Authors: Michael A Kahn
“It means the court will carefully examine Michael's actions. The key issue is whether he expressed a clear intent to adopt Samantha's son. If so, did he do anything in furtherance of that intent?”
Angela narrowed her eyes. “And did he?”
“We don't know. We're at the beginning of the lawsuit. We haven't taken any depositions, especially Samantha's, and we haven't reviewed the documents. It's too early to say.”
“How does it look so far?”
“We have some problems,” I conceded, “but nothing fatal. We know that Michael signed a prenuptial agreement with the child's mother. In paragraph seven of the document he agreed to adopt her son. We know that he had an attorney prepare the necessary adoption papers. He also had an attorney prepare new wills for him and for Samantha. Although the wills were never signed, the plaintiff's lawyer claims that Michael reviewed and approved his draft two days before his death. The new will adds Trent to the list of beneficiaries and describes him as an adopted son.” I paused. “Will the court find that to be enough evidence?” I shrugged. “It's too early to tell.”
“He barely knew that child,” Angela said quietly, her voice laced with frustration.
I reached across the table and laid my hand on top of hers. “We're going to fight it, Angela. We'll have plenty to say by the time of trial.”
She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. After a moment, she stood up and moved to the window. Pushing the curtain back, she peered out.
She turned to me. “If that tramp wins, I will have Michael Junior and Sonya file their own Son of Sam claims. They are Michael's children, too. His only
children.” She nodded decisively. “I'll bet that lawyer never considered that.”
He didn't need to
, I thought to myself. The Missouri legislature already had. The Son of Sam law barred any claim by a family member of the victim who also happened to be a family member of the killer. But I said nothing. No need to further demoralize my client this early in the case.
Instead, I explained our various defenses. She was interested to hear about the constitutional challenge to the statute, which would be led by the New York law firm representing her publisher. If we could convince the court to throw out the statute as an abridgment of the freedom of speech, the case would implode and we'd never have to worry about equitable adoption or our other defenses. She listened attentively, asking questions along the way.
When I finished explaining the legal issues, I went over a few more items regarding pretrial matters, including timing issues and the like. Then I had the deputy warden come in so that we could work out a confidential but efficient way for me to communicate with Angela by mail, phone, and faxâessential procedures given that St. Louis was a four-hour drive from Chillicothe.
I checked my watch after the deputy warden departed. We still had a few minutes before I had to drive back to Columbia for Benny. I had one more topic to broach. I wasn't quite sure how to begin, or where to go once we started.
Angela must have sensed it. “What is it, Rachel?”
I gazed at her for a moment. “I reviewed the file.”
“Your case. Everything. Court transcripts, pretrial motions, homicide investigation. Whatever I could get my hands on.”
She frowned. “Why?”
“Good question.” I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms over my chest. “I'm not sure, Angela. I started with the trial transcript. Initially, I suppose I was looking for any stray evidence on the equitable adoption issue.” I shrugged. “Maybe to see whether Samantha said anything back then about Michael's relationship with her sonâback before her lawyer concocted this adoption theory.”
“And did she?”
I shook my head. “Not really. Oh, she said he loved to play with Trent, took him fishing once, gave him a tricycle for Christmasâthat sort of thing.”
“And,” Angela said.
“And I saw other things.”
“I'm not a criminal lawyer, Angela, but over the years I've had to look through a few homicide files. Yours was unusual.”
She leaned forward, curious. “How so?”
I paused, searching for the right words. “There were loose ends.”
“Such as the murder weapon. It's not the sort of weapon you'd expect a housewife to use.”
“The serial number was filed off. The gun was untraceable. It's the kind you'd normally expect to find with a professional hit, the kind you'd buy from an illegal gun dealer.”
She rubbed her chin, trying to remember. “I think they asked me where I bought it.”
“They did. It's in the arrest report. You told them you'd never owned a gun.”
She nodded. “That's true.”
“So where'd you get it?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I have no idea.”
I studied her for a moment. “Angela, if you wanted to buy that kind of gun, where would you go?”
“I have no idea.”
