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Authors: Steve Martini

Tags: #Trials (Murder), #Mystery & Detective, #Legal, #General, #Psychological, #Suspense, #Large type books, #Fiction

Compelling Evidence

BOOK: Compelling Evidence


Paul Madriani Book 01

Steve Martini


FROM somewhere behind the scenes the lights in the chamber are turned on. Dreyers nudges me. "Looks like the $64,000 Challenge," he says. This is low, directed to me, but others hear it‐ A little comic relief There's a titter of laughter from behind us, up on the risers. Johnston and the other guard don't laugh. Dreyers whispers, lower now, under his breath, to me only. "Pretty soon they'll pop the question." I look at him. "For $64,000‐how long can you hold your breath?" He gives me a little sideways wink. I can hear some giggling on the other side of Dreyers. Another cop, one of his buddies. Bad taste, I think. But as I study the scene, he's right. Now this room with its cupola‐like top, lit on the inside like some MacY's store window, does not resemble anything so much as one of the glittering, cheesy booths from a sixties TV quiz show. A lone guard enters the room through a door on the other side of the chamber. Muffled cries, intonations of a desperate low moan are clearly audible as the door is closed. Now each calculated procedure is a step closer to death for the man waiting on the other side of that door. In quick, measured‐I movements the guard lowers two sets of green venetian blinds covering windows on the other side of the chamber. These will mask the execution team as they open the valves and throw the lever to release the lethal gas. Then I see them, the size of two softballs.

Granules of sodium cyanide, like fine baking powder'a pound each, have been tied 2 and molded into a round form. They are held in two pieces Of cheesecloth and fastened to a device over the vat under each chair.

These deadly chemical balls hang tenuously by wire from two curved metal arms. When the lever is thrown these arms will drop, the cyanide falling into the pots of sulfuric acid and water. For safety the two vats are now empty. Sally Ryan's father is here, a decade older, grayer, the lines of his face more deeply etched than I remember. He stands apart from the rest of us, as if he's on a different mission, some ancient and sacred vendetta bred of human instinct. The memory of a defiled and murdered child is long. I asked Ryan about the parents of the other girl, Linda i Maldinado. "Divorced," he said, as if this explained their absence. What he meant was, destroyed‐ravaged by a grieving they could not conclude while this thing remained open, incomplete. It's the first I've seen of either family since the trial, when Ryan and the more aggressive Mrs. Maldinado hovered with me in hallways, demanding assurance that justice wouldn't be stillborn. Ryan eyes me now with a cynicism that is palpable, an abiding bitterness that the journey has taken this long. My own presence here is as a favor to Sam Jennings, the DA, now out of office with whom I prosecuted Danley. Jennings is sick, too ill to make this appointment, perhaps too close to [email protected] himself to stare it squarely in the eye. Gale Haight is here. I nodded to him as we boarded the van. He didn't return the gesture. A normally affable man two years:, my senior in law school, Haight cannot bring himself to even a, grudging greeting on this day. He carries a heavy burden, ‐IT‐W‐V

defended Danley at uial. There are a few cops here, represented because the law says, they must be. The others, ten men and two women, I suspect

