The Sacrificeby Robert Whitlow
The most powerful weapon against evil is sacrifice.
Attorney Scott Ellis is defending Lester Garrison, a 16-year-old accused of opening gunfire on a Sunday afternoon church gathering.
At the same time, Scott's volunteer work at the local high school brings him into contact with Kay Wilson, an English teacher and former girlfriend. Unknown to either of them,
The most powerful weapon against evil is sacrifice.
Attorney Scott Ellis is defending Lester Garrison, a 16-year-old accused of opening gunfire on a Sunday afternoon church gathering.
At the same time, Scott's volunteer work at the local high school brings him into contact with Kay Wilson, an English teacher and former girlfriend. Unknown to either of them, Catawba High School is not just a place of learningit's a battleground for an age-old struggle between good and evil. On one side are praying students and a simple janitor with an extraordinary faith. On the other side is a deeply troubled young man intent on mass destruction.
Caught in the middle, Scott and Kay learn that lasting victory will require the ultimate sacrifice.
- Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
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Read an Excerpt
Roll, Jordan, roll. Come down to the river and be baptized.
Roll, Jordan, roll. Pass through the waters to the other side.
Roll, Jordan, roll. In dying you'll become alive.
Roll, Jordan, roll.
The members of Hall's Chapel weren't in a hurry. In some cases, friends and relatives had prayed and waited decades for this moment. Prodigals had come home; those wandering in the wilderness of sin had come to the edge of the promised land. The celebration of salvation was a time to be savored. The voices of the congregation gathered along Montgomery Creek flowed over the water in triumph. Refrain followed refrain in affirmation of a faith as unrelenting as the force of the current rushing past the white frame church. Tambourines joined the voices. Hands clapped in syncopated rhythm.
Dressed in white robes, the five candidates for baptism walked forward to the edge of the stream and faced the rest of the congregation. The small crowd grew quiet.
A heavyset woman in a baptismal garment lifted her hands in the air and cried out at the top of her voice, "Thank you, Jesus!"
Her declaration was greeted with a chorus of "Yes, Lord!" and "Amen!"
Bishop Moore joined the converts and introduced each one using their new first name-"brother" or "sister." From this day forward they would be part of the larger family of God's children who had met on the banks of the creek for almost 150 years. The former slaves who founded the church took seriously the command to love one another and passed on a strong sense of community that had not been lost by subsequent generations.
Each new believer stepped into the edge of the water and gave a brief testimony of the journey that had brought him or her to the river of God's forgiveness. The stories were similar, yet each one unique.
When it was her turn, the woman who had cried out shed a few tears that fell warm from her dark cheeks into the cool water at her bare feet. Some who knew her had doubted she would ever let go of the bitterness and unforgivingness that had dominated her life for more than twenty-five years, but the chains had been broken, the captive set free. Other testimonies followed until all five confirmed their faith in the presence of the gathered witnesses.
Bishop Moore waded into the water. Much of the stream bottom in the valley was covered with smooth rocks that made footing treacherous for the trout fishermen who crowded the stream each April, but the church deacons had cleared away the rocks and made a safe path to the small pool where Bishop Moore waited for the first candidate. A teenage boy walked gingerly forward into the cold water that inched up his legs to his waist. His family looked on with joy.
Bishop Moore held up his right hand and said in a loud voice, "Michael Lindale Wallace, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."
Then, putting his hand over Mike's face, the bishop laid the young man back into the water. Bishop Moore didn't do a quick baptism. He wanted people to remember their moment under the water, so he went deep and stayed long. The five had been cautioned by the lady who gave them their robes to take a deep breath.
After several seconds, the bishop lifted Mike out of the water and proclaimed, "Buried in likeness to his death in baptism; raised to walk in newness of resurrection life."
The sputtering boy managed a big smile. His father shouted, "Hallelujah!"
Mike splashed through the water toward the shore. The next in line was the woman who had shed the tears. She stepped deeper into the water.
The first shot didn't cause a stir. One of the elders later told the police detective, "I thought it was a firecracker."
