The Night Fire: A Ballard and Bosch thriller (Harry Bosch 22) (3 page)

“When did Thompson retire?”

“January 2000.”

“Shit, and he had it all this time? Almost twenty years.”

“That’s the way it looks.”

“That’s really bullshit.”

“Look, I’m not trying to defend John Jack, but the case probably got more attention from him than it ever would’ve in the Open-Unsolved Unit. They mainly just work DNA cases over there and there’s no DNA in this one. It would have been passed over and left to gather dust if John Jack hadn’t taken it with him.”

“So you know there’s no DNA? And you checked the chrono?”

“Yeah. I read through it. I started when I got home from the funeral, then took it to you as soon as I finished.”

“And why did you bring it here?”

“Because we had a deal, remember? We’d work cases together.”

“So you want to work this together?”

“Well, sort of.”

“What’s that mean?”

“I’ve got some stuff going on. Medical stuff. And I don’t know how much—”

“What medical stuff?”

“I just got a new knee and, you know, I have rehab and there might be a complication. So I’m not sure how much I can be involved.”

“You’re dumping this case on me. You changed my radio station and dumped the case on me.”

“No, I want to help and I will help. John Jack mentored me. He taught me the rule, you know?”

“What rule?”

“To take every case personally.”

“What?”

“Take every case personally and you get angry. It builds a fire. It gives you the edge you need to go the distance every time out.”

Ballard thought about that. She understood what he was saying but knew it was a dangerous way to live and work.

“He said ‘every case’?” she asked.

“‘Every case,’” Bosch said.

“So you just read this cover to cover?”

“Yes. Took me about six hours. I had a few interruptions. I need to walk and work my knee.”

“What’s the part in it that made it personal for John Jack?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t see it. But I know he found a way to make every case personal. If you find that, you might be able to close it out.”

“If
I
find it?”

“Okay, if
we
find it. But like I said, I already looked.”

Ballard flipped the sections over until she once again came to the photos held in plastic sleeves.

“I don’t know,” she said. “This feels like a long shot. If George Hunter couldn’t clear it and then John Jack Thompson couldn’t clear it, what makes you think we can?”

“Because you have that thing,” Bosch said. “That fire. We can do this and bring that boy some justice.”

“Don’t start with the ‘justice’ thing. Don’t bullshit me, Bosch.”

“Okay, I won’t. But will you at least read the chrono and look through the book before deciding? If you do that and don’t want to continue, that’s fine. Turn the book in or give it back to me. I’ll work it alone. When I get the time.”

Ballard didn’t answer at first. She had to think. She knew that the proper procedure would be to turn the murder book in to the Open-Unsolved Unit, explain how it had been found after Thompson’s death, and leave it at that. But as Bosch had said, that move would probably result in the case being put on a shelf to gather dust.

She looked at the photos again. It appeared to her on initial read that it was a drug rip-off. The victim pulls up, offers the cash, gets a bullet instead of a balloon of heroin or whatever his drug of choice was.

“There’s one thing,” Bosch said.

“What’s that?” Ballard asked.

“The bullet. If it’s still in evidence. You need to run it through NIBIN, see what comes up. That database wasn’t around back in 1990.”

“Still, what’s that, a one-in-ten shot? No pun intended.”

She knew that the national database held the unique ballistic details of bullets and cartridge casings found at crime scenes, but it was far from a complete archive. Data on a bullet had to be entered for that bullet to become part of any comparison process, and most police departments, including the LAPD, were behind in the entering process. Still, the bullet archive had been around since the start of the century and the data grew larger every year.

“It’s better than no shot,” Bosch said.

Ballard didn’t reply. She looked at the murder book and ran a fingernail up the side of the thick sheaf of documents it contained, creating a ripping sound.

“Okay,” she finally said. “I’ll read it.”

“Good,” Bosch said. “Let me know what you think.”

