The Smoking Gun: Day by Day Through a Shocking Murder Trial with Gerry Spence

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9780743470520: The Smoking Gun: Day by Day Through a Shocking Murder Trial with Gerry Spence

The prosecutor had a photograph that showed defendant Sandy Jones with a smoking gun in her hands. And the prosecutor had an eyewitness who said she saw Sandy Jones shoot the man the instant the photograph was taken.

But did Sandy Jones actually commit murder?

The Smoking Gun is a true story, a murder mystery that takes you inside the actual trial. Famed defense attorney Gerry Spence invites you behind the scenes, into the judge's chambers, and into the conversations that formed the strategies for each day of the trial until the truth is revealed: Whose smoking gun really did the killing?

How does the justice system really work? The Smoking Gun is a searing firsthand indictment of the law and the good old boys who wield its power.

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About the Author:

Gerry Spence is the author of twelve nonfiction books, including the New York Times bestsellers How to Argue and Win Every Time and Give Me Liberty!, and the legal thriller Half Moon and Empty Stars. He has brought his legal insight and expertise to many television and radio shows, including Oprah, 60 Minutes, and Larry King Live. He has never lost a criminal jury trial, and has not lost any trial, criminal or civil, since 1969. Spence is the founder of the nonprofit trial lawyers college and a well-known national television commentator on the justice system. He lives with his wife in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Visit his website at www.gerryspence.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

The Lincoln County prosecutor, a friendly man, shoved the photograph under the noses of anybody who wanted to look. The woman in the photograph, tall and blond, was locked on her target, her mouth pulled askew against the stock of her rifle. Smoke puffed out from the end of the barrel as she fired. Sandy Jones was the woman's name. She'd been charged with murder, and the reporters were scrambling for the story.

Something about a murder case fascinates as well as frightens me. If you lose, the state hauls your client off and locks him up in some dank hole for the rest of his life, or an anonymous state-sanctioned murderer pulls the lever and your client is burned to death in the electric chair or gasps and turns purple and foams at the mouth in the gas chamber. And what happens to the lawyer who defended the poor bastard? If he was worth a damn and cared, a part of him dies along with his client. He drowns in his nightmares. He thinks that if he'd been more competent, prepared better, or called one more witness, maybe he could have saved his client.

A small-time real estate developer named Wilfred Gerttula was dead -- shot cleanly through the chest. Not only that, the prosecutor had an eyewitness to the murder, the dead man's wife, Monica, who said she'd seen Sandy Jones murder her husband, shoot him point-blank with the gun in the photograph. She ought to know, she said. She took the photograph. Then Monica said this Jones woman drove off with her dying husband in her husband's own pickup. It had been a cold-blooded, premeditated killing.

Sandy Jones was thirty-nine years old at the time she was arrested. She hadn't lounged in a bed of roses. Out of high school she'd gone to work in a cannery sorting berries. After that she managed one of those small motels that brags with its flickering neon sign that it's "modern," which means it has running water, sometimes. Sandy saw to all of the maintenance, painted, fixed the leaking faucets, and filled in the chuckholes in the driveway. Earlier a drunk driver ran into her, injuring her back and ribs. She and Mike Sr. had had a stormy marriage. He drank. They separated. He quit drinking. They got together again. And during his comings and goings their two kids, Little Mike and Shawn, were seeded and born.

Big Mike, as the family called him to distinguish him from their young son, Mike Jr., was a broad, muscled man of average height with wavy red hair, a red beard, an outdoor face, and powerful arms. He'd been a fisherman in Alaska, but that was before he'd been hurt working in the woods. After that, to feed his family he fished for salmon in the Siletz River and worked at whatever odd jobs he could find.

When, in the last days of July 1985, Sandy and Little Mike, by then fifteen, were both charged with murder, Mike Jones was like a lot of folks who face the crushing power of the state. He didn't know what to do; he had to find a lawyer to defend both his wife and son, and he had no money. The Joneses never had much. When their bills weren't paid, the phone company shut their phone off, and sometimes the power company shut off the electricity. They lived on a twenty-nine-acre swamp-bottom farm in a rickety, leaky-roofed house that was little more than a shack with a porch. The boundaries of their small, severely overgrazed pasture were marked by a dilapidated fence, the rotted posts leaning, the wire sagging. Derelict car bodies, rusted and in parts, were strewn here and there along with an assortment of other junk and a couple of outbuildings, one of which served as a barn for the kids' pony and the milk cow, and the other as a well house. The bank's mortgage was attached to the place like a cop's chokehold on a suspect.

The dead man, Wilfred Gerttula -- in his fifties, tough, grizzled, and humorless -- had insisted that the road that cut through the Jones property was a public road. Little more than a trail, it crowded within six feet of the corner of the Joneses' bedroom and then meandered steeply up a densely forested mountain through fern and heavy undergrowth to some granite outcroppings the Native Americans called Medicine Rock. After that, the trail snaked through the wet Oregon jungle to the top of the mountain and past a wire gate that marked the Joneses' farthest boundary. There a person could look down the steep canyon side to the river a couple hundred feet below. Beyond the Joneses' gate, the trail puttered along to other lands and eventually led to what Gerttula claimed was his subdivision.

