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A Criminal Defense

A Criminal Defense, April 2017
by William L. Myers Jr.

Thomas & Mercer
ISBN: 1503943429
EAN: 9781503943421
Kindle: B01KXQ8SS6
Trade Size / e-Book
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"Great legal thriller that keeps you guessing until the very end! Well Done!"

Fresh Fiction Review

A Criminal Defense
William L. Myers Jr.

Reviewed by Sharon Salituro
Posted April 17, 2017

Thriller Legal

Mick McFarland is a criminal lawyer who used to work for the DA but he had enough and went out on his own to start a firm with Susan. Mick is married to Piper, and they have one child Gabby. Mick also has a brother Tommy who has been in and out of trouble but Mick hires him to work at his firm.

The biggest case of his life comes to him when a young reporter Jennifer is found dead in her home. Jennifer had just uncovered the biggest scope in her life. The grand jury is about to indict several cops and high officials. Mick had just spoken to Jennifer several hours before she was murdered because she wanted Mick to represent her in court. Soon after Jennifer's death, Mick also gets another call from one of his college roommates, David Hanson, a businessman, who has been accused of killing Jennifer because the police caught David running out of Jennifer's back door. David claims he is innocent, although he went to her house she was already lying dead on the basement floor.

Mick agrees to take the case, however David is leaving too much out of his story. He won't tell Mick where he was before Jennifer was killed, or who he was with. David and his wife Marcie go to a lot of trouble to keep everything a huge secret so Mick knows something is going on. In the meantime, his brother Tommy is in a very foul mood as his wife is moving away from him. Just what is going on? Every time that Mick things he has it figured out, something new comes in to play. Is everything somehow connected to this murder?

Wow, Mr. Myers, you sure had me going on this one. Talk about a mystery because I never saw the end of this one coming. I was amazed at how everything tied in at the end. It's easy to see you were a trial lawyer before you became an author. And you skillfully show how family does mean everything to people. The strain between Tommy and Mick finally gets settled when they realize they both have suffered in more ways than one.

You also kept my mind going through this whole book as I read, even though I tried to put it down a couple of times, but couldn't. I needed to find out who the real killer was so A CRIMINAL DEFENSE is my kind of book. I just couldn't put it down, until I figured it out and because I never would have guessed the ending, I love it.

Learn more about A Criminal Defense

SUMMARY

Losing the trial of his life could mean losing everything.

When a young reporter is found dead and a prominent Philadelphia businessman is accused of her murder, Mick McFarland finds himself involved in the case of his life. The defendant, David Hanson, is Mick’s best friend, and the victim, a TV news reporter, had reached out to Mick for legal help only hours before her death.

Mick’s played both sides of Philadelphia’s courtrooms. As a top-shelf defense attorney and former prosecutor, he knows all the tricks of the trade. And he’ll need every one of them to win.

But as the trial progresses, he’s disturbed by developments that confirm his deepest fears. This trial, one that already hits too close to home, may jeopardize his firm, his family—everything. Now Mick’s only way out is to mastermind the most brilliant defense he’s ever spun, one that may cross every legal and moral boundary.

Excerpt

Thursday, May 31

It’s eight o’clock in the morning and I’m parking my car in front of Celine Bauer’s sad row house. The exterior of the three-story structure is beat-up brick. The house has a wooden porch, its green paint dirty and starting to peel. Flowerpots adorn the porch and the top step, but the plants are dead. Half a dozen newspapers, still in their plastic wrappers, are scattered about. Celine Bauer has clearly stopped caring about her home, something I’ve seen before in the parents and spouses of the imprisoned. As hope drains from their hearts, everything else becomes pointless.

Two years ago I agreed to take on the case of Celine’s son, Justin, charged with second-degree murder in the beating death of a University of Pennsylvania undergraduate. Justin and two of his friends were tried together, and all three were found guilty. Celine sat through the trial convinced that her son’s lawyer was incompetent. Justin had been a straight-A student at West Philly High, had never gotten into trouble before. According to his mother, Justin had not been with his friends when they beat the other boy to death but had joined up with them shortly afterward, not knowing what they’d done.

Celine sent me a heartfelt letter, asking for my help. She knew about me because I had recently won the release of a young man wrongly convicted on evidence manufactured by a rogue police detective. I agreed to review Justin’s trial transcript, and, when I did, I saw immediately that Celine was right: Justin’s trial counsel had completely botched the defense. I took the case pro bono and filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, which the trial judge promptly rejected. I then appealed to the Superior Court. We lost. Finally, I filed a petition for allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the criminal law equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. But miracles do happen, and earlier this week I’d received the court’s order granting my appeal.