“Neither did the police.” I leaned forward. “That's my point. It was a loose end. The police were never asked to come up with an answer because it was never an issue at trial. Maybe there's a simple explanation for the gun, but it's certainly nowhere in the file.”
Angela sighed and shook her head. “I supposed I blacked that part out, too.”
After a moment, she asked, “Was that the only loose end?”
I shook my head. “How did you get into his house?”
She frowned, trying to remember. “Did I ring the doorbell?”
“Not likely. He was shot coming out of the shower. He wouldn't have let you in with a gun in your hand and then gone back in the bedroom, gotten undressed, and taken a shower.”
“Maybe the gun was in my purse? Maybe the door was open?
“Maybe. The housekeeper said the door was locked when she arrived. It was the kind that automatically locks when you close it.”
“Maybe I had a key.”
She shook her head in frustration. “I don't remember.”
“Why would you have a key? The two of you had just finished a bitter divorce. There'd be no reason for him to give you a key.”
“Maybe he gave the children a key.”
She shrugged. “I don't know.”
“I assume you don't know how to pick a lock.”
She smiled. “No.”
“So how did you get in?”
“What did the police say?”
“Nothing. It's another loose end.”
She stared at the table, frowning. After a moment, she looked up at me. “Are there other loose ends?”
“Such as John.”
John had been her alibiâher embarrassingly weak alibi. She claimed that on the night of the murder she had gone out for a drink with a nice young man named John, last name unknown, and woke up the next morning in Michael Green's bedroom with no idea of how she got there. The police found no trace of the mysterious John.
“In your police interview,” I continued, “you said that you'd known John for a couple of weeks, that he used to come visit his mother in the hospital, right?”
“You said that you felt sorry for him. That the two of you became friends. That you used to have lunch together in the hospital cafeteria on the days you volunteered at the gift shop, right?”
“So where is he?” I asked. “And
Angela looked down at the table. “They think I made him up.” Her voice was soft, muffled.
She stared down at the table. When she finally looked up, her eyes were moist. “I wish I knew the answer to that, Rachel. Lord, I do. When I look back on those days, everything seems unreal, like I was living inside a dream.” She gave me a sad smile. “More like a nightmare. I can't tell for sure what part was real and what part was imaginary. I believe John was real. I have a memory of the things we used to talk about at the hospital. I can close my eyes and see that young man.”
She paused, closing her eyes. I waited. She opened them. In a discouraged voice she said, “I believe John was real.”
“The police didn't.”
She said nothing.
“But they didn't bother tying up the loose end,” I said.
She gave me a puzzled look. “How would they do that?”
“By checking the hospital records. It couldn't have been that difficult to identify every female patient between the ages of, say, forty and seventy who'd been in the hospital for at least the two weeks preceding the killing. Once they had that list, they could quickly check whether any of those women had an adult son named John.” I shook my head. “But they didn't bother to.”
Because of your lawyer's theory of the case
, I wanted to say. Instead, I said, “Because they thought that they already had enough evidence.”
She sighed. “They were right.”
I obsessed over those loose ends on the drive back. After I had spent close to two hours alone with Angela Green, her guilt appeared to be even more questionable than before. Of course, eight years had passed since that appalling night, and much had changed in her life since then. But even making allowance for that, the Angela Green I'd met today seemed incapable of gunning down her ex-husband, slicing off his penis with a piece of broken glass, and hurling the severed thing against the wall.
I mulled it over as I drove.
Angela hadn't cleared up any issues, but she wasn't the best person to ask about the loose ends. The decision whether to exploit them at the criminal trial had been a matter of trial strategy, and that decision fell within the bailiwick of Angela's criminal attorney, Maria Fallaci. Maria was an experienced defenderâa former assistant U.S. attorney who'd been defending capital murder cases for years. Maria had surely spotted the same loose ends and evaluated their potential. That evaluation had led her to a different trial strategy, namely, to make the focus of her defense the “battered wife” syndrome. That tactical decision landed Maria on the cover of
. Unfortunately, it landed her client in jail.
