IS HOMICIDAL INSANITY EVER A LEGAL JUSTIFICATION FOR MURDER?
Cape Cod attorney Marty Nickerson, formerly a prosecutor, faces hard questions as defense attorney for Buck Hammond. With TV cameras rolling, Buck took justice into his own hands. Now he is charged with murder one but he refuses the only viable defense: insanity. Marty and her partner in love and law, Harry Madigan, are already stretched thin when, on the eve of Buck's trial, a bleeding woman staggers into their office. Her attacker has just been found – dead – and he's an officer of the court. Now Marty has two seemingly impossible cases. But legal motions and courtroom strategy may be the least of her worries, as shocking revelations soon bring fear to the Cape and devastating twists to Buck's trial…
The second book in the Marty Nickerson series, 2003
For my son, Dave,
who shouldered this difficult year
with quiet courage and uncommon resolve.
It really does take a village.
Heartfelt thanks to: Garland Alcock, M.D., for extraordinary insight into the human mind and body; the Chatham Writers’ Guild, for meticulous critiques and rowdy lunches; the first-class staff of the Barnstable Law Library-Martha Elkins, Janet Banks, and Mareda Flood-for endless professional and moral support; Sara Young-you know what you did.
Humble thanks to Susanne Kirk, the mystery world’s premiere editor, and to Nancy Yost, the finest literary agent an author could hope to find.
And to my family, of course, thanks for everything.
1879. I asked Janet, the law librarian, where I might find a thorough discussion of the temporary insanity plea, and she referred me to a case decided in January of 1879.
“That’s too old,” I told her. “I’m looking for a more recent decision, one that explains why we preserve the defense, one that addresses the current philosophy supporting it.”
Janet climbed the ladder, then, to the top shelf, and pulled out a book so decrepit that portions of its dark brown binding fell in flakes to the library floor as she descended. She opened the yellowed pages to a case already flagged with a sheet of folded notepad paper. Apparently, she’d been asked this question before.
She flipped through the first portion of the decision, then pointed to the center of a page and handed the fragile book to me. “Mr. Justice Paxson gave it a lot of thought,” she said. “Read.” And so I did.
We are obliged by the force of authority to say to you that there is such a disease known to the law as homicidal insanity.
What it is, or in what it consists, no lawyer or judge has ever yet been able to explain with precision.
Janet was heading back to her desk when I looked up, but she paused to cast a meaningful glance over her shoulder. I got the message. A hundred and twenty-five years have passed. And nothing’s changed.Chapter 1
Monday, December 20
“Your client is a vigilante, Martha. He blew a man away on live television, for Christ’s sake. We’ll get murder one at trial; the jury won’t have any choice. Murder two is a gift. I can’t do any better than that.”
Geraldine Schilling points a finger-gun at me and fires. She’s the newly elected District Attorney in Barnstable County, a jurisdiction that includes all the towns on Cape Cod. She’s our first female DA, and she won the election by a landslide with her “tough on crime” campaign. She plans to improve her margin the next time around. And she thinks this case will help her do it.
Technically, Geraldine is still the First Assistant to the incumbent District Attorney, Rob Mendell. His term won’t expire until the end of this month. Geraldine’s been the First Assistant for eighteen years now, and I worked with her for ten of them, until about six months ago. This is the first time I’ve looked at Geraldine from the opposite side of the table. She’s formidable.
Some prosecutors-maybe even Rob Mendell-would go easy on my client. This is no ordinary case. But not Geraldine. And the fact that she’s not yet sworn in as top dog is of little consequence. Geraldine Schilling is in charge around here. She always has been.
“Then why did you call me, Geraldine? What is there to discuss?”
She’s been on her feet throughout our meeting; Geraldine almost never sits down. She stares at me from behind her imposing oak desk, perhaps considering my question, more likely trying to decide if I’m bluffing. She drags hard on her cigarette, stubs it out in a crowded ashtray on the desktop, and folds her thin arms across her tailored jacket. She doesn’t answer, though. She tilts her blond head to one side and half-smiles. Her pale green eyes dart over my shoulder as she blows a steady stream of smoke my way.
I don’t have to turn around to know that Geraldine’s new side-kick, the soon-to-be First Assistant, is about to join us. J. Stanley Edgarton III always clears his throat before he speaks. It’s an annoying practice designed to alert all of us that his words are coming, lest we miss one of them.
“Reality, Attorney Nickerson,” he drones at my back. “Perhaps we should discuss reality.”
Geraldine hired Stanley a month ago-stole him, actually, from the New Bedford office-to replace me. A meticulous, prissy sort of man, he leaves behind an enviable track record. Stanley tried a dozen homicide cases during his eight-year career in New Bedford. He won them all. He doesn’t intend to lose this one.
“You do have some grasp on reality, don’t you, Attorney Nickerson?”
Geraldine’s office is spacious, but Stanley positions himself so that the tips of his tasseled shoes almost touch my boots. He does it on purpose. He’s always too close, always making me feel there isn’t enough oxygen in the room for both of us.
