“The Prosecutor’s Case”
The prosecutor began his case against Dan McClain with his opening statement. “The State will prove,” he said as he faced the jury, “beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Dan McClain is guilty of murdering Suzanne Kirk. We will show that the defendant was distraught over the publicity of an alleged affair between himself and Miss Kirk. You will see that this publicity caused the defendant great distress in his church ministry and his home life, and all but stopped the Decency Movement business which he started and presided over.”
He paused in his delivery to walk around his table and move over closer to the jury. Then he continued. “You will hear testimony from eye-witnesses that the defendant was discovered and arrested in the decedent’s room shortly after the murder. We will give proof that the murder weapon belonged to the defendant and had only his fingerprints on it. You will have no doubt as to his guilt and must do the right thing in rendering a verdict of guilty.”
He then called as his first witness, the reporter who had started the whole scandal with the pictures and article linking Dan McClain with Suzanne Kirk. “Tell us about that day,” insisted the District Attorney.
“Well, I got an anonymous phone call early that morning. The man on the phone said if I wanted to get some juicy info about the head of the Decency Movement, I should get a camera over to his church by noon. So I did,” the reporter testified.
“And what did you witness at the church?” asked the attorney.
“I got there a few minutes before noon and parked across the street from the front door. A few minutes later a car drove up and parked just down the street behind me a ways. In just a couple of minutes a lady came out of the church that I later found out was the secretary and left in her car. I just kept watching and right after her car got out of sight, the first car pulled on up closer to the church and this really good looking lady got out. She stopped to look around and I snapped a picture. I took another as she entered the church, then sat back to see what would happen next.”
The D.A. looked at the jury as if to make sure they had followed the story so far before proceeding. Then he turned back to the reporter and asked, “Did anything else happen?”
“Yeah,” the reporter said. “About twenty minutes later, the door opened and I got my camera ready. The defendant stepped outside and held the door open for the lady. She took hold of his hand and I took a picture. I couldn’t hear what she said, but she leaned up and kissed him on the cheek and I got a shot of that, too.”
“What happened next?” asked the D.A.
“She waved good-bye, got in her car, and drove off. I went back to the paper to get my pictures developed and start on the story,” the witness answered.
The jury already knew all this from the newspaper and interviews from a few months before. No surprises there. The prosecutor pressed on. “Tell us what you learned about the woman from your investigations for your story.”
“Well, my original article simply showed the pictures and raised the questions. I started doing a little digging around and eventually learned that the woman was Suzanne Kirk. I finally got to talk to her and she told me that she and the defendant had been having an affair for about three months and that she met him that day in his study for… well… you know… sex.” He was hesitant to say it like that, but it was what she had told him.
“So, according to the decedent’s own testimony to you, she and Dan McClain had been having a love affair for the three months prior to your article?” the District Attorney asked to reinforce the point. He wanted to clearly establish the connection between Dan and Suzanne and begin to work on a motive for the murder.
“That’s right,” confirmed the reporter.
“Your witness,” the D.A. said as he turned to Dan’s lawyer, Paul Douglass.
As the D.A. took his seat, Mr. Douglass walked slowly over to the witness stand. He knew that everything the reporter had testified to had already been established as a matter of public record due to the scandal of the affair. What he needed to do was cast some doubt on the whole thing.
“You said this all started with an anonymous call and your subsequent article and pictures,” began Mr. Douglass. “So you raised questions and cast innuendo with nothing to go on but the fact that the two of them met that day?”
“Well, she did take hold of his hand and kiss him on the cheek,” added the reporter defensively.
“And later, when Ms. Kirk revealed to you that she was having an affair with my client, did she offer any proof?” asked Mr. Douglass, now facing the jury.
“No,” replied the reporter.
“No?” asked Mr. Douglass. “So, did you in the course of you investigation come up with any evidence to corroborate her story?”
“No,” answered the reporter softly.
“So you wrote articles and published pictures about an alleged affair without any proof that such an affair ever happened – is that right?”
“I guess so,” the reporter admitted. “But I only reported her testimony. It was up to the people to decide if she was telling the truth.”
“But as far as you know, it was simply a matter of her word against the defendant’s,” said Mr. Douglass.
“That’s right,” affirmed the reporter.
That was all Dan’s lawyer could do with the reporter’s testimony. He had shown it was a clear case of unsubstantiated allegations, but he knew that even lies can be motive for murder. He didn’t know for sure whether he had begun to place seeds of doubt in the jury’s minds, but he had done all he could so far.
The next witness for the prosecution was the man who had stood in the hallway outside Suzanne Kirk’s room the afternoon of the murder and confronted Dan. After swearing to tell the truth, he stated his name and took a seat in the witness stand.
“Mr. Farley, did you know the decedent, Suzanne Kirk?” the District Attorney asked the witness.
“I knew who she was and we spoke a few times when we met in the hall where we both lived – that’s about all,” Farley answered.
“And you were there in that hall on the day of the murder, weren’t you?”
“Yes, after it happened.”
“Tell us what happened to cause you to enter that hallway when you did and what happened then,” instructed the D.A.
“Well, I was sitting alone in my room, kinda dozin’ off in the chair when I heard a bunch of yellin’. I sat up and listened for a moment and heard a man and a woman yellin’ at each other. They sounded pretty mad. I got up and headed for the door, ‘cause I was gonna holler for ‘em to keep it down, when I heard the woman scream.” The witness paused for a moment and shifted his position in the chair.
The prosecutor took advantage of the pause to move over toward the jury to direct Farley’s testimony in their direction and urged him to go on.
“It got real quiet after that and I stepped on out into the hallway. I could see the door to Miss Kirk’s room was open a little, so I walked on over there to see what was goin’ on. I looked through the open door and saw this man standing over a woman’s body layin’ on the floor.”
