to ease his way through the crowd.
The accused was a wealthy man by the name of Pete Duffy, and his alleged crime was murder. According to the police and the prosecutors, Mr. Duffy strangled his lovely wife in their attractive home on the sixth fairway of a golf course where he, the accused, was playing golf that day, alone. If convicted, he would spend the rest of his life in prison. If acquitted, he would walk out of the courtroom a free man. As things turned out, the jury did not find him guilty, or not guilty.
This was his second trial. Four months earlier, the first trial had ended suddenly when Judge Henry Gantry decided it would be unfair to continue. He declared a mistrial and sent everyone home, including Pete Duffy, who remained free on bond. In most murder cases, the accused cannot afford to post a bond and stay out of jail while waiting on a trial. But because Mr. Duffy had money and good lawyers, he had been free as a bird since the police found his wife’s body and the State accused him of killing her. He had been seen around town—dining in his favorite restaurants, watching basketball games at Stratten College, attending church (with greater frequency), and, of course, playing lots of golf. As he waited on his first trial, he seemed unconcerned with the prospect of a trial and the possibility of prison. Now, though, facing his second trial, and with a new eyewitness ready to be used by the prosecution, Pete Duffy was rumored to be very worried.
The new eyewitness was Bobby Escobar, a nineteen-year-old illegal immigrant who was working at the golf course on the day Mrs. Duffy was murdered. He saw Mr. Duffy enter his home at about the same time she died, then hurry away and resume his golf game. For a lot of reasons, Bobby did not come forward until the first trial was underway. Once Judge Gantry heard Bobby’s story, he declared a mistrial. Now, with Bobby ready to testify, most of the folks in Strattenburg, who had been closely watching the Duffy case, were expecting a guilty verdict. It was almost impossible to find someone who believed Pete Duffy did not kill his wife.
And it was also difficult to find a person who did not want to watch the trial. A murder trial in the Strattenburg Courthouse was a rare event—indeed, murder was rare in Stratten County—and a large crowd began gathering at 8:00 a.m., just after the front doors of the courthouse opened. The jury had been selected three days earlier. It was time for the courtroom drama to begin.
At 8:40, Mr. Mount got his eighth-grade class quiet and called the roll. All sixteen boys were present. Homeroom lasted for only ten minutes before the boys went off to first period Spanish with Madame Monique.
Mr. Mount was in a hurry. He said, “Okay, men, you know that today is the first day of the Pete Duffy trial, round two. We were allowed to watch the first day of the first trial, but, as you know, my request to watch the second trial was denied.”
Several of the boys hissed and booed.
Mr. Mount raised his hands. “Enough. However, our esteemed principal, Mrs. Gladwell, has agreed to allow Theo to watch the opening of the trial and report back to us. Theo.”
Theodore Boone jumped to his feet, and, like the lawyers he watched and admired, walked purposefully to the front of the room. He carried a yellow legal pad, just like a real lawyer. He stood by Mr. Mount’s desk, paused for a second, and looked at the class as if he were indeed a trial lawyer preparing to address the jury.
Since both of his parents were lawyers, and he had practically been raised in their law offices, and he hung out in courtrooms while the other eighth graders at Strattenburg Middle School were playing sports and taking guitar lessons and doing all the things that normal thirteen-year-olds tend to do, and since he loved the law and studied it and watched it and talked about little else, the rest of his class was quick to yield to Theo when discussing legal matters. When it came to the law, Theo had no competition, at least not in Mr. Mount’s eighth-grade homeroom.
Theo began, “Well, we saw the first day of the first trial four months ago, so you know the lineups and the players. The lawyers are the same. The charges are the same. Mr. Duffy is still Mr. Duffy. There is a different jury this time around, and, of course, there is the issue of a new eyewitness who did not testify during the first trial.”
“Guilty!” yelled Woody from the back of the room. Several others chimed in and added their agreement.
“All right,” Theo said. “Show of hands. Who thinks Pete Duffy is guilty?”
Fourteen of sixteen hands shot upward with no hesitation whatsoever. Chase Whipple, a mad scientist who took pride in never agreeing with the majority, sat with his arms folded across his chest.
