Court of Lies: A Novel

Court of Lies: A Novel

by Gerry Spence

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From Gerry Spence, one of America’s greatest trial attorneys and the New York Times bestselling author of How to Argue and Win Every Time, comes an explosive courtroom thriller of murder, passion, and the twists and treachery of law and justice.

Lillian Adams is going on trial for the murder of her wealthy husband before Judge John Murray, to whom she has been like a daughter since childhood. Despite this long, shared history, both the prosecutor and defense attorney agree that Murray should sit on the case, and Murray himself knows he must. For he believes that if he steps down and another judge is appointed, there will be little hope for Lillian. The prosecutor is a sadistic psychopath who will pervert the law to convict Lillian and do everything in his power to hurt Judge Murray. And Murray must save Lillian.

Gerry Spence takes readers through shocking twists and suspenseful courtroom scenes that only the great maestro of the courtroom himself could create. Court of Lies goes beyond being a great legal thriller. It questions the very basis of our legal system and its ability to discover the truth and deliver justice.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250183491
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 02/19/2019
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 654,646
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Gerry Spence court trials are studied in law schools, and he is universally celebrated as one of the greatest courtroom lawyers of our time. He has not lost a jury trial in fifty years and has never lost a criminal or a capital case. His defense of high-profile clients as well as of the poor, the injured, and the damned has won him international renown. His own trials have been the subject of books, film, and television. He received the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Consumer Attorneys of California and another one from the American Association for Justice. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller How to Argue and Win Every Time.
Gerry Spence has been a trial attorney for more than five decades and proudly represents "the little people." He has fought and won for the family of Karen Silkwood, defended Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, and represented hundreds of others in some of the most notable trials of our time. He is the founder of Trial Lawyer's College, a nonprofit school where, pro bono, he teaches attorneys for the people how to present their cases and win against powerful corporate and government interests. He is the author more than a dozen books, including The New York Times bestseller How to Argue and Win Every Time, From Freedom to Slavery, Give Me Liberty, and The Making of a Country Lawyer, and is a nationally known television commentator on the famous trials of our time. He lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Read an Excerpt


Killing is A part of living.

A man kills a deer with those soft, innocent eyes the size of large black cherries. He kills the plodding, harmless steer standing knee-deep in manure in the stockyards waiting to be slaughtered. He kills young men in religious wars over a god who was nailed to a cross. He kills whole cities with a single bomb, the children splayed and gutted and burned and the dead mothers' breasts drained empty on the pavement. And when the landlady said we couldn't keep all of the kittens that our cat deposited one night in her bed at the far corner of the kitchen, my father put all but the black kitten in a sack full of rocks and threw them in the river. Seven kittens. My mother said he had to. My mother said he cried, but I never saw my father cry.

The people of Jackson Hole are my people. The people know I'm a killer, and although some claim I have kind eyes and a good sense of humor, nevertheless, down where life and death meet I can be on the side of death, and the color of my robe — black — admits that. The people may smile at me and nod when we pass, but they know that given certain facts I can kill them, and that I will kill them. I hope they understand. I'm not a killer at heart. I kill only out of duty.

A winter in Jackson Hole feels as if time were caught on a snag in an eternally frozen river. Sometimes the temperature drops to forty below. The people burn their woodstoves twenty-four hours a day, and the smoke settles down on the valley in a dark gray ground-hugging blanket. In the winter, the ranchers hitch up a team of good horses to their hay wagons and feed their stock the hay they've put up in the summer. Used to do some feeding myself when I worked after school for old Henry Johnson. A good team knew its path. You tied the reins to the wagon's front, and the team plodded on while you forked off the hay to the cattle, and as I've always said, in the winter the sweat of a man at work reduced the cold to good medicine.

In winter the people dress to challenge the climate. Men wear those Converse leather-legged rubber boots and woolen socks with their Levi's tucked in, and they cover their bodies with sheepskin coats, the buffered raw wool still on the hide. Some women also wear jeans and boots. And some wear long dresses to make a decent attempt at hiding their feminine proportions and "to keep their knees warm." The countrywomen here often fulfill the role of a hired man. A good wife knows how to plant and hoe the garden and milk the cow and gather the eggs and ax the head off a frying chicken for Sunday supper. She cooks over a woodstove, the kindling for which she's likely also chopped.