The second shot knifed through the water about three feet from the woman wading toward the bishop. The bullet left a line of bubbles before disappearing into the sandy bottom.
The third shot shattered the windshield of a car parked next to the sanctuary. At the sound of the splintering glass, pandemonium broke out. The air was filled with screams. People began running away from the water. Some ran toward the sanctuary. Others hid behind cars and trucks. Several children who were not standing near their parents froze, unsure what to do.
The fourth shot passed through the bottom of the new dress Alisha Mason was wearing. At that moment, the teenager didn't know how close she'd come to serious injury. (It was several days before she took out the dress and saw the place where the bullet almost nicked her left calf.) She hid behind a tree.
The fifth shot hit the church above the front door. It was the only bullet recovered by the sheriff's department.
Hurriedly glancing over his shoulder, Bishop Moore scrambled toward the bank as quickly as his aging legs could carry him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a figure running downstream through the dense underbrush on the other side of the stream.
Papers from a real-estate development contract were neatly stacked in rows across the wooden surface of Scott Ellis's desk. He ran his fingers through his short brown hair as he searched for a paragraph that he wanted to move from one section of the document to another. Stocky and muscular, the young lawyer had taken off his coat and hung it on a wooden hanger on the inside of his office door. The phone on a small, antique table beside his desk buzzed.
"Harold Garrison on line four," the receptionist said.
Scott didn't recognize the name. "Did he say what it was about?"
"No. Mr. Humphrey talked to him and told me to forward the call to you."
"Okay, I'll take it."
Scott knew from the receptionist's response that Mr. Garrison was a potential client referred down the line from the firm's senior partner. He couldn't dodge the call. Leland Humphrey would ask him about it later. He punched the flashing button.
"Scott Ellis, here."
"Yeah, this here is Harold Garrison. My son is in trouble with the law, and I have to talk to someone today."
Scott looked at his calendar. "What kind of trouble?"
"He's locked up at the jail for teenagers."
"The youth detention center?"
"Yeah. The police picked him up this past weekend. I'm leaving town tonight and need to see a lawyer before I get on the road."
"What are the charges?" Scott asked.
"Uh, the summons from the juvenile court said he's unruly and delinquent."
"That could mean a lot of things. Did anyone at the detention center tell you anything more specific?"
"Yeah, a guy wrote it down on a piece of paper." The phone was quiet for a few seconds. "It says 'assault with a deadly weapon with intent to inflict serious injury, assaulting by pointing a gun, and criminal damage to property.'"
"Those are serious charges."
"Lester says it's a big mistake. He ain't never been in any kind of trouble before."
"Lester is your son?"
"How old is he?"
"Sixteen. He'll be seventeen in less than a month."
Scott's calendar was clear at three o'clock. "Can you come in at three this afternoon?"
"Yeah, but I need to know you're a fighter. I want someone who can win."
"I've had some success," Scott responded.
Actually, he'd appeared in juvenile court two times since graduating from law school. In his first case, he represented a student who was suspended from school for fighting. The other matter involved a young man charged with illegal possession of a few pills. Scott worked out deals for both clients that involved supervised probation. He wasn't sure that met Mr. Garrison's definition for success, but the juvenile court process was informal and the results predictable. He was confident that he could do as well as any other attorney in town.
"How much is this going to cost me?" Mr. Garrison asked.
Scott thought quickly. "Did Mr. Humphrey mention a fee?"
"He said it might be $2,500 if it has to go to a hearing."
"That sounds right."
"Do I have to bring all of it this afternoon?"
Scott hesitated. The cardinal rule of criminal cases was to get the entire fee up front, but he didn't want to lose the chance for courtroom experience.
"Can you do that?" he asked.
"Only if y'all take cash. I don't have no checking account."
"Yes, sir. Cash will be fine."
Scott Wesley Ellis, the newest associate of Humphrey, Balcomb and Jackson, checked the time on the small digital clock that divided his working day into the six-minute intervals billable by the law firm at rates of $115 to $160 per hour. He quickly completed a billing slip: "Initial phone call-Garrison case."