BOSCH
5

Bosch quietly slipped into the back row of the Department 106 courtroom, drawing the attention of the judge only, who made a slight nod in recognition. It had been years, but Bosch had had several cases before Judge Paul Falcone in the past. He had also woken the judge up on more than one occasion while seeking approval for a search warrant in the middle of the night.

Bosch saw his half brother, Mickey Haller, at the lectern located to the side of the defense and prosecution tables. He was questioning his own witness. Bosch knew this because he had been tracking the case online and in the newspaper and this day was the start of the defense’s seemingly impossible case. Haller was defending a man accused of murdering a superior-court judge named Walter Montgomery in a city park less than a block from the courthouse that now held the trial. The defendant, Jeffrey Herstadt, not only was linked to the crime by DNA evidence but had helpfully confessed to the murder on video as well.

“Doctor, let me get this straight,” Haller said to the witness seated to the left of the judge. “Are you saying that Jeffrey’s mental issues put him in a state of paranoia where he feared physical harm might come to him if he
did not
confess to this crime?”

The man in the witness box was in his sixties and had white hair and a full beard that was oddly darker. Bosch had missed his swearing-in and did not know his name. His physical appearance and professorial manner conjured the name
Freud
in Harry’s mind.

“That is what you get with schizoaffective disorder,” Freud responded. “You have all the symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations, as well as of mood disorders like mania, depression, and paranoia. The latter leads to the psyche taking on protective measures such as the nodding and agreement you see in the video of the confession.”

“So, when Jeffrey was nodding and agreeing with Detective Gustafson throughout that interview, he was what—just trying to avoid being hurt?” Haller asked.

Bosch noticed his repeated use of the defendant’s first name, a move calculated to humanize him in front of the jury.

“Exactly,” Freud said. “He wanted to survive the interview unscathed. Detective Gustafson was an authority figure who held Jeffrey’s well-being in his hands. Jeffrey knew this and I could see his fear on the video. In his mind he was in danger and he just wanted to survive it.”

“Which would lead him to say whatever Detective Gustafson wanted him to say?” Haller asked, though it was more statement than question.

“That is correct,” Freud responded. “It started small with questions of seemingly no consequence: ‘Were you familiar with the park?’ ‘Were you in the park?’ And then of course it moved to questions of a more serious nature: ‘Did you kill Judge Montgomery?’ Jeffrey was down the path at that point and he willingly said, ‘Yes, I did it.’ But it is not what could be classified as a voluntary confession. Because of the situation, the confession was not freely, voluntarily, nor intelligently given. It was coerced.”

Haller let that hang in the air for a few moments while he pretended to check the notes on his legal pad. He then went off in a different direction.

“Doctor, what is catatonic schizophrenia?” he asked.

“It is a subtype of schizophrenia in which the affected person can appear during stressful situations to go into seizure or what is called negativism or rigidity,” Freud said. “This is marked by resistance to instructions or attempts to be physically moved.”

“When does this happen, Doctor?”

“During periods of high stress.”

“Is that what you see at the end of the interview with Detective Gustafson?”

“Yes, it is my professional opinion that he went into seizure unbeknownst at first to the detective.”

Haller asked Judge Falcone if he could replay this part of the taped interview conducted with Herstadt. Bosch had already seen the tape in its entirety because it had become public record after the prosecution introduced it in court and it was subsequently posted on the Internet.

Haller played the part beginning at the twenty-minute mark, where Herstadt seemed to shut down physically and mentally. He sat frozen, catatonic, staring down at the table. He didn’t respond to multiple questions from Gustafson, and the detective soon realized that something was wrong.

Gustafson called EMTs, who arrived quickly. They checked Herstadt’s pulse, blood pressure, and blood-oxygen levels and determined he was in seizure. He was transported to the County–USC Medical Center, where he was treated and held in the jail ward. The interview was never continued. Gustafson already had what he needed: Herstadt on video, saying, “I did it.” The confession was backed a week later when Herstadt’s DNA was matched to genetic material scraped from under one of Judge Montgomery’s fingernails.

Haller continued his questioning of his psychiatric expert after the video ended.

