Read an Excerpt
By TED DEKkER
Thomas Nelson Copyright © 2008 Ted Dekker
All right reserved.
Chapter One Day One
WEDNESDAY, DAY six of a seven-day jury trial in Atlantic City, New Jersey, May 13, 2034. A thick blanket of smog hung over the city, locking in early summer's heat-ninety-five degrees at 10:05 a.m. and on its way to the forecasted one hundred and five mark, thanks to thirty years of rising global temperatures.
Billy hooked his finger over the tie knot at his collar and tugged it loose, thinking the halls of the courthouse felt like a sauna. What now? City Hall was shutting down its air-conditioning system to appease its guilt over mismanaging energy costs for the last ten years? The casinos suffered no such guilt. The air conditioners in the New Yorker would be blasting cool air, comforting those willing to make donations at its slot machines.
Billy shifted his eyes from the stares of two well-dressed attorneys passing by and headed for the large double doors that opened to Courtroom 1. His stomach turned and he had to force himself to stride on, chin held level. But there was no hiding his disheveled hair, the wrinkles in his white shirt, the hint of red in his eyes from lack of sleep. The three twelve-ounce cans of Rockstar he'd slammed for breakfast a half hour ago were just now kicking in.
He'd won his share of poker hands in the past five years-had a real streak going there last year. But at the moment he was sinking. Freefalling. Screaming in like a kamikaze pilot. Ground zero was in that courtroom and it was coming up fast. It would all end today.
The district attorney's murder case against Anthony Sacks was open and shut. Billy Rediger knew as much because he'd spent six days defending the scumbag with nothing but fast talk and pseudolitigation just to keep the jury from convicting by default.
During pretrial discovery, Billy had seen that any concrete defense was out of the question. The prosecution had an extensive amount of evidence, had subpoenaed numerous character witnesses, and retained a pair of expert witnesses to elaborate on the physical evidence. By the end of exhibition, the jury was laughing up its collective sleeve at Sacks's plea of not guilty. By the time the third witness took the stand, the jury had lost all presumption of innocence, and that was two days ago.
If left to themselves at this point, the jurors would reach a conviction in less time than it took them to reach the deliberation room. All that remained now was cross-examination and closing arguments.
Billy knew more than the court, but not much. And the jury was catching up to the facts:
Sacks was a known midlevel boss in Atlantic City's organized crime world, headed by Ricardo Muness.
Sacks ran the lower-side gambling rackets and had a long history of enforcing loans with extreme prejudice. The kind that left debtors either dead in a landfill or shopping for prosthetic limbs.
Sacks had allegedly murdered a local imam, Mohammed Ilah, for interfering with the gambling trade by speaking out against it to the Muslim community and threatening to expose Sacks personally.
The most relevant fact? Criminal defense attorney Billy Rediger, who owed just over $300,000 to Sacks, had been coerced into his defense by Ricardo Muness, the most notorious crime personality from the boardwalks to the turnpike.
It all made perfect sense to the crime boss. Sacks had loaned Billy far more than Billy could repay. Now both were in the toilet.
Solution: Billy would defend Sacks in his upcoming murder trial. If Billy got Sacks off, he would be absolved of his debt. If not, he would be relieved of his arms.
Sacks had complained bitterly. Billy might be a clever defense attorney, but at twenty-six he was only three years out of law school and already washed up, hamstrung by his addiction to gambling.
Now Sacks's life was in the hands of the man he'd unwisely extended credit to. Poetic justice, Muness had said, boots propped up on his large maple desk, grinning plastic.
A chiseled relief over the courtroom door said it all: Permissum Justicia Exsisto Servo, Let Justice Be Served.
Billy took a deep breath, shifted his briefcase from one sweaty palm to the other, nodded at the security guard who was watching him with one eyebrow cocked, and pushed the heavy oak door inward.
A hush fell over the packed room; every head turned, every eye focused. He was a few minutes late to his own funeral; wasn't a man allowed that much? By their reaction, he might as well have been on trial.
You are, Billy. You are.
The Honorable Mary Brighton was already seated behind the bench, gavel in hand, as if she had just, or was just about to issue a ruling. The prosecutor, a thin man with a long nose and sharp cheekbones, stood on the right looking smug, if looking smug was possible for a face fashioned from an ax.
"Forgive me, Your Honor." Billy dipped his head and walked briskly forward. The gallery seated one hundred, and every seat was filled. Media, well-wishers from both sides, and entertainment seekers who followed this sort of thing for a living.
"You are late, Counselor," the judge snapped. "Again."
"I am, and I regret it deeply. From the bottom of my soul. Unavoidable, I'm afraid. I called your office. Did you get my message? I was, shall we say, held up. It won't happen again."
