Friday, December 21, 2012

The Nutcracker (a true story)

In continuation of a series of posts I have just started with this one, I bring you a true story.  It happened not recently, nor too long ago.  When it happened doesn't matter, actually, I post it today in honor of today's Ballet Austin performance of The Nutcracker.

You'll see why.

The allegation was assault on a peace officer, specifically that the defendant had grabbed "the victim's scrotum and twisted, thereby causing pain."

Now you see why.

Anyway, it went to trial before the judge.  Two witnesses who saw her hands go into his crotch area, but not the actual "grab and twist" testified to his pained squeal and subsequent bending over while gasping for breath.  Their testimony was utterly consistent with that of the officer himself who added the details about her grabbing this testicles and twisting.  (I wanted to do a reenactment, but couldn't find any volunteers.)

Now, trial can be a battle of words. The whole practice of law, really.  The defendant had no real response, no defense at all, I gather that she (yes she) just didn't want to plead guilty.  And that left the defense lawyer with little to work with.  Very little indeed.

But the chap in question (a good friend of mine, by the way) was brilliant.  He pointed out that the charging instrument said "scrotum" while the officer had said "testicles."  As a result, the pain had been to the latter and not the former.

Clever, eh?

I pointed out in my own closing that the pain did not have to refer to the specific body part, and even if it did "the court may take judicial notice that in accordance with the evidence at trial it would be impossible to squeeze one and not the other."  For good measure, since we were in that region, so to speak, I remarked that defense counsel was "splitting hairs."

I did not look at the defendant during closing, but I can assure you everyone else in that courtroom had trouble keeping a straight face.  Judge included.

It's can be a funny job, that we prosecutors have.  In every sense of the word.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gangs - what are they good for?

Yes, of course, you got it: absolutely nothing.

It's something I see a lot here in the world of juvenile crime, sadly, gang activity.  Sometimes it's peer pressure, sometimes it's family replacement, and sometimes it's even family pressure.

It's a pet peeve for some of the judges, too, because (as they point out), Look where gang affiliation has gotten you!

Something I always want to point out to the kids, in addition, is this: "Look around the courtroom.  How many of your gang-banger buddies do you see here supporting you?"

Go ahead, dear reader, guess how many gang members we usually see supporting their troubled colleagues?

Got that one right, too, didn't you?  Zero.

The long-suffering family will be there, most likely a sad and over-worked mother who can't compete with the fun-sounding friends, the lure of instant cash, and who can't fulfill the need for a male role model.

And the one visceral reminder of the permanent damage these gangs can do to a young kid is often, and quite literally, etched on the bodies of the misguided: tattoos depicting area- or zip-codes, or straight up naming their gang.  Subtlety is not gifted to the young.

Good luck getting a job in ten years with "Representing the 05" or "Rolling Crips" stained on your skin.  Or, honestly the truth, the face.

But chatting with a cop recently I solved a puzzle I'd been pondering for a while.  You see, on my weekly ride-outs in east Austin I have seen (and had it pointed out to me) two dudes walking down the street in happy harmony -- one wearing blue (Crip) and one red (Blood).  When I see this, I am tempted to roll down the window and mock them heartily for their gang fail (mock them from the safety of a patrol car, of course, I ain't stoopid).

This officer, who studies gangs, explained it to me and it's not the result of weak or nominal allegiance to their gangs, it's an economic issue.  As he explained it, in places like LA the gangs are territory-focused, they fight for their little patches of land because that's what matters to them.  But here in Austin, and some other places, territory matters less than money.  The cop said that gangs around here have figured out that cooperating makes for better profits than fighting, and now there's even a saying: Blue and red make green.

Pretty interesting, don't you think?

The irony is, at least in my experience, gang members don't have much green.  Sure, a nice pair of sneakers, some extra baggy jeans and the latest in self-lowering boxers ("While you sell a little crack to your customers, we'll show a lot of yours to the world!").  These are people who gets rides to court from their parents or take the bus to visit their probation officer.  The retirement plan sucks, too.

Ah well, there's only so much I can do but it's good to know APD is following the trends and we have some pretty impressive gang-intervention programs running in schools (and beyond) so with any luck, in a few years at least, we'll be seeing a lot less crack on the streets of Austin. 

Yes, both kinds.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

More great Xmas presents (books, books, books!)

I wanted to point out a few more great crime stories, and wonderful authors, for those looking to buy books for Christmas.  This is fun for me because I have met these authors in person, but I've also been able to read what they've written, so I'm not recommending blindly.

Michael Robotham is an Australian author who, I'm ashamed to say, I'd never read until about two months ago.  He did a book signing here in Austin and I picked up a couple of his novels, and got the chance to have a beer with him.  One of those incredibly nice, down-to-earth people that if you met him under other circumstances, you'd never know that when he does a book signing in Germany, 700 people show up to meet him.

His most recent novel is SAY YOU'RE SORRY.  

I was blown away by the story and elegant writing, I'm really excited to have found him.  And so were a few other people...

David Baldacci: "He's the real deal and we can only hope he will write faster."

Val McDermid: "'Heart-stopping, heart-breaking, heart-wrenching."

Stephen King: "Exceptional suspense."

Linwood Barclay: "Robotham doesn't just make me scared for his characters, he makes my heart ache for them."

