About your Book:
Robert Bratt is a veteran defense attorney whose faith in the justice system, and the role he plays in it, wavers when his daughter’s best friend is raped and the rapist is acquitted. The rapist’s lawyer twisted the victim’s testimony around to make her look like she was the aggressor, and Bratt knows this is exactly what he would have done in his place. But his daughter hates all lawyers now, including him, and that causes him to question the way he has always practiced his chosen profession and the violent people he represents. Then, Jennifer Campbell, a devoutly religious woman, hires him to defend her son, Marlon Small, who is accused of a brutal double-murder. Despite Campbell’s protestations, Bratt’s instincts tell him there are some things that Small isn’t telling him. But Bratt’s drive to succeed, combined with his sympathy for the heartbroken mother, push him to defend the young man. Can he continue to turn a blind eye to what his client might have done, and manipulate the truth as he so often has in the past, all in order to defend “The Guilty?”
Targeted Age Group: Young adult to adult
Genre: Courtroom drama
The Book Excerpt:
“Marlon, I’m afraid those two witnesses you gave us were less than overwhelming.”
Small sat staring at them through the smudged glass partition, as if he was waiting for Bratt to explain himself, but Bratt had decided that the ball was in his client’s court.
Finally, Small spoke up. “They’re a bit light in the brains department. That ain’t their fault.”
“I don’t begrudge them their lack of brains,” Bratt said, “just their lack of honesty.”
“What’s your problem with their honesty?”
“Well, they seem to have misplaced it on the way to my office.”
Small’s expression became even surlier than before.
“I don’t like the way you say that, like you think you’re funny. My friends ain’t lyin’.”
Bratt paused before answering. He knew that antagonizing his client wasn’t going to do either one of them any good, however much he may have enjoyed it. He’d have to keep his tongue in check and show Small that he was just trying to be objective for the good of their case.
“OK, sorry for the sarcasm. The problem is you’ve got one witness who gets confused by the simplest questions, and another one who’s a born liar. I’m a defense attorney and it’s second nature for me to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, but that was almost impossible to do here. If I think your buddies are bullshitting, what do you think a jury is going to think?”
“No sweat. I’ll just call ’em and get ’em to straighten out their stories.”
“No, that’s not what I meant.”
“Talk to them again, they’ll have all their answers right. The jury’ll believe them, you’ll see.”
Bratt felt frustrated with where this conversation was headed. He had no doubt that both witnesses were lying about being with Small on the night of the shooting. It wasn’t enough for them to just “straighten out their stories” because then he would still know how dishonest they really were, even if the jury somehow believed them. And it was his knowing that made all the difference in the world, whether Small understood this or not. More than anything, he just wanted Parker and Clayton to disappear from view, so he could start fresh with new witnesses. As for where Small got those other witnesses, that was a problem in itself. But it wasn’t Bratt’s problem.
“You just don’t get it, do you,” he said, beginning to feel irritated.
Small jumped up and slammed the glass partition with his open hand. “No, you don’t get it! I was in the park that night! Ask anybody an’ they’ll tell you. I didn’t go to no damn apartment in Burgundy, an’ I didn’t shoot no one! So don’t tell me I don’t get it! It’s my ass sittin’ in a fuckin’ jail-cell for the past eight months an’ I’m looking for someone who’s going to get me out! Do you get that?”
Bratt said nothing, trying to keep his cool. At the same time he wondered about Small’s dramatic glass-slamming routine, which he had just seen for the second time in as many meetings. He thought that Small, in his own way, might be as good a performer as he was.
“Why don’t you just sit back down and chill, Marlon,” Bratt said, folding his arms and waiting for Small to take his seat. As he watched Small make a show of regaining his composure, Bratt found himself questioning his own motivations. Was he more concerned that the witnesses might lie on the stand or that they might get caught in those lies, despite Small’s certainty that they could get away with it? Winning this case was going to be hard enough and, if Madsen were to be believed, winning this case had just become the most important thing in Bratt’s life.
“It happens to be my job to get your ass out of that jail cell,” he said, “and it’s a job I usually do pretty well. But it’s not going to happen just because you say everyone knows you were in the park that night, not when the only two witnesses you give me are liars and everyone who hears them will know it the moment they open their mouths.”
Bratt paused to clear his throat. He pulled at a frayed string that had once held a button to his silk shirtsleeve and wondered where he had lost the button and why he hadn’t noticed its absence until now. Small sat quietly, waiting for him to go on with his little speech, his dislike for his attorney obvious in his face.
A quick glance by Bratt to his side showed him that Kouri was also watching him and he knew he had to choose his words carefully. He was aware that there was a fine line between telling his client he needed better witnesses and asking for better liars. Over the years he had convinced himself that he had never knowingly crossed that line, although his definition of “knowingly” had gotten narrower with the passage of time and the growing imperative to win.
He hated Small for making him walk that line again, and he hated himself for closing his eyes as he gingerly took the first steps. But what choice did he have? The need to win guided what he had to say.
“You have to understand that I don’t do this job for you,” he said, “I do it because I like to win. It just so happens that when I win, you win. I couldn’t care less where you were that night, whether you shot those guys or not. That simply isn’t part of my job.”
From the corner of his eye Bratt saw Kouri’s body stiffen. Leave me the hell alone, he thought, directing the thought both at Kouri and at his own conscience.
“You couldn’t pay me enough to care,” he continued. “But you also can’t pay me enough to lie for you in court, nor to call witnesses that I know are going to perjure themselves, like your two buddies.”
He paused again, to see if there was any light of understanding in Small’s eyes. Almost, but not quite yet, so he went on.
“If you want a jury to believe you were in the park, then you can start by coming up with some other witnesses who can convince me first.”
Small’s expression softened almost imperceptibly as he nodded, looking Bratt straight in the eyes, finally letting Bratt see what he was looking for.
“No problem, Mr. Bratt,” he spoke slowly. “I know what you want. I’ll get the word out right away. I know who else was with me that night. I’ll get you their names and phone numbers later this week.”
“I’m going to need them as fast as possible,” Bratt said, suddenly feeling like a junkie desperately waiting for his next fix. At the same time, he assiduously kept his eyes away from Kouri, who continued to sit motionless at his side.
“No problem, Mr. Bratt,” Small said again, and Bratt marveled at the tone of respect his client had suddenly begun using with him. “And no bullshitters this time.”