"Murder. You should have charged the defendant with murder."
"He didn't kill anyone, Your Honor." Not yet. Not that I could
"Juries like murder, Ms. Cooper. You should know that better than I
do." Harlan Moffett read the indictment a second time as court
officers herded sixty prospective jurors into the small courtroom.
"Give these amateurs a dead body, a medical examiner who can tell
them the knife wound in the back wasn't self-inflicted, a perp who
was somewhere near the island of Manhattan when the crime occurred,
and I guarantee you a conviction. This stuff you keep bringing
Moffett underscored each of the charges with his red fountain pen.
Next to the block letters of the defendant's name in the document's
heading, People of the State of New York Against Andrew
Tripping, he sketched the stick figure of a man hanging from
the crosspiece of a gallows.
My adversary had been pleased when the case was sent out to Moffett
for trial earlier in the afternoon. As tough as the old-timer was
on homicide cases, he had been appointed to the bench thirty years
ago, when the laws made it virtually impossible to take rape cases
before a jury. No witness to the attack, no corroborating evidence,
then there could be no prosecution. He clearly liked it better that
We both stood on the raised platform directly in front of Moffett,
answering his questions about the matter for which we were about to
select a panel. I was trying to divine my prospects as I watched
the notations he was making on the face of the indictment I had
handed up to him.
"You're right, Judge." Peter Robelon smiled as Moffett scribbled
out the image of the doomed man on the gallows. "Alex has the
classic 'he said-she said' situation here. She's got no physical
evidence, no forensics."
"Would you mind keeping your voice down, Peter?" I couldn't direct
the judge to lower his volume, but maybe he'd get my point. Robelon
knew the acoustics in the room as well as I did, and was keenly
aware that the twelve people being seated in the box could overhear
him as the three of us talked about the facts and issues in the
"Speak up, Alexandra." Moffett cupped his hand to his ear.
"Would you mind if we had this conversation in your robing room?"
My subtlety had escaped the judge.
"Alex is afraid the jurors are going to hear what she's about to
tell them anyway as soon as she makes her opening statement. Smoke
and mirrors, Your Honor. That's all she's got."
Moffett stood up and walked down the three steps, motioning both of
us to follow him out the door, held open by the chief clerk, into
the small office adjacent to the courtroom.
The room was bare, except for an old wooden desk and four chairs.
The only decoration, next to the telephone mounted on the wall,
were the names and numbers of every pizza, sandwich, and fast food
joint in a five-block radius, scrawled on the peeling gray paint
over the years by court officers who had ordered meals for
Moffett closed the window that looked down from the fifteenth floor
above Centre Street in Lower Manhattan. Police sirens, from patrol
cars streaking north out of headquarters, competed with our
"You know why juries like homicides so much? It's easy for them."
The wide sleeves of his black robes flapped about as the judge
waved his arms in the air. "A corpse, a weapon, an unnatural death.
They know that a terrible crime occurred. You've just got to put
the perp in the ballpark and they send him up the river for
I opened my mouth to address him. He pointed a finger in my
direction and kept going. "You spend most of every damn rape
trial just trying to prove there was even a crime committed."
Moffett wasn't wrong. The hardest thing about these cases was
convincing a jury that a felony had actually taken place. People
usually kill one another for reasons. Not good reasons, but things
that twelve of their peers can grab on to and accept as the
precipitating cause. Greed. Rage. Jealousy. Infidelity. All the
deadly sins and then some. Prosecutors don't have to supply a
motive, but most of the time one makes itself visible and we offer
it up for their consideration.
Sex crimes are different. Nobody can fathom why someone forces an
act of intercourse on an unwilling partner. Psychologists ruminate
about power and control and anger, but they haven't stood in front
of a jury box dozens of times, as I have, trying to make ordinary
citizens understand crimes that seem to have no motives at
Explain why the clean-cut nineteen-year-old sitting opposite them
in the well of the courtroom broke into a stranger's apartment to
steal property but became aroused at the sight of a
fifty-eight-year-old housewife watching television, so he held a
knife to her throat and committed a sexual act. Explain why the
supervising janitor of a Midtown office building would corner a
cleaning woman in a broom closet on the night shift, when the
hallway was dark and deserted, pushing her to her knees and
demanding oral sex.
"May I tell you what I've got, Judge?"
"In a minute." Moffett waved me off with the back of his hand, rays
of the late-afternoon sunlight glancing off the garnet-colored
stone in his pinky ring. "Peter, let me hear about your
"Andrew Tripping. Forty-two years old. No record -- "
"Well, that's not exactly true, Peter."