Theo did not vote, but instead became irritated. “This is ridiculous! How can you vote guilty before the trial has started, before we know what the witnesses will say, before anything happens? We’ve talked about the presumption of innocence. In our system, a person charged with a crime is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Pete Duffy will walk into the courtroom this morning completely innocent, and will remain innocent until all the witnesses have testified and all the proof is before the jury. The presumption of innocence, remember?”
Mr. Mount stood in a corner and watched Theo at his best. He had seen this before, many times. The kid was a natural on his feet, the star of the Eighth-Grade Debate Team, of which Mr. Mount was the faculty adviser.
Theo pressed on, still pretending to be indignant at his classmates’ rush to judgment. “And proof beyond a reasonable doubt, remember? What’s the matter with you guys?”
“Guilty!” Woody yelled again, and got some laughs.
Theo knew it was a lost cause. He said, “Okay, okay, can I go now?”
“Sure,” Mr. Mount replied. The bell rang loudly and all sixteen boys headed for the door. Theo darted into the hallway and raced to the front office where Miss Gloria, the school’s secretary, was on the phone. She liked Theo because his mother had handled her first divorce, and because Theo had once given her some unofficial advice when her brother was caught driving drunk. She handed Theo a yellow release form, signed by Mrs. Gladwell, and he was off. The clock above her desk gave the time as exactly 8:47.
Outside, at the bike rack by the flagpole, Theo unlocked his chain, wrapped it around the handlebars, and sped away. If he obeyed the rules of the road and stayed on the streets, he would arrive in front of the courthouse in fifteen minutes. But, if he took the usual shortcuts, and raced through an alley or two, and cut across a backyard here and another one there, and ran at least two stop signs, Theo could make it in about ten minutes. On this day, he did not have time to spare. He knew the courtroom was already packed. He would be lucky to get a seat.
He flew through an alley, got airborne twice, then darted through the backyard of a man he knew, an unpleasant man, a man who wore a uniform and tried to act as though he were a real officer of the law when in fact he was little more than a part-time security guard. His name was Buck Boland, (or Buck Baloney, as some people whispered behind his back), and Theo saw him occasionally hanging around the courthouse. As Theo flew across Mr. Boland’s backyard, he heard a loud, angry voice. “Get outta here, kid!” Theo turned to his left just in time to see Mr. Boland throw a rock in his direction. The rock landed very close by, and Theo pedaled even harder.
That was close, he thought. Perhaps he should find another route.
Nine minutes after leaving the school, Theo wheeled to a stop in front of the Stratten County Courthouse, quickly chained his bike to the rack, and sprinted inside, up the grand staircase and to the massive front doors of Judge Gantry’s courtroom. There was a crowd at the door—spectators in a line trying to get in, and TV cameras with their bright lights, and several grim-faced deputies trying to keep order. Theo’s least favorite deputy in all of Strattenburg was an old grouchy man named Gossett, and, as luck would have it, Gossett saw Theo trying
“Where do you think you’re going, Theo?” Gossett growled.
It should be obvious where I’m going, Theo thought quickly to himself. Where else would I be going at this moment, at the beginning of the biggest murder trial in the history of our county? But being a wise guy would not help matters.
Theo whipped out his release from school and said, sweetly, “I have permission from my principal to watch the trial, sir.” Gossett snatched the release and glared at it as if he might have to shoot Theo if his paperwork didn’t measure up. Theo thought about saying, “If you need some help, I’ll read it for you,” but, again, bit his tongue.
Gossett said, “This is from school. This is not a pass to get inside. Do you have permission from Judge Gantry?”
“Yes, sir,” Theo said.
“Let me see it.”
“It’s not in writing. Judge Gantry gave me verbal permission to watch the trial.”
Gossett frowned even harder, shook his head with great authority, and said, “Sorry, Theo. The courtroom is packed. There are no more seats. We’re turning people away.”
Theo took his release and tried to appear as if he might burst into tears. He backtracked, turned around, and headed down the long hallway. When Gossett could no longer see him, he ducked through a narrow door and bounced down a utility staircase, one used only by the janitors and service technicians. On the first floor, he eased along a dark, cramped corridor that ran under the main courtroom above, then stepped nonchalantly into a break room where the courthouse employees gathered for coffee, doughnuts, and gossip.
