The Chamber

Chapter 23

FOR the most part, death penalty appeals drag along for years at a snail's pace. A very old snail. No one is in a hurry. The issues are complicated. The briefs, motions, petitions, etc., are thick and burdensome. The court dockets are crowded with more pressing matters.

Occasionally, though, a ruling can come down with stunning speed. Justice can become terribly .efficient. Especially in the waning days, when a ',date for an execution has been set and the courts are tired of more motions, more appeals. Adam

eceived his first dose of quick justice while he was wandering the streets of Greenville Monday 'afternoon.

The Mississippi Supreme Court took one look at his petition for postconviction relief, and denied it around 5 P.m. Monday. Adam was just arriving in Greenville and knew nothing about it. The denial was certainly no surprise, but its speed certainly was. The court kept the petition less than eight hours. In all fairness, the court had dealt with Sam Cayhall off and on for over ten years.

In the final days of death cases, the courts watch each other closely. Copies of filings and rulings are faxed along so that the higher courts know what's coming. The denial by the Mississippi Supreme Court was routinely faxed to the federal district court in Jackson, Adam's next forum. It was sent to the Honorable F. Flynn Slattery, a young federal judge who was new to the bench. He had not been involved with the Cayhall appeals.

Judge Slattery's office attempted to locate Adam Hall between 5 and 6 P.m. Monday, but he was sitting in Kramer Park. Slattery called the Attorney General, Steve Roxburgh, and at eight-thirty a brief meeting took place in the judge's office. The judge happened to be a workaholic, and this was his first death case. He and his clerk studied the petition until midnight.

If Adam had watched the late news Monday, he would have learned that his petition had already been denied by the supreme court. He was, however, sound asleep.

At six Tuesday morning, he casually picked up the Jackson paper and learned that the supreme court had turned him down, that the matter was now in federal court, assigned to judge Slattery, and that both the Attorney General and the governor were claiming another victory. Odd, he thought, since he hadn't yet officially filed anything in federal court. He jumped in his car and raced to Jackson, two hours away. At nine, he entered the federal courthouse on Capitol Street in downtown, and met briefly with Breck Jefferson, an unsmiling young man, fresh from law school and holding the important position of Slattery's law clerk. Adam was told to return at eleven for a meeting with the judge.

Although he arrived at Slattery's office at exactly eleven, it was obvious a meeting of sorts had been in progress for some time. In the center of Slattery's huge office was a mahogany conference table, long and wide with eight black leather chairs on each side. Slattery's throne was at one end, near his desk, and before him on the table were stacks of papers, legal pads, and other effects. The side to his right was crowded with young white men in navy suits, all bunched together along the table, with another row of eager warriors seated close behind. This side belonged to the state, with His Honor, the governor, Mr. David McAllister, sitting closest to Slattery. His Honor, the Attorney General, Steve Roxburgh, had been banished to the middle of the table in an obvious losing battle over turf. Each distinguished public servant had brought to the table his most trusted litigators and thinkers, and this squadron of strategists had obviously been meeting with the judge and plotting long before Adam arrived.

Breck, the clerk, swung the door open and greeted Adam pleasantly enough, then asked him to step inside. The room was instantly silent as Adam slowly approached the table. Slattery reluctantly rose from his chair and introduced himself to Adam. The handshake was cold and fleeting. "Have a seat," he said ominously, fluttering his left hand at the eight Leather chairs on the defense side of the table. Adam hesitated, then picked one directly across from a face he recognized as belonging to Roxburgh. He placed his briefcase on the table, and sat down. Four empty chairs were to his right, in the direction of Slattery, and three to his left. He felt like a lonesome trespasser.

"I assume you know the governor and the Attorney General," Slattery said, as if everyone had personally met these two.

"Neither," Adam said, shaking his head slightly.

"I'm David McAllister, Mr. Hall, nice to meet you," the governor said quickly, ever the anxious glad-handing politician, with an incredibly rapid flash of flawless teeth.

"A pleasure," Adam said, barely moving his lips.

"And I'm Steve Roxburgh," said the Attorney General.

Adam only nodded at him. He'd seen his face in the newspapers.

Roxburgh took the initiative. He began talking and pointing at people. "These are attorneys from my criminal appeals division. Kevin Laird, Bart Moody, Morris Henry, Hugh Simms, and Joseph Ely. These guys handle all death penalty cases." They all nodded obediently while maintaining their suspicious frowns. Adam counted eleven people on the other side of the table.

McAllister chose not to introduce his band of clones, all of whom were suffering from either migraines or hemorrhoids. Their faces were contorted from pain, or perhaps from quite serious deliberation about legal matters at hand. "Hope we haven't jumped the gun, Mr. Hall,"

Slattery said as he slipped a pair of reading glasses on his nose. He was in his early forties, one of the young Reagan appointees. "When do on expect to officially file your petition here in federal court?"

"Today," Adam said nervously, still astounded the speed of it all. This was a positive evelopment though, he'd decided while driving o Jackson. If Sam got any relief, it would be in federal court, not state.

