Judicious Murder

Judicious Murder

by Val Bruech


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Judicious Murder by Val Bruech

Defense attorney Susan Marshfield’s life is spent challenging prosecutors, charming juries, and liberating her clients, most of whom are attired in orange jumpsuits. When her former trial partner and mentor, Sam Kendall, now a judge, is bludgeoned to death in his chambers, she catapults into the murder investigation with the same take no prisoners mentality that fuels her courtroom victories. Is the murderer one of the hostile witnesses or bitter prosecutors Sam bested in his long legal career? Why did he launder 150 thousand dollars through a secret account? Susan’s quest leads her to reopen a murder case she and Sam lost at trial. She becomes convinced their client, now in the penitentiary, is innocent. Did the perpetrator in that case murder Sam too? When Susan forces the killer into an endgame she becomes the object of a crazed pursuit and finds herself in a midnight battle of wits and cunning with an opponent she unknowingly trusted far too much.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781940586366
Publisher: Smoking Gun Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 12/05/2016
Pages: 246
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Val Bruech has represented the unjustly accused for more than 20 years in Oregon and Illinois and has learned that the true story often originates from the darkest chamber of the soul. She has been published in Oregon Coast Magazine. She lives in Beaverton, Oregon.

Read an Excerpt

Judicious Murder

By Val Bruech

Smoking Gun Publishing, LLC

Copyright © 2016 Val Bruech
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-940586-37-3


My client was clocked doing fifty in a thirty-mile-an-hour zone. Unfortunately, he was going the wrong way on a one-way street, but none of that mattered. The cocaine the arresting officer found in his car did. If we lost this trial, Ronald Perry would be spending his next several birthdays in the penitentiary.

It was my turn to cross-examine the arresting cop. I took a quick inventory, made sure my blouse was tucked into my skirt, and stood up.

"Officer." I tapped my pencil on counsel table so I had everyone's attention. "As you approached the car on foot, Mr. Perry rolled down his window without hesitation?"

"Well, he tried, but it was a manual window and the crank ... well, it came off in his hand."

The jury's snickering faded with a stern look from Judge Denault.

"At that point, you grabbed the handle and yanked the driver's door open?"

"I pulled the door open, correct. Officer safety," he declared, and puffed his chest out a few inches.

Right. The ultimate justification for an intrusion into a place the cops want to go but have no right to be.

I stood and strode to the exhibit table, picked up a dark blue prescription bottle that had previously been admitted into evidence and held it up. The white powder inside it had tested positive for cocaine.

"This bottle was in plain view on the front passenger seat?"

"Plain view, yes."

"As you stood there outside the vehicle, you could not see inside the bottle, could you?"

"N ... n ... no." He shifted uneasily in the witness chair.

"And you had no reason to think there was an unlawful substance contained in that bottle, did you?"

The witness rubbed his chin. African-American male driving crazy in a high-crime neighborhood in a Chicago suburb was a reason, for a cop, but he knew he couldn't say that, and I knew he knew.

"Based on his driving behavior, I felt it was a legitimate request."

Zing. A flesh wound, not mortal. This guy was good.

I took a step toward the witness stand. "So let me get this straight, Officer. Mr. Perry made no attempt to push the bottle between the seat cushion and the seat back, no furtive gesture under the seat, didn't try to jam the bottle into his pocket?"

"Not that I recall." He glared at me. The jury couldn't miss it.

"The name on the prescription bottle was that of a Patricia McBroom?"


"And Ms. McBroom is currently in long-term drug rehab, is that correct?"

"Objection!" Assistant state's attorney Roger Foster levitated out of his chair.

We argued over the relevancy of that question. The objection was sustained, so the cop didn't have to answer, but the jury was getting the picture.

"My client told you he had just dropped Patricia off at her home, correct?"


"And he told you he was driving fast because another car seemed to be chasing him?"

The officer chortled.

"He said that, yes."

"And he said he was not familiar with the neighborhood?"


"And in fact it is a dangerous, high-crime area, isn't it?"

He fixed his gaze on a dust bunny scooting across the floor.


"Only when clients like yours race through it."