‐‐N4 political favorites of the governor or the director of corrections, official guests for this grim task. 1 stand next to Jim Dreyers, now retired from the sheriff's department. Dreyers had tracked Brian Danley to a girftff=% apartment after the killings. Backed up by the SWAT team, he'o‐1 made the arrest and led Danley, with hands cuffed behind MT back, to a squad car. The suspect spat at cameras all the way there;" a large green lugi caught in mid‐flight centered the frame of the shots. It made the cover of Newsweek, a special crime @"Orts MR Since the conviction, Danley's been handled by skilled [email protected]' late attorneys, people who've delayed this date six times in @[email protected] s. Whenever cameras are made available now, Danley is the are of polite reserve. A bleeding‐heart piece in the bar assoon's house organ a year ago pictured him the circumspect e of justice denied. He is, if the story is to be believed, pitiable victim of fetal‐alcohol syndrome. An army of shrinks ow assembled to attest to this malady. It's the latest in an ess series of social ills raised to excuse his crime, or at a imum to avoid its punishment. These news articles are well ed for maximum effect. They don't play in the magazines "for iring minds." Instead Danley's lawyers shoot for a more lofty ership, fed into publications an appellate judge might read in dle hour. he chamber door, something from a vintage submarine, is i facing the other side. hree people were already in the room when we arrived, an r woman and two clergymen. One of them comforts the an, an arm around her shoulder. She, I assume, is family. onfronting him daily through four months of trial seven years I wonder whether Danley will show the same sand now. n, he'd been hard. Unremitting. e was his own lawyer's worst nightmare. Through weeks of endless versions of a smug expression occupied his [email protected] He ed through half‐a‐day of horrors‐testimony by the medical iner that caused one juror to lose her breakfast. Against advice of his own attorney he took the stand, denying all iation with the crime, this in utter contradiction to a sea hysical evidence that included his own fingerprints at the e. Danley was at some loss to explain how they'd become rimposed in the blood of his two victims. after conviction, in the penalty phase, to an astonished jury h was only a little less dazed than his own lawyer, Danley itted that he'd done it. His version of throwing himself on the y of the jury, it seems, was a public survey of the crimes in 1‐wrenching detail. remember the vivid photos of Sally Ryan and the Maldinado after they had been raped and sodomized. These shots were inated by the grotesque rust hues of congealed blood‐their ats sliced with the precision of a scalpel. Danley used the r‐sharp hooked blade of a linoleum knife. "A tool of the

"I he

called it. This particular knife hadn't seen linoleum ears. He kept it for special occasions. It was once used to e a deep letter

"A," to the

bone, in his wife's right cheek. Danley, ii1er a little too much to drink, found himself fantasizing about jiptdtal infidelities on the part of his common‐law wife, i woman IM hadn't seen in a year. Some bar‐babbling luminary it seems, had given him a [email protected] lurid than literal review of 77u Scarlet Ruer. I steel myself with the thought that Brian Danle3 is a ‐6)i*iqn1re the world is well rid of. I OMMMY watch. It's now one minute past the appointed hour There ;iianoises on the other side of the chamber. The agonizec wailing ‐W a man, his words, except for one, unintelligible. Th( repetition of a single syllable grows louder: "No‐o‐o‐o ..."

Two irione‐faced guards enter from the other side. Behind them feebly, Brian Trevor Danley is unrecognizable to me Forty eqnds ‐lighter than at any time during the trial, he is i ghost. '17,swagger and bravado are gone. His knees are bent feet orp Ming. He's carried under each arm by two guards, bull who *)old snap him like a twig should he resist.

Danley's hand are [email protected] in front. His eyes are wild, haunted, searching as i to dc'vmrevery image left to them in the seconds that remain. H( searches 1he faces beyond the glass without apparent recognitior as his .4McKinged feet are dragged over the threshold into th( chamber. As he's turned and pushed down into the chair, he see her.

His ;Ayes light up. 111MM‐3. Bampa." He's liotploring the woman with the two clergymen. Her arnu are ‐oimmled, as if she could reach out and grab him. I stito M‐‐;, Dreyers and motion with my head toward the woman


iknt. Bampa's the name he gave her as a kid." Dreyer., shrugs I"

shoulders as if to say

"Don't blame me."

M MZS wearing a pressed blue work shirt, the kind made hert by *wsipim, open at the neck, and prison denim pants. The fact tha he's 1A M less says reams about this journey. From the front of hi shirt aqj3udes a small black tube. This is part of the stedioscoix which @.,All be connected to a device in the wall. From this .,1st,I'm M'will determine the instant of death. In [email protected]@ efficient motions, three of the officers strap him int( the metal chair. Two‐inch web straps, two around each arm, tw( around im chest and abdomen, hold him erect and still. The othei guard imps his legs tightly to the chair. They are finished in les than a isdaute. Three of the guards leave. The last hooks up th( ,immt?, Me, then gives Danley a quick pat on the knee and say ,@)Orqlolrt to him. I can't hear the words, but I read his lips

"When ‐Lau hear the

gas, breathe deeply." : ow Danley is terror‐stricken, beyond comprehension, his head pping wildly from side to side. His moan is constant, a low an from the tiny room, a tortured mantra. be last guard ducks backward out of the chamber, and the is closed and sealed from the outside. The cries of agony de are now muted. He turns his head and looks back at us. mebody ..."

