Saturday, May 27, 2023

Why I changed hats: prosecutor to defense lawyer

I could never remember which side supposedly had the black hat or the white hat. 

I suspect, whichever side you are on you purport to be white-hatted. I'm good with that, except it means I swapped a white hat for a... white hat?!

Enough about hats.

Just over a year ago, two mates took me out for dinner. Rick Cofer and Geoffrey Puryear, former prosecutors with me. Good people who I knew and who I liked, and who asked me to join their criminal defense firm and have a little fun trying cases and helping people.

Could I say no to all that?!

This is Rick, he puts the Cofer in Cofer & Connelly. Some have said he looks like a giant man-baby, or an inflated infant, or a super-sized toddler, or a... anyway, I'd never say those things, I just report stuff.

And this is Geoffrey - we tried a case together many years ago and stacked the jury with women, on the theory that with his looks and my accent we couldn't lose. We didn't lose.

On a hot day you could fry an egg on that chin, after he shaved it, of course. Magnificent. 

Here I am now:

Anyway, the why of it.

As you may or may not know about me, I have always been somewhat defense-oriented. In those moments when ADAs are high-fiving each other after getting a 70-year prison sentence I used to cringe. I'm sure I've written before about how I hated sending people to prison, almost regardless of what they did, because.... well, it's prison. I got satisfaction for getting a verdict yes, but not so much from a prison sentence.

Anyway, over martinis and a delicious steak these lads made me an attractive offer. At the time I was in the juvenile division at the DA's office, my second stint there and was feeling like I might be there a while. And guess what never happens in juvie? Jury trials. It felt like an endless loop of unchallenging hearings, low-level crime (mostly, although I did have five... yes FIVE murder cases on my plate). 

Bottom line: I needed a change. A challenge. And these boys were offering me one.

I started May 1, 2022, and now I handle cases in Travis County and a fair few in Williamson County, everything from low-level drugs cases to murder. We take a team approach at C&C, especially on the bigger cases, and I think we have five or six clients charged with homicide, and several more with manslaughter. 

One of those cases is quite famous, actually, but I can't talk about it here... 

I plan to write a whole post about how jurisdictions, and prosecutors, are different depending on where they are. It's kind of crazy, to be honest, what's considered an easy dismissal one place is prosecuted to the max somewhere else. Anyway, more on that later.

For now, I'll tell you that I'm working harder than ever before, getting to know some very interesting people, and loving the folks I work with.

I've even become an occasional guest legal analyst on CourtTV!

And hey, if you need a lawyer from the best criminal defense firm in Austin (facts, see below), let me know. We got you.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Making a comeback!

I've been thinking about resurrecting the blog for a while now, I used to enjoy sharing my thoughts and experiences as a prosecutor and getting feedback from folks. So I'm back.

For those who don't know me outside of the blog, well, I'm now a criminal defense attorney - a partner with the fabulous law firm of Cofer & Connelly. I'll write a post about why I made the change in a week or two, but I wanted this first one to be a brief catch-up.

So, what else is new with me? After all it's been almost seven years since I last posted here!

  • Big job change, obvs.
  • I'm seven years older, which means a new author photo was needed. Obvs.

    • The second in the series is out in August but pre-orderable now:
  • I have a son who's now stronger and faster than me. We've gone from this:

  • To this:

  • I have a writing companion:


OK, those are the highlights. I don't think anything else important happened in the world between 2016 and now, or did I miss something?!

Didn't think so.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts, to include:
  • Why I Made the Change
    • speaks for itself
  • Who My Most Famous Client Is, And Why I Can't Tell You
    • Google it, maybe?
  • When It's Just A Slap
    • about how differing jurisdictions... differ
  • When Good People Do Bad Things
    • speaks for itself
... and many many more to come!

Thursday, August 25, 2016


This post was first published on the fantastic Jungle Red Writers blog, yesterday August 24, 2016.

I wanted to post it here, too, since I think it's a good look behind the creation of THE PARIS LIBRARIAN, my latest novel in the Hugo Marston series.