"Nothing you can use at trial, is there, Alex? Now how about
letting me finish without interrupting?"
I placed my legal pad on the desk and started to list all the facts
I knew that would flush out the picture Tripping's lawyer was about
"Graduated from Yale. Went into the Marine Corps. Did some work for
the CIA for about ten years. Now he's a consultant."
"Your guy and everyone else who's not employed. Everybody who
hasn't got a job's a consultant. What field?"
"Security. Governmental affairs. Terrorism. Spent a lot of time in
the Middle East, Asia before that. Can't give you too many
"Can't or won't? You'll tell me, but then you'll have to kill me?"
Moffett was the only one to laugh at his own jokes. He slid the
yellow-backed felony complaint out of the court file and flipped it
over. "Made two hundred fifty thousand bail? Must know something --
Peter smiled at me as he answered. "Our friend, Ms. Cooper, was a
bit excessive in her request at the arraignment. I got it cut in
half in criminal court. He spent a week on Rikers before I got him
"Sure doesn't look like a rapist."
"What is it, Judge? The blazer, rep tie, and wire-rimmed glasses?
Or just that he's the first white guy you've had in the dock all
year?" There was no point in losing my temper yet. The jury would
be looking at Tripping the same way the judge was. People heard the
word "rape" and expected to see a Neanderthal, club in hand,
peering out from behind a tree in Central Park.
I had Moffett's attention now. "Who's the girl?"
"Thirty-six-year-old woman. Paige Vallis. She works at an
investment banking firm."
"She knows the guy? This one of those date things?"
"Ms. Vallis had met Tripping twice before. Yes, he had invited her
out to dinner the evening this happened."
Moffett looked at the complaint again, comparing the place of
occurrence with the defendant's home address. Now his primitive
doodles were a wine bottle and a couple of glasses. "Then she went
back to his place, I guess."
It wouldn't have surprised me if he had said what he was
undoubtedly thinking at that moment: What did she expect to happen
if she went home with him at midnight, after a candlelit dinner and
a bottle of wine? I had countered that logic in court more times
than I could remember. Moffett didn't speak the words. He just
scowled and shook his head back and forth slowly.
"She got injuries?"
"No, sir." The overwhelming percentage of sexual assault victims
presented themselves to emergency rooms with no external signs of
physical injury. Any rookie prosecutor could get a conviction when
the victim was battered and bruised.
Peter Robelon spoke over me as I nodded my head. "So what, Judge?
My client admits that he and Ms. Vallis made love. Alex doesn't
even need to waste the court's time with her serology expert. I'll
stipulate to the findings."
Nothing new about Tripping's defense. Consent. The two spent a
rapturous night together, he would argue, and for some reason that
Peter would raise at trial, Paige Vallis ran to the nearest cop on
the beat the next morning to charge her lover with rape. Surely it
couldn't be for the pleasure of the experience she was about to
undergo in a public forum, when I called her to the witness
"Did Judge Hayes talk plea with you two?"
The case had been pending since the indictment was filed back in
March. "I haven't made any offer to the defense."
"You got rocks in your head, Alexandra? Nothing better to do with
your time?" Moffett cocked one eye and stared over his reading
glasses at me.
"I'd like to explain the circumstances, Your Honor. There's a child
"She's got a kid? What does that have to do with anything?"
"He's the one with a kid. A son. That's what the endangering count
"The father did something sexual to his own kid? Now that's --
"No, no, Judge. There's been some physical abuse and strange
behavior -- "
"Stop characterizing this to prejudice the court, Alex. She's on
thin ice, Your Honor."
"The boy was a witness to much of what happened leading up to the
crime itself. In a sense, he was the weapon the defendant used to
compel Ms. Vallis to submit to him. If Peter will stop interrupting
me, I can lay it out for you."
Moffett scanned the indictment again, reading the language about
endangering the welfare of a child. He looked up at Robelon. "How
about it, Peter? Your guy willing to take the misdemeanor and save
us all a lot of aggravation?"
"No way. The prosecution doesn't have the kid. She's never even
talked to him. He's not going to testify against his father."
"Is that true, Alexandra?" Moffett was up and pacing now, anxious
to get back in the courtroom before the prospective jurors got too
"Can we just slow this down a bit, Peter?" I asked. "That's one of
the things I'd like to discuss with you before we charge ahead,
"What's to discuss?"
"I'd like you to sign an order directing production of the child,
so that I can interview him before I open to the jury."
"Why? Where is he?"
"I don't know, Your Honor. ACW took him away from Mr. Tripping at
the time of the arrest. They've never allowed me to meet with him."
