“Gentlemen of the jury,” Henry Russell began in his opening statement. “Mr. Little over there at the defense table is going to step forward in a few minutes and tell you a lot of things and use a lot of fancy words to try and convince you to release a murderer. A murder was committed in plain sight in front of three hundred witnesses, in a house of God no less.” Russell turned and pointed at Lester Woods. “The defendant sat in the front pew, and in the middle of the service, he did stand up and turned toward the victim, and with malice and forethought, he did fire three bullets into the victim’s face and chest.”
Russell paced in front of the jury box, keeping silent to let his message resonate before continuing. “Three hundred witnesses saw it. I could parade those witnesses in front of you all day every day for the next month and they would all say the same thing: Lester Woods shot the Reverend down. He did it.
“Now the defense lawyer is going to say all kinds of things to confuse the facts. He’s going to put the victim on trial for murder. You wait and see. He’s going to say the victim was the really bad guy. Look at all the bad things the victim may or may not have done, and he’s going to do it in such way that you may forget—if you are not vigilant—who it was that actually pulled out that gun in the middle of church service and shot down a man in cold blood.
“And furthermore, he’s going to parade a bunch of so-called expert witnesses to claim that the victim drove him to do it, that he was not in his right mind when he shot that man down.
“I ask you to not be fooled! Do not fall for this sleight of hand, this bit of legal trickery. Instead, I implore you to stick to the facts and remember that on the day of June 18, 1977, Lester Woods took it upon himself to take the law into his own hands, and to become a one-man lynch mob. Don’t you let him get away with it! At the end of the day, I would like to be able to look at you good men eyeball to eyeball and say, ‘The rule of law won the day.’ I expect you men to be able to look through the shambles of make-believe and adjudicate this case based on the facts: on June 28, Lester Woods did unlawfully take a life here in Jackson City. I thank you for your attention.”
As the prosecutor strode back to his table, Melvin Little turned to his client. “That was good. I didn’t think Henry had it in him.” Lester put his head down on the table. “Don’t worry, Brother,” Melvin said as he rose from his chair. He straightened his blue silk tie. “It ain’t over yet.” He wore his hair slicked back to reveal the smooth skin on his quarter moon-shaped face. He strutted over to the jury box.
“Wow, that was a pretty good speech Mr. Russell just made. I’m tempted to rest on my laurels and let that stand as my opening statement too.” He looked at the defendant. “What do you think, Lester? I can’t really argue with what he said, so maybe I should just sit down and we can commence to calling witnesses.”
Lester stared in disbelief.
“No?” Melvin said. He turned back to the men of the jury. “I suppose I’ve got to say something then. I suppose I should say I too think you men have good character and that I too will look you eyeball to eyeball or whatever he said, and I too think you will make the right decision in this case even though the right decision isn’t what Henry Russell wants.
“The defense is going to show through evidence and witnesses who know the man that Lester Woods is a hard-working family man, a long-haul truck driver, a devoted husband and father, a Vietnam veteran who served bravely and brought home a combat infantry metal for his service overseas, a man who brought in stray children into his house and treated them like they were one of his own. There was one girl he even began to think of like she was his own daughter, a little girl named Lucy…”
“Your Honor,” Russell stood up. “We object at this point. Mr. Little seems to be straying into a matter of little relevance to this case.”
“Goes to state of mind, Your Honor,” Melvin said.
“Henry,” Judge Spencer said, “We talked about this. The insanity defense allows a lot of leeway.”
“A travesty of justice is what it is,” Russell said.
“You’ll have to excuse the District Attorney,” Melvin said to the jury. “He seems to be getting a little hot under the collar. As I was saying, the defense will show that Lester Woods is a good man who fought for his country, who loved his family and worked to help others in the community. I admit right now that we don’t know, won’t know at the end of trial, and we may never know whether a man called Reverend Baxter killed his first wife, killed his second wife, killed…”
“That’s it,” Russell shouted, “the prosecution asks for a mistrial.”
“Your Honor…” Russell pleaded.
“The judge has ruled Mr. Russell,” Melvin said. He leaned forward with a gloating face and then straightened up and faced the jury, holding his lapels like Perry Mason. “As I was saying, we don’t know whether or not Reverend Baxter killed his first wife, killed his second wife, killed his brother, killed his nephew, or killed his little stepdaughter, but the defense will show that the people in the community believed it, and Lester Woods believed it, and we will bring in experts…”
“Your Honor,” Russell said solemnly, “I repeat my request for a mistrial. The defense is trying a dead man.”
“State of mind,” Melvin said.
“Motion denied,” said Judge Spencer.
“Can we at least call a sidebar?” Russell asked.
“Witnesses will show,” Melvin continued, “that all those murders…”
“Alleged murders,” Russell said.
“Whatever you want to call them,” said Melvin. “All those murders weighed heavily on the defendant’s mind. Furthermore, the defense will show that the defendant was licensed to carry a concealed firearm and that he did so everywhere he went. So, it was in his pocket when he went to the funeral of that sweet little girl that he looked after like she was his own daughter. He was present when some other relative of the girl—I forget how she was related—but she stood up and shouted at the Reverend, “You killed Lucy,” and something snapped in Lester’s brain because he stood up and shot the Reverend. We admit he shot him in the face and wherever else the prosecutor says he shot him. The defense will show that he was not in his right mind and he should therefore be treated accordingly. He should be found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity.”
Melvin gave the jury a curt nod at the end of his statement and then with hands firmly gripped on his lapels, he strutted back to the defense table.
Go to Chapter 34.
This chapter uses as a model and borrows certain elements and phrasing from The State of Alabama vs. Robert Burns, Sept. 1977.
About This Novel; Chapter 1 ; Chapter 2; Chapter 3; Chapter 4; Chapter 5; Chapter 6; Chapter 7; Chapter 8; Chapter 9; Chapter 10; Chapter 11; Chapter 12; Chapter 13; Chapter 14; Chapter 15; Chapter 16; Chapter 17; Chapter 18; Chapter 19; Chapter 20; Chapter 21; Blood Cries at the Half-Way Point; Chapter 22; Chapter 23; Chapter 24; Chapter 25; Chapter 26; Chapter 27; Chapter 28; Chapter 29; Chapter 30; Chapter 31; Chapter 32