Scott's cream-colored office was at the end of the hall on the second floor of the firm's two-story, brick building. Everything in the office was there for a reason. Scott's diplomas and his law license were framed and hung in a razor-straight row behind his desk. A picture of his father at the main entrance to Fort Bragg stood at attention next to a similar photo of Scott taken at the same location twenty-five years later. Inside the top drawer of his desk every pen and paper clip was in its place. The young lawyer didn't have to look twice when he needed something.
The dark-colored wooden surface of his desk and the small antique table where his phone rested were always shiny. Scott tried to keep clutter in the office to a minimum. There weren't any pleadings or documents on the floor, and stray letters or memos found a home in the proper file or ended up in the trash can without lingering in paperwork limbo. As much as possible in the midst of a developing law practice, Scott tried to manage the flow of work from his in-box across his desk and into his out-box. For him, outward organization was a key to efficiency.
As a child, Scott had ridden his bicycle past Humphrey, Balcomb and Jackson on his way to the barbershop. He never imagined that one day he would enter the building as an attorney himself. The same shiny brass nameplate was still there, but the firm had expanded over the years from three to seven attorneys. Lawyers, secretaries, and paralegals occupied every available inch of both floors.
From his office window, Scott could see the steeple of the First Baptist Church and the southwest corner of the Blanchard County Courthouse. One of the advantages of practicing law in a small town was convenient access to the halls of justice, and all the law firms in Catawba clustered around the courthouse like baby chicks around a hen.
Scott's salary was smaller than his counterparts an hour down the road in the office towers of Charlotte, but at the smaller firm he had the opportunity to sit at the feet of Mr. Humphrey, a true Southern orator whose courtroom demeanor was so compelling that other attorneys would listen and take notes in the gallery when he gave a closing argument. Scott wanted to be a trial lawyer, and if there was courtroom potential in his future, he believed Leland Humphrey could call it forth.
Deciding to give an immediate report to his boss about the call from Harold Garrison, Scott left his office and descended the broad wooden staircase to the first floor. He passed Frank Balcomb's darkened office. The number two attorney on the firm letterhead spent more time playing golf or relaxing at his beach house near Wilmington than practicing law.
Mr. Humphrey's office occupied a large corner on the ground floor. From his chair he could adjust the window blinds and see the sidewalk in front of the main entrance to the firm, thus observing who walked through the door before the receptionist notified him.
Scott knocked lightly.
"Come in!" the older man's voice boomed out.
Leland Humphrey was sixty-nine years old with a full head of white hair, bushy eyebrows, and clear green eyes. Navy blue suspenders framed his ample midsection, and he wore a blue bow tie and white shirt. The older lawyer was leaning back in a burgundy leather chair behind a huge desk covered with mounds of papers. His office was the antithesis of Scott's work area. File folders turned in opposite directions were stacked like paper battlements three feet high on the floor surrounding the chair. More piles of paperwork rested on a long credenza. It was an organizational nightmare, but when asked about a particular case, Mr. Humphrey could usually thrust his hand into a stack of papers and come up with the answer in a matter of seconds. Orderliness existed in the senior partner's mind, not in his surroundings.
The two men were different in outward habits, but they shared a common dedication to the law and an ability to communicate with each other that was obvious to both of them from their first meeting when Scott interviewed with the firm. Mr. Humphrey's affection for the practice of law was mature and seasoned with wisdom; Scott's interest was motivated by a new challenge and his innate commitment to honor and justice. On a more basic level, both men liked a good, clean fight.
"Have a seat," Mr. Humphrey said.
Scott sat in a comfortable wing chair. "I talked with Mr. Garrison about his son's juvenile court case. He's coming in this afternoon. I told him to bring $2,500 as the fee for handling the case through a hearing in juvenile court."
"Good. It's a chance for some low-key trial experience, and I thought you might enjoy it. If you have any questions, let me know."
Leland Humphrey sat up straighter in his chair and raised his right eyebrow. "Have you done any pro bono work recently?"
The older lawyer often raised an eyebrow when asking a question. Sometimes it was the left, sometimes the right, sometimes both at once. He had been accused of using the habit as a device to signal a witness the most advantageous answer to a question in court.