“What did you see there, Doctor?”

“I saw a man in catatonic seizure.”

“Triggered by what?”

“It’s pretty clear it was triggered by stress. He was being questioned about a murder that he had admitted to but in my opinion didn’t commit. That would build stress in anyone, but acutely so in a paranoid schizophrenic.”

“And, Doctor, did you learn during your review of the case file that Jeffrey had suffered a seizure just hours before the murder of Judge Montgomery?”

“I did. I reviewed the reports of an incident that occurred about ninety minutes before the murder, in which Jeffrey was treated for seizure at a coffee shop.”

“And do you know the details of that incident, Doctor?”

“Yes. Jeffrey apparently walked into a Starbucks and ordered a coffee drink and then had no money to pay for it. He had left his money and wallet at the group home. When confronted by the cashier about this, he became threatened and went into seizure. EMTs arrived and determined he was in seizure.”

“Was he taken to a hospital?”

“No, he came out of seizure and refused further treatment. He walked away.”

“So, we have these occurrences of seizure on both sides of the murder we’re talking about here. Ninety minutes before and about two hours after, both of which you say were brought about by stress. Correct?”

“That is correct.”

“Doctor, would it be your opinion that committing a murder in which you use a knife to stab a victim three times in the upper body would be a stressful event?”

“Very stressful.”

“More stressful than attempting to buy a cup of coffee with no money in your pocket?”

“Yes, much more stressful.”

“In your opinion, is committing a violent murder more stressful than being questioned about a violent murder?”

The prosecutor objected, arguing that Haller was taking the doctor beyond the bounds of his expertise with his far-reaching hypotheticals. The judge agreed and struck the question, but Haller’s point had already been made.

“Okay, Doctor, we’ll move on,” Haller said. “Let me ask you this: At any time during your involvement in this case, have you seen any report indicating that Jeffrey Herstadt had any seizure during the commission of this violent murder?”

“No, I have not.”

“To your knowledge, when he was stopped by police in Grand Park near the crime scene and taken in for questioning, was he in seizure?”

“No, not to my knowledge.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

Haller advised the judge that he reserved the right to recall the doctor as a witness, then turned over the witness to the prosecution. Judge Falcone was going to break for lunch before cross-examination began, but the prosecutor, whom Bosch recognized as Deputy District Attorney Susan Saldano, promised to spend no more than ten minutes questioning the doctor. The judge allowed her to proceed.

“Good morning, Dr. Stein,” she said, providing Bosch with at least part of the psychiatrist’s name.

“Good morning,” Stein replied warily. “Let’s now talk about something else regarding the defendant. Do you know whether upon his arrest and subsequent treatment at County-USC a blood sample was taken from him and scanned for drugs and alcohol?”

“Yes, it was. That would’ve been routine.”

“And when you reviewed this case for the defense, did you review the results of the blood test?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Can you tell the jury what, if anything, the scan revealed?”

“It showed low levels of a drug called paliperidone.”

“Are you familiar with paliperidone?”

“Yes, I prescribed it for Mr. Herstadt.”

“What is paliperidone?”

“It is a dopamine antagonist. A psychotropic used to treat schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. In many cases, if administered properly, it allows those afflicted with the disorder to lead normal lives.”

“And does it have any side effects?”

“A variety of side effects can occur. Each case is different, and we come up with drug therapies that fit individual patients while taking into account any side effects that are exhibited.”

“Do you know that the manufacturer of paliperidone warns users that side effects can include agitation and aggression?”

“Well, yes, but in Jeffrey’s—”

“Just a yes or no answer, Doctor. Are you aware of those side effects, yes or no?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you, Doctor. And just a moment ago, when you described the drug paliperidone, you used the phrase ‘if administered properly.’ Do you remember saying that?”

“Yes.”

“Now at the time of this crime, do you know where Jeffrey Herstadt was living?”

“Yes, in a group home in Angelino Heights.”

“And he had a prescription from you for paliperidone, correct?”

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