I know what you're thinking - on top of those endorsements, he gets Mark Pryor's too!  Well yep, he sure does.

Okay, on to two new authors,young ladies I met at a conference who charmed me and impressed me with their energy, enthusiasm, and high talent:


Lisa Regan sees her book actually come out today, and I heard her talk about it at the conference.  Called FINDING CLAIRE FLETCHER, it's the kind of book that, when you hear about it, your hair stands on end.

Here's her blog, but seriously, click on the link for her book and go read about it.  (By the way, if you recognize her name it might be from here, she's been a loyal supporter and poster on D.A. Confidential since long before either of us were published, so that alone merits you checking her out).

Nancy Thompson has a novel featuring a Brit living in the U.S., the Russian mafia, kidnapping and murder.  It's called THE MISTAKEN.  Nancy is simply hilarious, a ton of fun and from what I've been told managed to get published the first time she tried.  Trust me, that means she's good.

Here's her cover:

What's next?  I predict a bestseller with this one, actually, and I'm going to talk about this book when it comes out in February, but I mention it here and now because you need to save a gift card or two to get your copies.

THREE GRAVES FULL is by the hugely talented first-time author Jamie Mason, someone I plan to get to blurb one my my upcoming novels.  

How good is this book?  Heck, just take a look at the awesome cover to know:

And check out who else likes it:

Racheting up suspense is one thing, and Mason manages it masterfully... But portraying characters so well and so thoroughly, examining and explaining their motives even for murder, requires a level of skill that is rare, marking this as an astonishingly accomplished debut and Mason as a writer to watch very closely."
Booklist (starred review)

"Mason's quirky debut novel deftly weaves dark humor into a plot that’s as complicated as a jigsaw puzzle but more fun to put together.... a dandy of a first outing with not a single boring moment."

"Three Graves Full is an astonishing debut novel, smart and stylish and wonderfully light on its feet. Jamie Mason writes crisp, surprising sentences, and this aura of wit infuses her lovely plot with an absolutely Hitchcockian menace. I think she was probably born to be a writer, and I eagerly look forward to whatever she will do next."
Peter Straub, author of Ghost Story and The Talisman (with Stephen King)

Three Graves Full is something special - an offbeat, high-class, pacey mystery that blends black humor with dark lyricism, and deft, intricate plotting with dead-on psychological insight. This is a gem of a debut.”
Tana French, author of In the Woods

Jamie Mason wields a pen that magically blends beautiful prose with unrelenting thrills. Each page delivers something new and fresh; in her hands, even the mundane becomes extraordinary. Grab a chair with a comfortable edge, because Mason will keep you poised there until the final page."
Alex Adams, author of White Horse

Did you spot the name Tana-blooming-French?  Oh, just my very favorite author in the world.  Oh, and if you can't wait to get THREE GRAVES FULL, you can pre-order it now and lock in your copy.  I wouldn't blame you at all, after all I have done just that myself.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ahhh, Christmas is nigh and here's what I'd like, please Santa.

Only a few weeks away, simplest the most wonderful time of the year.  My kids have been scribbling and rescribbling their lists for the jolly old man (whether that's yours truly or Santa, you may decide).

But what about me, what do I want for Christmas?  Well, since you asked, here's the list:

1.  Some cold weather, so I can light a fire of an evening.  Winter's thrill is blunted when its chill doesn't appear. And those kids' Xmas lists?  How the heck is Santa supposed to get them if we can't have the annual ceremonial burning in the fireplace?

2.  World peace.  Been asking for a few years now, I figure it's due.

3.  Another year, a full one all the way through next Christmas, where my kids believe in Santa.

4.  Glacier glasses.  Oh, I could ask for a ski trip for me and my son (we've been pining for several years now) but I'm not greedy.  I just want the glasses. 

5.  One of my cunning plans to work. Specifically, number 4., above.  (Ssshhh, here's the plan: I act like I'm not greedy about demanding a ski trip and, thinking I'm being nice, Santa gives me glacier glasses.  I show them to my wife and say, "Well, no point having these unless. . . "  She nods wisely and says, "Very true, darling, I'll go book that ski trip.")

6. Another year, a full one all the way through next Christmas, where I myself have nagging doubts about the non-existence of Santa.

7.   For people to stop saying there's a "War on Christmas."  Seriously, stop it.  Everyone knows the First Amendment is suspended for Christmas, and even non-believers like me are okay with that.  Look, it's a day where we can wave merrily to our neighbors (not just the ones next door, the ones across the street whose names we should know but don't), where we can eat too much, drink too much, watch too much TV (and let our kids watch stuff they probably shouldn't) and where we can do all this to honor a baby.  How cool is that?  (And if you really do believe there's a war on Christmas, watch this right now and report back on your change of mind.)

8.  Ski gloves.  (Back up plan and reinforcement to numbers 4. and 5. above.

9.  For Santa to skip requests 1. through 8., if he's busy.

10.  Exactly what I had last year: a nice Christmas tree decorated by my wife and kids, a day full of hugs and a few presents, no school, no work, no one there but us and James Bond.  Oh, and a Christmas meal of roasted duck (for me), a good bottle of port to share with my wife, and a lunch platter for the kids of their very favorite dish: roast beast.  Seriously.