"Out there," as we placid people of Jackson Hole refer to the remainder of the world, the people are panicked. The government is encouraging our women to do what we've always done here in the Hole — to keep a good stock of canned goods on hand, and in a safe place store a tub full of dried beans, and another tub full of wheat. The people out there are told they'd better have a bunch of flashlights and half a truckload of batteries, because all power sources may be demolished. "Look what a couple of A-bombs did to the Japs," the people say to one another. All the while, Elvis Presley is banging out rock and roll, and the people are jumping and jerking as if their last jerk were close at hand.

Then the one night the world came crushing in on me. I was in deep sleep. I stumbled to the ringing phone and recognized the voice immediately. The caller said, "He's dead, Judge Murray."

"What do you mean, 'He's dead'?" I asked.

"He's dead. Dead."

I knew the caller. I loved her like a father loves his child. "And they've charged me with his murder," she said. And that's all she said before I heard the phone click dead.


Every workday morning, the town fathers gathered at the Big Chief Café for breakfast. Hardy Tillman claimed the joint hadn't been hosed out since the big fire in '47. "This place even smells like the Old West, and I mean the Old West," Hardy said. He ran the Main Street filling station in Jackson Hole. He sported a budding beer belly, but everybody in those parts admitted Hardy was tough. Nobody tried Hardy Tillman.

Generations of spiders had spun their webs between the horns of mounted elk heads that stared down with glass eyes from the once-whitewashed walls, now smoke-stained and, near the kitchen, darkened to bay-horse brown from the blowout of scorched pans and flaming grills. Under half an inch of dust and grease, a rusted musket lay across the antlers of a mule deer's head, the trophy of a forgotten hunter.

Posters of current movies starring Doris Day as Calamity Jane, and the fast-gun hero, John Wayne in Hondo, curled at their corners, as if struggling to roll up in slumber. The floor was covered with linoleum that was mopped daily, and the hard boots of workingmen had worn away its original redbrick design except in the far corners of the café.

Each morning, two waitresses, Mary Johnson and Molly Hocks, rushed the men's orders to the kitchen, bounced back to fill their coffee cups, empty or not, and shortly, like gastronomic midwives, delivered their breakfasts steaming hot and laden with grease.

"How's my darling doing? I dreamed about you all night, honey," Molly Hocks cooed.

"Don't give that line again, honey," Harry Halstead, part-time mountain guide and part-time bartender, said. "That's what you told me yesterday and I tipped you the last two dimes in my pocket, which'll have to do you for today, since you're still giving me that same old dream."

Peaks of hilarity bounced off the café walls and comingled with the jangle of pans and kettles from the kitchen and the hollering of the cooks and waitresses — the racket reaching the raging uproar of an orchestra gone mad.

A potpourri of appetizing aromas escaped from the kitchen — of ham, bacon, and frying sausage, of fresh coffee and pancakes hot off the griddle. The odor of workmen in their overalls of dirt and sweat mixed with the scent of a few business types, their hair shiny in Brylcreem and radiating a smell akin to lilacs and bug spray. As each waitress whisked by, she was trailed by a wake of fragrance perhaps attributable to a dab of something called Seven Winds, "for the woman who wants to be loved," or a spray of Nostalgia, which "turns my lamb into a wolf."

Over the ruckus and racket, the men at Lester McCall's table were talking in high shouts about Lillian Adams. She'd been charged with the murder of her husband, Horace Adams III. His friends called McCall "Too Tall" McCall. He was six and a half feet tall, and he said, "I don't give a damn what they call me as long as they call me for supper." His voice reverberated from the walls like the um-pah-pah of a bass horn in a high school marching band.

"Well, I knew Lillian as a kid," McCall bellowed through the tumult. "She always did whatever she damn well pleased and got whatever she damn well wanted. But it sounds like she went a little too far this time. Old Adams had more money than I got gravel in my gravel pit, and, at that precise moment before she pulled the trigger, he was all that was standin' between her and it."