The Agency for Child Welfare had relocated Tripping's ten-year-old
son to a foster home outside the city when I filed the
"Judge," Peter said, picking up on Moffett's obvious annoyance with
my case, "see what I mean? She hasn't even laid eyes on the
"Why isn't the kid with his mother?"
Peter and I spoke at the same time. "She's dead."
Peter jumped in defensively. "Killed herself a few months after he
was born. Typical postpartum depression, taken to the worst
"Tripping was in the military at the time, Judge. She was killed
with one of his guns. I've spoken to investigators who think he's
the one who pulled the trigger."
Moffet aimed his pinky ring in my direction, jabbing it in the air
while he grinned and looked over at Peter Robelon. "She should have
charged him with murder, just like I said. Pretty good
self-restraint for Alexandra Cooper. So why'd Judge Hayes leave me
with all these loose ends to tie up when he sent this over to me?
What else are you asking for?"
Peter answered before I could open my mouth. "Alex, you know I'm
going to oppose any request you make for an adjournment. You
answered ready for trial, Hayes sent us out, and my client is ready
to get this over with."
"It sounds like we got some housekeeping matters to clear up here
before we start picking," Moffett said. "I'll tell you what I'm
going to do. Let's go back inside, so I can greet the jurors and
give them a timetable. I'll introduce each of you and the
defendant, tell them we need the morning to complete some business
that doesn't involve them, and have them back here at two P.M.
Either of you have a list of witnesses you want to give me?"
I handed both men a very short list of names. This case rested
squarely on Paige Vallis's shoulders. "I may have one more to add
to this tomorrow."
Peter Robelon smiled again. "I don't want to lose sleep worrying
about who that might be, Alex. Want to give me a hint?"
"I assume you'd be able to do your usual devastating
cross-examination, even if I conjured up Mother Teresa as an
eyewitness. Let me keep you guessing."
Mercer Wallace, the case detective from the Special Victims Unit,
had been contacted by one of the guys in Homicide at the end of
last week. He had a confidential informant -- a reliable CI, he
claimed -- who had been Tripping's cellmate at Rikers and had some
incriminating information that he'd overheard in the pens in the
hours after the two were first incarcerated together. They were
producing this informant -- Kevin Bessemer -- in my office tonight,
for me to evaluate the statements he was trying to trade for some
years shaved off the time he was looking at in his own pending
Moffett waved his hand toward the door and the court officer opened
it for us. He took my arm and steered me toward the hallway. "Nice
of you to bring me a case that doesn't have the first three rows of
my courtroom filled with reporters for a change."
"Believe me, Judge, it's the way I prefer to work, too."
"Do yourself a favor, Alex." Moffett turned back to look at
Robelon, no doubt winking to assure him the whispering was to
benefit his client. "Think about whether we can make this case go
away by this time tomorrow. I'm amazed it survived the motion to
inspect and dismiss the grand jury minutes. I'm not sure you're
going to see a lot of rulings going your way under my watch, from
this point on."
"It's actually a very compelling story -- and a frightening one. I
think you'll see that more clearly when I make my application in
He let go and stepped out ahead of me, into the courtroom, taking
his place back up on the bench as Robelon and I walked to our
Mercer Wallace was standing at the rail, as though he had been
waiting for me to emerge from the robing room. Moffett recognized
him from a previous trial. "Miss Cooper, you want a minute to speak
with Detective Wallace before I get started with our introductions
"I'd appreciate that, Your Honor."
Mercer reached for my shoulder and turned me away from the jurors
in the box, toward him. "Keep your game face on, Alex. Just got
news that you should know before you spill anything to the judge
about how strong your case is. Hope I'm not too late to be
He leaned over and spoke as softly as he could. "Heads are gonna
roll as soon as the commissioner gets word about this one. Two guys
were bringing Kevin Bessemer over from Rikers for your interview.
The car got jammed up behind an accident on the FDR Drive, and the
prisoner bolted from the backseat, right down the footpath on One
Hundred Nineteenth Street and into the projects. They lost
"Poker face, girl. You promised."
"But wasn't he cuffed?"
"Rear-cuffed and locked in tight, the guys say. Stay cool, Alex,
the judge is checking to see what the fidgeting is and why your
blood pressure's going up. Your cheeks are on fire."
"I can't start picking this jury tomorrow. How the hell am I going
to buy myself some time?"
"Tell the man what happened, kid. Tell him your snitch is
Excerpted from THE KILLS © Copyright 2004 by Linda
Fairstein. Reprinted with permission by Pocket Star, an imprint of
Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.