"Your Honor, strike the last remark please."

"The witness will be responsive to the question. Answer stricken," the judge said.

I wrapped one hand around the other so I wouldn't be tempted to throw a pen at the witness.

"And when you asked him where the prescription bottle came from, he said it might have fallen out of his girlfriend's purse, is that right?"

"That's what he said."

"Isn't it true, officer, that when Mr. Perry first saw the bottle he picked it up and said, "What's that?"

"Yes." Lips pressed together in a grim line.

"And that reaction is consistent, is it not, with Mr. Perry's position that he was unaware of the bottle or its contents until you pointed it out to him?"

"It's consistent with a cover-up."

"Judge, will you please admonish the witness."

Reluctantly, like I had just asked him to remove his own molar, the judge told the cop to answer only the question posed and refrain from comment. Then, helpfully, he reminded the witness that the Assistant State's Attorney would have an opportunity to question him again on redirect.

"Officer, Mr. Perry handed you the bottle immediately after you requested it, right?"

The cop glared. "Yeah."

"Hardly a cover-up." I sat down before the judge could chide me for the gratuitous observation.

"We've been working since eight forty-five. It is now ten o'clock." The judge was speaking for the benefit of the audio recorder which would be transcribed in the event of an appeal. "The jury deserves a coffee break. Fifteen minutes."

Judgespeak for weak kidneys. I warned my client not to make eye contact or speak to any of the jurors. As I swept through the wooden gate that separates the players from the spectators, my opponent, Roger Foster, got in my space.

"The jury never should have heard that bit about the girlfriend being in drug treatment," he fumed.

"Right. Juries should only hear what the State spoon-feeds them. Last time I checked the Bill of Rights, the defense gets to put on a case, too."

I opened the double doors into the main corridor. Usually by this time of morning the large volume calls like traffic were winding down and the halls were deserted except for a few folks who showed up at the wrong time or the wrong date or perhaps the wrong courthouse. But today attorneys and court personnel drifted by with expressions ranging from consternation to disbelief. I felt like I had just walked onto a movie set where everyone knew the script except me. I stopped short and Roger crashed into me.

"What are all these people doing here?" I asked.

His head swiveled around like a duckling searching for its mommy.


My good friend Kevin Lange materialized from a crowd disembarking from the elevators. His ruddy complexion was as gray as parchment paper.

"Susan. We need to talk." He grabbed my hand and led me around the corner to a quiet alcove near the jury commissioner's office. Behind rimless glasses his eyes were troubled. "Something's happened to Sam. I'm on my way to the hospital. I knew you'd want to come."

"Hospital? What do you mean? What's going on?"

"I heard he was attacked. Apparently it happened in his chambers."

This was not making sense, things like that don't happen, not here, not to Sam.

"You should come with me. Let's go." He pulled my hand and led me to the staircase.

"Kev, wait, I gotta tell Judge Denault. Be back in a minute."

I burst into Denault's office. He had been apprised of Sam's situation via e-mail when he arrived in his chambers. He was amenable to a recess until noon if my opponent would agree. I called Roger and he graciously acquiesced. He needed the time to shore up his case. I found my client, told him he was free for a while, then Kevin and I made a dash for his red BMW.

"Did someone break in? Have they arrested anybody?" My words tumbled out as our car doors slammed in unison.

"The courthouse called right before I came to get you. All I know is what they told me."

"What about Betty? Does she know? Where is she?"

Sam and his wife had the kind of marriage I wanted if I ever grew up and found the right guy. They thrived in their nine-to-five lives, and when they came together at the end of the day, they were like two teenagers in love for the first time. A cynic would call it a fairytale I called it damn lucky.

"I'm sure someone took care of that," Kevin responded. "They probably sent a car for her. She shouldn't drive."

The Beamer rumbled to life. We rocketed out of the lot and turned the corner on two wheels. White knuckles gripped the door handle. Mine.

"Maybe Betty's not the only one who shouldn't drive."

He shot me a glance, then lightened up on the gas. "Right. Sorry."