I’d phoned Justin’s mother three times in as many days but never heard back. I wanted Celine to hear the news, and her failure to return my calls told me she needed to.

Celine opens the door on the fourth knock. Her eyes are flat. I smell alcohol on her breath. We stare at each other until she backs away from the door, leaving it open for me to follow her inside. The living room looks much like the porch. Dead and dying plants. Mail in a pile on the floor. Plates crusted with food on the coffee table. Celine flops down on the sofa, lights a cigarette, waits for me to tell her the bad news.

I lower myself onto a worn chair on the other side of the coffee table. I take a deep breath. “It’s good news, Celine,” I say. She grunts. “No, really. The Supreme Court has granted us an appeal. They wouldn’t do that unless they felt there were real grounds to hear the case. There’s a strong chance we’ll get a new trial. And if we do, I feel that we can win it.”

Celine stares at me for a long time. Then she puts her cigarette out in the chipped glass ashtray on the coffee table. “When will the judges decide? When can I tell Justin he’ll get a second chance? It’s killing him in there. He gets beat up all the time. He’s telling me he’s gonna join a gang, for protection. He needs hope.”

I nod. “It’ll probably take about six months.”

Celine sighs. “A long time.”

“It’s something for Justin to hang on to.” I lean over, pick up the bourbon, and stand. “You don’t need this.” I walk the glass into the kitchen and empty it into the sink. When I come back, Celine is on her feet. “You’re a strong woman, Celine. And you have to be the strongest you’ve ever been. For your son.”

Celine’s back stiffens. Her eyes harden. I nod again, hoping the fire I see in her will survive the coming months.

I walk to the car and start it, look at my own eyes in the rearview mirror. “You’ll get that woman’s boy out of prison,” I say. “You will.” And I mean it.

People like Celine and Justin are the reason I left the DA’s office to become a defense attorney. The reason I often violate the sacred rule of lawyering: don’t get personally involved. When I care about the client, it’s always personal for me. But not all clients are like the Bauers. Many of my clients are guilty of everything they’re charged with, and then some. They don’t hire me to get justice but to avoid it at all costs. Find loopholes, get the evidence excluded, spin the jurors’ heads with clever cross-examinations, and break their hearts with hard-luck stories—it doesn’t matter how, just get them outta there. And the worst among them are the entitled executives who play shell games with other people’s money, the white-collar defendants who drive to my office in Bentleys and ask my secretary if she can validate their parking. I care about those clients about as much as they care about everyone else—I’m only in it for the money.

An hour after I get back to my office, I’m set to meet one of them. Phillip Baldwin. Philadelphia’s own homegrown mini- Madoff, Baldwin turned his family’s hundred-year-old private- investment firm into a Ponzi scheme.

Since the day of his indictment by a federal grand jury, Phillip Baldwin has sworn his innocence and vowed to fight the charges all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Baldwin’s trial is set to begin in three weeks, and my law partner, Susan Klein, and I are counting on the fees the case will bring in to pay our overhead.

At 9:45, I join Susan outside her office, and we walk down the lushly carpeted hall toward one of our conference rooms. The feel of our office is sleek and modern: a marble-floored lobby with tiger-wood receptionist desk, recessed lighting throughout, white walls adorned with original paintings of iconic Philadelphia city scenes—Boathouse Row, the art museum, Independence Hall.

We enter the conference room, and Baldwin stands to greet us. I’d read that Baldwin wore $10,000 William Fioravanti suits. The deep-blue double-breasted number he has on now certainly looks like it could go for that much. He paid much more for his Patek Philippe watch and sapphire cuff links. Baldwin even has a rich man’s hair—thick, silver-gray, and sculpted atop his chiseled, fifty-five-year-old face.

We all sit down, and Baldwin begins. “Mick, Susan, thank you for agreeing to meet with us at the last minute. Some things have happened, and Kimberly and I felt it important to see you right away.” He nods toward his thirty-year-old second wife, who is model-tall and thin with superbly highlighted brunette hair and blazing blue eyes. Kimberly Baldwin is one of the finest-looking Miss Pennsylvanias our commonwealth has ever turned out.

“What’s happened?” asks Susan.

“Kimberly and I have talked it over, and I want to plead.”

“I don’t understand,” my partner says.

“They’re going to kill us,” Kimberly says, her eyes filling with tears. “And Phillip’s children.”