"That's a county road," Gerttula proclaimed. "Always has been. And that woman won't let me or my buyers come through. Stops us cold ever' time." The good old boys of Lincoln County had had some experience with the Jones woman before. She was a troublemaker all right.

But Sandy Jones made her own speech. "The county and nobody else has ever had any right to cross our land. He says he has a subdivision up there? I can show you it was illegally established. Besides, a public road on that unstable ground would give way in the rainy season. It'd be dangerous." Beyond that, the Indians, with whom she held continual counsel, claimed that Medicine Rock was a sacred Indian burial ground. And Sandy Jones was one who was willing to fight for the rights of her Indian friends. "This is America," she declared, "and the good old boys in Lincoln County are not going to make us give up what rightfully belongs to us." Sandy herself was one-eighth Sioux.

There'd been lawsuits brought by Gerttula against the Joneses over the road and countersuits by Sandy Jones. Not satisfied with suing the Gerttulas, she sued the judges and the prosecuting attorney himself. Her first half-dozen attorneys dropped her, mostly because she couldn't pay, but she blindly forged on representing herself.

After the shooting on that muggy July day in 1985, and in panic, Sandy Jones had driven the Gerttula pickup down the mountain to get help for Gerttula, who was doubled up in the seat next to her. He was dead when she parked the truck at the neighbor's house below and ran in to call 911. That had ended the argument between Sandy Jones and Wilfred Gerttula.

It's true I'd often said that a trial lawyer without a good murder case isn't a real trial lawyer. Those who represent large corporations and like to stay sprayed in the perfumed mist of corporate dollars, who won't get down in the pits and get bloodied in the wars where human beings are at stake, are not real trial lawyers. If a trial lawyer won't take on a murder case because he doesn't want to get his hands dirty or because there isn't any money in it, the system fails. It not only fails the accused, it fails the rest of us. Someday when some fair-haired prosecutor with the governor's chair glowing in his mind's eye decides to charge one of us or one of our kids with a crime -- well, that hated, scorned, and damned of the legal profession, the trial lawyer, better be around to see that we get a fair trial, and that if we're innocent, we walk out the courtroom free.

One day in November 1985, I got a letter from a woman named Carol Van Strum. She and her husband were waging their own lonesome battle with the Forest Service. She wrote me that a citizen in Lincoln County, Oregon, had been charged with murder and that the woman's husband, a man named Mike Jones, whom she'd never met, had driven two hours in the cold of night to ask her for help. He had a small girl with him, his daughter, Shawn, about ten. The child was sick with the flu, and the woman put the child to bed while she talked with him. Why Jones had sought her help she didn't know. But from what he told her she thought something was fishy. The cops were holding the man's wife in isolation. The cops had their excuses. Van Strum wrote:

The only person allowed to visit her other than her attorney was her Native American Church minister. Approximately a month before, the minister himself was arrested for blocking the road on the Jones property, booked and released. The police claimed he was infected with hepatitis A. After that even he was barred from visiting Sandy and she's been kept in isolation for four months on the excuse that she's been exposed to the disease. She's received neither medical attention nor blood tests to establish the presence of the hepatitis antibodies. None of the jail staff or police officers involved in the minister's arrest have been similarly quarantined.

When Mike Jones asked the Van Strum woman for help, the only help she could think of was to write to me.

"That's a bunch of bullshit," I said to Eddie Moriarity, my partner of many years. I slammed the letter down. "If you put everybody in isolation who's been exposed to hepatitis, the whole world would have to be cooped up."

After a couple of calls, Eddie reported back. "It's true: the Jones woman's been in jail since July. Four months! The chief judge assigned a guy named Gardner to hear the case. Gardner won't let her even touch her kids."

"They're twisting her for a guilty plea," I said. I'd been defending murder cases for more than three decades, and if I'd learned one thing it was that trials do not seek the truth, nor are they always intended to deliver justice. Trials are wars -- wars that are won more than 90 percent of the time by the state.

"There's not one murder case here, there's two," Eddie said. "The Joneses' fifteen-year-old boy is charged with murder in the juvenile court. The kid was up there when Gerttula was shot. Shawn, the little girl, is cryin' for her mom. Her mom can't make bail. No collateral. Even their chicken house is mortgaged."

I see it in nearly every case. Innocent or not, hold them long enough in some miserable jail, frighten them enough, make them desperate enough, and the state wouldn't have to prove its case. And you have to remember: some charged with murder are innocent. They're usually poor and usually helpless to do much in defense of themselves. Under our Constitution, every person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In truth, most people charged with a crime ...

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