I thought back again to my own memories of the trial. As the television and newspaper reporters told us over and over during the weeks leading up to the jury selection, the marriage had been one of those Age of Aquarius things. Michael and Angela met in Psychology 101 their freshman year at the University of Missouri in Columbia. It was love at first sight for what seemed a perfect couple for the Woodstock generation. Michael Green was white. Angela White was black. He had shoulder-length brown hair and a Fu Manchu. She had a wild Afro. They both wore tie-dyed T-shirts and faded bell bottoms. As for so many of his generation, the sixties look was not a flattering one for Michael: photographs of him from that era invariably elicited laughter from those who saw them decades later. He looked like a long-haired, mustachioed double for Sonny Bono from the old Sonny and Cher days. By contrast, the photos of Angela from that era depict a stunning African princess: high cheekbones, strong eyes, noble forehead, full lips, ebony skin.
During the summer after their graduation, Angela White turned Green when they exchanged wedding vows. That fall, Michael started law school and Angela took a job as a substitute teacher in the St. Louis public school system. The early years were lean ones for the young couple, made even leaner with the birth of Michael junior during Michael's final year of school. Their tiny apartment became tinier when Sonya arrived two years later. The young family struggled as Michael tried to establish a law practice.
Hard work and perseverance eventually paid off. The Law Offices of Michael Green moved out of the storefront along a seedy stretch of South Grand Avenue and became Green and Associates in an upper floor of the Pierre Laclede Building in Clayton. A few years later, the firm's name became Green and Sanders after Michael's law school classmate Elliot Sanders joined. Elliot's real estate work helped pay the light bills while freeing Michael to focus on his plaintiffs' class action work. The two partners were confident that it was only a matter of time before Michael hit big casino. They were right, although Elliot didn't live to see it happen. A heart attack killed him three months before the court approved the
settlement and awarded Michael Green $1,250,000 in fees. The
St. Louis Business Journal
ran his photo beneath the headline: GREENâTHE COLOR OF MONEY.
Michael and Angela moved their family to an eight-bedroom English Tudor on an acre of prime real estate in the snobby suburb of Frontenac. Michael's law firm moved to elegant new quarters in the Interco Tower overlooking the Ritz-Carlton. Michael traded in his battered Toyota for a silver Porsche with a vanity plate that read FRCP 23, a reference to the federal rule of civil procedure that governs class actions. Gradually, though, his court appearances became less frequent as he devoted his time to the real estate clients he'd inherited from his dead partner. Life was good. He even found himself occasionally voting Republican. After all, he told himself, someone had to get the damn deficit under control.
Like so many other perfect couples of their generation, it was only a matter of time. And as any good lawyer knows, timing is everything. For Michael, the right time came two months after his twenty-sixth wedding anniversary. He chose a brilliant Sunday afternoon in September. Michael junior had graduated from Dartmouth and was now working at an investment banking firm in Chicago. Sonya was in her junior year at Northwestern University.
As Maria Fallaci described the scene in her opening statement to the jury, there were fluffy white clouds against a dazzling blue sky when Michael Green stepped out onto the back patio and paused to take a sip of single-malt Scotch from his crystal whisky glass. He strolled down the stairs to the elegant flower garden near the pool, where his wife was on her knees dividing and replanting perennials. Angela looked up with an uncertain smile, a sheen of perspiration on her forehead and upper lip. She shaded her eyes from the sun and listened in disbelief as her husband announced in that matter-of-fact way of his that he was in love with another woman and was moving out in the morning. With the cruel coincidence that novelists and other nasty gossips relish, the object of Michael Green's passion was exactly the same age as his marriage. Samantha Cummings had been born on their wedding day twenty-six years ago.
Her friends called her Sam, and she was as lovely and lissome and honey-blond as any forty-eight-year-old housewife could fear. Sam operated the 309 Gallery, an art gallery in the trendy Central West End. Best of all, as Michael bragged to his friends, Sam made him feel young again.
Gets me hard as a rock
, he would confide with a wink,
and tastes as good as she looks
. He even got a kick out of her three-year-old son Trent, who was the product of Samantha's brief affair with a man who'd never bothered to see the boy after he was born and hadn't made a child-support payment in two years.
