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Reversible Errors

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APRIL 20, 2001

Attorney and Client

The client, like most clients, said he was innocent. He was
scheduled to die in thirty-three days.

Arthur Raven, his lawyer, was determined not to worry. After all,
Arthur reasoned, he was not even a volunteer. Instead, he'd been
drafted by the federal appellate court to ensure that after ten
years of litigation, no sound arguments remained to save Rommy
Gandolph's life. Worrying was not part of the job.

He was worried anyway.

"I'm sorry?" asked Pamela Towns, his young associate, from the
passenger's seat. A gurgle of anguish had escaped Arthur as he had
come, once again, face-to-face with himself.

"Nothing," said Arthur. "I just hate being the designated

"Then we shouldn't lose." Pamela, with rosy good looks fit for TV
news, flashed a bright coast-to-coast grin.

They were far from the city now, doing eighty on cruise control in
Arthur's new German sedan. In these parts, the road was so flat and
straight, he did not even have to touch the wheel. The prairie
farmlands raced by, corn stubble and loam, silent and eternal in
the wan light of morning. They had left Center City at seven to
beat the traffic. Arthur hoped to hold a brief introductory meeting
with their new client, Rommy Gandolph, at the state penitentiary at
Rudyard and to be back at his desk by two o'clock -- or three, if
be decided to risk asking Pamela to lunch. He remained intensely
conscious of the young woman nearby, of the tawny hair falling
softly on her shoulders and of the hand that crept to her thigh
every several miles to retract the hiking of her tartan

Eager as he was to please her, Arthur could offer little hope for
the case.

"At this stage," he said, "under the law, the only thing that could
possibly amount to reversible error would be new evidence of actual
innocence. And we're not going to find that."

"How do you know?" asked Pamela.

"How do I know? Because the man confessed to everybody but the
Daily Planet." Ten years ago, Gandolph had copped to the
police, then gave a handwritten statement to the prosecutor, Muriel
Wynn and finally repeated his admissions on videotape. On each
occasion, he had acknowledged he was the person who'd shot two men
and a woman and left them in a restaurant food locker in a case
still referred to, in the tempered words of the press, as 'the
Fourth of July Massacre.'

"Well, he kept saying on the phone he's innocent," said Pamela.
"It's possible, isn't it?"

For Arthur, who had been a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney before
coming to work seven years ago at O'Grady, Steinberg, Marconi and
Horgan, there was no possibility of that at all. But Pamela, at
twenty-five or twenty-six, had just started practice. Saving an
innocent client was the sort of adventure she'd imagined in law
school, riding like Joan of Arc toward radiant justice. Instead,
she'd settled for a big law firm and $120,000 a year. But why not
have everything? Well, you couldn't blame people for their
fantasies. God knows, Arthur Raven realized that.

"Listen to what I found in Rommy's probation records," said Pamela.
"On July 5, 1991, he was sentenced to time served for a violation
of probation. The murders were early on July 4th. So 'time served'
would mean he was in jail, wouldn't it?"

"It would mean he was in jail at some point. Not necessarily on
July 4th. Does his rap sheet show he was in jail on July

"No. But it's something to investigate, isn't it?"

It would have been something to investigate a decade ago, when the
records to prove it was nonsense still existed. Yet even at that,
the federal appeals court was likely to grant Gandolph a brief stay
of execution, during which Arthur and Pamela would be obliged to
scramble in dogged -- and futile -- pursuit of this phantom

Rankled by the prospect of more wasted time, Arthur nudged the
cruise control wand a bit higher and felt some dim satisfaction in
the big auto's response. He had purchased the car two months ago as
a trophy of sorts after he became a full partner in his law firm.
It was one of the few luxuries he'd ever permitted himself, but he
had barely turned the key when he began to feel he was
disrespecting the memory of his father, who had recently passed, a
loving man, but one whose eccentricities had included a cramped

"And listen to this," Pamela was saying. She had withdrawn Rommy
Gandolph's rap sheet from the thick folder on her lap and read out
the entries. Gandolph was a thief and a fence. He'd had half a
dozen convictions -- burglary, theft, possession of stolen property
several times. "But nothing with a gun," said Pamela. "No violence.
No female victims. How does he suddenly become a rapist and a