There are two stories that lie between the pages of THE PARIS LIBRARIAN. One makes me cry, the other makes me laugh.
Shall we start with the tears? Good, so let me present a nice photo of a gentleman called Michael Harmuth. He’s with his daughter Sarah, who happens to be a book seller in Wisconsin, and her daughter, Scout. 
Well, early last year Sarah wrote to me and said that her dad, Michael, was a fan of the Hugo series. But she said Michael had cancer and was unlikely to live until the next book in the series was released (THE RELUCTANT MATADOR) in June.
Was there any way I could get an advanced copy to him? she wondered.
Now, my own father was taken by the pestilence that is cancer so, obviously, my answer was heck yes. I asked my publisher to send me an ARC, and I wrote a wee note in it, signed it, and sent it to Michael.
That started a wee conversation between the two of us, and he kept me informed as to his progress with the book. He said he was reading it slowly, so as not to get to the end too fast. As you might imagine, that email had me reaching for the tissues.
Turns out Michael enjoyed the book, which I’d been hoping for desperately. And I didn’t want the last page to be the end of Michael’s association with Hugo so I wrote to him and asked, “How would you like to be a character in the next book?”
He loved the idea and, even though I’ve put the names of other people I know in books, he’s the only one I’ve let choose his role. Good guy, bad, guy, red herring, eye-witness… whatever he so desired.
And now, of course, I must remain tight-lipped for fear of giving anything away. Suffice to say, even though Michael is no longer with us, he lives on in Hugo’s world, and in Paris no less!
Now for the laugh, which comes in the form of a “truth is stranger than fiction” guffaw. As you might be able to tell from the title, Hugo’s latest adventure takes place in and around the American Library in Paris.
 Now, back in 2015, once I formulate the idea for the story, I email the good people there and ask rather boldly: “Hello, do you mind if I kill someone in your library?”
Not even hours later I receive a resounding “Yes!!” and an invitation to tour the place. Now, I’m not one to turn down a visit to Paris, so my wife and I hop on a plane to spend a week in our favorite city. And this is where the story gets somewhat amusing.
When we show up to the library, librarians Audrey and Abigail are there to show us around. They start with the front, the circulation area, then lead us through the stacks. At the back of the building, they both stop and when I look past them I see a set of stairs leading down, roped off.
“What’s down there?” I ask.
“Err, the basement. We store books down there.”
“Can I see?”
Nervous glances between them, and a hesitant response. “Well, I guess that’d be OK.”
“Oh, is there a problem?”
“Umm, no real problem. It’s just... a little creepy down there.”
Which, as you know, is precisely what a mystery author wants to hear.
So we head down and it is creepy, slightly dim and musty. I tell them about the book in progress, and explain that I’ll have a character who dies early in a locked room. Audrey says, “Oh, that’s funny, we have a small room down here. We call it the atelier, you can see it.”
Sure enough, there’s the tiny little room for my poor, unsuspecting victim to die in. 
We poke around downstairs a little more and I disappear down a short hallway near the foot of the stairs. To my right is a small boiler room, but to my left is a door. In the wall. It blends in and you could walk right by it.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“Oh.” That hesitation again. “It’s our secret door.”
Are you kidding me?? I thought that, didn’t say it. Not like that, anyway. Instead I ask mildly, “Oh, do tell.”
Turns out it’s their door into the American University, which takes up the majority of that block. A door they’re not allowed to use because, well, it’s kind of their secret.
“Do you happen to have a key?” I ask.
They side-eye each other. “We do but we’re not allowed to....”
My raised eyebrow stops them, and one of the women heads upstairs for the key.
Now, you know what I’m thinking. It’s a possible escape avenue for my killer, right? But that requires lots of people to have access to the key, and what are the odds of that given that it’s to a secret door? But I ask anyway.
“Only the library staff and volunteers can access the key,” they assure me.
“And how many...?”
“Maybe ten staff and, in the course of a year,” Abigail thinks for a second, “maybe a hundred volunteers.”
I grin like a chimpanzee. “Perfect.”
Later, as I wrapped the book up, it struck me that these coincidences might appear too good to be true, too contrived. So I actually put an author’s note in the front of the book pointing out that the library does have a secret door!
And this made me wonder if my fellow writers ever came across situations like this, when their research came up with something almost too perfect... or if readers ever stumbled over something in a novel, not believing it at first but then finding out it was true?
Oh, and you’re probably wondering if I went through the secret door that afternoon. I will tell you that had I done so and admitted it in writing, my librarian friends might have got in trouble.
So here I am, admitting nothing in writing...

Friday, August 12, 2016

Now out: THE PARIS LIBRARIAN (the book and the trailer!)

Just a short note to welcome into the my latest novel, the seventh in the Hugo Marston series: The Paris Librarian.

And also the book trailer, for more immediate gratification:


Thursday, June 9, 2016

DEAD WAKE - a book review

When I started this blog I tried to review a book or two a month, I called it Thriller Thursday. Remember that? Go on, click on the label, you'll see.

Well guess what? It's Thursday! Only now I'm doing something different in that I wanted to let you know about a non-fiction book I just read. In truth, it might just be the best non-fiction book I've ever read. Seriously.

It's called: DEAD WAKE, The Last Crossing Of The Lusitania, by Erik Larson. Here's a cute girl holding my copy:

The Lusitania is one of those things we learn about in history, and vaguely connect it to America's entrance into WW1. But what makes this book so incredible is that Larson tells the story from ground-level, from the perspectives of those involved. Sure, world events are wrapped around those tales but for goodness sake, we even see things from the view of the submarine that sank the ship! Not to mention the Lusitania's captain and numerous passengers and crew.