“Can you identify that man?” interrupted the prosecutor.
“Sure,” Farley said. “I seen him plenty of times around the neighborhood the past year or so and his picture’s been in the paper lots of times too. It was the defendant, Dan McClain.”
There was little response to his testimony so far from the crowd or the jury. There was nothing for the defense to object to either. The case had been followed closely by the news and, so far, there was nothing said in the trial that everyone didn’t already know.
“What happened next?” the prosecutor asked.
“I heard sirens right outside, so I yelled at him not to try nothin’ ‘cause the cops were comin’. They came runnin’ in about that time and had their guns out. I pointed into the room and told them he was in there and they took over from there. One of them took my statement later and told me to stick around ‘cause they would need to talk to me more later on.”
“Your witness,” the attorney said, nodding to Mr. Douglass.
Once again, Dan’s lawyer knew that there was no question that Dan had been arrested in Suzanne’s room, standing near her dead body. The only thing he could hope to do was show that the witness hadn’t seen everything and therefore, there was room for doubt as to Dan’s guilt.
This time he walked quickly to the witness stand, hoping to appear confident. He looked at the witness, then turning to the jury, said, “Did you actually see Dan McClain kill Suzanne Kirk?”
“No,” came the quick reply.
“Did you hear his statement to the police when they arrived with their guns drawn?”
“Yeah, I heard him holler that he didn’t do it. That she was already dead when he got there,” Farley replied. “But I heard him arguing with her.”
“So you recognized the voice of the man arguing with a woman, from inside your room, while you were half asleep, as the voice of Dan McClain?” Mr. Douglass pressed him hard to fluster him and show the absurdity of that claim.
Realizing how impossible that sounded, Farley backed off a little. “Well, no, not really,” he said, obviously a little shaken.
“So you heard a man and a woman argue, but you can’t swear it was the defendant? Is that true?”
“Yes, that’s true,” Farley said. He began to fidget in his seat and Mr. Douglass stepped out of the way to make sure the jury could see him clearly. He felt that he might get some distance out of this testimony even though there was no denying the man saw Dan in the room shortly after the murder.
“And you didn’t actually see the defendant with Miss Kirk while she was alive, did you?”
“Nor did you actually see him kill Miss Kirk, did you?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“And the whole incident roused you from sleep, so that by the time you decided to go see what the commotion was all about and got from your easy chair to the door of Miss Kirk’s room – still a little groggy from sleep – just maybe the real killer had hurried out and Dan McClain had slipped in.”
The prosecutor shouted an objection, half rising to his feet. The judge sustained the objection since Mr. Douglass was calling for a conclusion to be drawn by the witness. The defense attorney quickly conceded, saying, “Withdraw the question,” even though he actually hadn’t asked one. He had made his point to the jury. Mr. Farley really had little to offer accept seeing Dan in the room shortly after the murder and the police would testify to that anyway.
In fact, the arresting officer was the next witness. He testified to arriving at the scene due to an anonymous call to the station. Another officer was with him and a third came at almost the same time in a second squad car. They entered the building by the back stairs and heard Farley yelling in the hallway, pointing them to the room in which the defendant stood near the woman’s body. The rest corresponded to Farley’s testimony.
The prosecutor quickly turned the policeman over to the defense for cross-examination. He felt that it was clearly established that Dan McClain was the only one at the scene of the murder. He already had shown motive by the testimony of the reporter and these last two witnesses placed Dan at the scene.
Mr. Douglass knew that there was complete truth in the officer’s testimony. Somehow he had to show that it only proved Dan was there, not that he had done it. “You said the defendant was still in the room when you arrived. Did he make any attempt to escape?” asked Mr. Douglass.
“No, sir,” replied the officer.
“Did he say anything?” asked the lawyer.
“Yessir,” the officer replied. “He said he didn’t do it – that she was dead when he got there.”
“Did you examine the body?”
“Of course,” replied the officer. “I had to see if she was alive or dead, so I checked for a pulse. She was dead.”
“Did you examine the defendant?”
“Yes, but not thoroughly. That’s up to the crime lab. I just checked for weapons and took a quick look for cuts, bruises, or fresh blood. You know, signs of a struggle and such.”
“What did you find?” probed Dan’s lawyer.
“Nothing,” the officer said flatly.
“Nothing?” asked Mr. Douglass. “Explain that please.”
“Well, there were no weapons of any kind on his person and no signs of a struggle.”
“Any blood on him or his clothing?” asked the lawyer, digging deeper still.
“None that I could see,” replied the officer.
“How many stabbings would you say you’ve investigated?”
“Maybe a couple of dozen,” the officer replied.
“Could you make an educated guess as to how many times out of those twenty-four the assailant did not have any traces of blood on him anywhere?” Mr. Douglass asked.
“I can’t think of any at all when the assailant was apprehended shortly after the incident, but there may have been one or two.”
“And the defendant definitely did not have any blood on him immediately after the incident, correct?”
“No further questions,” said Mr. Douglass, releasing the officer from further questioning.
He hoped that the point of no blood anywhere on Dan would overshadow the fact that he had been arrested beside the woman’s body. Hopefully, the jury would wonder how he could have stabbed her and not gotten any blood on himself. It was the best he could do with the policeman’s report.
The final witness for the day was the police detective in charge of the investigation. He testified that they had subpoenaed phone records for the phone in Suzanne’s room. The records showed repeated calls from her room to Dan McClain’s church study over the last few weeks, as well as one call to his home phone at four o’clock the afternoon of the murder.