"I served as a court-appointed guardian about six months ago," Scott said.
"What type of case?"
"It involved a tenth-grade girl at the high school who ran away from home and accused her stepfather of physical abuse. Now she's back at home, and the man is out of the house."
Mr. Humphrey reached into a stack of papers on his desk and began stirring the mix. "She went to the high school?"
"What a coincidence!"
"What do you mean?"
"A pro bono project I'd like you to consider." The older lawyer found the sheet of paper he wanted. "This is a letter from Dr. Lassiter, the principal at Catawba High School. Was he there when you were a student?"
"No, sir. He came after I graduated."
Mr. Humphrey handed Scott the sheet of paper. "Take a look at this."
Dear Mr. Humphrey,
Each year, the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers sponsors a high school mock trial program. I want to provide this opportunity for students at Catawba High School. The team will participate in simulated trial competitions against other schools in our region. One of our faculty members has agreed to serve as an advisor; however, we need the type of expertise that only a practicing attorney can bring to the program.
Do you have an attorney with your firm who would be willing to serve as a volunteer advisor? The program will involve significant time commitment over the next few months, but I'm sure it will be a rewarding experience for all involved.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Dr. Vince Lassiter
While Scott read the letter, Mr. Humphrey continued rummaging through the papers on his desk. He pulled out another sheet and slid it toward Scott.
"After reading the request from Dr. Lassiter, I remembered your résumé. Didn't you participate in the mock trial program at Wake Forest?"
Scott didn't need to read the résumé. His team from Wake Forest Law School had made it to the regional finals, only to lose to Duke in a controversial decision.
"Yes, but I was a team member, not a coach."
"The best coaches play a sport before they coach it. It will be great exposure for you and the firm." He pointed again at Scott's résumé. "You're just the kind of attorney they need."
"I enjoyed the mock trial program in law school," Scott admitted, "but I don't want to end up trying to motivate a group of bored kids."
"I don't think that will be a problem. This type of activity will attract the better students."
Scott paused. He had one other concern. "The principal says the time commitment is significant. What if it takes away from my work here? I need to keep my billable hours at a good level."
The right eyebrow shot up. "I thought you might mention that. I've already called Dr. Lassiter, and he says the meetings will be in the evening after work-hours. You're not married, and I can't think of a better project for you to contribute to the school and community. You'll do great."
Scott managed a wry grin. "It sounds like the verdict was predetermined. Are there grounds for appeal?"
"No, but I have a second reason for encouraging you to volunteer."
"It's not just to help the kids. In teaching them, you'll end up teaching yourself. Learning to make things simple and understandable is a key to courtroom communication. If you can show teenagers what to do in a legal case, it will help develop your own skills."
As usual, Leland Humphrey was right.
"I'll do it," Scott said simply.
Mr. Humphrey stood up. "Good. Give Dr. Lassiter a call before you leave today; he's expecting to hear from you."
Scott returned to his office and phoned the principal. Dr. Lassiter had a packet of materials for him about the program, and they agreed to meet at the school for lunch the following day.
Shortly before 3 p.m., the receptionist buzzed Scott and announced the arrival of Harold Garrison. Scott straightened his tie and picked up the legal pad on which he'd taken notes during their brief phone conversation earlier in the day. Generally, the lawyers in the firm didn't meet with clients in their offices but used one of the three small conference rooms adjacent to the reception area. When he opened the door and saw Harold Garrison, Scott knew it had been pointless to adjust his tie.
"Mr. Garrison," he said. "I'm Scott Ellis."
Harold Garrison was a gruff-looking man with an unshaven face, dark curly hair, and a prominent stomach that was only partially covered by a shirt missing several buttons.
"Come into the conference room," Scott said.
The conference room Scott selected contained a cherry table with a tiny inlaid design around its edge. On one wall hung a painting of a ship approaching the Cape Hatteras lighthouse and on another a portrait of General Robert Frederick Hoke, a Civil War hero from North Carolina who became a major general in the Confederate army at the tender age of twenty-six. Harold Garrison sat down in a chair covered with ivory-colored upholstery.