"I don't think she did it," Harold Farmer, the town's mayor, said. His head was bald, but he displayed an undisciplined beard in order to show some hair, of some kind, someplace. "She wasn't the kind to go killing for money. When we were kids in high school, I took her rabbit hunting one Saturday. I wasn't figuring to just hunt rabbits. I wanted to bag me a bunny, if you get my meaning." He laughed. "But she wouldn't let me shoot even a cross-eyed jackrabbit. She said, 'I'm on the rabbit's side.' But I will say one thing for her: She sure could outshoot me."

"Don't have to be much of a shot to hit somebody with your gun shoved up against his head," Harv Bailey said as he took a big bite out of a glazed doughnut and a swig of coffee to help wash it down. He owned the local men's store, with his typewriter shop in the back. He was wearing the latest banded jacket, jodhpurs, and hiking boots that laced up to just below the knees. He wore his mop of black hair in a cowlick, the product of a careful application of hair coloring that contrasted with a sprinkle of white in his three-day-old beard. He took out a pack of Lucky Strikes and offered one to Ben Mays, the Teton County assessor.

"I'm trying to quit," Mays said as Bailey lit their cigarettes. Some called him "Magpie" Mays. His habitual plumage was a black suit, a white shirt, and a black tie — put a person in mind of a magpie. "The judge should've taken himself off the case. She isn't related to him by blood, I'll give you that, but the judge and Betsy haven't got any kids except her, and they always saw her as belonging to them. I know for a fact the Adams dame had the judge's number couple of times in the past. And I hear she's still pretty much running things up there in the courtroom."

"I wonder how come old Judge Murray let her outta jail with practically no bond at all. Fifty thousand is nothing to her," Henry Green said. "Should've been ten mil at least. She probably had a little meeting with the judge in his chambers, if ya know what I mean."

"You're full a shit," Hardy Tillman said. He and Judge Murray had been best friends since grade school. Hardy stood up and spit his words into Henry Green's face again. "I said you're full a shit."

Henry Green looked down, blew on his coffee, and sat tight in his chair.


Haskins sewell, the Teton County Prosecutor, was a joyless man of indeterminate age. He stood straight, lean, and gray as a prairie bone. Some called him "a walking stiff." Some referred to him as "the man in gray." He was never to be seen except in a gray three-piece suit with a white shirt and a matching gray tie. His skin and his slicked-down shelf of thin gray hair were the same shade of gray. He claimed it a sinful vanity to spend even a minute of one's life concocting an outfit each day that met the supercilious whims of the New York fashion gurus. Sewell's gray eyes were dead set in concrete on one immutable goal — the conviction of Lillian Adams for the murder of her husband.

Haskins Sewell's father, Joseph Sewell, sold mules he imported from neighboring states, and on one such a trip he'd met Henrietta Housely at a picnic in the Jackson Hole Square. She was the only daughter of the Baptist preacher, John Housely, and soon she and Joe were tumbling desperately, helplessly in love, the towering Teton Mountains providing a glorious background for their delirium. However, before the Reverend Housely gave his consent to their marriage, he demanded that Joe be baptized in his church.

"Do you take Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?" the Reverend John Housely shouted into the baptismal waters of Jackson Lake.

Joe Sewell looked over at the budding Henrietta and replied, "Yes, Jesus, sir!" And thereupon, the Reverend Housely dipped Joe in the chilling waters of the lake and held him under, some thought a bit too long, while reciting Matthew 28:19: "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Nine months after their marriage, Henrietta bore the couple a son. They named him Haskins after Lord knows who, or why. But soon Joe's frequent and careless wanderings outside the marital boundaries led to the couple's divorce. Henrietta moved into her parents' home in Jackson, where her son was reared, and where he was also dipped in the same baptismal waters of Jackson Lake.

Haskin Sewell's mother taught what she held out as simple truths: "You can never trust someone who says they love you. When you hear that, you know they're lying, for the only true love is the love of Christ." She taught that survival is the overriding virtue of all virtues, and that only the blind, the ignorant, and the foolhardy are given to trust one another.