They found receipts in a desk in the room for motel room rentals corresponding to the dates that Suzanne had previously claimed to have spent with Dan. Newspaper interviews were introduced that showed the corresponding dates. There was even one receipt for a room next to a room Dan had rented at the state capital while attending a pastor’s conference. When asked about his investigation of those dates and claims, the detective said that he questioned Dan, his wife, the church secretary, several neighbors, and church leaders, but could find no one who could offer any evidence to prove Dan had not been with Suzanne on those dates.
He also testified that the murder weapon was a letter opener with the initials D.M. engraved on it. Mr. Douglass wanted no part of cross-examining that piece of testimony. He knew it really was Dan’s letter opener.
“Why are there phone records for those local calls?” the prosecutor asked the detective.
“Apparently, the owner of the building set up a computer system through which all the phone lines went so he could keep track of all incoming and outgoing calls. He said he had been stiffed too many times by renters for long distance and overdue phone bills, so he found a way to monitor calls and charge the renters per usage. The computer keeps accurate records of all calls, local and otherwise,” explained the detective.
“Thank you – your witness,” the D.A. concluded. All he wanted was to show a direct connection between Dan McClain and Suzanne Kirk, even on the very day of the murder.
“No questions,” Mr. Douglass said, dismissing the detective. There wasn’t anything he could think of he could do about the phone records. They were true and really not all that damaging.
The prosecutor’s case was presented over the course of three days. There wasn’t much to it, but the evidence they had was very convincing. Besides the reporter, the man in the hallway, and the policemen, the D.A. called on the coroner who did the autopsy and a police forensics expert. He had already shown motive and opportunity, placing Dan at the scene. Next he offered physical evidence.
After having the county coroner sworn in to testify, the prosecutor asked him to state his name and occupation. Then he continued, “And you were the one who examined the body both at the scene and at the autopsy?”
“That’s right,” responded the coroner.
“What did you determine as the cause of death?”
“The victim died from one stab wound to the heart. Death likely occurred almost instantaneously,” the coroner testified.
“Did you determine a murder weapon?” continued the D.A.
“Yes – a letter opener was still in the decedent’s chest when I examined her at the scene.”
“Were there any signs of a struggle?” asked the prosecutor, hoping to damage Mr. Douglass’ point of no blood splatters on Dan. No struggle would mean less chance of blood or other marks on the assailant. It might also lead the jury to consider that Miss Kirk likely knew her assailant.
“None at all,” replied the coroner, “not on the victim’s body or around the room.”
“Could you determine the time of death?”
“Well, we can’t be exact because it obviously had happened just shortly before the examination. I was called to the scene about five o’clock that afternoon. The woman was already dead and my preliminary examination placed the time of death sometime within the previous hour. The body temperature was consistent with that and so was the degree to which the blood had coagulated and dried. She had to have been stabbed between four and five that afternoon and, of course, the police had found her already dead at 4:30.”
“Did your subsequent autopsy offer any evidence otherwise? the prosecutor asked.
“No, it confirmed all my preliminary findings,” stated the coroner.
“Who identified the decedent as Suzanne Kirk?” asked the prosecutor, bringing his questions to a close.
“Well, that was a collaboration of sorts. We had no family to help us, but the witness from the hallway, Mr. Farley, said it was her and everyone had seen her in the papers and on TV, so myself, the three arresting officers, and Detective Johnson who was in charge of the crime scene all identified her as Suzanne Kirk. Added to that was her purse with identification there in the room rented in her name.”
“So you have concluded that Suzanne Kirk died between four and four-thirty p.m. on the day in question from a single stab wound to the heart made by a letter opener. Is that your expert testimony?” the prosecutor asked, summing up the coroner’s testimony.
“Yessir, that’s correct,” confirmed the coroner.
“Your witness, Mr. Douglass,” said the prosecutor with a nod toward Dan’s lawyer and a trace of a smirk on his face suggesting he felt he had Dan right where he wanted him. He returned to his seat and waited to see if the defense lawyer could do anything with the coroner’s expert testimony.
Mr. Douglass knew there wasn’t much, if anything, he could refute. About all he could do was try to cause some doubt because of the time frame of the murder. He walked slowly toward the witness stand, thinking it through.
The county coroner had testified that the death occurred between 4:00 and 4:30 that afternoon. If he could get the jury to feel that the actual time was closer to 4 o’clock, which was true, he could show that Dan was not there in time to have done it.
“Based on your examination at the scene, would you conclude that the body had lain there for slightly more than thirty minutes or closer to a full hour?” Dan’s lawyer asked.
“It’s hard to narrow it down that closely. If I had gotten there when the police did – at 4:30 – I might have been able to tell if it had happened only minutes before or some time earlier. But as it was, between 4 and 4:30 is as good as I can do.”
“But is it entirely possible that the murder could have been committed as early as four o’clock that afternoon, maybe even a few minutes before that?” pressed Mr. Douglass.
“Oh, yes,” agreed the coroner. “That would still be consistent with my findings.”
“And according to the State’s case, my client was at home at four o’clock on the phone with someone calling from that room.” Mr. Douglass turned toward the jury to drive home his point. He continued, “Then he had to drive across town, park his car, go up the back stairs and down the hall to Miss Kirk’s room. At the very least, that took fifteen minutes. According to other testimony, an argument ensued that led to the killing and police arrived to find an already dead body by 4:30. You said the murder could have occurred at four o’clock or a little before, but the defendant couldn’t possibly have done it then and if he had done it, it would mean the woman had only been dead a minute or two when the police arrived. Sounds unlikely to me – sounds like somebody is wrong!”
“Objection!” the D.A. called out. “That’s a conclusion not a question!”
“Sustained,” Judge Parker agreed.
“No further questions,” finished Mr. Douglass. He took one last look at the jury before returning to Dan’s side. He could see that they were thinking through the time frame he had lined out for them. It was possible that Dan could have done it just like the testimonies had laid it out. But he had shown that to be questionable. He didn’t know, however, if it would be questionable enough.