Anyway, here's the Amazon summary:

"On May 1st, 1915 the Lusitania set sail on its final voyage. That it was sunk by a German U-boat will be news to few—and Larson’s challenge is to craft a historical narrative leading up to the thrilling, if known, conclusion, building anticipation in his readers along the way. To his credit, he makes the task look easy. Focusing on the politics of WWI, on nautical craftsmanship and strategy, and on key players in the eventual attack and sinking of the “fast, comfortable, and beloved” Lusitania, Larson once again illustrates his gift for seducing us with history and giving it a human face. Dead Wake puts readers right aboard the famous Cunard liner and keeps them turning the pages until the book’s final, breathless encounter."

And look, you can go a million places to read reviews of it. I'm posting my own few words because I was so blown away by the book. Only twice in the past few years have I read an entire book in one weekend, and in fact DEAD WAKE took me slightly more than a day.

Not only is it immaculately researched but it reads like an adventure novel. Which, in fact, does it a disservice because it's also emotionally compelling. When I finished reading about the sinking itself, the lives lost and the descriptions of those in the water, the portrayal of that horrible twenty or so minutes, I had to put the book down and walk away.

Only for about ten minutes though, the story is so powerful I had to get back to it.

So if you're looking for an amazing non-fiction read, heck even if you're not, get this book. You won't regret it. Bloody marvelous.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Throwing the Book at a Cop. (Actually, About Fifty of Them.)

A month after Austin Police Officer Russell Smith was in a near-fatal car crash on his way home from patrol, I reached out to a community of people for help.
People who, on an a normal day, create the kind of mayhem and madness that Officer Smith deals with on a daily basis. People with evil in their minds, people who deal out death and destruction to the innocent and guilty, to the young and the old. Ruthless, murderous people.
People, quite frankly, who possess ginormously loving hearts and incredibly generous spirits.
Oh, let me back a moment and introduce you to Russ. My family had lunch with him and his wife today and he let me take his pic, neck brace and all.

I've had the pleasure of seeing Russ on the job and he's so professional, so respectful when he deals with members of the public, and I'm proud to call him a friend and colleague. You guys don't know him, but trust me when I tell you the world needs more police officers like Russell Smith, and whether he's back on patrol or behind a desk he'll make a difference to our community.

One other thing to know about Russ is that he's an avid reader. Fiction, non-fiction, history, crime, he loves it all. I found that out over several ride-outs in his patrol car, and over several meals we've shared. Right now he's on a Hemmingway kick, just so ya know.
Anyway, it struck me that a reader who's facing a long lay-off and a lot of rehab could almost certainly use a few more books. Just a few. So I put out one, solitary appeal on Facebook to see if a writer friend or two might be able to sign and send a book.
Yeah, well, this happened:

To save you having to count, that's fifty-three novels, from more than twenty writers, readers, reviewers, and my own wonderful publisher, Seventh Street Books. And that was in just two weeks, I know there are more on the way. As well as books, people sent get-well cards, a coffee mug, and several gift cards.
Oh, and a copy of Playboy. Seriously. My friend Steve Weddle has an article published in this issue so he kindly mailed it for the collection. Which will make Russ the first person to say, "I'm reading this for the articles," and not be a big, fat liar.
Now, I have the pleasure of interacting with my colleagues in the crime fiction community at a conference every year, and sometimes our paths cross on the book-signing trail. Every experience has been a wonder, their kindness and generosity has always blown me away but never more so than in their rush to help Russ Smith.

So, to you all, my thanks. And to anyone who reads, especially crime fiction, know that every time you buy a book your are supporting a wonderful community of kind and generous people. So thanks to you, too.

There's a lot of bad news in the world these days. And I'm sitting in my local library while a storm rages outside, which should portend evil. But not today. Today I loaded three boxes of books into the trunk of a friend's car, books written by other friends.

A good day for everyone.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Eye-Witness Testimony of Children (aka, How To Turn Two Into Eleven)

We had an interesting experience recently that made very real the problem with eye-witness testimony, and shows why I rarely rely on it as a prosecutor unless there's some very good corroborating evidence.

One weekday evening, my son and three friends were in a nearby park (he and the two girls were eleven, and another boy was eight). They encountered two boys who identified themselves as 8th graders at a nearby middle school. Unfortunately, these boys began throwing rocks at the younger kids, and threatening to kill and rape them.

Yeah, charming.

My son is a tough lad but had no desire to stand his ground, so took off running. He fell and did this:

We reported the incident to the police, who can't do very much without an identification of those boys. So on Friday we rendezvous-ed at the elementary school to look at a yearbook from the middle school, to see if the kids could recognize the two boys. Actually, the kids and one parent, who'd gone to look for her daughter in the park and encountered them.

So, four kids and one adult.

They took turns leafing through the yearbook, so as not to influence each other. The photos weren't divided up by year, but by alphabet, so they had to look through several hundred pictures of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders to find the stone-throwers.

How hard could it be?

I'll tell you: very.

By the end of an hour, we had eleven suspects. The identifications varied from fifty percent to eighty percent certainty, but the interesting thing to me (apart from the number eleven) was that we had zero crossover. In other words, none of the five people perusing the book had chosen the same kid.

Pretty scary, eh?