Confession is good for the soul, but it could mean death to an ambitious young lawyer.
Assistant DA Holt Douglas has made a career of getting confessions from criminals. With a confession in hand, he knows a guilty plea is soon to follow.
In the midst of professional success, Holt is haunted by a secret—a lie he buried in the grave of his best friend. Holt’s crime is hidden from all eyes—family, friends, police, and his soon-to-be fiancé.
But the truth has a way of coming back to life.
With obsessive prosecutorial zeal, Holt reopens a cold case involving the death of the town’s wealthiest citizen. The man’s death was ruled a suicide, but Holt suspects murder. Facing fierce opposition, he is determined to expose the killer. Holt slowly begins to unravel the facts.
And comes face-to-face with his own guilty conscience.
With his job, his relationship with the woman he loves, and his future at risk, Holt skirts the boundary between truth and lies, confession
and hypocrisy, redemption and ruin. Can he survive long enough to finally make the right choice?
“Readers will find plenty to love about this suspenseful novel as they watch its appealing main character juggle personal, professional, and spiritual crisis with a combination of vulnerability and strength.” —CBA Retailers and Resources, regarding The Living Room
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|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
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By ROBERT WHITLOW
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Robert Whitlow
All rights reserved.
Ten Years Later
Patricia "Trish" Carmichael checked her face in the mirror before entering the courtroom. The regulation khaki shirt and dark brown pants of her deputy sheriff's uniform were unbelievably dull, but she did what she could with the part of her appearance under her control—from the neck up. She brushed her long blond hair, applied a touch more lipstick than she normally wore during the day, and followed that with an extra layer of slightly iridescent shadow above her blue eyes. Coworkers who saw her wearing a dress when she was off duty frequently did a double take.
Trish's primary job was tracking down deadbeat fathers who failed or refused to pay child support. Malcolm Callaway was more than a deadbeat dad. He was a deadbeat dad who beat his wife. Trish had worked closely with Holt Douglas, the handsome young assistant district attorney, in preparing the case for trial. Holt rocked back in his chair as she entered the courtroom. Tall as a model, Trish walked down the center aisle.
"How's it going?" she asked, flashing a smile.
"The jury is deliberating," Holt responded. "If we don't get a verdict tonight, the judge is going to bring them back early tomorrow, which will mean postponement of your other cases for two weeks."
Trish glanced at the closed door of the jury room. "I wanted to hear the closing arguments."
"You didn't miss much. Clare Dixon did a decent job, especially considering what she had to work with. But I can't imagine a jury with more women than men letting Malcolm walk. Of the four counts, the only one that worries me is count three. That's the one in which Amanda started the fight by trying to hit him with a baseball bat. She missed with the bat; he didn't miss with his fist."
"It was your closing argument I wanted to hear," Trish said, then immediately felt her face flush. "I mean, I got to watch you a couple of months ago in the case against the woman charged with stealing from all those old people in the nursing home. You did a great job."
"I had a confession in that case," Holt said and shrugged. "That always makes it easier. This one reminds me of the opening line from a novel I read in college: 'All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.'"
"Anna Karenina by Tolstoy," Trish responded immediately.
"Yeah," Holt said in surprise.
"It was a question on Jeopardy last night. My mother and I watch it after I get home from work. There was a category on the show about famous lines from Russian literature."
Trish, who had been an honor student at Paxton High School, went on to attend the local community college and earned a two-year degree in criminal justice before joining the sheriff's department. She'd heard of Tolstoy, but her taste in reading ran more to Christian romance than classic literature.
Clare Dixon returned to the courtroom. Without acknowledging Trish's presence, the petite defense lawyer with short dark hair dropped a photograph of Amanda's bruised face on the table in front of Holt.
"You can keep this," she said. "He'll do it."
"Take the plea deal?" Holt asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Yeah, what he heard in court today has been eating away at him while he's been cooped up in the back for the past few hours. He's afraid of the jury."