“Well, hello, Theo,” said lovely Jenny, by far Theo’s favorite clerk in the entire courthouse.
“Hello, Jenny,” he said with a smile as he kept walking across the small room. He disappeared into a utility closet, came out the other side onto a landing which led to another hidden staircase. In decades past, this had been used to haul convicts from the jail to the main courtroom to face the wrath of the judges, but now it was seldom used. The old courthouse was a maze of cramped passageways and narrow staircases, and Theo knew every one of them.
He entered the courtroom from a side door next to the jury box. The place was buzzing with the nervous chatter of spectators about to see something dramatic. Uniformed guards milled about, chatting with one another and looking important. There was a crowd at the main door as people were still trying to get in. On the left side of the courtroom, in the third row behind the defense table, Theo saw a familiar face.
It was his uncle, Ike, and he was saving a seat for his favorite (and only) nephew. Theo wiggled and darted down the row and wedged himself into a tight spot next to Ike.
Ike Boone had once been a lawyer. In fact, he had once been in the same offices as Theo’s parents. The three Boones had survived a rocky partnership until Ike ran afoul of the law and got himself into trouble, big trouble. So much trouble that the State Bar Association revoked his license to practice law. Now, he worked as an accountant and tax adviser to several small businesses in Strattenburg. He had no family to speak of and was generally an unhappy old man. He liked to think of himself as a loner, a misfit, a rebel who dressed like an old hippie and wore his long, white hair pulled back into a ponytail. On this day he was wearing typical Ike attire—ancient sandals with no socks, faded jeans, a red T-shirt under a checkered sports coat with frayed sleeves.
“Thanks, Ike,” Theo whispered as he settled into his place.
Ike smiled and said nothing. He was to Theo’s right. To Theo’s left was an attractive middle-aged woman he had never seen. As Theo looked around, he noticed several lawyers seated among the spectators. His own parents claimed to be far too busy to waste time watching the trial, though Theo knew they were keenly interested in it. His mother was a well-respected divorce lawyer with lots of clients, and his father handled real estate transactions and never went to court. Theo would one day be a great courtroom lawyer, one who stayed away from divorce and real estate. Or, he might be a great judge like his pal Henry Gantry. He couldn’t decide, but he had plenty of time. He was only thirteen.
The jury box was empty, and because Theo had watched so many trials he knew that the jurors were not brought into the courtroom until everyone else was settled. There was a large square clock on the wall far above the judge’s bench, and at 8:59, the prosecutors appeared from a side door with their usual air of great importance. They were led by Jack Hogan, a veteran who had been hounding criminals in Strattenburg for many years. In the first trial four months earlier, Theo had been greatly impressed with Mr. Hogan’s courtroom skills, and for weeks afterward Theo had considered becoming a prosecutor, the man the entire town would turn to when a horrible crime had been committed. Mr. Hogan was surrounded by several of his younger prosecutors and investigators. They made quite a team.
Across the aisle, the defense table was deserted—not a single member of the Pete Duffy trial team was present. Just behind it, though, in the first row, Theo could see Omar Cheepe and his sidekick, Paco, a couple of thugs hired by the defense to investigate things and cause trouble. As the clock ticked and the crowd settled in, it seemed odd, at least to Theo, that only half the lawyers were present and ready to go. Judge Gantry believed in being prompt, and when nothing happened at 9:00 a.m. sharp, the crowd stared at the clock—9:05, then 9:10. Finally, at 9:15, the defense team entered the courtroom and took seats. It was led by Clifford Nance, a well-known trial lawyer, who, at that moment, looked pale and perplexed. He leaned over the bar and huddled with Omar Cheepe and Paco, and it was apparent that something was wrong.
There was no sign of Pete Duffy, who should have been sitting at the defense table next to Clifford Nance.
Omar Cheepe and Paco suddenly left the courtroom.
At 9:20, a bailiff stood and yelled, “All rise for the Court.” As he did so, Judge Henry Gantry entered from behind his bench, his black robe flowing after him. The bailiff went on, “Hear ye, hear ye, the Criminal Court of the Tenth District is now in session, The Honorable Henry Gantry presiding. Let all who have matters come forth. May God bless this court.”