"Practice, practice, practice," answered Arthur.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Pamela's full mouth turn briefly
downward. He was screwing this up. As always. Arthur did not know
exactly what he had done wrong with women to leave him single at
the age of thirty-eight. Appearance was one issue, he realized.
He'd had the droop and pallor of middle age since his teens. In law
school, he'd had a brief, hurtful marriage to Marjya, a Romanian
immigrant. After that, for a period he'd seemed to have neither the
inclination nor the time to start again. He had given so much to
the law -- so much fury and passion in every case, so many nights
and weekends where he actually felt pleasure in having solitary
time to concentrate. And his father's declining health, and the
question of what would become of his sister, Susan, had also been
draining preoccupations for years. But now, seeking even the
faintest sign that Pamela had some interest in him, he felt humbled
by his foolishness. His hopes with her were as unlikely as hers for
Gandolph. He felt the need to chasten them both.

"Look," said Arthur, "our client, Gandolph. 'Rommy'? Not only did
Rommy confess early and often, but when he went to trial, his
defense was insanity. Which requires his lawyer to admit Rommy
committed the crime. Then we have ten more years of appeals, and
post-conviction petitions, and habeas corpus proceedings,
with two different sets of new attorneys, and none of them happens
to mention that Rommy is the wrong man. Let alone Rommy, who only
remembered that he didn't do it when he was about forty-five days
away from getting the needle. Really, Pamela. Do you think he told
the lawyers before us he was innocent? Every con knows this game --
new lawyers, new story."

Arthur smiled, attempting to appear worldly-wise, but the truth was
he'd never really accommodated himself to criminal defendants'
shenanigans. Since leaving the Prosecuting Attorney's Office,
Arthur had played defense lawyer infrequently, only when one of the
firm's corporate clients or its bosses was suspected of some
financial manipulation. The law he lived most days as a civil
litigator was a tidier, happier law, where both sides fudged and
the issues raised were minuscule matters of economic policy. His
years as a prosecutor seemed to be a time when he'd been assigned
each day to clean out a flooded basement where coliform bacteria
and sewer stink rotted almost everything. Someone had said that
power corrupted. But the saying applied equally to evil. Evil
corrupted. A single twisted act, some piece of gross
psychopathology that went beyond the boundaries of what almost
anybody else could envision -- father who tossed his infant out a
tenth-floor window; a former student who forced lye down the throat
of a teacher; or someone like Arthur's new client who not only
killed but then sodomized one of the corpses -- the backflow from
such acts polluted everyone who came near. Cops. Prosecutors.
Defense lawyers. Judges. No one in the face of these horrors
reacted with the dispassion the law supposed. There was a single
lesson: things fall apart. Arthur had harbored no desire to return
to that realm where chaos was always imminent.

In another fifteen minutes they had arrived there. Rudyard was a
small town like many others in the Middle West, its core a few dark
buildings, still smudged with coal soot, and several tin hangars
with corrugated pturowic roofs that housed various farm services.
At the outskirts, a kind of mini-suburbanization was under way,
with strip malls and tract homes, the result of the economic
security afforded by an unusual anchor industry -- the

When they turned a corner on a movie-set neighborhood of maple
trees and small frame houses, the facility suddenly loomed at the
end of the block, like a horror-flick monster jumping out of a
closet, a half-mile continuum of randomly connected yellow-brick
buildings, notable for the narrowness of the few windows. Those
structures in turn surrounded an old stone edifice stout enough to
have survived from the Middle Ages. Toward the perimeter lay not
only a ten-foot brick wall, but a graveled moat of projecting
stainless steel spikes, and beyond that a boundary of cyclone
fencing supporting five-foot spirals of razor wire, brilliant in
the sun.

In the prison guardhouse, they signed in, then were directed to a
worn bench for the long wait while Rommy was brought down. In the
interval, Arthur reviewed Rommy's letter, which had arrived via
various intermediate hands at the Court of Appeals. It was composed
in a hodgepodge scrawl, with multicolored markings and other
features too irregular even to be called childish. Just looking at
the letter, you knew that Rommy Gandolph was both desperate and

Excerpted from REVERSIBLE ERRORS © Copyright 2002 by Scott
Turow. Reprinted with permission by Warner Vision. All rights

Reversible Errors
by by Scott Turow

  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Mass Market Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 0446612626
  • ISBN-13: 9780446612623