Scott sat across the table from Mr. Garrison.
"Before I ask you about the case, I need some background information."
"Your family. In juvenile court, a defendant's home life is often as important to the juvenile court judge as the issue of guilt or innocence."
The saga of the Garrison family could have been the lyrics to an old-time country music song. Harold had divorced Lester's mother after she ran off to Phenix City, Alabama, with her boyfriend. Lester was seven years old at the time, and they moved in with Harold's mother. Since then, Harold stayed on the road about twenty-six days a month and drove all over the Southeast and Midwest for a regional trucking company, but avoided Phenix City.
"If I ever see either one of them," Harold said, "I'll probably end up in the chain gang."
"And Lester stays with your mother?"
"Yeah, she's got bad sugar and lost her sight a couple of years ago. I depend on Lester to look after her when I'm on the road."
"What year is Lester in school?"
The question stumped Harold for a few seconds. "I think he has one more year to go. I only made it to the eighth grade, but Lester is pretty smart."
Scott turned over a fresh sheet of paper. "What can you tell me about the arrest?"
"They claim Lester fired some shots at a bunch of blacks getting baptized in Montgomery Creek."
"Was anyone hurt?"
"No, but they had to find someone to blame. And the police will always accuse a white person if there is a complaint by a black church."
Scott ignored the racial slur and focused on the facts. "Was Lester in the area?"
"Yeah, but he hangs out along the creek all the time. Some jerks in a patrol car saw him walking along the road and picked him up."
Scott flipped back to the first sheet of his pad. "Do you know why he was charged with criminal damage to property?"
"I think some cars got hit with bullets. But none of this has anything to do with my son. He's the scrapegoat."
Scott wrote "scrapegoat" on the sheet in quotes and put down his pen. "Okay, let me tell you about the juvenile court process. It's not like a criminal proceeding in superior court. There isn't a jury; it's more informal. Everything is tried in front of a judge who makes a decision and recommends disposition."
Harold raised his voice. "Punishment! You make it sound like he's already guilty. I told you I want a fighter."
"Don't take me wrong," Scott said quickly. "I'm just explaining the process. Even though it's in juvenile court, the state still has to prove its case. I will investigate everything and, when the time comes, attack from every angle the law allows. But first, I need to meet with Lester. Tomorrow is Friday. If you hire me, I can go see him in the morning."
Harold calmed down. "That's more like it."
"So, do you want me to take the case?" Scott asked.
"Yeah. I have the money."
Harold reached in his pocket and pulled out a roll of hundred-dollar bills.
As thy days, so shall thy strength be.
--Deuteronomy 33:25 (kjv)
Several days a week, Scott lifted weights at Dixon's Body Shop, a local gym owned by Perry Dixon, his best friend and former high-school classmate. The storefront facility was a throwback to the days before health spas were dominated by rows of stationary bicycles and electronic treadmills. The gym had plenty of barbells, dumbbells, benches, and weight racks, but only two treadmills and a single stair-stepper. Full-length mirrors lined two walls of the main exercise room. No TVs tuned to afternoon soap operas competed with the sounds of metal discs clanging together and the conversations of men who were working out. The gym was open to women for a couple of hours in the morning, then for the rest of the day it was a male-only facility. Perry welcomed everyone from beginners to those who enjoyed watching themselves flex in front of the mirrors.
Scott had little fat on his five-foot-ten-inch frame, and he enjoyed lifting weights, but he went to Dixon's as much to hang out with Perry as to pump iron.
Scott slowly pushed the barbell up from his chest. "Twenty-eight," he said through clenched teeth.
Perry was spotting for him. "Come on, two more. Match your age."
His face red from exertion, Scott arched his back slightly, and his arms, like slow-motion pistons, gradually straightened.
"That's good," Perry said. "One more."