His words trail off and I can't make out the . But this is some form of plea. He's begging for someone ntervene. t two minutes past the hour, the'condemned is alone in the ed chamber. uddenly his head slumps forward, and I think that perhaps begun. Then he slowly lifts his eyes and I can see that he's thing without distress, looking about himself at the windows .ie chamber. He casts a glance to his right at the woman he Bampa. She's turned away, grief giving over to resignation. of the clergymen gives Danley an encouraging nod. In his sma of fear Danley finds a fleeting instant of sanity, for I k that he returns this kindness with a slight motion of his and the flickering of heavy lids over haunted eyes, almost rceptible, His lips are parched, his tongue constantly at them, g to impart what little moisture he can summon in these, his seconds of life. ow there are noises from beyond the blinds at the other side chamber, and Danley's head darts to look. Fluid is running the vats under the chair. o, no, no." Like he's stuttering. His voice rises an octave. yet." He braces himself as if he's about to be propelled along the chair into space. roar of a loud fan drowns out the last sounds from within chamber. Powerful, like the rurabling of a ship's engine, ttles the metal floor of the chamber, vibrates through the rete beneath our feet as it gains speed. Somewhere from the side, a guard closes the air vent under the chamber. Danley his head toward us.

His eyes are filled with terror‐bulging. is if no one has told him what to expect. The fan has created a pound vacuum inside the chamber. It's beginning to suck the m his lungs, creating a void to be filled,by new and unexd horror. We hear nothing but the drone of the fan. Suddenly win arms holding their deadly cargo under the chairs drop. two balls of cyanide disappear. Bubbling caldrons produce ible gas that displaces the air sucked by the vacuum. It takes a second, maybe two. Danley's, chest is racked T violent spasms, writhing convulsions. These produce a series

‐o" massive dry heaves. His head is thrown back and then (41W.T.W. in a futile effort to escape the unseen vapors that wash up M*[email protected], beneath the chair. Then his motions slow, as if a sudden calm has come over He turns his head slightly in our direction. I can see his eyes. I P‐T, are white blanks. His pupils have rolled up behind the lids kisror, his forehead like the wheels on a slot machine. Now there are only pained puffs of breath from his 0116111[email protected] like dry coughs, a series of these. They are autonomic, I Isms for I do not believe that with the dose of gas, he can in [email protected] way be termed conscious. His fingers are rigid, like white iwl They form intractable claws on the metal arms of the chair. Rk approaching a minute by my watch when his head finally ‐imm, forward, motionless, long locks of straight black hair hanging disarray about his face. At a minute and fifteen ‐seconds there one final effort to roll his head to the side, unknowing, a oomi'o,' spasm, I'm certain. The form in the chamber is now itimt, still, chin centered on his chest, from which there is no rise respiration. I was prepared for the cherry red of carbon or the cyanotic blue of a coronary. Instead his skin has the ‐11

of ashen gray. This is fused in my mind, a visual corollary to U"' taste of bitter almond, the manifestation of cyanide. Several seconds pass in stillness. A viscous fluid runs IM7 the constellation of holes in the metal seat of the chair. This Of coming from Danley. Some of this mixes with the deadly 7 rti, in the vat. I avert my eyes, having seen 0 that duty requires 17' to see. I can, with certainty, attest to the death of this man. I fix my signature to the return of the death warrant as t* by law. It's been called a "formalized minuet‐a ritual of death" one writer who's observed what I have now seen. There is, in cold, clinical exercise of the state, a calculated revu sion at, be sure, breeds at least a spark of pity in any rationalsoul. It *@:V` think, a severe irony that I should feel this, as I consider what future might have held for Sally Ryan and Linda Maldinado.


THE call came in the early

afternoon. Ben Potter asked me to meet him at Wong's this evening. It was the first time we had poken in nearly a year, since the day I left the firm. There's ornething that he wants to discuss, but won't talk about it on the one. I haven't slept in two nights, since the Danley execution. t the prison, a shrink warned us of this. Now Ben wants to talk. while I dread this,‐I am unable to find a way to say no. arry's craning his neck like some four‐year‐old, gawking up at cavernous ceiling while he turns in a slow spiral approaching maitre d' station.

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