"When can the state respond?" the judge sked Roxburgh.

"Tomorrow morning. Assuming the petition ere raises the same issues as those raised in e supreme court."

"They're the same," Adam said to Roxburgh, en he turned to Slattery. "I was told to be here t eleven o'clock. What time did the meeting tart?"

"The meeting started when I decided it would tart, Mr. Hall," Slattery said icily. "Do you have a problem with that?"

"Yes. It's obvious this conference started some me ago, without me."

"What's wrong with that? This is my office, end I'll start meetings whenever I want."

"Yeah, but it's my petition, and I was invited here to discuss it. Seems as though I should've been here for the entire meeting."

"You don't trust me, Mr. Hall?" Slattery was easing forward on his elbows, thoroughly enjoying this.

"I don't trust anybody," Adam said, staring at His Honor.

"We're trying to accommodate you, Mr. Hall. Your client doesn't have much time, and I'm only trying to move things along. I thought you'd be pleased that we were able to arrange this meeting with such speed."

"Thank you," Adam said, and looked at his legal pad. There was a brief silence as the tension eased a bit.

Slattery held a sheet of paper. "Get the petition filed today. The state will file its response tomorrow. I'll consider it over the weekend and issue a ruling on Monday. In the event I decide to conduct a hearing, I need to know from both sides how long it will take to prepare. How about you, Mr. Hall? How long to get ready for a hearing?"

Sam had twenty-two days to live. Any hearing would have to be a hurried, concise affair with quick witnesses and, he hoped, a swift ruling by the court. Adding to the stress of the moment was the crucial fact that Adam had no idea how long it would take to prepare for a hearing because he'd never tried such a matter. He'd participated in a few minor skirmishes in Chicago, but always with Emmitt Wycoff close by. He was just a rookie, dammit! He wasn't even certain where the courtroom was located.

And something told him that the eleven vultures examining him at this precise second knew full well he didn't know what the hell he was doing. "I can be ready in a week," he said with a steady poker face and as much faith as he could muster.

"Very well," Slattery said, as if this was fine, a good answer, Adam, good boy. A week was reasonable. Then Roxburgh whispered something to one of his warlocks, and the whole bunch thought it was funny. Adam ignored them.

Slattery scribbled something with an ink pen, en studied it. He gave it to Breck the clerk ho treasured it and raced off to do something who with it. His Honor looked along the wall of legal infantry to his right, then he dropped his gaze upon young Adam. "Now, Mr. Hall, there's something else I'd like to discuss. As you know, this execution is scheduled to take place twenty-two days, and I would like to know if this court can expect any additional filings on behalf of Mr. Cayhall. I know this is an unusual bequest, but we're operating here in an unusual Situation. Frankly, this is my first involvement with a death penalty case as advanced as this one, and I think it's best if we all work together here."

In other words, Your Honor, you want to make damned sure there are no stays. Adam thought for a second. It was an unusual request, and one that was quite unfair. But Sam had a constitutional right to file anything at anytime, and Adam could not be bound by any promises made here. He decided to be polite. "I really can't say, Your Honor. Not now. Maybe next week."

"Surely you'll file the usual gangplank appeals," Roxburgh said, and the smirking bastards around him all looked at Adam with wondrous amazement.

"Frankly, Mr. Roxburgh, I'm not required to discuss my plans with you. Or with the court, for that matter."

"Of course not," McAllister chimed in for some reason, probably just his inability to stay quiet for more than five minutes.

Adam had noticed the lawyer sitting to Roxburgh's right, a methodical sort with steely eyes that seldom left Adam. He was young but gray, clean-shaven, and very neat. McAllister favored him, and had leaned to his right several times as if receiving advice. The others from the AG's office seemed to accede to his thoughts and movements. There was a reference in one of the hundred articles Adam had clipped and filed away about an infamous litigator in the AG's office known as Dr. Death, a clever bird with a penchant for pushing death penalty cases to their conclusion. Either his first or last name was Morris, and Adam vaguely recalled a Morris something or other mentioned moments earlier during Roxburgh's garbled introduction of his staff.

Adam assumed him to be the nefarious Dr. Death. Morris Henry was his name.

"Well, hurry up and file them then," Slattery said with a good dose of frustration. "I don't want to work around the clock as this thing goes down to the wire."

"No sir," Adam said in mock sympathy.

Slattery glared at him for a moment, then returned to the paperwork in front of him. "Very well, gentlemen, I suggest you stick by your telephones Sunday night and Monday morning. I'll be calling as soon as I've made a decision. This meeting is adjourned."

The conspiracy on the other side broke up in a ;furry of papers and files snatched from the table end sudden mumbled conversations. Adam was earest the door. He nodded at Slattery, offered feeble "Good day, Your Honor," and left the ffice. He gave a polite grin to the secretary and as into the hallway when someone called his name. It was the governor, with two flunkies tow.

"Can we talk a minute?" McAllister asked, rusting a hand at Adam's waist. They shook r a second.