“More death threats?” Susan asks. Kimberly nods. “But these are serious.” She reaches into her Louis Vuitton handbag, pulls out an envelope, and slides it across the table. Susan and I take turns reviewing its contents.

“Pictures of Kimberly leaving the gym,” says Baldwin. “And of my twin daughters, taken at college. They’re only twenty years old, for God’s sake.” As he speaks, Baldwin’s handsome face contorts, overpowering the Botox that normally keeps him wrinkle-free. “And this,” he says, handing me a note with letters cut out of magazines, the kind kidnappers write in movies.

It reads: You rot in jail or they rot in boxes.

“You’ve had death threats before,” I reiterate.

“But now they’re threatening me,” says Kimberly, forgetting Baldwin’s children. “And so are those government lawyers.”

I see Baldwin stiffen at the mention of the US Attorneys’ Office.

“The feds are threatening you?” Susan asks.

“They say they just want to talk . . . ,” Kimberly begins. “God, I’m so confused.”

“Confused?” Baldwin’s face turns scarlet. “What’s there to be confused about? The government is the enemy. You’re my wife. You don’t talk with them. Ever!”

“Let’s everyone take a breath,” Susan says.

“Just call the feds and get me a deal, Mick,” says Baldwin.

“You realize the least you’d be facing is ten years.”

Baldwin stiffens again. “Just get the best deal you can. Maybe in one of those places like they sent Martha Stewart or Michael Milken.”

“Federal prison isn’t the country club everyone thinks it is,” says Susan.

But it’s no use. The meeting drags on for another hour, until just after eleven, Baldwin refusing to change his mind.

Susan and I escort the Baldwins to the lobby, telling them they should sleep on it, then walk together to Susan’s office. Susan flops down into her beige leather chair. I sink into one of the visitors’ seats on the other side of the expensive glass-top worktable Susan uses as her desk. She takes off her artsy black-framed glasses and fastens her long ash-blonde locks with a hair tie. Her strong jaw and aquiline nose appear sharper without her hair hanging down to soften them.

“If my math is correct,” I say, “half a million dollars just walked out the door.”

“It’s not the death threats Baldwin’s afraid of, you know.”

I raise my eyebrows.

“He’s afraid of her. Kimberly. That she’ll turn state’s evidence against him.”

“You think she knew about the scam?”

“Sweet little trophy wife is smarter than she looks.”

I consider what Susan said. “Why would the feds even bother with her? They have more than enough to convict him. What else could she tell them?”

Susan gives me a rueful smile. “She could tell them where he’s hidden the money.”

I nod. Thieves like Baldwin always squirrel away a chunk of their ill-gotten loot in case the government ever comes knocking on their door.

Susan sinks back in her chair and sighs. “How much do we have in the operating account?”

“Not much,” I say. “About eighty thousand.”

Running a small law firm is a lot like being the bunny on a greyhound track. The greyhounds represent all your overhead: payroll, rent, electric, insurance premiums, phone and Internet, advertising, postage, plane fare, mileage, paper costs. The partners who own the law firm are the rabbit: always running as fast as they can, trying to stay ahead of the dogs.

“We should have paid the line down last year, when we got the money from the Lynch case.” Susan’s talking about the fee we received on a defective-product case we referred out to another firm. Though we’d talked about exactly that, in the end we decided to take the money as a distribution. I’d used part of my share to build a pool behind my house. Susan used hers to remodel the kitchen in her condo. The rest we spent upgrading our offices.

With the Baldwin case coming to trial, Susan and I had put most of our other cases on the back burner. That would have to change.

“Everyone’ll have to start burning the midnight oil on our other cases,” I say. For a second, I question whether taking on the Justin Bauer case was a good idea. But only for a second. The Phillip Baldwins of the world may be how we keep the doors open, but the Justin Bauers are why.

Susan shakes her head, looks up at the ceiling. “Not a good day for McFarland and Klein.”

I walk to my office, sit for a minute, then turn my chair to look out the window, toward City Hall and, in the distance, the Delaware River. The clock at City Hall reads 11:40 when I sense a presence behind me in the doorway.

“Hey.”

I turn around. It’s the firm’s lead investigator, my younger brother, Tommy. At five ten, Tommy is the same height as I am, but his broad shoulders and thick chest make him a far more powerful physical presence. The buzz-cut hair and prison tats peeking above his shirt collar imply a roughness not disguised by his expensive sport coat and precisely creased slacks.

Tommy walks in and takes a seat across the desk from me.

“What’s up?” I say without enthusiasm.