I move away from him and head for the door. “If that’s the best you can do, Geraldine, we’re going to trial.”
Stanley inserts himself in my path. “And your client’s defense, Attorney Nickerson, what might that be?”
My silent glare doesn’t deter him. He sidles toward me, eliminating the space I had put between us, and picks up a videotape from the edge of Geraldine’s orderly desk. He holds it in front of my face for a moment-as if I might not otherwise notice-before he moves toward the VCR.
Gee, I didn’t mean to gun him down in front of so many people
. That’s a good defense.”
Stanley pops the tape into the slot and watches intently, a savage glee in his eyes, as the television screen lights up. He’s seen this tape before, of course. We all have.
“Or maybe it’s…
Oops, I just meant to stand there holding the weapon
. That might work.”
Stanley sports a vicious smile as an olive green military chopper appears on the small screen, descending to the only runway at Chatham Municipal Airport. When it lands, Stanley turns away from the TV and watches me instead.
A half dozen squad cars, and at least as many press vans, greet the chopper. Its door opens and Hector Monteros emerges, hands cuffed behind his back. He begins his descent to the floodlit runway, an armed guard on the steps ahead of him, another right behind. All three men lean forward, into the wind. The first hint of dawn is on the horizon.
In the lower-right corner of the screen, behind the wall of police cruisers and press vans, Buck Hammond steps from the hangar’s shadow. He’s my client. He stands perfectly still until Monteros and his escorts reach the runway. Then he raises a hunting rifle and fires. Monteros drops like a felled tree.
Stanley’s still smiling. “Or maybe it’s…
Darn, I didn’t realize those TV cameras were rolling
. Now, there’s a defense. One of my favorites.”
Stanley is shorter than I am-he’s shorter than most people, for that matter-and I examine the top of his bulbous head before I respond. Sparse, almost colorless hair parts just above his right ear, long strands of it combed over his pink scalp, the wispy ends just touching the top of his left ear. Beneath his vast forehead sit muddy brown eyes, too small for the head that holds them, too dark for the pasty skin that surrounds them.
He smiles up at me, apparently delighted by his own humor, revealing tiny, discolored teeth. “You people…,” he says, shaking his head, a thick vein pulsing across his forehead. I’ve noticed that vein before; it turns blue when he’s mad. And J. Stanley Edgarton III seems to get mad a lot.
Stanley has been calling us “you people” since he got here. New Bedford is only about thirty miles away, just on the other side of the bridge, but Stanley seems to regard Cape Codders-some of us, anyway-as an alien species. He turns his back to me, flicks off the TV, and wipes his hands together. I’m dismissed.
Members of the New Bedford defense bar warned us about Stanley. He’s an odd one, to put it mildly. He takes pride in being the first person in the courtroom each day, they report. He greets all trial participants upon their arrival, thereby establishing himself as the man in charge. For lay witnesses, people unfamiliar with courtroom procedure, Stanley even assigns seats. He is, in his own mind, one powerful fellow.
It’s going to be a long week.
“See you tomorrow,” I tell him.
Stanley faces me again, still shaking his large skull, his expression suggesting he pities my inability to see the light. “Looking forward to it.” His forehead vein throbs steadily.
I head for the office door, hoping I’ve dropped no hint of how worried I am. Buck Hammond had his reasons. And Monteros got precisely what he deserved. But that videotape is damning.
Geraldine leans across her desk toward Stanley as I head for her office door. I catch her words just before the heavy wooden door slams shut behind me. “Don’t underestimate her,” she says. I can’t help but smile. Coming from Geraldine Schilling, that’s high praise indeed.Chapter 2
Harry Madigan’s last day with the Barnstable County Public Defender’s office was November 1. He planned to take a month off before opening his private practice. After twenty years, he said, it was time for a real vacation. Real or not, it lasted all of four days. And he never got off-Cape.
Barnstable County’s troubled residents-those who live on the edge when they’re not confined to county facilities-know Harry well. Some have been with him his entire career. They trust him. They filled his office, and his file cabinets, before he hung out his shingle.
Joining him was like throwing a life ring to a drowning man. No thought required. I wasn’t eager to return to practice after my years with the DA’s office, and Harry knew that. But when he approached me about Buck Hammond’s case, I had no choice. Harry knew that, too.
Sometimes I think Harry knows me better than I do. He knew I’d fight Buck’s battle, knew I’d view Buck’s act as justifiable homicide. We have a problem, though. Our criminal justice system doesn’t see it that way.
The system hasn’t yet acknowledged certain basic human truths. One of them explains the single shot Buck Hammond fired at the Chatham Municipal Airport. Our only hope is that a jury of Buck’s peers will rise to the occasion-set the rules aside, if necessary-to reach a just result. Juries do that sometimes.
Hector Monteros raped and murdered Buck Hammond’s seven-year-old son. Monteros was in police custody, charged with the crimes, when Buck fired the now infamous shot that took Monteros down. And he did it while two dozen people looked on, half of them police officers.