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?


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Cover Reveal... And Quiet Places With Books

I'm delighted to be able to show off the cover art for my next Hugo Marston novel, The Paris Librarian. As you can see, it's a little different from the previous Hugo books and I absolutely love it.

 And it's especially appropriate that I get to reveal it this week of all weeks, simply because it's:

There are many people in my life who make it possible for me to write, people who have supported me in various ways and allowed me to act and feel like a real author.

Well, thanks to them, that's what I am.

There are the usual suspects, those I thank at every opportunity, like my wife and kids, my parents, my close friends. Folks like Scott Montgomery at BookPeople here in Austin, my agent and the great people at Seventh Street Books (Jill , Dan, and Jon, I'm looking at you...!).

But what about the unusual suspects?

In 2009, I started going to my local library, the Will Hampton Branch of the Austin Public Library system. Here she is:

I went there every weekend and some afternoons, whenever I could, to write The Bookseller. Took me about eight months and all that time I'd stroll in, nod politely to whoever was at the circulation desk, find space at a table, and get on with it. When that novel was done, I started on the sequel at the library as I waited for my agent to find me a publisher.

Then, in October of 2012, the book was published and one of the first things I did was take two copies to the library manager and hand them over.

"This book was written right here," I told him. "Thank you for helping me get it done."

He was delighted, and admitted that they'd wondered a little about the guy who came so regularly and typed so intently. So I made the rounds and introduced myself to the other staff who were there. Most of them have moved on since but I get to know the new folks who come in, and they are always thrilled that a real-life author wrote (so far) seven novels in their library.

And I still do.

The current WIP is also being sweated over and thumped out amid the stacks. The staff are always happy to see me, to stop for a quick chat, but they also respect my time and are plainly hesitant to interrupt -- how perfect is that?

Sometimes I get to give back a little. For example, the Hoover Public Library in Alabama invited me (and half a dozen other authors) to their Southern Voices Festival. Talk about an impressive library and staff... But there I was able to meet with and talk to hundreds of readers, tell them in person why I love (and need) libraries. They even filmed a chat between myself and fellow author Jamie Mason (of Three Graves Full and Monday's Lie fame). Check that out here.

I'm sometimes asked why I write at a library, and there are several reasons. For one thing, I'm surrounded by books, and there's nothing more inspiring than that. I also like the ambient noise of the place, people murmuring and browsing the shelves, the occasional too-loud kid who's excited about this book or that video.

And now, of course, it's also about the people. I still have questions they can answer, usually something like: "Hey, Eric, what do you Americans call such-and-such?" But more than that, I enjoy having friendly and familiar faces around me as I work. (I know I have familiar and friendly faces at home, but they are much smaller and usually need things from me.) Here I am with some of my librarian friends:

The moment I pass through those sliding glass doors a kind of peace settles over me (unless I'm returning an overdue book, then I whistle innocently and point in the opposite direction as I drop it in the return slot).

I'll be back there this Friday, on most Fridays in fact, it's as close to an office as this writer has. But it's not your usual office - the commute is five minutes, the welcome is genuine and warm, the hours are short, and I get a ton done.

So thank you to my friends at the Hampton Library. And thank you to all the librarians out there, you probably have no idea how much we writers need and adore you.

But we surely do.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The DWI Testimony of Donald Trump

This hasn't been in the news for some reason, but now that the case is over I can publish the transcript of a trial in which presidential candidate Donald Trump played a small role, right here in Austin. This happened when he was campaigning in Texas -- as part of his pro-law enforcement platform he rode out with APD, in Nigel Sector.

About halfway through the evening the officer he was with, Officer Dover, pulled over Christopher Paul Bacon for failing to maintain a single lane (aka weaving). Mr. Bacon took the case to trial, and because Mr. Trump was present he was called as a witness. He testified right after the officer, as the State's second, and final, witness. (The prosecutor was assistant county attorney Gowan Gether, the defense attorney was Susan Yoo.)

Let's begin with how the officer came to pull the defendant over that night. What happened?

I'll tell you what happened. I was there and saw everything. Saw it all, and you better believe I can tell the heck out of what happened that night. The officer was terrific.

Thank you. Please go on.

Oh, I will. See, I was in the police car. Super car, too, had great lights on the top. Best police car I've ever seen, Officer Ben can drive as fast as he wants. It's got lights. Sirens. The works. We could drive the wrong way down a street if we wanted, no one would say anything. Anyway, we see this guy, the drunk guy who's sitting by that horse-faced lawyer over there. He's driving but he's also drunk, so we arrest him.
OK, but why did you guys pull him over? What was your probable cause for the stop? 

Probable what?
Cause. The reason for the stop.
What, are you kidding me? He was drunk. Look at the guy, he's probably drunk now. He looks drunk to me, sitting there like a loser.
Defense Atty:
I object, Judge, this isn't evidence, it's insults.

Hey, I got evidence. The best evidence. Evidence like you've never seen. Beyond all absolutely reasonable doubt, that's how good my evidence is. It's terrific.
Defense Atty:
Then let's hear it.
Be quiet. I bet you paid for his drinks that night, didn't you? In fact, I bet you're probably hammered right now, too, aren't you?  Who else is a drunk gonna hire for a lawyer? Like for like. You're both losers.

Officer, stick to the facts please.
Fine. You want the facts? You better believe I'll show you facts. Big ones. Huge facts, ones you won't even believe exist until I tell you about them. [Pointing] Drunk. This guy, while he was driving. Shocking, I don't know what this country's coming to. But here I am, testifying. My testimony, it's great.
Perhaps we could hear some of the specifics.
You did. I said it. And just for you, so we're clear, I'll say it again. That guy was drunk while he was driving. Drunk like a skunk, and believe you me I know my skunks. Especially the ones who are drunk. And driving.
Did the officer you were with perform any SFSTs?

Any what, now?

Standardized field sobriety tests.

That's a great question. A fine question. And yes he did. All of them. He performed all of the tests that we know about, that you're talking about. Great tests, super ones. Every single test that there is, those are the ones he did.

Were they passed or failed?

I've never failed a test in my life. Any test. Never. You can go back and look, Donald Trump hasn't failed a single test, it's right there you just have to look. Quite clear.

What about blood or breath? Did the defendant give up any of those?

Are you kidding? I could smell his breath a mile away. No test needed. Clear and unequivocal. Drunk. That's the problem with policing these days, people like you expect all their fancy-shmancy scientific tests when some common sense will do. I'm a businessman, successful, millionaire businessman. Billionaire, even. I know wasted when I smell it, even if you don't. That's your problem, right there. 

What about a blood test?

What? Of course not. No one's taking his blood. I'm not taking anyone's blood. That's disgusting. Who would do that? Where are you from that you'd do that? Disgusting. I bet you're not even from here, are you? In fact, why don't you who us your birth certificate? See, you probably don't have one. Not even born yet.
Err, thank you. I pass the witness. And abandon the case.

Abandon? No, I'm not done, loser. You know what I'm gonna do? When I'm president I'm gonna keep arresting drunks, and make them prosecute themselves. Next one I catch, just you watch. Take him to jail and make him prosecute himself. I'm just saying. Too many of them in this town. Now, I'm sure they're not all bad, some are probably good people. But yeah. Just you watch.

You're excused. Case dismissed.

No it isn't. Does this case look dismissed to you? All these people, this yuge courtroom. I'll tell you this, there's no problem with this case. It's solid. The best evidence, not dismissed. No problem at all.
Hey, where's everyone going?

[End of Transcript]