Tommy raises his eyebrows. “What’s eating you?”

I shake my head, wave him off. Tommy holds my gaze for a moment, and I am amazed, as always, that I can stare straight into his flat brown eyes and have no more sense as to what’s behind them than if he were wearing Blues Brothers sunglasses.

I’m about to say something when Angie buzzes me on my speaker. “There’s a call for you. She says she needs to talk to you right away.”

“Who is it?” I ask, glancing at my watch. 11:45.

“It’s that reporter, Jennifer Yamura.”

Yamura recently broke an enormous police-corruption story, disclosing that the district attorney’s office was running a grand-jury investigation into a well-organized ring of cops conspiring with local drug dealers to sell heroin and cocaine. The grand jury proceedings were, of course, meant to be confidential. In fact, the grand jury’s very existence was supposed to be secret. And it was, until the young Channel 6 reporter divulged the proceedings on the six o’clock news. She claimed to have learned about the investigation from unnamed sources who were both privy to the investigation and somehow involved in the ring.

As details of the investigation emerged, it turned out that the story’s timing couldn’t have been worse. The police and DA’s office had been finalizing plans to conduct a major sting that supposedly would have uncovered additional key players as yet unknown to the authorities. When the grand jury came to light, the cop ring shut itself down, and its members crawled back under their rocks.

The prosecutor in charge of the grand jury, Devlin Walker, is now fit to be tied. He’s subpoenaed Yamura to appear before the grand jury to find out her source and what else she might know.

I tell Angie I’ll take the call. As I pick up the receiver, I tell Tommy, “Whoever Yamura’s sources are, they’re in deep shit.” I put the receiver to my ear.

Yamura introduces herself and tells me that, given the subpoena she’s received, she wants to hire her own defense attorney. Channel 6 and ABC already have a squad of lawyers assigned to the case, but she doesn’t trust them. “I can see you tomorrow at four,” I say as I type the appointment into my computer. I hang up and look at Tommy.

“When does she have to go before the grand jury?” Tommy asks.

“Monday.” Four days from now. “Subpoena says to bring all of her notes and her laptop as well.”

“She may as well bring her own frying pan, too.”

“It’s almost noon. You up for some lunch?”

“Can’t today,” he says, jumping up. “Gotta see a man about a horse.”

I watch Tommy leave, wondering why he came into the office at all. My glum demeanor might have turned him away just now, but more often it’s Tommy who’s in a bad mood. My brother’s a testy, unpredictable person, but I give him a lot of leeway considering all he’s been through. Susan is less tolerant of him, and we’ve gotten into it a couple of times about Tommy’s continued employment at the firm. But he’s proven invaluable in a number of cases, and I’ve won the argument so far.

When Tommy’s gone, I reach for the Inquirer on my desk. The front page features a story about David Hanson, an old friend of mine from law school. David is general counsel at Hanson World Industries, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Philadelphia. HWI has never gone public. Its shares are owned by the direct lineal heirs of its founders, those heirs being David himself; his half brother, Edwin, who’s the CEO; and two- or three-score cousins, aunts, and uncles. Today’s article is all about a complex business arrangement that David has put together between HWI and a collection of companies in China and Japan. If the deal goes through, it will bring hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars to Philadelphia. The article paints a shining picture of my old friend. Then again, I’ve never known any account to portray David in less than glowing terms.

My phone rings and I see that, somehow, it’s already 12:30. Angie’s at lunch, so calls coming in for me ring directly to my line. I pick up the receiver. It’s Jennifer Yamura again. She wants to move up our meeting. We agree on a time, then I hang up and finish reading the feature about David Hanson. I toss the newspaper back onto my desk, stand, and look out the window.

About forty-five minutes later, I’m walking east on Walnut Street, Rittenhouse Square behind me to the west. Overhead, the sky is a brilliant blue, the temperature an even eighty degrees with low humidity and a light breeze. The people I pass on the sidewalk seem upbeat, happy. I wish I could say the same for myself.

That’s when I see her. Half a block down Walnut, walking toward me. My wife. Piper is five foot six with a lithe runner’s body and well-toned calves. Even carrying a large shopping bag, she glides almost weightlessly on the pavement. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty turning men’s heads on the street.

Piper spots me and her eyes flash with surprise, then flatten as she forces a smile. We approach each other and stop. Despite the weather, the air between us feels frigid.

“What are you doing in town?” I ask. “I thought you were going to spend the day at the mall, have lunch with one of your girlfriends.” That’s what she’d told me this morning.

