Authors: John Grisham
I’m wearing the collar again today, just to screw with them. Vicki has done the paperwork and I’m officially on record as Quincy’s lawyer. The guard at the front desk studies the paperwork, studies my collar, has questions but is too confused to ask them. I surrender my cell phone, get cleared through the scanners, and then wait an hour in a dingy holding room where I flip through tabloid magazines and wonder once again what the world is coming to. They finally fetch me and I follow a guard out of the first building and along a sidewalk lined with fencing and razor wire. I’ve seen the inside of so many prisons I’m no longer shocked by their harshness. In so many awful ways they’re all the same: squat concrete buildings with no windows, rec yards filled with men in matching uniforms killing time, scowling guards reeking of contempt because I’m a trespasser there to help the lowlifes. We enter another building and walk into a long room with a row of cubicles. The guard opens a door to one and I step inside.
Quincy is already there, on the other side of a thick plastic window. The door closes and we are alone. To make the visits as difficult as possible, there are no openings in the partition and we are forced to talk with bulky phones that date back at least three decades. If I want to pass a document to my client, I have to call a guard who first examines it and then walks it around to the other side.
Quincy smiles and taps his fist on the window. I return the salute and we have officially shaken hands. He’s fifty-one now, and except for the graying hair he could pass for forty. He lifts weights every day, does karate, tries to avoid the slop they serve him, stays lean and meditates. He takes his phone and says, “First, Mr. Post, I want to thank you for taking my case.” His eyes water immediately and he’s overcome.
For at least the last fifteen years Quincy has not had a lawyer or any type of legal representative, not a soul out there in the free world working to prove his innocence. I know from my vast experience that this is a burden that is almost unbearable. A corrupt system locked him away, and there’s no one fighting the system. His burdens are heavy enough as an innocent man, but with no voice he feels truly helpless.
I say, “You are indeed welcome. I’m honored to be here. Most of my clients just call me Post, so let’s drop the ‘mister’ stuff.”
Another smile. “Deal. And I’m just Quincy.”
“The paperwork has been filed so I’m officially on board. Any questions about that?”
“Yeah, you look more like a preacher or something. Why are you wearing that collar?”
“Because I’m an Episcopal priest, and this collar has a way of getting more respect, at times.”
“We had a preacher once who wore one of those. Never could understand why.”
He was raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and their ministers and bishops do indeed wear collars. He dropped out as a teenager. At eighteen he married his girlfriend because she was pregnant, and the marriage was never stable. Two other children followed. I know their names and addresses and places of employment, and I know that they haven’t spoken to him since his trial. His ex-wife testified against him. His only brother is Marvis, a saint who visits him every month and sends him a small check occasionally.
Quincy is lucky to be alive. One black juror saved his life. Otherwise, he would have gone to death row at a time when Florida was enthusiastically killing folks.
As always, Guardian’s file on him is thick and we know as much about him as possible.
“So what do we do now, Post?” he asks with a smile.
“Oh, we have a lot of work to do. We start with the scene of the crime and investigate everything.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“True, but Keith Russo is still dead, and the people who testified against you are still alive. We’ll find them, try to gain their trust, and see what they’re saying now.”
“What about that snitch?”
“Well, surprisingly, the drugs haven’t killed him. Huffey’s back in prison, this time in Arkansas. He’s spent nineteen of his forty years behind bars, all due to drugs. I’ll go see him.”
“You don’t expect him to say he lied, do you?”
“Maybe. You never know with snitches. Professional liars have a way of laughing about their lies. Over his miserable career he’s snitched in at least five other cases, all for sweetheart deals with the cops. He has nothing to gain by sticking to the lies he told your jury.”
“I’ll never forget when they brought that boy in, all cleaned up with a white shirt and tie. At first I didn’t recognize him. It had been months since we were in the same cell. And when he started talking about my confession I wanted to scream at him. It was obvious the cops had fed him details of the crime—cutting off the electricity, using the flashlight—all that stuff. I knew right then that my ass was cooked. I looked at the jurors and you could tell they were eating it up. All of it. Every last lie he told. And you know what, Post? I sat there listening to Huffey and I thought to myself, ‘Man, that guy swore to tell the truth. And the judge is supposed to make sure all witnesses tell the truth. And the prosecutor, he knows his witness is lying. He knows the guy cut a deal with the cops to save his ass. Everybody knew, everybody but those morons on the jury.’ ”
“I’m ashamed to say it happens all the time, Quincy. Jailhouse snitches testify every day in this country. Other civilized countries prohibit them, but not here.”
Quincy closes his eyes and shakes his head. He says, “Well, when you see that sack-a-shit tell him I’m still thinking about him.”
“Thinking about revenge is not helpful here, Quincy. It’s wasted energy.”
“Maybe so, but I have plenty of time to think about everything. You gonna talk to June?”
“If she’ll talk.”
“I bet she won’t.”
His ex-wife remarried three years after his trial, then divorced, then remarried again. Frankie found her in Tallahassee living as June Walker. Evidently, she eventually found some stability and is the second wife of Otis Walker, an electrician on the campus at Florida State. They live in a middle-class neighborhood that is predominantly black and have one child together. She has five grandchildren from her first marriage, grandchildren that Quincy has never seen even in a photo. Nor has he seen their three children since his trial. For him, they exist only as toddlers, frozen in time.
“Why shouldn’t she talk to me?” I ask.
“Because she lied too. Come on, Post, they all lied, right? Even the experts.”
“I’m not sure the experts thought they were lying. They just didn’t understand the science and they gave bad opinions.”