The coroner returned to a seat in the audience and everyone waited to hear from the next witness for the prosecution. The District Attorney called for the police forensics expert. He gave testimony that the defendant’s fingerprints were on the murder weapon, a stainless steel letter opener with the initials D.M. engraved on it. No one else’s prints were on the opener. If Dan ever had to testify, he would be forced to admit that the letter opener was indeed his. There was no way to prove it had been stolen. In fact, Dan had never even mentioned to anyone that it had disappeared. He had figured he had misplaced it and would eventually find it somewhere in his study. No one would believe him now.
That was all the D.A. needed from him, so he turned the witness over to the defense. Mr. Douglass tried to divert attention from the letter opener to the rest of the room, but that didn’t help. There had been a few unidentifiable prints here and there, but none on the phone except Suzanne’s and none on the murder weapon but Dan’s. Mr. Douglass dismissed the expert witness knowing that his testimony had really hurt his client.
It was the defense’s assertion that a man had placed that call from Suzanne’s room to Dan’s home to lure him there for the frame. With no physical evidence to back them up, they could hardly expect the jury to believe them.
The prosecutor used the reporter’s testimony for motive. He contended that Dan killed Suzanne for one of two reasons. Either it was a crime of passion committed because the love affair had gone sour, or it was a crime committed out of anger and revenge for Suzanne having ruined his life.
It really didn’t matter whether the affair was real or not, though the evidence suggested it might be. Either way, Dan had a motive, because his life definitely had been torn up by that woman. With his fingerprints on the murder weapon that he owned and his having been arrested at the scene shortly after the murder and no eye witnesses to anything else, Dan looked terribly guilty.
The State rested its case and the judge called for a recess until Monday morning, at which time the defense could present its case. Dan kissed Kathleen good-bye, shook hands with his lawyer, and headed back to the county jail in hand-cuffs. Mr. Douglass walked Kathleen to her car.
“It doesn’t look too promising, does it?” she asked him.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he replied. “I think we established that the time frame makes it very difficult for Dan to have done it.”
“But not impossible,” she added reluctantly.
“And the fact that Dan didn’t have any blood on him helps some too,” Mr. Douglass said, trying to sound as encouraging as he could.
“Tell me the truth,” Kathleen insisted as she unlocked her car door and got in. “What do you really think?”
“Honestly?” he asked, to which she nodded. “I think you had better pray hard if you really believe it helps. We may have made a few dents in the prosecution’s case, but no holes. And we only have character witnesses and Dan’s testimony to offer in defense.”
“I know,” she said tearfully. “I know.”
Mr. Douglass said he would keep looking for evidence and visit Dan over the weekend. He closed her door for her and stood there awhile as she drove off. Shaking his head as if to admit defeat, he walked to his car and headed home.
Dan’s only real defense would be his unsupported testimony that he was completely innocent of both the affair and the murder. He doubted that the jury would believe Dan and, based on the evidence, would likely have to convict him even if they did believe him.
The last time Kathleen had visited him, Dan had sensed that she wasn’t telling him everything about how things were going on the home front. The next time he pressed for an answer. He was afraid she was trying to handle too much on her own and he couldn’t help if he didn’t know the trouble.
“It’s just hard without you,” Kathleen finally answered. Tears were welling up in her eyes. She fought them back, sighed, and tried to go on as if it that was all there was to it.
Dan knew better. Twenty eight years of living together told him there was more to it than that. He pressed for more. “I know it must be hard on your own, but I also know you can handle it,” he said, trying to encourage her. “But there’s something else bothering you. I sensed it on your last visit and I feel it even stronger today – now what’s wrong?”
Kathleen looked down a moment and closed her eyes for a quick prayer. Then she raised her head to look her husband in the eye and tears began to stream down her cheeks. “I didn’t want to burden you with it,” she began. “You’ve got enough on your mind already.”
Dan smiled his reassuring smile and without any hesitation replied, “Don’t worry about me – I’m just fine. Tell me what’s wrong.”
“It’s just that I’m having such a hard time dealing with people. In the beginning it was bad, but at least we were together. Then, when you went to jail, things actually slowed down some, for a couple of months. The press left me alone for awhile and people in town did too. Most of them gave me some pitiful looking smiles to show they felt sorry for me, but I got used to that.”
She paused to wipe her eyes and nose, then continued. “But the trial started it all up again. Only now it’s worse. Maybe it’s just because you’re not there with me – I don’t know – but it’s so hard to take. I can’t leave the house without the press taking pictures and trying to get an interview. People in town seem to feel like they have to say something to me about the trial and I’m tired of talking about it. Everybody has some advice for me and they all feel free to share it. Ladies tell me, ‘Stand by your man, Honey,’ or ‘Just leave him, Sweetie. He doesn’t deserve you!’ ”
“I guess they think they’re helping,” interrupted Dan.
“The men are worse,” Kathleen continued. “You wouldn’t believe how many men have offered to ‘console me’ or ‘take my mind off my troubles.’ You’d think I was the town floozy or at least Center City’s most eligible female.”
Just the thought made them both laugh. “What?” asked Kathleen, still laughing. “You don’t think I’ve still got it?” She struck a Mae West style pose and added, “I can get all the men I want, Big Boy, and don’t you forget it!”
“I won’t,” replied Dan and they both enjoyed the good laugh. It felt really good to laugh together. Neither could remember the last time they had done that. It didn’t solve any problems, but it eased the pain, if only for a moment.
Getting back to the point, Kathleen said, “I can’t stand it in the house alone, but I can’t take the public either. I don’t know what to do.”
