The Attorney, which marked the return of Steve Martini's lawyer-sleuth Paul Madriani, was hailed for its "well-observed courtroom maneuverings" (The Christian Science Monitor) and "crisp dialogue and tart observations" (Publishers Weekly). Now Martini delivers the most daunting capital case of Madriani's career.
I notice one of the jurors, a middle-aged guy, taking his time, carefully studying one of the photographs of the victim. The message from prosecutors is clear—Kalista Jordan was an African-American beauty, a woman with a lifetime of opportunities ahead of her. But she was not just some pretty face. She was a professional woman with a Ph.D. in an exotic field of modern science.
In the photo, she is smiling with two girlfriends on a sunny beach. Jordan is wearing a two-piece bathing suit, a sky blue sarong wrapped low over curving hips, dipping into a V beneath her navel where it is tucked. A sculpted bronze thigh escapes through a slit in the sarong on the right side. Someone out of the photograph, a shadow on the sand, is taking the picture.
It is in stark contrast to the medical examiner's postmortem shots. As these make their way through the jury box, they leave a wake of increasingly nauseated expressions like a contagion spreading through the panel. Several of the jurors cast their gazes alternately between the photographs and my client, as if trying to put him in the picture.
In the autopsy photos Jordan's face is swollen almost beyond recognition. The dark purple of asphyxiation is trapped beneath the skin by the thin nylon ligature that is still buried in the flesh around her neck. What is left of the body, only the torso and head, is bloated after nearly a week in salt water. The arms and legs are gone. We could argue sharks, but the medical examiner's report is clear on that point; the victim was surgically dismembered, the legs and arms severed cleanly at the joints, "with apparent skill and medical precision." The prosecutor took pains to dwell on the word medical.
We have argued for two days in chambers over these photographs, which should be admitted and which excluded. For the most part, the state got what it wanted—images of enough violence to support their theory that this was a crime of rage.
Harry Hinds and I are relative newcomers to the legal scene in San Diego, though the firm of Madriani & Hinds has made a name for itself in a short period. We still hold forth in Capital City on occasion, Harry and I traveling north for a trial or a hearing. Two younger associates hold down the fort at that end while Harry and I dig to carve out a presence here. The change in scenery was occasioned by a number of factors, not the least of which was the passing of Nikki, my wife, who died four years ago of cancer.
It was that experience, a long brush with illness, fearing the worst and living in its grip, that caused me to take this case, for my client is a man of science who offered help to another. It is how I got drawn into this thing.
Dr. David Crone is beefy, broad from the shoulders down, built like a retired NFL linebacker past his prime. He is a big man, only an inch or so shorter than I, and fit. At fifty-six, he does not look his age. In shirtsleeves he shows more hair on his arms and chest than the average chimpanzee. Around a pool some might ask who opened the gate and let in the gorilla. The only place devoid of hair is the tonsure at the top of his head where he is beginning to bald. His brows are heavy, and seem to be perpetually migrating to the center of his head as he studies the direction and nuance of the state's arguments. He makes copious notes at counsel table, as if this entire affair were an academic exercise on which he will be tested for a grade at the end. The softest aspect of his face is the two disarming brown eyes, deep set as they are under brows that keep moving like ledges of rock in a quake.
Evan Tannery is a career prosecutor, twenty years with the D.A.'s office, and no man's fool. His case is made up of bits and pieces, any one of which might be dismissed as mere coincidence. But taken together, they add up to trouble for Crone.
Kalista Jordan had filed a sexual harassment claim against our client. From all appearances this had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with constant friction in the office. He may have been harassing her, but it was because she was moving in on his position as director at the center. From all indications, Kalista Jordan knew how to play the game of office politics and she played for keeps.
There were months of acrimony, arguments in the office, a few screaming matches between the two of them. Kalista had made a move on funding for some of Crone's pet projects. What is worse, she succeeded. He had made statements to other colleagues in fits of anger, all of them aimed at Jordan, none of them quite making it to the level of a death threat.
The surgical precision of her dismemberment has been trotted out. The inference is that this was done by someone with experience. Crone, in his medical training, had taken surgical courses. The lack of any alibi, while not pivotal, cuts both ways. The state cannot fix with precision the time of death. For that reason, we cannot provide evidence that our client was unavailable. Worse than that, he has been more than a little vague with Harry and me regarding his whereabouts on the night Jordan was last seen. And finally, there is always the clincher. In this case a damning piece of physical evidence: the nylon cable ties found in his pocket. The problem is that every day is a new surprise.
Tannery is moving at a glacial pace, leaving neither stone nor pebble unturned as he scrapes the ground pushing everything in front of him. Crone is being presented to the jury as if he were the Aristotle Onassis of genetic science. The theory is, Jordan was dazzled by his brain. A woman seduced by gray matter, the power of intellect and a burning ambition to succeed in her career. To this end they have presented my client's world-class academic credentials as if he were an expert at his own trial.