Little kid's a regular pistol
, Michael told his friends.
Give me a chance to try this dad thing againâmaybe get the hang of it this time around
Angela was devastated. Although at first she seemed to be sleepwalking through the wreckage of her marriage, once the divorce proceedings began to crank up, her outrage did as well. The final predivorce mediation session ended when she grabbed a letter opener off her lawyer's desk and tried to attack Michael.
“It was frightening,” Michael's lawyer would later testify at her criminal trial. “I dragged Michael out of there and warned him, âYou better watch out. That woman wants you dead.'”
Two weeks after the letter-opener incident, Angela dumped an entire pitcher of margaritas over Michael Green's head at a glitzy fund-raiser for the St. Louis Zoo. Two security guards hauled her off screeching and sobbing. No charges were pressed.
The divorce decree was entered in due course more than a year later, officially dissolving the marriage of Michael and Angela Green on the fourteenth of March. Wedding invitations went out the following week. The early May ceremony promised to be a spectacular event staged in the Japanese Rock Garden at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. The ornate, gold-foil invitations beckoned the recipients to “join Michael and Samantha as they celebrate a fusion of souls almost too good to be true.” Alas, it proved just that. Two weeks before the blessed event, the cleaning woman entered the master bedroom at Michael Green's place and found him facedown on the carpet near the bathroom, very naked and very dead. He'd been shot twiceâonce in the abdomen, once in the back of the headâthe first shot apparently fired as he came out of the bathroom from the shower, the second after he was on the carpet. There was a bath towel crumpled on the carpet near his corpse.
Later that morning, when the medical examiner turned the body over, there was an audible gasp among the investigators in the bedroom, followed immediately by the sounds of one of them vomiting onto the carpet. Michael's penis was missing. A homicide detective discovered it minutes later behind the nightstand and directly beneath the red impact splatter midway up the wall.
In retrospect, as Professor Alan Dershowitz emphasized in his first, sixth, eleventh, and fourteenth appearances on Geraldo's CNBC show during the murder trial, Angela should have refused to say anything when the homicide detectives arrived at her house that evening and recited the
warnings. She should have insisted upon her right to speak to an attorney. Instead, a flustered Angela Green told the nice detectives that she'd been home alone the entire night of the killing. When the nice detectives asked her to explain why her cellular phone was at the crime scene, she stammered out a new storyâthe one about the young man named John and waking up the next morning in her ex-husband's bedroom and panicking and fleeing. Unsure of what to do, she explained to the nice detectives, she'd gone home and done nothing. The nice detectives nodded grimly and snapped on the handcuffs.
By any measure, the evidence had been overwhelming. In addition to her cell phone under the bed, her fingerprints were all over the bedroom. More important, they were on the murder weapon, which was found in a bush at the end of the block. As the final incriminating touch, there was the piece of broken glass that forensics identified as the cutting tool used on Michael's penis. The broken glass had come from the framed portrait of Samantha Cummings, which had been sitting on the victim's nightstand until someone slammed it against the wall in what the prosecutor later told the jury was a fit of rage. Blood tests revealed that Michael's wasn't the only blood on the broken glass. Along two of the sharp edges were smears of Angela's blood. Angela was right-handed, and sure enough, there were cuts precisely where you'd expect to find them along her right palm and thumb and on the inner sides of two fingers. In short, there was enough incriminating evidence to make an attorney consider an alternative defense.
And thus I was perhaps too hard on Maria Fallaci. She no doubt had compelling reasons for her trial strategyâor at least that's what I'd been telling myself for the past week. She was a brilliant and successful criminal defense attorney, albeit a bit too flashy for my taste.
Ironically, she now was a defendant, along with her former client, in the Son of Sam case. The other defendants were her publisher, Angela's publisher, and the motion picture studio that had optioned Angela's book. All defense counsel in the case were meeting in Chicago the day after tomorrow. The meeting would be taking place three blocks from Maria's office. She'd agreed to meet me before that meeting. I needed to find out why she'd elected not to let the jury know about the loose ends.