She was serious again, but no longer crying. Dan didn’t have any answers. She had already refused to go visit family and none of them could get free just then to come stay with her. No way was she leaving Dan during the trial. She had already said, “We’ll get away together when this is over.” Dan suggested she share with the people at church and see if they had any ideas. He hoped they would offer to run errands for her or go with her to run interference for her and discourage the press or others from bothering her. He didn’t say anything, though, because he didn’t want to get her hopes up in case no one helped.
Kathleen said she would talk to them about it and that it helped a little just to talk to Dan. Somehow it all didn’t seem so bad when she put it into words. She knew down deep, though, that it would be bad again, the next time she faced it alone.
Alone. Loneliness was something she never thought she would really feel. Driving home from the visit, Kathleen thought about that. Growing up, she had always had her family around. Then she met Dan McClain and her life became so full that she had often wished for some time alone.
The last twenty eight years had been packed with people and activities. Raising three kids, going to church services and programs and meetings so often it seemed like they lived at the church, and lately, helping with the Decency Movement. They seldom had time alone as a couple and when she was by herself, it was a break, not loneliness.
Added to all that, Kathleen had always believed that God’s children were never alone. His Holy Spirit was always there on the inside of every true believer to comfort and guide. She had needed plenty of both lately and usually could sense Him there doing His work in and around her. But despite years of living a strong faith and counseling scores of others, Kathleen had to admit there were still times when she felt so all alone.
She knew God was with her. She knew Dan’s thoughts were with her. She knew Christian friends were praying for her. She knew all that, but she still felt alone sometimes.
She had learned a few things though. She felt that she would never again take for granted some of the little pleasures in life. She used to be able to go for a walk without fear of being hassled by others. Maybe she would again someday, but not lately.
She used to complain about too much to do and too many people around. Now she couldn’t seem to occupy enough time and wished someone would come by to visit, as long as it wasn’t about the trial!
By the time Kathleen reached her home, she had decided that life was hard at times for everyone and this was her time. God would see her through it and later she would be able to help someone else because of her experience. She could only hope and pray that Dan would be there at her side to help too.
The State was not seeking the death penalty, but a conviction could mean life in prison for Dan. Both he and Kathleen simply refused to think about that. Every time the thought occurred to either of them, they would pray or sing or do something to change the subject and get their minds on something else.
Even though the trial was going badly, they had to believe that God would do something to turn it all around. They refused to believe that He would let the Devil win this battle. Somehow, God would step in and deliver them from this ordeal.
That Saturday the lawyer went by the jail to confer with his client. “Dan,” he said, “I’m not going to lie to you. It looks bad. We haven’t been able to find anyone who saw or heard anything to contradict the state’s case.”
“And nothing to support my claim of a frame” added Dan.
“Nothing,” the lawyer confirmed. “I can’t think of a thing except to plea bargain for a lesser charge.”
“No way!” Dan replied forcefully. “I didn’t do anything and I refuse to say I did just to get a lighter sentence.”
“I just don’t see any other way. Without a miracle, you don’t stand a chance of being acquitted,” Mr. Douglass insisted.
“Then we’ll just have to keep praying for that miracle,” Dan said matter-of-factly. “If God wants me to spend the rest of my life in prison, I’ll do it. If He doesn’t, then He’ll just have to come up with the miracle.”
“I don’t fully understand your faith, but I do admire it,” said Mr. Douglass with a smile. “If God gets you out of this one, we’ll have that talk you’ve been wanting.”
Dan knew when he hired him that Mr. Douglass wasn’t a Christian, but he came highly recommended and was a respected moral man of the community. Since the day he took Dan’s case, he had acted very professionally and showed great skill in the way he handled both the law and the courtroom.
Dan was completely satisfied with Mr. Douglass. It wasn’t his fault that the frame had been done so well that neither he nor Dan, nor the detective they had hired had yet been able to find any evidence to even suggest that Dan had not killed Suzanne Kirk.
Dan had questioned his lawyer briefly about his faith, but Mr. Douglass had politely dismissed the subject and insisted they concentrate on Dan’s case. Dan tried to convince him that where he would spend eternity was more important than where Dan might spend the rest of his life, even if that were to be in prison. The lawyer appreciated the concern, but ended the conversation with a promise to talk about it some other time. Dan respected his wishes and let it go for the time being.
A couple of times during the course of their trial preparations, Dan tried to reopen the discussion of faith, but each time Mr. Douglass said, “Not now – we’ve still got our work cut out for us taking care of getting you off.”
Dan had reluctantly set aside the idea of leading his lawyer to faith in Christ, but never gave up praying for him. Throughout the case, Mr. Douglass had watched and listened to his client and was constantly impressed by Dan’s faith in and devotion to God, despite his impossible situation. He even said so to Dan more than once.
Dan hoped the man was serious when he said they would talk about faith in God if God provided the miracle needed to get Dan acquitted of this murder charge. This gave Dan an even greater reason to pray for that miracle. Not only would it prove Dan was innocent and get him released from jail, but it could also lead to Mr. Douglass believing for himself. Maybe that was what this trial was really all about – reaching Dan’s lawyer for Christ. As far as Dan was concerned, bringing even one person to salvation would make the whole ordeal worthwhile.
With no chance of a plea bargain and no new evidence to discuss, Mr. Douglass closed his briefcase and said good-bye to Dan. “I’ll see you in court Monday morning,” he called as he waved back from the other side of the steel bars.
As he sat alone in his cell, Bro. Dan cried out to God for help. He clung desperately to scriptures that assured him that truth would set him free, that God delivers the righteous, and that God would supply his needs. Right now he needed a miracle!
The trial would end soon. He could get life in prison because he dared to take a stand against crime and corruption. He dared to care about people like Julie Saunders and her parents. He dared to help addicts change. He worked hard to clean up all the evil that had hurt so many of his fellow citizens. He had even cared enough to spend time on the phone with a woman named Suzanne, whom he didn’t know, who said she needed help.