David Crone is a research physician at the university. He heads up a team of scientists and plays a significant role in the human genome project. Some might call it science by press release. The specter of some new medical treatment and the hoopla surrounding it have become the golden pathway to public funding and private grants. Isolating a gene and linking it to a specific disease, coupled with a timely press release, can produce a blip in stock values with an upward curve like Madonna's tits, and can lead a board at a biotech firm to the euphoric equivalent of a corporate climax.
It is here on this field of play that Crone met Kalista Jordan. A recent Ph.D., she held advanced degrees in an exotic area of science I do not profess to understand, molecular electronics. Crone, like a miser guarding information in the Information Age, has grudgingly explained just bits and pieces of their work. Apparently, Jordan was not his pick of the candidates. She came as part of a sizeable corporate grant that allowed him to continue his work in genetics. According to him, Jordan's background made her particularly well suited to computer applications in the study of genetics. Beyond that he says nothing, claiming that patent rights and commercially protected trade secrets are at issue. According to Crone, if we press him too hard in these areas, an entire new level of litigation may spring open in our case. He warns of a wave of trade-secret and patent-infringement suits with business lawyers washing over us, companies that provided grant money and seed financing for his research and who expect a return on their investment. To them, the murder of Kalista Jordan and the fate of my client are mere incidentals to the bottom line in what is shaping up to be a genetic gold rush.
Apparently, Jordan showed sufficient promise in her field to attract the attention of several other universities and a handful of corporations, all of which were vigorously recruiting her at the time of her death. Crone attributes this largely to the combination of her minority status and the fact that she was highly qualified in her field. According to Crone, Jordan would have been a major affirmative-action catch for any of these employers. He had to stay on his toes to keep her, and particularly to keep the grant money that seemed to come with her. He was constantly granting her perks, pay increases and promotions. Crone doesn't complain, but others in the lab have told us that Jordan's demands were frequent and increasingly unreasonable.
The last witness of the day is Carol Hodges. She has begun to light a little fire around the edges of their case.
Hodges came out of the blue, a surprise I suspect that Tannery could not wait to spring for fear that sooner or later we might discover the facts from our own client. He needn't have worried.
"You knew the victim?" says Tannery
"We roomed together for a period."
"And you remained at the university on faculty. Is that correct?"
"A teaching assistant. Graduate fellow," she says.
"Now I draw your attention to the evening of the twenty-third of March. Last year," he says. "Do you recall that date?"
"You have to speak up for the record."
"Do you remember what you were doing about six o'clock that evening?"
"Having dinner," she says. "In the faculty dining room at the university."
"And did you have occasion to see the victim, Kalista Jordan, on that evening."
"What was she doing?"
"Were you eating together?"
"No. Separate tables."
"And what happened that evening?"
"There was an argument."
"With him." She points to our table.
"You mean the defendant, David Crone?"
"Who was he arguing with?"
"What was this argument about?"
"I couldn't hear," she says.
Harry and I are clearly shaken, though we try not to show it. Harry actually manages a yawn that he covers with the back of his hand as this revelation spills out in front of the jury.
The state has managed to shield much of their testimony. There are few witness statements in their files, and most of the victim's friends have been told by the cops that they don't have to talk to us. Accordingly, they have chosen not to.
"Was this a loud argument?"
"Parts of it."
"Who started it?"
She nods. The witness is clearly not comfortable taking on a tenured professor, the academic pecking order being what it is, though Crone's credentials have long since been tarnished.
"Did Dr. Crone shout at her?"
"Did he threaten her?"
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"Did you hear him make any threatening statements toward the victim?"
"As I said, I couldn't hear what they were saying."
"But you did hear shouting?"
She nods. A tangle of hair droops down across her forehead, and she whips it to the side with the back of her hand. "Yes."
"Did he touch her?" asks Tannery. This is clearly the high point for this witness.
"Yes. He put his hands on her."
"He grabbed her by the arm when she tried to walk away."
"She tried to get away from him?"
"At any point did the defendant, David Crone, look as if he might strike the victim?"
"Goes to the witness's perceptions," says Tannery.
"Overruled. I allow the witness to answer."
"Yes. At one point I thought he would hit her."
"Did he strike the victim?" Tannery is not going to leave that one for me to ask.
"When Dr. Crone grabbed her, did the victim appear to be frightened?"
"Overruled," says the judge.
"She wasn't happy," says the witness.
"Did she appear to be scared?"
"I would have been," says Hodges.
"Objection—move to strike."
Before the judge can rule, Hodges says: "I believe she was frightened."
The judge strikes her earlier response, but the last one works for Tannery. He has done his damage.
—Reprinted from The Jury by Steve Martini by permission of Jove, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Steve Martini. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
To keep up-to-date, input your email address, and we will contact you on publication
Please alert me via email when: