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Court of Inquiry : Day One

“Sir, I would ask that you be gentle with Judge Anderson.” And with those words Michael Morton, an exonerated man, an innocent man who served more than twenty-five years in prison for the murder of his wife, closed his direct testimony and personified the difference between justice and grace.

This morning as Morton testified in the first day of the Court of Inquiry investigating the actions of Kenneth Anderson, formerly the district attorney of Williamson County and now a sitting judge, the audience learned the depth and breadth of the withholding of information in Morton’s original trial. Somewhere along the line, between the sheriff’s office, the district attorney’s office, and the trial judge, Mr. Morton’s defense team did not receive much of the information that the sheriff’s team created during the original investigation.

Rusty Harden demonstrated exhibit after exhibit of crucial investigative reports, none of which were shared with the defense in the original criminal trial. For me, the most damning information included the written transcript of a conversation between the lead investigator Sgt. Don Wood and Rita Kirkpatrick, the mother Christine Morton, the murder victim. In the transcript, Mrs. Kirkpatrick retells a story her three year old grandson, Eric, a witness to the murder, told her. More shocking than Eric’s story was the single line where Sgt. Don Wood lies to Mrs. Kirkpatrick and tells her that he is no longer recording their conversation. As the transcript shows, he continued recording.

Which begs the question : how many lies do you get to tell before your credibility is forfeited? Is it like golf? Do you get a mulligan? Does a strong motivation to “find the truth” mean an investigator can knowingly and deliberately lie? Or is lying like golf, with a set of “winter rules”, where the little white lie told to a witness in pursuit of a greater truth is akin to nudging your ball to a more pleasing spot on the fairway?

Long ago I learned that if you really want to know a person, play golf with them. You’ll learn everything you need to know about them. How they handle adversity, how they celebrate success, and whether you can trust them.

I wonder what kind of rules Judge Anderson uses when he plays golf? As for Michael Morton, I suspect he is meticulous and exacting in following not only the rules but the spirit of the game.


The Hobby : a flash mystery

Mary Wilson stared through the peep hole in her front door at the clean cut young man standing on her porch. Against her better judgment, she opened the door. “May I help you?”

“Ma’am, I’m sorry to disturb you.  I’m selling magazine subscriptions to pay my way through community college.  Would you be interested in supporting me?”.  The young man smiled, his short dull brown hair waving in the wind.

Mary smiled. “Of course, come in.  Would you like a glass of ice tea?  You must be parched.”

“Yes, thank you.” He wiped his shoes on the welcome mat and entered the humble bungalow.  His eyes scanned the living room as Mary guided him to the kitchen table.

“Sit here.”  Mary pointed at a kitchen chair, the paint worn down from years of careful use.  “Would you like an apple?”  She took the butcher knife from the block and made quick work of quartering and slicing a ripe red delicious apple.  She poured a glass of ice tea and sat the apple before the young man.

He drank greedily, his thirst obvious.  He wiped the back of his hand across his moist lips.  “Ma’am, do you know which magazine you would like?”  He pushed the catalog across the table.  “The order form is on the last page.”

“Do you have the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine?”  Mary gazed over the young man’s shoulder through the kitchen window into the backyard and smiled.

“Um, no.”

“What about something with true crime?”, she asked, her eyes brightening.  Mary fingered the edge of the butcher knife as her smile started to slip.

“No, but we have People Magazine, Women’s World, and National Enquirer.  Would you like one of those?” His voice fluttered with a quiver as he kept his eyes locked on Mary’s face.

Mary gripped the knife.  “No, I would not.  I. Have. One. Hobby.”  She accentuated each word with a sinister pause.  “What did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t, say my name, that is.”  He wiggled in his chair, his youthful swagger evaporating.  “I’d better be going.”  He snatched the catalog from the table, nearly tripping over the cat as he ran to the front door.

Mary fingered the blade and sighed. Oh well, it was for the best.  She cleared the dirty glass from the table, placing it in the sink. As she gazed out the window at her collection of brightly painted wooden crosses, each with a single name painted in black.

She only had one hobby.


The Next Big Thing : Second Drink

Joyce Tremel, editor of the Working Stiffs, invited me to participate in a blog promotion where authors discuss their Next Big Thing.  You can find her post here.

But before we get to my next big thing, I’d like to throw a shout out to B.J. Daniels, Les Edgerton, Pete Morin and Marjorie Brody, all of whom I hope will be participating in the blog chain with their own posts next week.  Meet these talented folks.

B.J. Daniels – Barb is my favorite Western mystery writer.  Even a bigger favorite of mine than Craig Johnson or Margaret Coel.  Why?  Because Barb writes mysteries that I can’t figure out before the last page.  I guess that’s part of the reason she’s a USA Today Best Selling Author.

Les Edgerton – Les writes tight noir mysteries.  My favorite is The Bitch.  But I should confess that I carried Les’s book Hooked in my back pocket for over a year while rewriting FIRST MISTAKE.

Pete Morin – Pete writes crime fiction.  His novel, Diary of a Small Fish makes me think that some day I’ll be saying, “I knew Pete Morin before…”  His words tickle my brain and his observations about life make me think I should go easier on lawyers and politicians.

Marjorie Brody – Marjorie writes award winning fiction.  She wrote a short story a few months ago that I can’t get out of my mind.  Her new novel is coming in April, 2013 and I cannot wait.

With luck, you’ll be able to find their blog posts on November 19.   And now, I’d like to introduce you to my next big thing.  <drum roll>

Meet SECOND DRINK, another rowdy contemporary mystery featuring Jimmy Ray Hawkens, scheduled for June 2013.

One Sentence Synopsis

SECOND DRINK is a mystery about three fathers facing the consequences of their parenting choices when a young woman is murdered.

The Story

In SECOND DRINK, a beautiful young coed is murdered.  When her boyfriend, the Austin Police Chief’s son, is identified as the prime suspect, the Police Chief begs Jimmy Ray to take the case and save his son. Alejandro.

As Jimmy Ray investigates, he’s impeded by fathers that want to control their young adult children.  The dead girl’s father is consumed with white-washing his daughter’s reputation, interfering at every turn. The Police Chief, eager to protect his job, badgers his son to cop a plea, sacrificing any chance of uncovering the truth.

When the clues point to a fraternity, powerful university alumni squeeze Jimmy Ray to ditch the investigation.  But he can’t.  Not after he discovers his own son, David, is implicated.

Will Jimmy Ray follow the truth wherever it leads?  Or will he take the easy way out and let Alejandro pay the price?

What is the hook?  What’s this book really about?

At its core, SECOND DRINK is a mystery about the relationship between fathers and sons.  What happens when a father discovers his son’s flaws?  What lengths will a father go to protect his son? What happens to a man when he realizes he’s not willing to pay the price to live up to his values when that price is his son?

What inspired the book?  Where did you get your idea?

While listening to our local radio station, KLBJ when Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo discussing a no-refusal weekend, I wondered “What would be worse than a DUI for a public official?”  Answer?  A murder committed by one of their children.  Presto.  Bingo. Smash.  Second Drink.

Since this is the second Jimmy Ray Hawkens mystery, I wanted to delve into the relationship between Jimmy Ray and his eldest son David.  I’m using the relationship between the Police Chief and his son to show two different types of divorced fathers, and examine how choices made long ago drive behavior in the most crucial moments of a young man’s life.

What genre is this book?

Straight up mystery with a splash of humor.  The blood is off the page and the hot sex is between your ears (or as others say, the bedroom door is shut).  Not a cozy. Not a procedural.

Where and when can I read the book?

You can find the book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble in June, 2013.  What?  That’s too long to wait?  Then Comment on this post and let me know you would like to be a beta reader.  You’ll have the story sooner. :)

Read more great books

Check out B.J. Daniels, Les Edgerton, Pete Morin and Marjorie Brody, next Monday November 19, 2012 when they reveal their NEXT BIG THING.


Lance Armstrong and Pete Rose : sharing a playbook?

True confession : I’m a sports nut.  For the last twelve years, my secret obsession has been the Tour de France.  I bought a road bike.  I cycled a century.  All because one day I drove my gas guzzling SUV past the “big blue train”, the US Postal Cycling Team, as they accelerated along MOPAC in South Austin, eight sets of legs pumping in perfect unison. <sigh> An inspiring site.

If you’ve been keeping up with the latest news in cycling, then you know that on October 10, 2012, the US Anti-Doping Agency released a two hundred page Reasoned Decision.  Inside those pages, you’ll find testimony from eleven US Postal riders, each describing the most systematic doping scheme in modern sports.  Ever.

For those of you that aren’t sports nuts, doping is cheating.  Pure and simple.

According to the USADA Reasoned Decision, Lance Armstrong cheated by not only putting competition banned drugs into his own body, but by creating a logistical system that enabled his team, US Postal, to dope on an epic level. Fifteen years after Lance demanded his teammates dope, eleven US Postal cyclists confessed to the USADA.

His team came clean.  Meanwhile, Lance tweets that he is “unaffected”.

The last time a sport I loved was rocked by a epic cheating scandal the year was 1989.  The sport?  Baseball.  The man?  Pete Rose.  Pete placed bets on his team, the Cincinnati Reds.  Betting is a big no-no in baseball. Betting on your own team?  The kiss of death.

Do Lance Armstrong and Pete Rose share the same playbook?

Both men denied wrongdoing when their scandals broke.

For fifteen years, from 1989 to 2004, Pete Rose steadfastly refused to admit he bet on Cincinnati Reds games.  Then in 2004, while on a book tour, he confessed, hoping his contrition would soften the hearts of the Baseball Hall of Fame voters.  So far, it hasn’t.  Pete Rose’s baseball records stand, but he has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame.  At seventy-one years of age, twenty-three years after his scandal, he remains the only living person on the permanently ineligible list, waiting for the call that will never come.

Lance Armstrong continues to deny doping, even as he resigned his chairmanship of his beloved Foundation.  He remains on the board of directors.  This weekend, the foundation hosts its gala fundraiser, the legendary Ride for the Roses, and other events.

Will Lance use the opportunity to come clean?

I don’t know what Lance will do.  But as Pete Rose has learned, cheating at sports isn’t like cheating on your wife or cheating on your taxes.  When you cheat at sports, you cheat on the fans.

Sports fans have the memory of elephants.  They never forget.  Forgive, yes.  Forget no.

What will Lance do?  Be like Pete?  Come clean when he has a book to sell?  Or continue to avoid testimony under oath?

Truth is a powerful elixir.  Lance, come clean.



FIRST MISTAKE – Now available at B&N

FIRST MISTAKE is now available for Nook readers at Barnes and Noble. Best of all, it’s available just in time for my favorite mystery conference, Bouchercon.  I hope you enjoy Jimmy Ray’s adventure.

Since the book is new at B&N, we don’t have any reviews.  If you want to read reviews, head over to Amazon.

With a crisp hint of fall in the air, it’s time to read.  Enjoy!


Lost. One Dead Senator’s Wife. CASH REWARD.

FIRST MISTAKE is a mystery novel about an Austin lawyer, JIMMY RAY HAWKENS, snake-bit by love, who must save his sister, the not-so-grieving widow of a US Senator, who is about to be indicted for her husband’s murder. The Senator’s mistress, an ex-stripper now psychic channeler and cult leader complicates the case because…well…JIMMY RAY is only a man.

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The Crusader

Fact is stranger than fiction. Consider the Michael Morton murder case. Much has been written about the case, and Sixty Minutes has a lengthy interview.

When I look at the case, it reminds me that the consequences of our choices have long reaching implications, many unintended.  You could take the elements of this situation and craft a fine mystery novel.

A crusading prosecutor with a flair for creating theories of the crime.  A tragic, beautiful victim – a young wife and mother, brutally murdered.  The prime suspect?  Her husband, a man who wrote a quick note to his wife expressing his disappointment in his birthday celebration evening.

Our crusader wants to save his county, allay fears.  If a husband kills his wife, nobody blinks an eye.  But if an intruder brutally murders a young mother, a community would be enraged and demand the case be solved.

So what is an ambitious crusading prosecutor to do?  Cast a wide net and look for the bogeyman?  Or take the easy path and accuse the husband.  Ignore the evidence that doesn’t fit.  Adjust trial strategy to keep key witnesses off the stand.  Summarize interviews that could lead to alternative theories of the crime.  Browbeat the medical examiner and coerce his testimony to fit the prosecution’s story.  And when in doubt, answer any questions from the sitting judge as narrowly as possible, leaving no openings.

Except one.

The evidence.  The bloody bandanna.

If only our crusading prosecutor had kept the police from logging a bloody bandanna into evidence.  If only.

But the bandanna survived, and eventually freed the husband after twenty five years in prison, and the DNA test results served to link a new suspect to the original murder.

One piece of evidence upended the crusader.

Sounds like great fiction to me.




After more than a year of blogging once each week with a wonderful group of friends at the Working Stiffs, that blog is shutting down, and it’s time for a new beginning.

I learned much working with Joyce Tremel, Annette Dashofy, Jennie Bentley, Ramona DeFelice Long, Gina Sestak, Martha Reed, Paula Matter, Pat Gulley, and K.M. Humphreys. My biggest lesson?  That every word counts.  And that I write for you, dear reader.

This blog will be dedicated to those who enjoy reading mysteries, whether true life or fiction.  I’ll be sharing tid-bits from true crime stories, short flash fiction mysteries, interviews with mystery readers and writers, and stories from “the making of a mystery novel”, that is the story behind the stories I write.

People ask me, “Where do you get your ideas?” I will tell you, at least some of what inspires as story and takes us in a direction. 2012 is a year of change, of discovering new mysteries, and of appreciating each person who stops by to read and share.

May you find something in this blog entertaining, something that causes you to see the world in a new way.  May you find characters that tickle your funny bone, and discovery something you didn’t know.

Please leave comments. I promise to answer.  And if you sign up for my email list, you receive early preview stories and be part of my WOMBats. More about WOMBats later.  Did you know Austin has one one the largest bat colonies on earth?  Yep.  All eating BBQ and drinking Shiner beer.

But I digress.

Welcome.  Kick your shoes off.  Grab a cup of joe and stay awhile.