Minutes later we swerved into the hospital's circular drive. Kevin slammed on the brakes and we dashed in the emergency room entrance. The maternal-looking woman at the reception desk gave us a welcoming smile but it disappeared when Kevin asked her about Judge Kendall. She asked who we were, then told us to take a seat while she made a phone call. The weight of an entire law library settled on my chest.

We sank into two cushioned armchairs, deep in separate thoughts. Five years ago, when I had a chance to learn technique and share the passion of a master litigator like Sam Kendall, I didn't have to think twice. Since then he and I had tried dozens of cases together, always defending the unjustly accused. In the grubby world of toe-to-toe litigation he was my hero; in the real world he was my best friend. I leaned over, elbows on knees, my mind as scattered as the chips in the terrazzo floor. A minute, perhaps an hour later, gray slacks appeared above black tousled loafers. I looked up into a vaguely familiar face.

"Good of you to come." The voice was husky, deep.

"Griff," Kevin acknowledged.

That would be Griffen Bartley, Sam's nephew, and a newly-minted lawyer in Sam's former law firm.

The newcomer nodded at me, then sank to his haunches. We leaned toward each other till all three heads almost touched.

"He didn't make it." Bartley's voice broke. He took a ragged breath. "Sam's gone."


"I'm sorry, ma'am. No admittance."

One of Joliet's finest rookies folded his arms across a scrawny chest, blocking the entrance to a narrow hallway that was criss-crossed by a yellow banner that spelled "EVIDENCE" in bold letters.

"I'd like to see Ross, Chief of Homicide," I said.

"He's busy right now."

"Tell him Susan Marshfield is here."

"I can't leave my post."

"Use your radio."

He ran a tongue over pale, thin lips.

"The one on your shoulder." I tapped his transmitter helpfully.

The banner was thrust apart and a man whose size marked him as a regular customer at the Really Big and Tall Men's Store stepped through. He took in the scene with a brief glance.

"What's going on here, Jamison?"

"The lady wants to see Ross, Lieutenant. I told her he's busy."

"Can I help you." It was not a question. The giant's face was all hard planes. His buzz cut was just long enough to tell that his hair was bronze. The early-onset five o'clock shadow magnified the tough guy image.

"I'm Susan Marshfield. I'm a friend of Sam's ... Judge Kendall and I ... need to see Ross."

"Al Tite. Nice to meet you, Ms. Marshfield."

His gaze was no-holds-barred appraising, but his tone was a shade less curt than earlier. The name Tite didn't set off any alarms in my memory bank.

"I can take you to Ross."

He parted the ribbons of tape. I was still in battle gear: tailored bluebusiness suit, nylons, and three-inch heels. There was no graceful way to navigate the yellow banners so I hiked up my skirt, bent my five-foot ten-inch frame at the waist and high-stepped through them. We followed the narrow corridor to a perimeter hallway and turned right.

A uniformed sergeant guarded the entry to a small anteroom. Tite nodded at her and we proceeded into Sam's tiny reception room which doubled as a court reporter's office. A second door, wide open now, led to Sam's chambers. A baseball-sized object stuck in my throat. Belatedly, I wondered if I really wanted to be here at this exact moment.

I crossed the threshold and stopped. Sam's massive "state occasion" desk dominated his chambers. If he had a net and paddles, he could play Ping-Pong on it. Behind the desk a floor-to-ceiling window framed a sky that grew darker as a spring thundercloud swept in. On the left wall, framed diplomas, tributes, and bar membership plaques hung above a leather couch. The other two walls held built-in bookshelves filled with monotonous rows of law volumes broken up by photographs of Sam and his family at various stages of their lives. A small chess table, pieces strategically deployed, waited in the center of the room for the players to resume the game. Sam's private bathroom was tucked away in the far rear corner: judges in Will County don't relieve themselves in the presence of the common folk.

A smaller desk rested near the bathroom. Briefs, books and legal pads were piled high concealing its chips and scars, but I knew most of them. This desk had come with Sam from his law office; he and I had toiled over this slab of wood, argued across it, pounded on it in frustration.