“It’s too nice to spend the day inside a mall. So I thought I’d drive into Center City, check out the shops.” Piper nods to the stuffed Lululemon bag.

“I wish I’d have bought stock in that company,” I say.

“My parents have Gabby for the night,” she says, referring to our six-year-old daughter. “She loves the new car, by the way.”

Over the weekend, Piper bought a BMW convertible without telling me.

“Did you set up the automatic pay thing through the bank account? The first payment’s due the middle of next month, I think.” Livid with Piper, I pause before answering. I’m an expert at masking my emotions, but it’s all I can do to restrain myself. I smile, jaw tight. “It’s all arranged.”

A moment later, Piper and I part ways. I turn to watch her, my heart rent with fury and sorrow.

Back in the office, I sit at my desk and try to will the day’s difficulties into their own compartments. I’m a savant when it comes to compartmentalizing. I can store something away in my mind for hours, days, weeks. Sometimes forever.

I start checking my e-mails but quit halfway through. I pick up the phone to return an important call but hang up after it rings once on the other end. There’s a draft of an appellate brief on my desk, and I pick it up, start to edit it, but toss it aside after a page or two. I’m just too distracted to work. My insides are roiling.

I close my eyes, open them, take five deep breaths, then five more. It doesn’t help, so I decide to go for a run. I rip off my work clothes, throw them onto my desk in a heap, and put on the running clothes I always bring with me to work. I’m flying the instant I leave the building.

My normal run is a ten-mile loop along the Schuylkill River. Today, I take it way too fast and am wiped out when I get back to the office. I dry myself off with paper towels in the bathroom, change back into my work clothes, and try to get some work done.

My mind is still spinning, and I realize it’s hopeless. I leave the office, get my car, and head home. Passing 30th Street Station, I call Piper. I can’t reach her at home, so I call her on her cell. She says she decided to go to the mall after all and that she’ll get home about the same time I do. I tell her I’ll pick up something for dinner at Whole Foods . . . not that I’ll be able to eat anything.

Piper and I live with our daughter, Gabrielle, about fifteen miles west of Philadelphia. Our house is a sixty-year-old stone Cape Cod on three-quarters of an acre on a quiet, tree-lined street. Piper fell in love with the house instantly when she first laid eyes on it four years ago. “It’s absolutely perfect,” she told me when we put in our bid. Then, the minute we took possession, she set out to change everything about it. In order of attack, Piper replaced all the wallpaper and lighting, tore up the carpeting and laid new hardwood floors, put in a new kitchen and upstairs and downstairs bathrooms, and finished the basement. The only things she hasn’t replaced are the windows and roof.

I pull my car up to the three-car garage built into our house and walk in the back door. I’m immediately set upon by Franklin, our two-hundred-pound Bernese mountain dog, the Main Line beast du jour. I place the Whole Foods bag on the granite counter and give Franklin the hugs and treats he’s come to expect when I get home from work. Turning back to the counter and the grocery bag, I notice a business card stapled to an invoice of some sort. I pick it up and see that it’s an estimate for a new cedar-shake roof: $30,000.

Jesus Christ.

Piper enters the kitchen. Her face is drawn, her eyes and nose are red. “I don’t feel well,” she says. “I’m not going to eat.” With that she passes by me, walks down the hall, and goes up the stairs.

I turn away from her. Given how I feel right now, it suits me that we’re not having dinner. I wander into the family room and sit numbly in front of the television. Reruns of Law and Order play themselves out on the tube, but I can barely see the images on the screen through the fog that envelops my mind. The eleven o’clock news comes on, then Jimmy Fallon, then Late Night with Seth Meyers. I sit zombielike on the couch until Carson Daly comes on at 1:30, then will myself off the sofa and make my way upstairs.

I pause and stand at the doorway of Gabrielle’s room. Her empty bed evokes a hollow ache inside me. I can feel her absence outside myself as well, an unnatural stillness that pervades the air, the walls, the floors—as though the whole house misses her. One of my favorite things is to read Gabby to sleep at night, then sit and watch her breathe. A Sick Day for Amos McGee is one of Gabby’s current favorites, as is The Day the Crayons Quit. The book I most enjoy reading to her is one I saved from my own childhood, the Dr. Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham. Too often, I come home from work so late that Gabby is already asleep. When that’s the case, I read to her anyway. Piper’s always thought it odd, but I like to think that, even asleep, some part of Gabby’s mind can hear me and knows I’m with her.

I feel a presence at my side and look down to see Franklin standing next to me. He stares


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