She eyed him with the same gleam that had lit her eyes over the last six days. The Honorable Mary Brighton was known as a hard judge, but Billy thought she might have a soft spot for him. At the very least she found his methods interesting. Not that any of that mattered in this case.
"No, it won't," she said. "I expect we'll wrap up arguments today."
"Yes. I understand, Your Honor." He slipped behind the defendant's table on the left and dipped his head once more.
"This is the last of my leniency with your tardiness, Counselor. I will find you in contempt if it happens again, and I suggest you take me seriously."
"Of course. My sincere apologies, Your Honor."
Anthony Sacks sat to his left, sweating like a pig, true to form. The Greek weighed a good three hundred pounds at six feet tall and was dressed in a black pinstripe suit that failed to hide any of his bulk. He glared past bushy black brows.
"You're late!" he whispered.
"I know." Billy opened the latches to his briefcase, withdrew the Sacks file, a legal pad and pen, then eased into his seat.
"This is ridiculous!"
"I concur," Billy whispered.
"Don't screw this up."
"No, Tony, I won't screw this up."
But Billy wasn't sure he wouldn't screw this up. Muness had tossed them a last-minute witness ... last night. A man who was deposed to testify in court that the victim, Imam Mohammed Ilah, had been murdered by an extremist from his own mosque. Despite the court's rigid adherence to the rules of discovery, Her Honor could allow the defense to produce the witness on the grounds that the witness was inherently material to the case, the testimony was to be given in court rather than in deposition, and the witness had volunteered to undergo vigorous cross-examination. A lucky break. A defense attorney's gift, all things considered.
But the man would be a liar. Had to be a plant. Muness couldn't produce an honest witness any more than he could join the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. His testimony would be perjury, and Billy knew it as well as he knew he still had two arms. Producing a fraudulent witness would get Billy disbarred, and he would do time for subornation of perjury. A legal term from prelaw filtered into the front of his mind: the miscarriage of justice ...
And here it was, right in front of him. The miscarriage of justice.
The judge cleared her throat. "Would you like your breakfast served first, Counselor? Or are you ready to call your next witness?"
Billy stood. "Yes. No, no breakfast, Your Honor. Defense calls Musa bin Salman."
The DA was on his feet. "Objection, Your Honor. The prosecution doesn't have a Musa bin Salman listed. The defense cannot produce a witness without our knowledge unless ..." The prosecutor, Dean Coulter, looked genuinely surprised, but trailed off. An associate attorney from his team was rifling through some papers.
"Counsel, approach the bench. Now."
Billy got there first. "I sent it over last night, Your Honor. The witness is material to the case, is willing to testify before the court-"
"Please tell me you're not just posturing, Counselor," the judge said. "I am not going to take another deposition, and if you're stalling for time ..."
"Of course he is," Coulter whispered. "Your Honor-nobody calls a material witness in the eleventh hour. We have subpoenaed every possible witness of every kind, and he just now finds a shake-and-bake testimony?"
"No, Your Honor. I can promise a court testimony without deposition. I believe Mr. Bin Salman is materially relevant to this trial. The prosecution is perfectly free to cross-examine him." He looked sideways at the DA, swallowed, then continued. "Discovery shouldn't preclude a material witness."
The judge nodded. "I'll allow the witness."
"His testimony will be inadmissible," the DA said. "This is unprecedented."
"Take your seats, Counsel. Both of you. Now."
Billy held his head level out, but his heart fell into his stomach. He took his seat next to Sacks and pretended to scribble some notes. He had gone out on a limb with his law license in hand, and he would most likely end the week with neither limb nor hand.
Miscarriage of justice was an understatement.
The door opened and the bailiff escorted a gray-suited man with a beard and slicked black hair to the stand.
"Please state your name for the record." He did. Musa put his hand on a copy of the United States Constitution. "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"
"Please be seated."
"Your witness," Her Honor said.
Billy strolled to the podium and sized up the man on the stand for the first time. Clean-cut. Intelligent looking. A kind face, if a bit sharp. One of the millions of foreigners who'd taken up residence in this country and saved it from bankruptcy when the government's trade policies had softened a dozen years ago.
The country's socioreligious complexion had steadily changed since. So-called religious tolerance had made by far the largest gains in the West; the number of Muslims had grown to match the number of Christians. None of this mattered to Billy, but it might make for some fireworks during cross-examination, if the DA would take any bait.
"Thank you for joining us, Mr. Bin Salman. Can you tell the court what you do for a living?"
"I'm a student at the new Center for Islamic Studies."
"I see. So you are a religious man?"
Amazing how those words brought a deeper silence to the courtroom. Everyone was aware of religious people, saw them all the time, talked to them at work, watched sporting events with them. But for one to actually discuss a religious affiliation was frowned upon in the name of tolerance. The new cultural taboo.