Constantine Ross had settled in comfortably behind the small desk and was examining the contents of each drawer. Anger surged at his invasion of Sam's private domain. On past occasions, when we had to deal with the police department and Ross was involved, he would go out of his way to make our task more difficult. Whenever I had had the pleasure of cross-examining him, the sneer in his voice conveyed his disdain for the defense.

I opened my mouth to protest, but my left brain quickly reminded me that venting at Ross wouldn't get me anywhere. He caught my noncop scent, looked up and frowned.

"Ms. Marshfield has arrived. Glad you're here," Ross announced, without a trace of pleasure.

"That's my second shock of the day, chief. I can't remember when you've ever been happy to see me."

"I didn't say that. You've saved us the trouble of chasing you down." He glared at me like I was some scofflaw. "You're one of Kendall's closest friends and you know the drill — we're looking for anything unusual he did or said lately, changes in is routine, that kind of thing. Lieutenant Tite here's in charge. Al, when you wanna talk to Marshfield?"

"Now's a good time."

I mentally kicked myself for not suspecting why Tite had greased my way into Sam's chambers.

"Where did it happen?" I asked.

The half-dozen cops who were taking pictures or measurements stopped in their tracks. Ross scowled. Finally he waved a fat red marker in the direction of the big desk.

"We're still processing the scene. You wanna see, go over there." He pointed to the corner where the wall met the window.

I couldn't see behind the big desk from where Tite and I stood, so I picked my way to the corner for an unobstructed view of the area between the window and the desk. Blood spatter — some red, some speckled with bits of gray and brown — clung to the lower half of the window. More droplets appeared to be flung across the desktop in a perverse symmetry. A technician knelt on the floor and captured digital images of rusty brown stains that seeped into the carpet like a cancerous growth. Sam's leather chair was sprawled on its side. His case of golf clubs leaned against the wall in the opposite corner.

"Close enough," Ross commanded.

"Gunshot?" My voice cracked.

"Guess again."

I turned to face him. "Give it up, Sherlock. You know it'll be in the paper this afternoon."

The technicians suddenly busied themselves with their instruments. Ross exhaled, the noise resembling the sound of air swooshing from a tire. "Well then, I guess you'll find out along with the rest of the natives." Lips glued together, his mouth widened for a moment in what passed for a grin and he resumed rifling Sam's desk.

"Was the lock forced?" I pointed to the door I had just entered, the only way in or out of the room.

Ross pretended to study a document. I stared at him, not moving. Finally he looked up. "Marshfield, if you end up representing whoever did this, you'll get all the reports. Till then, just let us do our job and cooperate with Tite."

"If you can find the person who did this, I guarantee you I won't be representing them." I turned abruptly and brushed by Tite into the anteroom. He followed me and paused uncertainly.

"This way." I marched through narrow concrete hallways to an unmarked door on the other side of the building. It opened into a room that barely accommodated three straight-backed chairs and a table. Lawyers brought witnesses here to run them through their paces before show time in court.

"Do you feel up to this?"

"I'm ready, lieutenant."

"Please sit down, Ms. Marshfield. I'm sorry about what happened to your friend."

"Thanks. Good call."

His mouth twitched at the corners. He lowered himself onto a chair with surprising grace for someone of his bulk and sat, knees angled out from each other, feet directly underneath him, hands in repose on his thighs. "You and the judge were personal friends as well as business associates?"

Tite's tone was relaxed, conversational.

I ran my hand over the back of the empty chair and tried to find the right words, but not too many of them.

"I came to town five or six years ago. Sam and I hit it off right away. He was well known in legal circles — he had won a lot of high-profile trials, and I had heard him lecture. He was one of the founding partners of his law firm, Blane, Kendall and Montgomery. Sam had more cases than he or his firm could handle, and I needed cheap space, so he let me work on some of his files, with the clients' permission, of course. Eventually the firm gave me a sub-lease and secretarial support. I'm not an employee — I'm totally independent. My office is down the hall from the firm. Sam and I would discuss cases, we collaborated ... something special happened, issues crystallized, answers fell from the sky ... it was magical. Eventually we teamed up and tried cases together."


Excerpted from Judicious Murder by Val Bruech. Copyright © 2016 Val Bruech. Excerpted by permission of Smoking Gun Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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