“Please be seated,” Judge Gantry said, and the crowd, still in the process of rising, suddenly fell back again.
Judge Gantry glared at Clifford Nance and took a deep breath. All eyes followed his, and Mr. Nance looked even paler. Finally, Judge Gantry said, “Mr. Nance, where is the defendant, Peter Duffy?”
Clifford Nance slowly got to his feet. He cleared his throat, and when he finally spoke his rich voice sounded scratchy and defeated. “Your Honor, I do not know. Mr. Duffy was scheduled to be in my office this morning at 7:00 a.m. for a pretrial meeting, but he did not show. He has not called, faxed, e-mailed, or texted me or anyone on my staff. We have called his phone numbers many times but got nothing. We’ve gone to his home, but no one is there. We are, at this moment, searching for him, but it appears as though he has vanished.”
Theo listened in disbelief, as did everyone in the courtroom. A deputy stood and said, “Your Honor, if I may?”
“Proceed,” said Judge Gantry.
“This is the first we’ve heard of this. Had we been notified earlier, we could have begun a search.”
“Well, start looking now,” Judge Gantry said angrily. He was obviously upset at the absence of Pete Duffy. He rapped his gavel and said, “We’ll be in recess for an hour. Please tell the jurors to make themselves comfortable back there.” And with that, Judge Gantry disappeared through a door behind his bench.
For a moment or two the spectators sat in stunned disbelief, as if they might see Pete Duffy walk in any moment now if they simply kept waiting. Then there were whispers and light chatter, then movements as several stood and began milling about. No one left, though, because no one wanted to take the chance of losing a seat. Surely, Pete Duffy would arrive any minute, apologize for being late, blame it on a flat tire or something, and the trial would go on.
tes passed. Theo watched the lawyers slowly ease toward the center of the courtroom and engage in hushed conversations. Jack Hogan and Clifford Nance huddled as if to compare notes, both men frowning gravely.
“What do you think, Ike?” Theo asked softly.
“Looks like he skipped out.”
“What does this mean?”
“It means a lot of things. Duffy put up some real estate to secure his bond, to guarantee his appearance in court, so that property will be forfeited and he’ll lose it. Of course, if he has indeed skipped out, he’s not too worried about property here because he’ll spend the rest of his life on the run. He’ll be a fugitive, until they catch him.”
“Will they catch him?”
“They usually do. His face will be everywhere—all over the Internet, on Wanted posters in the post office and every police station in the country. It will be difficult to avoid capture, but there have been some famous cases of fugitives who are never caught. They usually get out of the country and go to South America or some place. I’m surprised. I didn’t think Pete Duffy had the guts to make a run for it.”
“Sure. Think about it, Theo. The guy killed his wife and got lucky when the first trial ended in a mistrial. He knew that would not happen again, so he was looking at a lifetime in prison. Me, I’d rather take my chances on the run. He’s probably buried some money somewhere. Got himself some new papers, a new name, maybe a pal who’s helping. Knowing Duffy, he’s probably got some young woman hooked into his scheme. Pretty smart move if you ask me.”
Ike made it sound like a real adventure, but Theo wasn’t so sure. As the clock approached 10:00 a.m., he gazed at the empty chair where the defendant was supposed to be and found it impossible to believe that Pete Duffy had jumped bond, skipped town, and was now prepared to live the life of a fugitive.
Omar Cheepe and Paco reappeared and huddled with Clifford Nance. From the way they shook their heads, whispered urgently, and exchanged hard looks, it was obvious the situation had not improved. Pete Duffy was nowhere to be found.
A bailiff rounded up the lawyers and herded them into Judge Gantry’s chambers for another meeting. Several deputies were telling jokes near the jury box. The noise level was rising as the crowd grew restless and frustrated.
“I’m getting kind of bored, Theo,” Ike said. A few others had left the courtroom.
“I might hang around,” Theo said. His only other option was to return to school, empty-handed, and suffer through classes. The release from the principal plainly stated that Theo was excused from school until 1:00 p.m., and he did not want to return any sooner, trial or no trial.