"Are you sure?"
"I asked him three times, but I guess we won't know for sure until Judge Lomax puts the questions to him."
"Okay. Let's do it. Do you want to notify the judge?"
Clare left. Holt shook his head.
"I didn't know this could happen," Trish said. "I thought once the case went to the jury, all deals were off the table."
"Not necessarily. I could have withdrawn the offer, but Ralph told me not to. He's all about statistics. In his book, a plea is as good as a conviction."
Judge Clarence Lomax, the first African American superior court judge in the history of the Coosawattee Judicial Circuit, reentered the courtroom. Trish stepped back and sat in the front row.
"Bring in the defendant," the judge said to the bailiff.
When Malcolm Callaway returned, the cocky demeanor Trish had seen in the defendant when the day began was gone. He'd been a cruel dictator of the quarter acre of scraggly land on which his mobile home sat, but the merciless legal blows Holt landed throughout the day had taken their toll. Malcolm now looked like a cur dog that had been kept on a short chain for a month. He joined the lawyers in front of Judge Lomax, who spoke directly to him.
"Ms. Dixon tells me you want to change your plea to guilty. Is that correct?"
Malcolm shuffled his feet and stared down at the floor.
"Mr. Callaway, if you don't want to change your plea, then I'll send you back to the holding cell while we continue to wait for the jury to deliberate."
"Nah, I'm a-goin' to take their deal."
"What is the plea agreement?" the judge asked Holt.
"If the defendant pleads guilty to count one of the indictment, the state will ask the court to impose a sentence of five years to serve, followed by five on probation. The remaining charges will be dropped."
"Have you discussed this with Ms. Dixon?" the judge asked Malcolm.
"Yeah. And she promised me if'n I get convicted, I might spend a lot longer locked up."
"If you plead guilty, you will lose your right for the jury to decide the case," the judge said.
"That's what the lawyer told me."
"Other than the plea agreement outlined by Mr. Douglas, have you been promised anything else to change your plea?"
"Not that I know 'bout."
The judge picked up the indictment. "Are you in fact guilty of count one, which alleges that on or about January 25 of this year you struck Amanda Callaway on and about the face and chest with your fists and put her in apprehension of further serious bodily injury by throwing a cement block at her head?"
"She took a swing at me first with a bat."
"I heard your testimony to the jury," the judge said.
Malcolm didn't respond. Trish saw the defendant clenching his fists. The judge continued.
"Mr. Callaway, if you do not believe you are guilty of count one, I will not accept your change in plea."
"Okay, okay. I'll say it happened thataway."
"Have you been coerced or pressured into entering this guilty plea?"
"What do you mean?"
"Is someone making you plead guilty, or is it your own decision?"
"I'm the one who will have to do the time."
The judge repeated the question.
"Nah, the lawyer told me it was up to me."
"Do you realize I do not have to accept the state's recommendation as to sentence?"
Even though she'd witnessed the entry of guilty pleas many times, Trish always tensed during this part of the litany.
"I don't have to go along with the five years to serve followed by five years on probation—" Judge Lomax explained.
"Then I ain't gonna do it!" Malcolm interrupted and looked at Clare as if she'd been the one who tried to hit him with a baseball bat.
The judge continued smoothly. "However, having heard the evidence, I will accept the state's recommendation for sentence upon a change in plea to guilty without the necessity of a presentence investigation."
Malcolm responded with a puzzled look.
"The judge is going to approve the plea agreement," Clare said.
"Is that so?" Malcolm asked the judge.
"Okay. I guess I'll do it."
Malcolm's shoulders slumped as the judge completed the rest of the formalities related to accepting a guilty plea.
"I hereby sentence you to serve five years in the Georgia penitentiary, followed by five years on probation." The judge then turned to the bailiff. "Please take the defendant into custody and notify the sheriff's office to send a patrol car to pick him up."
The bailiff led Malcolm out of the courtroom.
"Mr. Douglas, where is the complainant?" the judge asked Holt.
"With her family in the break room."
"Notify them, and we'll bring in the jury."
"Your Honor, I can get the family." Trish spoke up from her position behind the railing.
"That would be appreciated, Deputy Carmichael," the judge replied.
* * *
The Ashley County courthouse was built in the 1920s when farming was the sputtering economic engine for the local area. The ravages caused by Sherman's scorched-earth march to the sea during the Civil War were still unhealed when the Great Depression piled on another layer of devastation. Nevertheless, the two-story redbrick building had a measure of charm that came from surviving for almost a hundred years.
The broad wooden steps creaked beneath Trish's feet as she went downstairs to the basement. The break room was a windowless space with stark white walls. There were two vending machines and a single drink machine against one wall. A microwave and coffeemaker sat on a small table beneath a sign that warned "For Official Use Only." Amanda and five members of her family were seated around a rectangular table with a plastic laminated top. They had the room to themselves. Trish remained in the doorway. Her time with Amanda's family had increased her sympathy for the battered wife.
"Judge Lomax wants you to come upstairs," she said.
"Has the jury done made up their minds?" Amanda asked, clasping her hands together in front of her.
"No. Your husband decided to plead guilty."
"What?" Amanda's father asked.
"Mr. Douglas and the judge will explain everything to you," Trish said.
"Is Malcolm gonna get sent off to jail?" Amanda continued anxiously.
"No!" Amanda wailed. "If he ain't locked up forever, he's gonna kill me as soon as he gets out! He told me so hisself!"
Amanda's father stood up angrily. "My youngun didn't go through all this to have that sorry—"
"Stop it, Elmer," Amanda's mother interrupted.
"Is he a-goin' to jail?" her father insisted.
Trish hesitated. "Yes, but I can't say anything else about it."
Without waiting for another verbal salvo, she turned and rapidly climbed the stairs two steps at a time. Holt needed to be warned about the storm following in her wake.CHAPTER 2
Trish reentered the courtroom as the jury was filing into the jury box. She rushed up to Holt, who was standing behind the prosecution table.
"Amanda and her family are really upset," she said, slightly out of breath.
"Because Malcolm isn't going to get locked up for life."
"What did you tell them? They should have heard about the sentence from me or the judge."
"I know. No, I didn't. I mean, all I said was—"
The back door of the courtroom flew open, and Amanda's family stormed in. Holt left Trish and met them halfway down the aisle. Trish slipped down the bench until she was close to the jury box. The jurors had puzzled looks on their faces and were whispering to one another. Holt remained in the aisle. One of Amanda's brothers was talking to him and gesturing angrily.
"Mr. Douglas!" the judge called out. "I'm ready to proceed."
"Yes, Your Honor."
Holt made one more comment to the family and then put his index finger to his lips. The sign might work with kindergartners, but Trish doubted its effect on Amanda's kinfolk.
"Where's Malcolm at?" one of Amanda's brothers asked in a loud voice.
"Sir, please sit down," Judge Lomax said.
"Wait, this here is about my daughter!" Amanda's father jumped to his feet. "And I ain't gonna let anything happen—"
Judge Lomax banged the gavel on the bench. "If you say anything else without my permission, I'll have you ejected from the courtroom!"
The men muttered as they sat down on the wooden benches. Amanda looked to be on the verge of tears. After a final stern glance in the direction of the family, Judge Lomax addressed the jury.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the defendant has entered a guilty plea, which relieves you of any further need to deliberate the case. The clerk's office is closed, so the checks for your service will be mailed to the address you provided—"
A middle-aged man wearing a dark suit and sitting in the front row of the jury box raised his hand. The judge paused.
"Your Honor, we reached a verdict in the case. We were just waiting for the bailiff to bring us back into the courtroom to let you know."
Trish glanced at Holt, who licked his lips. Clare Dixon, the defense lawyer, stared wide-eyed at the jury.
"What was it?" shouted a man from Amanda's group. Trish recognized the voice as coming from one of the brothers. "That sorry Malcolm—"
"Bailiff, escort that man from the courtroom!" the judge boomed.
The bailiff started toward the group but then stopped. He obviously didn't know who'd violated the judge's instructions.
"He's the one wearing a blue shirt," Trish spoke up.
Amanda's family glared at her. Trish knew the bailiff, a retired deputy, was incapable of forcibly removing Amanda's brother from the room if the younger man wanted to resist. She placed her hand on the gun strapped to her waist and moved in the direction of the group. There weren't any bullets in the weapon, but no one knew it. The bailiff didn't carry a sidearm.
"Come on," the bailiff said, sucking in his stomach. "You'll have to wait outside."
The brother slouched from his place, and the bailiff led him from the courtroom. Trish removed her hand from the gun.
"Because the defendant entered a plea, there's no need for the jury to publish its verdict," the judge continued. "Thank you for your service. Court is adjourned."
Judge Lomax struck his gavel and exited through a door next to the witness stand. The jury started to leave the box. Holt stepped over to them. Trish kept her eye on Amanda's family, who pressed forward against the railing.
"What were you going to do?" Amanda's father called out in the direction of the jury.
"Just a minute," Holt said, holding up his hand, "and I'll talk to you."
Holt spoke briefly with the juror in the dark suit before directing the rest of the panel to leave via a doorway opposite the one used by the judge. Clare Dixon was putting her papers into a large briefcase on wheels. Holt came over to her and whispered in her ear, and she left through the same door. Trish appreciated Holt's desire to protect the jurors and Clare from a tense confrontation with Amanda's irate relatives. He walked over to the family. Trish edged closer so she could listen.
"The jury found Malcolm not guilty of all the charges. If he had not entered a guilty plea, he would have walked out of the courtroom a free man."
The faces of everyone in Amanda's family registered total shock.
"How could they do that?" her father asked angrily. "After all he did to my Amanda? Didn't they listen to what she told 'em?"
"I didn't have time to get the details, but the foreman said they thought there was so much fussing and fighting going on it wasn't right for Malcolm to be prosecuted and not Amanda too."
"You ain't gonna arrest her, are you?" Amanda's mother asked in a shaky voice.
"No, no," Holt replied. "In my opinion, the jury was wrong and got off track, but that's a risk we take when we bring a case to court."
"What's gonna happen to Malcolm?" Amanda asked.
"He pleaded guilty to count one of the indictment and will spend five years in prison followed by five years on probation. He's been in jail for four months waiting for the case to come to trial, so he'll get credit for time served. There's the possibility he may get out sooner for good behavior, but the parole board in Atlanta is making more and more criminals guilty of violent crimes serve their full time."
"What am I supposed to do when he's cut loose?" Amanda asked.
"You're gonna get a divorce and move back home," Amanda's father said. "And this time you're gonna go through with it!"
The remaining brother muttered in agreement.
"I need to talk to Amanda," Holt said to the group. "Alone."
"Why?" her father demanded.
"Just wait for me outside, Pa," Amanda said. "I'll be there in a minute."
"Don't try to talk to any jurors if you see one of them in the parking lot," Holt said to the departing family.
Trish turned to leave, too.
"Officer Carmichael, would you stay, please?" Holt asked.
Trish realized Holt didn't want to be alone in the courtroom with Amanda. "Yes, sir."
As soon as her family was gone, Holt turned to Amanda. "Have a seat," he said.
Amanda sat on the bench with Trish beside her. Holt positioned his chair so he faced them.
"Do you want to go back to Dahlonega with your family?" he asked.
Excerpted from The Confession by ROBERT WHITLOW. Copyright © 2014 Robert Whitlow. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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