He was in this mess because he cared. It was God’s business he was doing, not his own. He got into trouble doing God’s work. If God wanted him to spend the rest of his life in prison, then so be it. He would try to serve God there. If God wanted him set free, then God would have to be the one to do it. There was nothing he nor his lawyer could do. He remembered that often when speaking about faith he had said that’s when God worked – when there was nothing man can do. God did it that way so people would trust in Him, not their own devices.
He remembered a Bible study that he had taught to the other prisoners about trusting in God. The 37th Psalm teaches us to trust God by delighting in the Lord, committing our way to the Lord, and resting in Him. Someone had once put it this way – you’ll never trust God until you have to and God will see to it that you have to! Dan was at the point where he had to trust.
“The Pastor Cleared”
Monday, in court, they were to begin Dan’s defense. The prosecutor had summed up the case against Dan McClain. Motive. Opportunity. Ownership of the murder weapon, complete with his fingerprints. Arrested at the scene, standing over the victim’s body. Phone records showing a definite connection between the defendant and the decedent. No alibi. No proof for his assertion that he had been framed.
Dan’s only line of defense would have to be his own testimony and his character. His character, however, had been called into question recently. His testimony would have absolutely no corroboration. Dan’s lawyer truly believed in his innocence. He also truly believed that even if the jury believed his testimony, they would have to convict his client for murder.
Judge Parker asked Mr. Douglass to begin the defense. He rose to call his client to the stand, but was interrupted by the sudden entrance of someone into the courtroom. The crowd gasped almost in unison as they turned to watch a young lady burst through the double doors of the court. It was Suzanne Kirk! It couldn’t possibly be – but it was! For several weeks her face had been plastered all over the newspapers and television. Everyone in Center City knew that face. There was no mistake. Suzanne Kirk had just walked into the courtroom and back into Dan McClain’s life!
The judge banged his gavel and demanded order as the young woman spoke up saying, “Your Honor? I’d like to testify.”
She stood there in the aisle, frozen by the stares of a hundred pairs of eyes. She had known she would cause quite a stir by coming to the trial, but she felt she had to come. She had dressed much more modestly for court than she had for any of her previous interviews, but her outfit still flattered her trim figure and showed her attractive legs without being obvious. Her neatly styled, short black hair set off her striking good looks.
Kathleen had never seen her in person, only in pictures or on local television and had to admit she was beautiful. ‘No wonder they chose her to frame Dan,’ she thought. ‘Any guy could fall for someone who looks like that!’
If anyone had ever asked Dan if he thought she was pretty, he would have had to say yes. There was no denying her looks or her figure. As she took a few steps further into the courtroom, Dan realized that though he had noticed her beauty before, he really hadn’t seen just how pretty she was. It made her story all the more tragic.
He knew from their conversations, true or not, that she was bright and witty. Add her looks to the equation and she had so much going for her that the kind of life she had lived so far was even more of a tragedy.
The room silenced and the judge replied, “We would like for you to testify. In fact, I’m sure someone would demand that you do,” he said, trying to ease the tension a little. “Please come forward and be sworn in.” Judge Parker looked at both lawyers as the attractive young woman walked toward the witness stand. “Any objections?” he asked.
“Not yet,” both men replied in unison.
Suzanne seemed remarkably poised for a woman obviously embroiled in a very grave, though confusing business. All eyes watched her every move as she walked to the witness stand. She didn’t try to make any more of a scene than her very presence there had made and she didn’t flaunt her looks like some cheap floozy. She simply walked gracefully to the witness stand – chin up and eyes straight forward, not too proudly, but very resolutely.
After swearing to tell the truth, the young lady sat down and was asked to state her name. “Suzanne Kirk,” she replied. The courtroom remained deathly silent waiting to hear what was going on.
Mr. Douglass approached the stand, deliberated for a moment, then began. “You say you are Suzanne Kirk, yet my client is on trial for murdering Suzanne Kirk. Do you have any proof that you are indeed Suzanne Kirk?”
“Well, I left all my personal effects in my room that day and I assume that either the police or the court has them now. I could get hold of my birth certificate eventually, I guess, but the police could easily check my fingerprints. I’ve been arrested before and I’m sure they have them on file.” She was quiet and nervous, but very definite in her testimony.
Mr. Douglass looked at the judge and asked, “May we approach the bench, Your Honor?”
Judge Parker nodded affirmatively and motioned with his hand for the prosecutor to join the defense attorney at the bench.
Mr. Douglass spoke first. “Your Honor, it would be no small matter to verify if the witness is indeed Suzanne Kirk. If she is, then obviously we have grounds for a mistrial since my client could not possibly have murdered Suzanne Kirk.” Anticipating an interruption from the prosecutor, he held up his hand to silence the objection before it was offered and continued. “However, I’m sure the prosecutor would simply ascertain the true identity of the decedent and arrest my client for that murder.”
“We certainly will,” affirmed the prosecutor.
“So,” continued Mr. Douglass, “in the interest of justice and exonerating my client from any murder, I’d like to reserve my right to ask for a mistrial until later and hear this woman’s testimony.”
“Do you realize the risk you are taking?” asked the judge. “This is likely the woman who has already accused your client of having an affair with her. She could easily seal his fate with her testimony.”
“I know,” replied Dan’s lawyer. “But I believe she has come forward to help. And frankly, with the evidence as it is, I don’t think we have too much to lose.”
The judge looked at the prosecutor who responded saying, “I have no objections at this time.”
Judge Parker said, “Very well then – continue.” He sat back in his chair as the prosecutor returned to his seat and Mr. Douglass walked slowly back to Suzanne Kirk on the witness stand.