"You know how your father was," his mother often reminded him. "He'd give a bum his last nickel and then run off with the first woman who gave him the look. Women!" she moaned. "They'll take if all if given half a chance."

To ensure that her son would not follow his father's faithless footsteps, and for minor infractions, Henrietta often whipped poor Haskins's back and buttocks — thirty-nine times ("forty lashes less one," according to the law of Moses that proclaimed forty lashes would kill, but one less than forty was, accordingly, maximum punishment). Once, after catching him masturbating behind the outhouse, she flogged poor Haskins until he passed out. She viewed dating and dancing as satanically inspired.

Haskins's grandfather, the Reverend John Housely, sent Haskins to the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, to prepare him for the ministry. But Haskins proved to be a man with a vision of his own. After he graduated from the seminary with decent grades, he enrolled in the seminary's parent school, Baylor University on the Brazos River in Waco, Texas, where he studied law, after which he returned to Wyoming, took the bar, and went to work for the local prosecutor, Warren Garrison.

Sewell learned that in the unforgiving world of the courtroom, victory and breathing were equally essential to life. In the world beyond the courtroom, the rule was the same: kill or be killed, the corollary of which was that if one were in charge one might avoid loss, injury, death, and, in the end, perhaps damnation.

Sewell believed rules were the folly of losers and were merely bothersome fences that society put in place to placate the public, a congregation of ignorant dolts who'd been spoon-fed the troublesome language of the Declaration of Independence and all that other patriotic blather about the rights and privileges of an American citizen.

Although prosecutor Sewell had never experienced the love of a woman, he was fully capable of loving his little dog. Most often he carried the little bug-eyed beast wherever he went and it snapped at anyone who approached, all except, of course, Haskins Sewell.

Haskins Sewell's life's work was destined for the courtroom. The courtroom is a distant cousin of a church's room of worship. Both have hard pews for the audience and high ceilings that suggest consequential carryings-on therein. In the courtroom "the bar" is a short, usually wooden divider behind which the lawyer and the jurors and other court functionaries sit. As in a church where the clergy is elevated to the pulpit (closer to God) so in the courtroom the judge sits above all at "the bench." From there the judge peers down on the humanoids below. So it was in the courtroom of the District Court of Teton County.

Prosecutor Haskins Sewell approached the jury box and surveyed the jurors with a skeptical eye. They returned the same. He cleared his throat to begin his opening statement without offering the customary salutation of "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury."

"Lillian Adams is a murderer," Haskins said in his flat gray voice. "She killed in cold blood. She tried to cover the killing with a forged suicide note she attributed to her dead husband. He was an extremely wealthy individual, and she shot him as he was begging for mercy. You will see his last plea frozen as a death mask on his face. This is a soulless, calculating woman with a long history of violence —"

"I object!" Timothy Coker shouted. He wore thick glasses that magnified his green eyes and provided an owlish presence. He stumbled toward the bench. "Mr. Sewell knows better than to open up that subject."

"Approach the bench," the judge ordered. "And keep it down."

The judge turned to Sewell. "As you know, Mr. Sewell, Lillian Adams's past legal history is prejudicial and cannot be cited in the presence of the jurors."

"On behalf of my client, Lillian Adams, I move for a mistrial," Coker cried in naked anger.

Judge Murray turned to the jurors and said with unyielding firmness, "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Sewell has just made a statement concerning the alleged history of the defendant. It was an improper statement. You are instructed to disregard it completely."

Coker, still at the bench, shot further argument at the judge, "You can't unring the bell that Sewell just rang."

"Proceed," the judge ordered. "And I shall use every means to keep all improper utterances at a minimum."

Sewell glared at Coker. "Ladies and gentlemen, I will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Lillian Adams is guilty of murder, and I will ask you, good citizens, sworn under your duty to do justice, to return a verdict of murder in the first degree. That, indeed, will be justice." He returned to his chair at the counsel table.

The judge turned to Coker, who was fumbling through a stack of papers. "You may make your opening statement," Judge Murray said.


Excerpted from "Court of Lies"
by .
Copyright © 2019 G. L. Spence and Lanelle P. Spence Living Trust.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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