“Are you stopping by this afternoon?” Ike asked. It was a Monday, and the Boone family rituals required Theo to stop by Ike’s office every Monday afternoon for a visit.
“Sure,” Theo said.
Ike smiled and said, “See you then.”
After he was gone, Theo weighed the pros and cons of the situation. He was disappointed that the biggest criminal trial in the recent history of Strattenburg had evidently been sidetracked, and that he would not get the chance to watch Jack Hogan and Clifford Nance go toe-to-toe like two gladiators. But, he was also relieved that Bobby Escobar would not be forced to testify and point the finger of guilt at Pete Duffy. Theo had played a big role in bringing Bobby to the attention of Judge Gantry during the first trial, and Theo knew that Duffy’s lawyers and his thugs, especially Omar Cheepe and Paco, were keeping an eye on him. Theo preferred not to have the attention.
In fact, as the clock ticked and the crowd waited, Theo decided that the sudden disappearance of Pete Duffy was a good thing, at least for him. Selfishly, he was pleased.
Two men behind Theo were having a disagreement. In low voices, they were arguing over the fact that Duffy had been allowed to post a bond. The first man said: “I’ll bet Gantry takes some heat for this. If he had denied bail, Duffy would have been locked up while he waited for his trial, the same as every other defendant charged with murder. No one gets bail in a murder case. Gantry caved in because Duffy has money.”
The second man said: “I doubt it. Why not allow a defendant to post bail and get out? He’s innocent until proven guilty, right? Why lock up a guy before he’s convicted? Murder or otherwise? You can’t punish a guy just because he has money. Duffy’s bail was a million dollars. He put up some property and nobody complained, until now, anyway.”
Theo tended to side with the second guy. The first one responded: “Until now? That’s the whole point. Bail is supposed to secure his appearance in court. Guess what? He’s not here. AWOL, flew the coop, over the wall, we’ll never see him again because Gantry granted bail.”
“They’ll find him.”
“I’ll bet they don’t. He’s probably in Mexico City right now, getting his face worked on by some plastic surgeons who got rich re-doing the eyes and noses of drug lords. I’ll bet they never find Pete Duffy.”
“I’ll bet you twenty bucks he’s back here in thirty days, in jail.”
“You got it, twenty bucks.”
There was a rustle of activity and the bailiffs sprang to attention. The lawyers streamed out of Judge Gantry’s chambers and took their places. The spectators scurried for their seats and became silent. “Remain seated,” a bailiff barked. Judge Gantry assumed his position on the bench. He rapped his gavel loudly and said, “Order. Bring in the jury, please.”
It was 11:00 a.m. The jurors filed into the courtroom and took their seats in the jury box. When they were in place, Judge Gantry looked sternly at Clifford Nance and said, “Mr. Nance, where is the defendant?”
Nance rose slowly and replied, “Your Honor, I do not know. We have had no contact with Mr. Duffy since ten thirty last night.”
Judge Gantry looked at Jack Hogan and said, “Mr. Hogan.”
“Your Honor, we have no choice but to move for a mistrial.”
“And I have no choice but to grant one.” Judge Gantry then turned and addressed the jury. “Ladies and gentlemen, it appears as though the defendant, Mr. Peter Duffy, has disappeared. He has been free on bond, awaiting this trial, and, well, he has evidently vanished. The sheriff’s department is conducting a search and the FBI has been notified. Without a defendant, we cannot proceed at this time. I apologize for the inconvenience, and, once again, I thank you for your willingness to serve. You are dismissed.”
One of the jurors slowly raised her hand and asked, “But, Judge, what if they find him this afternoon, or tomorrow?”
Judge Gantry seemed surprised by a question coming from the jury box. “Well, I suppose it depends on how he is found. Let’s say they catch him at a border, trying to sneak out of the country, then he’ll be brought back here to face additional charges. That would certainly affect his strategy at trial, so he would be entitled to a delay. But let’s suppose he’s found somewhere around here and has a valid excuse for not showing up this morning. In that case, I would revoke his bond, or bail, put him in jail, and reschedule the trial as soon as possible.”
This satisfied the juror and Theo as well.
“Court is adjourned,” Judge Gantry said, and pecked his gavel once again.