“Miss Kirk, my client is on trial for the murder of a woman that the prosecution has said was Suzanne Kirk. If you are Suzanne Kirk, can you tell us who the woman was that was found dead in your room?”
The witness began to tremble and tears started down her cheeks. “She was … she was my … “ She interrupted her own testimony with sobs.
“Take your time,” the lawyer said gently.
The courtroom crowd waited in silence for a moment while the witness composed herself with a deep sigh. She dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief and continued her testimony. “She was my twin sister, Sharon.” The courtroom started to buzz, but the judge quickly banged it back to silence.
The prosecutor realized that everyone had been so sure the decedent was Suzanne Kirk, that no real proof was needed. Everyone in town knew what she looked like and recognized her on sight. The murder took place in Suzanne’s room. Her purse with all her identification was in that room with her. No one had any reason to look any further than simply having the police identify the body by sight.
For that matter, even the relatively new procedure of identifying someone through their DNA would have produced the same conclusion with an identical twin. Only the fingerprints would have mattered and no one felt the need to do that then.
Obviously, they had messed up, but it didn’t matter much. The same evidence could convict Dan McClain of killing Sharon Kirk in a case of mistaken identity, with Suzanne Kirk the intended victim.
“Someone killed your sister in your room. Did you?” the lawyer asked suddenly.
Shocked by the abrupt question, the witness blurted out, “Certainly not!”
“Did you witness the murder?” Mr. Douglass asked, taking the risk Judge Parker had warned against. She could easily lie and implicate Dan.
“No,” she replied. “We had an argument and I left. That was the last time I saw my sister alive.”
“What was the argument about?”
“Dan McClain. Sharon had heard about the scandal on the news and came to talk to me about it,” Miss Kirk replied.
“And what did she have to say about it?” pressed the lawyer.
“She knew I wasn’t – well, the most moral person in the world – and that I worked for people connected with the very businesses the Decency Movement campaigned against. I guess she believed Bro. Dan instead of me and asked me to tell her the truth about our relationship.”
“What did you tell her?” Mr. Douglass asked.
“The truth,” Suzanne replied. “That I never had any relationship with Dan McClain and the whole story was a setup.”
That statement started quite a commotion in the courtroom. It took the judge a couple of tries to restore order. Bro. Dan heaved a deep sigh of relief and leaned back in his chair for the first time since Suzanne had entered the room.
“Go on,” urged Dan’s lawyer.
“Well, I was paid to pretend to have an affair with the defendant in order to discredit him. I called his study several times to talk about my lousy life and church and stuff in order to set up the phone records and start the connection between us. I rented motel rooms several times, making sure first that he had no alibis for those times.”
“Did you ever meet with Dan McClain at any motels?”
“Did he ever meet with you at your room over the pool hall or at his home?”
“No. We only met face to face one time before today. That was the day I went to his church study. You know, the day the pictures were taken.”
“Tell us about that day,” the lawyer said. By now he was sure Suzanne was not going to hurt his client’s chances.
“It was all planned,” she said. “Someone – I don’t know who – called the reporter to get him to the church before noon. I was parked around the corner from the church. When he got there, I drove around to where he would see me park and wait for the secretary to leave. She always left right at noon. When she left, I drove up to the front of the church, got out, looked around, and went inside. I made sure he had time to get some pictures.”
“Then what happened?” the lawyer asked.
“Bro. Dan and I just talked. That’s all we had ever done. That was the first time we had ever talked face to face, though. Then he walked me out and – well, you saw the pictures. I took his hand and kissed his cheek. We counted on the reporter taking pictures and blowing everything out of proportion. The press always does.”
“And the interviews that followed?”
“All lies,” Suzanne stated. “I was paid to lie and discredit Bro. Dan with a sex scandal in order to stop the Decency Movement.”
“And it worked, didn’t it?”
“Yes.” Then she looked at Dan and spoke directly to him. “Most of what we talked about on the phone was true. My life has always been lousy and I really didn’t care if yours or anyone else’s got ruined too. But now I’m truly sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused.”
The lawyer continued his questioning. “Now back to the day of the murder,” he said. “Phone records show a call was made from your room to Dan McClain’s home less than an hour before the police arrested Dan in your room. Did you make that call?”
“No,” Suzanne replied. “I never called him anywhere but at his study and I never even talked to him after that day we met.”
“So someone else called Dan McClain from your room after you left. Either your sister called him or someone else entered that room long before the defendant arrived,” Mr. Douglass surmised. “It would appear that someone else was at the scene of the crime other than the defendant, wouldn’t it?”
“Objection!” interrupted the prosecutor. “Calls for a conclusion.”
“Sustained,” Judge Parker ruled.
“Let’s see if we have your testimony straight, Miss Kirk. You were hired to set up the defendant and discredit him by appearing to have had an affair with him, but he was completely innocent of that. Later, someone, not you, lured him to your room where he was arrested for murdering you, but the victim was your twin sister instead. Is that right?”
“That’s right,” she affirmed.
“One more question, Miss Kirk. Can you think of any reason why the defendant would kill your sister other than mistaking her for you?”
“So, if she had called Dan McClain that day, he would have already known it was her not you. And if she wasn’t the one who called him, somebody else was in that room between the time you left and the time Dan McClain arrived. No further questions – your witness,” he said to the prosecutor as he moved confidently back to Dan’s side.
“Miss Kirk,” began the prosecutor. “You claim now that for several weeks you lied to Dan McClain, lied to the press, and lied to this entire city about your relationship with the defendant. Why should we believe you now?”
“Because now I’m under oath. Now my sister is dead. Someone was trying to kill me and got her instead. I’m sorry and I’m scared,” she answered.
