Dear Brookline Booksmith,

Thanks so much for inviting me to visit your wonderful independent bookstore to read and do a Q&A with fellow mystery novelist Peter Swanson. During the 1990s every time I published a Matt Jacob Novel, you invited me to speak. On top of which, after twenty years and my latest book about Matt Jacob (Ties That Blind), you invited me back again. I appreciate your generosity and love your store. I had intended to put up pictures and comments until I realized this column belonged to Patriots’ Day and not my personal accomplishments. (For those of you who might want to see a couple pictures, please visit my Facebook Authors page and, if so inclined, “like” the page.)

Patriots’ Day is a Massachusetts and Maine holiday commemorating the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord. Historically it had been celebrated on April 19th, but in 1969 it was changed to the third Monday of every April. This year both days coincide. (Perhaps an omen given the upcoming sentencing trial of the Boston Marathon bomber.)

I used to really enjoy the holiday. For a ton of years my friend Ed and I would go to Fenway Park and watch the Red Sox, who traditionally began their game at 11 AM. We’d hang there until around the 7th inning, (those days the cost for tickets made leaving early reasonable) then walk to our favorite vantage point to cheer on the Boston Marathon runners as they passed by.

I don’t know why, or even when, we stopped our annual pilgrimage. Long enough ago that I’d even stopped watching the winners cross the finish line on TV.

Patriots’ Day 2013 burst my complacency when two bombs exploded close to the Marathon’s finish line, killing at least three, and injuring or maiming hundreds more. Soon after, the Boston Police and Federal Agents linked the horror to the shooting of an M.I.T. security guard and the theft of an S.U.V., which was eventually spotted in Watertown, a city nearby Boston.

Police from Boston and neighboring towns, along with Federal Agents, converged upon the town and shot one of the suspects who was then killed when his brother (the other suspect) inadvertently ran him over in his attempt to escape. Eventually, this second suspect was seen in a boat placed in a yard behind a Watertown resident who informed the authorities.

A massive gunfight ensued in which the authorities fired over three hundred rounds, despite which the suspect lived, brought to a Federal trial, and recently (April 8th) the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was found guilty of 30 counts, including 17 that carry the death penalty.

In a previous column I wrote and condemned the abrogation of civil liberties imposed upon Boston and its surrounding towns during the entire manhunt. No need to rehash the matter, other than to say that my post found very few people who agreed with my positions.

I expect the same today as I advocate against the death penalty for Tsarnaev.

During the trial, prosecutors relentlessly used the death of eight-year-old Martin Richard (the youngest of those who died) to impress upon the jury the heinous and depraved nature of Tsarnaev’s actions—including submitting Martin’s burnt clothes into evidence. But this 17th of April, Martin’s parents wrote a public letter requesting that the Feds take the death penalty off the table in exchange for life imprisonment without parole and the relinquishment of all the defendant’s appeals. While I laud the humanity of that letter and fully appreciate their desire for “closure,” my reasons are quite different.

I believe the death penalty is nothing less than state sanctioned murder. And, in this particular situation, the “state” isn’t Massachusetts (a NO DEATH PENALTY STATE by law) but the federal government that overrode state law and tried Tsarnaev under federal laws which allow the possibility of execution.

Let me be absolutely clear. What the Tsarnaev brothers did was totally, reprehensible, unconscionable, and, to me, virtually incomprehensible. I was, and continue to be, repulsed by their actions, which make me stomach sick.

But so do hangings, electrocutions, firing squads, and lethal injections—no matter who does the deed, be it an individual, group, gang, or government.

I am in no way, shape, or form a religious person. But I do adhere to Thou Shalt Not Kill and no amount of lawyering or any circumstance other than defense of self, family, or another person (which even the “god” who said the above permits) can convince me that the words Thou Shalt Not Kill are anything other than what they mean. Killing an innocent or a guilty is flat out murder—whatever suit you dress it in.

For those who legitimately question the cost of housing and feeding murderers, in a recent conversation with a judge I was informed that studies have indicated the taxpayer’s share of the costs of appeals and “stays” of state sanctioned murder are even greater. (To say nothing about our burgeoning “for profit” prisons.)

And I haven’t even delved into the issue of whether a judge or jury gets it wrong—as Project Innocence has shown time and time again.

On this Patriots’ Day I think it important to really ask what kind of country we want to be patriots of.


Typically this column consists of about 1000 words on topics I think are important or interesting. This week that’s not going to be the case. I was asked by Zena Denise Crenshaw, if I’d be willing to be interviewed about jury selection on a radio show called Crimes of the Century Radio By Black Talk Media Project which is part of Black Talk Radio Network.

Although I’ve haven’t done jury selections during the past two years, Zena (who is the program’s primary host) believed I’d have something to contribute to their series so I agreed. The show aired Thursday, November 22nd and was called The Tricky Business of Selecting and Winning over Juries.

The interview can be heard this week as a podcast at: on the right hand side of the page. The media player on that page gives a running time so if you want to stop then return to the program you’ll be able to pick up where you left off—if you feel like continuing to listen.

If you can’t get to it this week the interview will still be able to be heard at and dated 11/22/13. This site also gives you the option of using Itunes which also has a running time indicator.