“Whatever. You figure that out. I know damned well June lied. She lied about the shotgun and the flashlight, and she lied when she told the jury I was somewhere around town the night of the murder.”
“And why did she lie, Quincy?”
He shakes his head as if my question is foolish. He puts the phone down, rubs his eyes, then picks it up again. “We were at war, Post. Should’ve never got married and damned sure needed a divorce. Russo screwed me big-time in the divorce and suddenly I couldn’t pay all that child support and alimony. She was out of work and in a bad way. When I got behind, she sued me again and again. The divorce was bad but not nearly as bad as what came after. We grew to thoroughly hate each other. When they arrested me for murder I owed something like forty thousand bucks in payments. Guess I still do. Hell, sue me again.”
“So it was revenge?”
“More like hatred. I ain’t never owned a shotgun, Post. Check the records.”
“We have. Nothing.”
“But records mean little, especially in this state. There are a hundred ways to get a gun.”
“Who you believe, Post, me or that lying woman?”
“If I didn’t believe you, Quincy, I wouldn’t be here.”
“I know, I know. I can almost understand the shotgun, but why would she lie about that flashlight? I never saw it before. Hell, they couldn’t even produce it at trial.”
“Well, if we are assuming that your arrest, prosecution, and conviction were carefully planned to frame an innocent man, then we must assume the police leaned on June to say the flashlight belonged to you. And hatred was her motive.”
“But how was I supposed to pay all that money from death row?”
“Great question, and you’re asking me to get inside her mind.”
“Oh, please don’t go there. She’s crazy as hell.”
We both have a good laugh. He stands and stretches and asks, “How long you staying today, Post?”
“Hallelujah. You know something, Post? My cell is six feet by ten, just about the same size as this little shithole we’re in now. My cellie is a white boy from downstate. Drugs. Not a bad kid, not a bad cellie, but can you imagine spending ten hours a day living with another human in a cage?”
“ ’Course, we ain’t said a word to each other in over a year.”
“Can’t stand each other. Nothing against white folks, Post, but there are a lot of differences, you know? I listen to Motown, he likes that country crap. My bunk is neat as a pin. He’s a slob. I don’t touch drugs. He’s stoned half the time. Enough of this, Post. Sorry to bring it up. I hate whiners. I’m so glad you’re here, Post. You have no idea.”
“I’m honored to be your lawyer, Quincy.”
“But why? You don’t make much money, do you? I mean, you can’t make much representing people like me.”
“We haven’t really discussed fees, have we?”
“Send me a bill. Then you can sue me.”
We laugh and he sits down, the phone cradled in his neck. “Seriously, who pays you?”
“I work for a nonprofit and, no, I don’t make much. But I’m not in it for the money.”
“God bless you, Post.”
“Diana Russo testified that on at least two occasions you went to their office and threatened Keith. True?”
“No. I was in his office several times during my divorce but stopped going when the case was over. When he wouldn’t talk to me on the phone, I went to the office one time, and, hell yes, I was thinking about taking a baseball bat and beating his brains out. But the little receptionist out front said he wasn’t in, said he was in court. It was a lie because his car, a fancy black Jaguar, was parked behind the office. I knew she was lying and I started to make a scene, but didn’t. I bit my tongue and left, never went back. I swear that’s the truth, Post. I swear. Diana lied, like everybody else.”
“She testified that you called their home several times and threatened him.”
“More lies. Phone calls leave a trail, Post. I ain’t that stupid. My lawyer, Tyler Townsend, tried to get the records from the phone company, but Diana blocked him. He tried to get a subpoena but we ran out of time during the trial. After I was convicted, the judge wouldn’t approve a subpoena. We never got those records. By the way, have you talked to Tyler?”
“No, but he’s on the list. We know where he is.”
“Good dude, Post, a real good dude. That young man believed me and fought like hell, a real bulldog. I know you lawyers get a bad rap, but he was a good one.”
“Any contact with him?”
“Not anymore, it’s been too long. We wrote letters for years, even after he quit the law. He told me once in a letter that my case broke his spirit. He knew I was innocent, and when he lost my case he lost faith in the system. Said he couldn’t be a part of it. He stopped by about ten years ago and it was a blessing to see him, but it also brought back bad memories. He actually cried when he saw me, Post.”
“Did he have a theory about the real killer?”
He lowers the phone and looks at the ceiling, as if the question is too involved. He raises it again and asks, “You trust these phones, Post?”
It’s against the law for the prison to eavesdrop on confidential talks between a lawyer and his client, but it happens. I shake my head. No.
“Neither do I,” he says. “But my letters to you are safe, right?”
“Right.” A prison cannot open mail related to legal matters, and it has been my experience that they don’t try. It’s too easy to notice if mail has been tampered with.
Quincy uses sign language to indicate he will put it in writing. I nod.
The fact that he has spent twenty-two years inside a prison where he is presumably safe from the outside, and is still worried, is revealing. Keith Russo was murdered for a reason. Someone other than Quincy Miller planned the killing, pulled it off with precision, then got away. What followed was a thorough framing that involved several conspirators. Smart guys, whoever they were, and are. Finding them may be impossible, but if I didn’t think we could prove Quincy’s innocence I wouldn’t be sitting here.
They’re still out there, and Quincy is still thinking about them.
The three hours pass quickly as we cover many topics: books—he reads two or three a week; my exonerees—he’s fascinated by the ones we’ve freed; politics—he stays abreast with newspapers and magazines; music—he loves the 1960s stuff from Detroit; corrections—he rails against a system that does so little to rehabilitate; sports—he has a small color television and lives for the games, even hockey. When the guard taps on my door I say goodbye and promise to be back. We touch fists at the window and he thanks me again.