The barbell came down, and Scott took two sharp breaths before pushing up with all his strength. Drops of sweat ran off his forehead and into his eyes. He blinked and his arms trembled as he fought to release the large discs on the ends of the black metal bar from the gravitational pull of the earth. The barbell wobbled as it went up farther on the right side than the left, and Perry, standing behind Scott's head, put a hand out to steady it. Scott continued pushing until his arms passed the point of greatest resistance and pressed upward until his elbows locked in a perpendicular line to his body.
"I guess that will have to do," Perry said as he helped guide the bar onto the supporting rack.
Scott slid forward and sat up. "Whew," he said. "I don't have a thing left. Those last two squeezed out all I had."
Perry threw him a towel. "Good effort. How's the hand?"
Scott opened and closed his right hand. "It cramps, but I can bear it. Let's get something to drink."
The two men walked to the corner of the room and sat down in front of a large floor fan. Scott rubbed his face with a towel. The young lawyer had clean, chiseled features and a square jaw. With sweat running off his face and his muscles expanded from the workout, he could have been a poster boy for the American jock; however, his dark brown eyes revealed a deeper level of both intelligence and feeling.
Perry took a quart bottle of sports drink from an ice-filled cooler and filled two large paper cups. The sandy-haired owner of the gym handed one to Scott and sat across from him in a plastic chair. The fan blew cool air over the two men.
"What's new in the legal business?" Perry asked.
Scott took a long drink from the cup before answering. "Not much. I'm going to be helping with a mock trial program at the high school."
"Mock trial. It's a pretend case. The students act as lawyers and witnesses and compete against other schools based on facts given to them. I did it in law school."
"So this is for kids who want to be lawyers?"
"Not necessarily. Most of the students will have witness roles, but they all get a taste of the legal system. There is a teacher who recruits the kids, then I come in and throw lawyer dust on them and hope some of it sticks."
"Is the teacher anyone who taught us in school?"
"The letter didn't say. I'm going to have lunch tomorrow with the principal and find out. Usually, it would be a history teacher." Scott rubbed his head again with the towel, then looked up. "What if it's Mrs. Willston?"
Mrs. Delia Willston had taught American history to generations of students at Catawba High School. Rumor had it that the skinny teacher with a voice that grated worse than fingernails on a chalkboard had lived through the Great Depression. Whatever her age, there was no question that creating depression for students was her specialty. It would be a unique challenge relating to her as an adult.
Perry gave a credible imitation of the teacher's voice calling out, "Mr. Ellis! Mr. Dixon!"
Scott grimaced. "What if I have to deal with her?"
Perry smiled and patted him on the back. "You can handle it. A lot has changed since high school."
The following morning Scott stopped by the law office for a few minutes then drove to the Blanchard County Youth Detention Center for his first meeting with Lester Garrison. The YDC was in a wooded area near an industrial park on the east side of town. From the street the modern, brown, brick building looked like a small school, but at the back of the facility there was an open exercise area enclosed by a ten-foot-high chain-link fence topped with a large coil of razor wire. Scott opened the front door and stepped into a spacious reception area that was only crowded on Sunday afternoons when parents and family members came for weekly visits. Today, the room was empty except for a young African-American woman sitting behind a metal desk.
"May I help you?" she asked Scott.
"I'm Scott Ellis, a lawyer. I'd like to see Lester Garrison."
She checked a sheet of paper on a clipboard on her desk. "He's in isolation for fighting. I'll have to check with one of the correctional officers to see if he can be brought out to the interview room."
Scott waited while the woman went to a solid metal door, punched a sequence of numbers on an entry pad, and went into the secured area of the building. It was several minutes before she returned. He passed the time reading certificates on the wall that recognized the accomplishments of the center's employees and wondering why Lester Garrison got into a fight.
The door opened and the receptionist returned with a large man in a deputy sheriff's uniform.
"Mr. Ellis?" the deputy asked.
"I'm Deputy Hicks. The Garrison boy was in a scuffle at breakfast, and we had to put him in a lockdown cell. I'm not sure he's stable enough to talk with you."
"I'd like to try."
"Are you sure?"
The deputy looked Scott over. "Okay. May I look inside your briefcase?"
Scott put his briefcase on the edge of the desk and popped it open. All he had inside was a legal pad containing his notes of the interview with Harold Garrison.