Despite too many “uhhs” and “ahhs,” I managed to stay pretty coherent. So, if you do tune in, thanks for your time.



When I started representing poor people accused of crimes, I wrote some of my experiences in emails to my mother.  Much of what happened back then would not happen now.  I couldn’t buy cigarettes for a client in the lock-up for example.  But much remains the same.  Like how little we have to offer people in need.  Here is one of the stories I told my mother.

A girl was charged with “common night-walking.”  I say “girl” for a reason.  She didn’t look much older than 14 despite her Florida “identification card” which listed her age as 17– an adult in the eyes of the law.  She had been arrested several times in the same area during a short span of time and, on this occasion, I was appointed her attorney.  I went to see her in the lockup.  The girl wore clothing suited to a warmer climate.  Her silver bra top and tight matching mini required repeated adjustments to cover what they could of her pale skin.  Her stunning clear plastic platform shoes brought her from the height of an average 12-year-old to a stratum reserved for fashion models.  She was lonely and crying, her stringy blond hair falling in her face, wet with tears.  She was mistrustful and reluctant to share her story with me, but her unmistakable accent helped me to get her talking about growing up in Texas. (I lived there for part of my life.)  She had little family to speak of and had come from Texas through Louisiana and Florida with a man she called “Poppy.”

When I later went looking for Poppy in the courtroom, I found him to be about 30, with a beeper, a cell phone and a pending criminal charge.  This was her “only friend in the world.”  I suspect he was the only person she knew in Massachusetts, other than perhaps, the motel desk clerk where they’d been “staying.”

I tried to imagine what it must be like for a teenager alone in a strange place, locked up, without much identification, no bank accounts, credit cards, and not even a sweater to throw over her shoulders.  The tears that fell on my hand as I reached through the bars to pat her arm were warm, and I can still remember how soft they felt.

She was brought into the courtroom before I was ready.  I had intended to get her covered up before she had to walk past the scrutiny of the judge, a prim woman whose contempt for those who sell their bodies was always evident.  Unfortunately, the court officers traipsed the girl in front of the counsel tables, the clerk and, of course, the judge while wearing only her silver ensemble and platforms.  The outfit even got the attention of a dozing septuagenarian lawyer because the girl’s demonstration of her wardrobe’s shortcomings – lifting up (the top) and pulling down (the skirt) – caused her handcuffs to jingle alarmingly.

The court’s business came to a halt and the regular thrum fell quiet. The jingling of handcuffs and leg shackles and her occasional wet sniffles were the only sounds.  The judge stared, her head slowly turning to follow the girl’s halting progress, her eyes strafing the girl’s body.  She looked like she had just swallowed a bad clam.  Mercifully, the girl was oblivious.

I hurried to meet her in the jury box.  She had goose bumps from the courtroom’s chill.  I removed my suit jacket and draped it over her shoulders.  She thanked me, wiping snot from her nose with the back of her hand.

The judge did not want to release the girl.  She did not want the girl to be with Poppy.  She wanted me to schedule the case for one day, and then advance the case to get the girl in on a day when Poppy wouldn’t know she was there.  I argued for her release. Denied; previously posted bail now forfeited.  I got a short date, thinking that Poppy would likely learn of it by a collect phone call.  During the morning recess, the prosecutor asked me if I would be throwing that suit jacket away, or at least dry cleaning it.  Neither had occurred to me, and, while putting it back on, I saw his look of disgust.

Before her next court date, I made dozens of phone calls, looking for a place for the girl to go if released. She did not qualify for a battered woman’s shelter, she did not qualify for drug treatment, she was too young for some of the programs, and there were no beds in another.  I pleaded and a generous woman at a medical clinic in Somerville said she would deem my client in need of treatment and admit her, but it could only be for one night.  My client said she really just wanted to go back to Texas, so I started researching the cost of a bus ticket.

At the next court date, I argued for the release of the girl and the return of her bail money.  I pointed out that with the return of her bail, she would be able to buy a bus ticket and have enough left over for incidentals on the trip south.  The judge wanted to know if the girl had anything else to wear if she was released.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?  I requested a second call, asked my client her size, ran home and pulled out an old suit, a silk top and a pair of stretch pants.  I worried that my client wouldn’t accept what I selected, so I stopped at Marshall’s on the way back to court.  I bought her some underwear, another top, and a pair of flat heeled, soft Italian leather pink shoes. They were $8.00.  Back at the courthouse, I dressed my client in my pastel lemon-colored suit, white silk blouse and flats. As predicted, she decried the clothes as “not sexy enough.” But she was warm looking and presentable.

We resolved the girl’s case favorably with a return of her bail money, but the judge insisted I take her to the bus station.  She cautioned me to keep my eyes peeled for Poppy who might appear and do me “some harm.”

After cashing her bail check, we walked to the bus station together.  The girl kept insisting she was fine and I could leave her alone.  I told her I was following the judge’s orders. Then she insisted I return her clear platforms and silver ensemble.  I was disappointed – I was looking forward to trying on those shoes!  Outside the bus station, she merrily walked away from me in my old suit with a pocket full of cash and a plastic shopping bag of clothes.

I don’t know if I made a difference in her life.  I don’t even know if she got on a bus.  I remember hoping that someone else would do her a kindness and that she would be grateful for it.  What I do know is I really wanted those shoes.