"What about?"

"Just five minutes, okay."

Adam looked at the governor's boys waiting a few feet away. "Alone. Private. And off the record," he said.

"Sure," McAllister said, then pointed to a set of double doors. They stepped inside a small empty courtroom with the lights off. The governor's hands were free. Someone else carried his briefcase and bags. He stuck them deep in his pockets and leaned against a railing. He was lean and well dressed, nice suit, fashionable silk tie, obligatory white cotton shirt. He was under forty and aging remarkably well. Only a touch of gray tinted his sideburns. "How's Sam?" he asked, feigning deep concern.

Adam snorted, looked away, then sat his briefcase on the floor. "Oh, he's wonderful. I'll tell him you asked. He'll be thrilled."

"I'd heard he was in bad health."

"Health? You're trying to kill him. How can you be worried about his health?"

"Just heard a rumor."

"He hates your guts, okay? His health is bad, but he can hang on for another three weeks."

"Hate is nothing new for Sam, you know."

"What exactly do you want to talk about?"

"Just wanted to say hello. I'm sure we'll get together shortly."

"Look, Governor, I have a signed contract with my client that expressly forbids me from talking to you. I repeat, he hates you. You're the reason he's on death row. He blames you for everything, and if he knew we were talking now, he'd fire me."

"Your own grandfather would fire you?"

"Yes. I truly believe it. So if I read in tomorrow's paper that you met with me today and we discussed Sam Cayhall, then I'll be on my way back to Chicago, which will probably screw up your execution because Sam won't have a lawyer. Can't kill a man if he doesn't have a lawyer."

"Says who?"

"Just keep it quiet, okay?"

"You have my word. But if we can't talk, then how do we discuss the issue of clemency?"

"I don't know. I haven't reached that point yet.

McAllister's face was always pleasant. The comely smile was always in place or just beneath the surface. "You have thought about clemency, haven't you?"

"Yes. With three weeks to go, I've thought bout clemency. Every death row inmate dreams f a pardon, Governor, and that's why you can't rant one. You pardon one convict, and you'll have the other fifty pestering you for the same favor. Fifty families writing letters and calling ' night and day. Fifty lawyers pulling strings and trying to get in your office. You and I both know t can't be done."

"I'm not sure he should die."

He said this while looking away, as if a change f heart was under way, as if the years had atured him and softened his zeal to punish am. Adam started to say something, then alized the magnitude of these last words. He atched the floor for a minute, paying particular attention to the governor's tasseled loafers. The governor was deep in thought.

"I'm not sure he should die, either," Adam laid.

"How much has he told you?"

"About what?" ' "About the Kramer bombing."

"He says he's told me everything."

"But you have doubts?"


"So do I. I always had doubts."


"Lots of reasons. Jeremiah Dogan was a notorious liar, and he was scared to death of going to prison. The IRS had him cold, you know, and he was convinced that if he went to prison he'd be raped and tortured and killed by gangs of blacks. He was the Imperial Wizard, you know. Dogan was also ignorant about a lot of things. He was sly and hard to catch when it came to terrorism, but he didn't understand the criminal justice system. I always thought someone, probably the FBI, told Dogan that Sam had to be convicted or they'd ship him off to prison. No conviction, no deal. He was a very eager witness on the stand. He desperately wanted the jury to convict Sam."

"So he lied?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"About what?"

"Have you asked Sam if he had an accomplice?"

Adam paused for a second and analyzed the question. "I really can't discuss what Sam and I have talked about. It's confidential."

"Of course it is. There are a lot of people in this state who secretly do not wish to see Sam executed." McAllister was now watching Adam closely.

"Are you one of them?"

"I don't know. But what if Sam didn't plan to kill either Marvin Kramer or his sons? Sure Sam was there, right in the thick of it. But what if someone else possessed the intent to murder?"

"Then Sam isn't as guilty as we think."

"Right. He's certainly not innocent, but not guilty enough to be executed either. This bothers me, Mr. Hall. Can I call you Adam?"

"Of course."

"I don't suppose Sam has mentioned anything about an accomplice."

"I really can't discuss that. Not now."

The governor slipped a hand from a pocket and gave Adam a business card. "Two phone numbers on the back. One is my private office number. The other is my home number. All phone calls are confidential, I swear. I play for the cameras sometimes, Adam, it goes with the fob, but I can also be trusted."

Adam took the card and looked at the handwritten numbers.

"I couldn't live with myself if I failed to rdon a man who didn't deserve to die," McAllister said as he walked to the door. "Give me a call, but don't wait too late. This thing's already heating up. I'm getting twenty phone calls a day."

He winked at Adam, showed him the sparkling teeth once again, and left the room.

Adam sat in a metal chair against the wall, and looked at the front of the card. It was fold-embossed with an official seal. Twenty calls a day. What did that mean? Did the callers want Sam dead or did they want him pardoned?

A lot of people in this state do not wish to see Sam executed, he'd said, as if he was already weighing the votes he'd lose against those he might gain.

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