"Thanks. Please don't let the kid borrow your pen. Follow me."
The deputy opened the metal door, and they walked down a short hall to a second metal door with another numeric padlock. Beyond this door they stepped into a large, spacious room with an elevated ceiling and high windows that let in light but didn't afford an outside view. One side of the room contained eight or nine round tables with four chairs at each table. On the other side Scott could see through two large glass windows into two rooms filled with school desks.
"Have you been here before?" the deputy asked.
"No. My other juvenile clients weren't in detention."
"I didn't think I'd seen you around. What firm are you with?"
"Humphrey, Balcomb and Jackson."
The deputy smiled and tried to raise one of his eyebrows without moving the other one. "Mr. Humphrey has been our family attorney for years. He's the best."
Scott had heard that type of comment before.
The deputy continued, "This is where we feed the kids and allow parental visitation. They go to school in the two classrooms to the side. The girls' wing is down that hallway and the boys' rooms are in the bigger section on this side."
"Where is the interview room?"
"Right here." The deputy stopped in front of another solid-metal door at the beginning of the boys' hall. "Wait inside, and I'll see if I can persuade Mr. Garrison to talk to you."
Scott opened a heavy door that automatically clanged shut behind him. The interview room was a small, windowless cubicle with three gray chairs and a small metal table. The light tan painted concrete-block walls were bare. He put his briefcase on the table and took out his legal pad. Several minutes passed. He began to fidget. The uncomfortably small room reminded him of the simulated interrogation room used during the prisoner-of-war training he received in the army. Finally the door opened.
Beside Deputy Hicks was a tall, skinny young man with a shaved head. The youth was wearing a pair of tight blue jeans and a white
T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. He had two prominent tattoos-a swastika on one arm and a pair of lightning bolts on the other. Scott could see that the boy's right eye was puffy and that his left temple area showed evidence of a recent cut that had been closed with a couple of sterile adhesive strips. The deputy guided Lester with a firm grip on the young man's right arm just below the lightning bolts.
"Here we are," Deputy Hicks said. "Only a visit from a lawyer could get you out of lockdown this afternoon."
Scott extended his hand. "I'm Scott Ellis."
Lester didn't reach out to shake hands. Instead, he mumbled, "My hand's sore."
"He cracked his knuckles," the deputy explained. "He took a hard swing at another boy, missed, and hit the wall."
Deputy Hicks released his grip on Lester's arm.
"I'll be in an office on the other side of the assembly room if you need me," the deputy said.
The door clanged shut. Scott sat down and motioned for Lester to take a seat. "Your father hired me to represent you."
"Has he left town yet?"
"I think so, but he gave me your grandmother's name and number. He said you live with her."
"The best way for me to understand what's happened is to ask you some questions."
Before Scott could begin, Lester started talking.
"When am I getting out? I shouldn't be in here. It's all a frame-up."
"We'll get to that in a minute."
Lester continued, "And they don't allow the races to stay separate."
"That's why I got in a fight. They wouldn't let me sit at a table with only whites."
"Wait a minute," Scott interrupted. "Back up. Let's get a few things straight."
"I don't need a lecture. I need to get out of here."
Scott could see traces of his father in the young man's facial features, and even more of Harold Garrison's influence in the young man's attitudes.
"I'm not going to lecture you," Scott said. "As your lawyer, I need to tell you a few things. First, don't talk to anyone, and I mean anyone, about why you are in here. Don't talk to any of the other boys, guards, teachers, caseworkers from juvenile court or anyone else. Second, everything you tell me is between you and me. Nobody else will know about it. I'm representing you, not your father, and I don't have to tell him or anyone else what we discuss. Is that clear?"
"Yeah. I'm not stupid."
"I didn't say you were stupid. I'm explaining how the attorney-client relationship works. Have you ever had a lawyer before?"
"Then you need to listen. Third, my job is to represent you. I'm not working for the juvenile court authorities. I'm not trying to get the judge to like me. I'm here to give you legal representation. Okay?"
"Yeah," Lester said more quietly.
