."
Perry explained that if he did more than 7 years in prison, he would lose his wife, Carmen. She would not wait for him, and then he would not get to see the 4- year- old daughter he had with his new wife.
More than once, Perry emphasized how he wished he "had taken care of this nine years ago," because prison would then be behind him. "But now I'm going to take the high road, do the right thing, be a man, and do the time. I know it won't be a 'Martha Stewart'-type prison; but a minimum- to medium- security prison with the possibility of conjugal visits is do- able, provided I'm treated with respect, and not being duped."
Then, just as Postiglione was beginning to believe he had heard it all, Perry started in about August 1996 and "the Janet incident," as he referred to her disappearance. Perry admitted to the detective that he had "never been involved in any other criminal- type activities." As a lawyer, he should have realized he was implicating himself, and doing a good enough job on his own of convicting himself.
When Postiglione suggested that sometimes people hurt those they love in a moment of anger, Perry became agitated. "You don't have a witness saying they saw me killing Janet?" he asked.
"You know, I intensely loved Janet, but she wasn't the angel she was made out to be by the media, and I'm not the monster I've been made out to be. There are two sides to every story.
"You know specifics about the case that I don't know, and I know specifics about the case that you don't know."
He went on to mention a newspaper article he had read in which someone claimed to have seen him with a dead dog, and Perry said, "That's ridiculous, and was done to smear me." He also denied stories that he'd wrapped Janet in a rug and thrown her in a Dumpster or an incinerator.
After embarking on the last leg of the flight, from Memphis to Nashville, the conversation took another turn. Perry was now sitting between the two officers.
Pridemore, who taught Sunday school, was immersed in Rabbi Paul, a book about the Apostle, when Perry interrupted him to say, "You know, Paul was Jewish."
"I'm aware of that," Pridemore politely replied.
"You know, I'm Jewish too," Perry said.
"I know that."
"When this is all over, I'd be happy to come to your Sunday school class and talk about Paul."
Pridemore and Postiglione looked at each other, disbelieving.
At times during the short flight to Nashville, Perry appeared to be getting edgy and stressed. He was tenacious, though, about discussing his proposed plea agreement. "I'm not being arrogant, but rather just honest. I know what's best for me and I'm going to be the best attorney in that courtroom. You tell Tom Thurman that if we can work out a deal, I will answer their questions completely and honestly, and be one hundred percent truthful," he said with resignation in his voice. "All I want is to be treated with respect by all involved. Anything less and we go to trial."
After the flight touched down and they arrived at the Criminal Justice Center booking room in downtown Nashville at a little after 8 p.m. Perry confided that he would "seriously consider a plea if certain conditions are met. To be honest, I'm scared shitless about this."
Two hours later Perry was taken to night court, where the commissioner told him he would not be allowed to post bond until his arraignment.
That night, Davidson County sheriffs took Perry to one of the twenty- two cells in the Special Management Unit of the jail, set aside to protect him from other inmates, and placed him on suicide watch.
When court time rolled around five days later, Perry shuffled into a crowded criminal courtroom, handcuffed, his feet shackled, wearing a bright yellow prison- issue jumpsuit. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
As he gave Judge Steve Dozier his vital statistics-his date of birth and Social Security number-Perry looked around the room. Seeing Postiglione and Pridemore seated in the front row, he gave them a sinister smile as if sending them a signal that his plea deal conversation on the plane had been merely a game-though he'd enjoyed pulling their strings. Through his lawyers, Perry denied the airborne confession of a plea.
As word spread that Perry had been returned to Nashville and was in police custody, Janet's parents, Larry and Carolyn Levine, breathed a sigh of relief. For the first time in almost a decade, they believed there would be justice for Janet.
"We've waited a long time for this. We're not sad. Let's put it this way: I'm sad for our grandchildren," Carolyn Levine told WTVF, Channel 5 upon learning that Janet's husband was locked up.
Excerpted from Never Seen Again by Jeanne King
Copyright © 2008 by Jeanne King
Published in May 2008 by St Martin's Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.