"And what is your religion?"
"Islam. I am a Muslim."
The DA stood. "Objection. I don't see what a man's personal faith has to do with his testimony."
"Understood." Judge Brighton turned. "Exactly what is your point, Counselor?"
"Defense wishes to establish the relevance of the witness to alternate motives for murdering an Islamic cleric, Your Honor," Billy said. He didn't wait for her to overrule the objection and got back into questioning. Momentum was often the most critical element of persuasive litigation. He turned to the witness. "Have you ever met my client, Anthony Sacks, before today?"
"What about the victim, Imam Mohammed Ilah?" Billy hefted an enlarged photograph of the victim.
"Yes. I knew him."
"When did you meet him?"
"I met with him frequently, both as a student and at the mosque. We knew each other by name."
Billy knew where all of this was headed, of course. It made him cringe, but he pushed on, shoving aside his own objections. He shoved a hand into his pocket and slowly crossed to the jury box, eyeing each member in turn.
"How would you describe your relationship with the imam?"
"We were friends."
Alice Springs, third juror from the left, second row, doubted the witness. Billy had a knack for reading people, whether in a poker game or in a courtroom.
Billy kept his eyes on Alice. "So there was no ... disparity between your beliefs and his teaching?"
"You both believed in tolerance?"
A breath from Alice signaled her acceptance of this fact, at least for the moment.
Billy put his other hand into his front pocket and faced the witness. "Musa bin Salman, do you find my client distasteful?"
"Just be truthful. That's why we're here, to get to the truth. Do you find Anthony Sacks as disgusting a human being as I do?"
"Objection, leading the witness ..."
Billy held up a hand. "Quite right, let me be more clear. Ignoring the fact that I think my client is a piece of human waste and should probably fry for a thousand offenses, none of which I am privy to, what is your opinion of him?"
"Your Honor, I must protest this line of argument. The witness just stated that he's never met the defendant."
"Clarification of motive, Your Honor," Billy said.
"Answer the question."
Musa looked at Sacks. "I've heard that he's a distasteful man."
"So you have no motivation to try to protect him?"
"As I said, he is a distasteful man."
"Just answer the question," Billy pushed. "Do you have any reason to protect the defendant, Anthony Sacks?"
"Good." He strolled in front of the jury, watching their eyes. Truth was always in the eyes. Not windows to the souls. Windows to a person's thoughts. At the moment, most of them were a bit lost. That would change now.
"And do you believe that Anthony Sacks murdered Mohammed Ilah as the state has accused?"
"No? You're a religious man who finds the accused distasteful, and you're presumably outraged by the murder of your friend, the imam. Yet you wouldn't want the murder pinned on this monstrous-my defendant? Why?"
"Because he didn't kill the imam."
The courtroom stilled.
"You're sure about this?"
"Can you tell the court why you are so sure?"
"Because I know who did kill Imam Mohammed Ilah."
The room erupted in protests and gasps, all quickly brought to an end by the judge's gavel.
"Order! Counselor, I hope you know how thin the ice beneath your feet is. I will not hear tertiary allegations-"
"He has material knowledge, Your Honor," Billy said.
"The first hint that this is a red herring and I'll have you thrown from my courtroom."
Billy pulled his hands from his pockets and walked back to the podium. He looked into the man's brown eyes. "Will you please tell the court how you came into this knowledge."
You're going to lose your arms.
The man hadn't said it, of course. Billy was thinking this himself, because although he had within his grasp the tools to free his client and save his arms, he wasn't sure he could wield those tools, knowing what he did.
Knowing that the witness was lying through his teeth, even now.
"... the extremists last Thursday night. Seven of them."
"And what did they say?"
"That tolerance was the greatest evil in the West. That any Muslim who was afraid to stand up for the truth and convert the West was no Muslim at all, but a pretender who is worthy of death."
That Muness has won this case, not you. Therefore he will expect payment in full from you.
"That the imam Mohammed Ilah, in his stand for tolerance toward Christianity and others' disbelief in God, is a stench in God's nostrils. For this reason they killed him."
Billy heard it all like a distant recording, exactly what he'd expected. And there was more to come, enough to cast doubt in any reasonable juror's mind.
But his mind was on none of it. His mind was distracted by what he was seeing in the witness's brown eyes. On what they'd said to him.
Muness has won this case, not you. Therefore he will expect payment in full from you.
Intuition was one thing, but this ...
He stared at Salman, unable to take his eyes off the man's face. There was more there. Whispering to him. Both arms. The punishment for stealing.
Excerpted from SINNER by TED DEKkER Copyright © 2008 by Ted Dekker. Excerpted by permission.
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