Scotttook a blank legal pad out of his briefcase. "Good. Let's start at the beginning. Your father gave me some background information, but there is a lot I want to ask you."
An hour and a half later Scott put down his pen. He'd taken ten pages of information. Question marks and stars filled the margins next to his notes.
"I'll check with the juvenile court caseworker on my way back to my office and find out if a hearing has been scheduled in your case."
"When do I get out?"
"That will be my second question to the caseworker." Scott leaned across the table. "In the meantime, don't even look sideways at anyone in here. No fighting. No arguing. Understand?"
"Getting out is going to depend as much on you as me."
At 11 a.m. Scott was sitting in the plainly furnished office of Juan Maribona, the juvenile court caseworker who had prepared the intake information on Lester Garrison.
"A courier from the district attorney's office picked up the Garrison file first thing this morning," Juan said. "I'm sorry you wasted a trip."
"Who's going to handle the hearing in juvenile court?"
"Not us. The D.A. doesn't want to leave the case in juvenile court. They're going to ask the judge to allow Lester to be prosecuted as an adult in superior court."
"As an adult?" Scott asked with surprise.
"It happens," Juan shrugged. "He's almost seventeen, and it was an ugly incident. I was ready to let him go home today and schedule a hearing next week. But somebody wants to teach this kid a lesson. A long, hard lesson."
Meet the Author
Robert Whitlow is the bestselling author of legal novels set in the South and winner of the Christy Award for Contemporary Fiction. He received his J.D. with honors from the University of Georgia School of Law where he served on the staff of the Georgia Law Review. Website: robertwhitlow.com, Twitter: @whitlowwriter, Facebook: robertwhitlowbooks.
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Although a practicing Jew, I enjoy Christian fiction, especially the pen I have recently discovered in author Robert Whitlow. After reading The Sacrifice, it's not too hard to understand why Whitlow has been called a Christian version of John Grisham. This was an engrossing legal thriller, entertaining and riveting to the very last page, while carrying many moral and religious themes, exploring darkness, light, good, evil, salvation, faith, trust in a Heavenly Father and more. One of the most prominent themes, however, is the efficacy of prayer. In a post-Columbine world, with a depressed, morally confused, spiritually empty generation of teenagers and high schoolers, this book touches upon the vital and urgently necessary power of prayer in public schools. The central characters involve a young attorney, his old high school ex-girlfriend and now colleague in teaching a group of high school students in a mock trial competition, students intent of prayer, faith, and love, other deeply troubled students intent on hate and destruction... and, my favorite charater, Tao pang, a 'simple' immigrant janitor in the high school who barely speaks a word of English. I felt I lived with these characters, especially Tao. I look forward to reading Whitlow's other books, for which, if this book is any indication, I'm in for a treat.
Robert Whitlow's newest novel, 'The Sacrifice', is the best of his three novels. The previous works, 'The List' and 'The Trial'. were excellent books, but 'The Sacrifice' is by far the most exciting. The writing is fluid, the story is captivating and the ending is gripping. I think 'The Sacrifice' should be required reading for every pastor, teacher, parent, grandparent and teen. The book kept my attention and I could not put it down, reading it in one sitting. I intend to read it again and again.
The Sacrifice by Robert Whitlow The Sacrifice is a masterpiece of suspense, mystery and romance. Every detail of this lawyer's story is perfection. Mr. Whitlow shows that no one is beyond reach. Even the most down-and-out hope for second chances and some are willing to give the ultimate sacrifice to give them their second chance. If you like Grisham, you'll love Whitlow.
The Sacrifice, Whitlow's third novel, addresses some of the issues behind school violence - unfortunately, not a thing of the past, as last week in Germany demonstrated. Whitlow's work is spiritital, helpful, romantic, and we see glimpses of the author's dry humor from time to time. This book should be read by every educator/student/parent.
Riveting, heartbreaking, thought-provoking -- a good read! Makes me stop and think of how I need to pray, pray, pray! Pray for safety in our schools, on our playgrounds, in the home...Pray that God will send His guardian angels to watch over our children and grandchildren.