“You say that you did not make that phone call to the McClain home from your room on the day of the murder. Can you prove that or tell us who did?” asked the prosecutor, sure that she could not.
“Yes,” she stated emphatically. That answer set off another stir in the courtroom, but the judge didn’t have to stop it. Everyone was so eager to hear what she had to say that they quickly quieted down.
“You can?” asked the puzzled prosecutor.
“I can tell you who did make the call,” she stated.
“Then why didn’t you say so earlier?” asked the prosecutor.
“No one asked me,” she replied, to which the courtroom crowd had to laugh a little.
“Well, we’re asking now,” prodded the lawyer.
“He did,” she stated, as she looked and pointed directly to Mr. Farley, the witness from the hallway. “The man who saw Bro. Dan in the room standing over my sister.”
“That’s a lie!” Farley shouted as he sat up on the edge of his seat.
“Quiet!” Judge Parker ordered, banging his gavel to silence the room again. “Bailiff, watch that man while Miss Kirk continues.”
“How do you know this, if you left your sister after the argument?” the prosecutor asked.
“When I got to my car, I realized I had stormed off without my purse and keys, so I went back to my room to get them. As I climbed the stairs I heard a scream that stopped suddenly. As I came near my door, I heard a thump like something falling to the floor. I froze for a moment in the hallway. Then I edged up to the door. It was partly open so I peeked inside. I could see my sister’s body lying on the floor behind the couch. She wasn’t moving. I could hear a man talking, on the phone I guessed, so I listened. He told someone he had proof that I was framing him to discredit him and that he had better get to my address in the next twenty minutes or forget it. I figured he had to be talking to Dan McClain. I stuck my head inside the room to get a better look and saw the man hang up the phone. As he turned around I recognized the man from across the hall. That man,” she said as she pointed to him again.
Farley shook his head, but said nothing as the bailiff stood nearby, preventing any attempt to flee. The prosecutor continued. “Then what happened?”
“He didn’t see me, so I just took off. I was scared to death. I ran as quietly as I could down the stairs and out the door. I don’t know why , but it occurred to me that Sharon had not brought her purse in with her. I ran to her car and sure enough, she had left the keys in the ignition and her purse on the floor. She’s from a small town and never worried about such things. I got in her car and drove away.”
“Why did you wait so long to come forward?” the prosecutor asked.
“I was afraid for my life and ashamed of what I had done. My sister was dead instead of me. It just took a long time for me to get the courage to do the right thing.”
The prosecutor gave up on Suzanne Kirk and asked the judge if he could recall the witness she had accused. Dan’s lawyer objected. He didn’t want to give the man the chance to refute her testimony and force the jury to have to decide whom to believe. The judge sustained his objection. The prosecutor had concluded his case against Dan McClain and it was the defense’s turn now.
Paul Douglass felt sure that enough had been said at least to cast the shadow of a doubt that Dan McClain had murdered anyone. He definitely had not killed Suzanne Kirk and now there was plenty of doubt that he had killed Sharon Kirk by mistake. The lawyer asked the judge for a mistrial on the grounds that his client had been accused of murdering Suzanne Kirk who apparently wasn’t even dead!
He and Bro. Dan were confident that Suzanne’s testimony would prompt another investigation with the man from the hallway as much of a suspect as Dan. The judge granted the mistrial and ordered the bailiff to detain the newly accused man for further questioning by the police. Dan McClain was free to go home. It would be up to the police and the district attorney’s office to figure out who would be charged for Sharon Kirk’s murder.
Six months had passed since Pastor Dan McClain, alias “Decent Dan” had been released from jail when the judge declared a mistrial. In the meantime, justice had been served. The police investigation, with Suzanne Kirk’s help, turned up another witness who was convinced to cooperate and testify to first hand knowledge of the conspiracy to kill Suzanne.
He testified to hearing the eventual killer plotting to murder Suzanne and frame Dan McClain. The other conspirators were Julie Saunders’ ex-boyfriend and his boss at the video store, owner Sam Lawrence.
It was the manager who stole the letter opener from Dan’s study and passed it on to Farley, who lived across the hall from Suzanne. He received only two years in a minimum security prison in exchange for his testimony against Lawrence and the murderer.
Sam Lawrence had been indicted for drug trafficking, pornography, pandering, and conspiracy to commit first degree murder. He would likely spend the rest of his life in prison. Farley had already been tried, convicted, and sentenced to life without parole.
Suzanne Kirk had done a terrible thing to Dan McClain and his wife. She had caused great harm to Center City Baptist Church. She had set the Decency Movement back a long way in its efforts to stamp out crime and corruption. She lied and got paid for it, but the only crime she had actually committed was the civil crime of slandering Dan McClain and he refused to press charges.
She had eventually done the right thing. She came forward and testified against the real criminals. She confessed her sins and exonerated Bro. Dan. She would have to live with the fact that her twin sister had been murdered because of Suzanne’s involvement in sin. She would have to change her identity and enter the witness protection program. Sin always has consequences.
Dan and Kathleen were being treated by his church to a week-long cruise. They felt the couple could use some time alone and away from Center City. The church was recovering steadily. The Decency Movement was active again and continuing to affect the lives of those who had fallen into the traps of alcohol, drugs, prostitution, and pornography. The arrests had taken a large bite out of the local crime organization, though they hadn’t destroyed it completely. The video store was under new management.
The Saunders family was well on their way to recovery. They felt like a family again. Julie had a new job and continued to receive counseling even though she had been clean since her accident. Jack and Kelly had become very involved in trying to steer other young men and women away from lives of sin.
Bro. Dan continued to preach and head up the Decency Movement, but he learned to protect himself better with more help from others and less done on his own. He refused to let up. He said people’s lives and souls were too important. God had proven faithful in very tough times; Bro. Dan asked, “How could I possibly do less?”