SYNOPSIS: Jason Franco is an aspiring novelist stuck in a dead end job working for a newspaper in a small town where nothing exciting happens until someone rapes and murders a young woman only eighteen years old. All evidence points to the woman's boyfriend who confesses to the crime. Jason is assigned to write a follow-up story for the paper and soon suspects that the local police are covering up for one of their own. Jason enlists the help from a high school classmate who works at the state crime and the two soon fall in love. Jason and his girlfriend, Tina, follow the leads and Jason finds himself a target for the rapist turned murderer. An attempt on Jason's life puts him in the hospital as the alleged rapist commits suicide. An unexpected turn of events put Jason back in the cross hairs of a different killer.
Howard Patton, Public Defender; Josette “Jo” McAdams, Mother; and Paulo McAdams, Convicted Felon
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
The next day as Jason walked into the newspaper office, Mary said, “Paulo's lawyer left a message on voice mail. He can see you anytime this morning.”
Paulo’s lawyer’s office was in the basement of an old building opposite the court house. It was small with stacks of paper everywhere including the floor. On the glass door was printed, , Lawyer. Howard looked to be not much older than Jason. His suit looked like it came from Walmart. He suggested that they walk down the street to a small cafe where they could have coffee and talk.
After they bought coffee and sat down, Jason turned on his pocket recorder. “How did you end up with Paulo McAdams’s case?”
“Court appointed public defender. No one hired me, if that’s what you’re wondering. I had no choice.”
“Do you believe that Paulo is innocent?”
“The evidence was overwhelming. I couldn’t find a way to dispute the facts. I did the best I could. We got a plea bargain to keep him off death row.”
“But do you think he killed Angelina?”
“Do I? I do. That’s why I went for the plea bargain.”
“If the evidence was so solid, why did the prosecution want to offer a plea bargain?”
“The prosecution came to see me. We reviewed the evidence together. They had the murder weapon and evidence from Paulo's house. He had no alibi. His mother was asleep when he came home and didn’t see him until the police came. However, there was no physical evidence, other than his semen, that could put him in the house at the time of the murder. Paulo said that he and the victim had sex earlier. They did have a history of intercourse. The ME verified that she was sexually active for over a year. The police thought he lied about that. While the prosecution felt they had a solid case, there was still a chance that a jury might see things differently. So they said they would consider a plea if Paulo confessed.”
“And you went along with that?”
“To keep him off death row? You bet.”
“Paulo believes that he was framed. He thinks someone raped and killed Angelina and then planted the knife and cellphone in his house. The house wasn't locked.”
“Who framed him? That’s a little far fetched, don’t you think? Did he tell you who might want to frame him?”
“No. At first he thought maybe the police. He admitted that since his house was not locked, it might be anyone. If he recants, can you appeal?”
“I'd need a good reason. There'd have to be new evidence or some procedural error. I did discuss our options with the judge. Unless there’s some new evidence, I can’t win on appeal.”
“What kind of new evidence?”
“Something to show someone wanted to frame Paulo or something that would create a reasonable doubt that he murdered Ms. Littlefield. Another possibility would be an eye witness that could substantiate Paulo's alibi or saw someone else at the Littlefield house at the time of the murder.”
“What about the pubic hairs that were found?”
“They were never tested.”
“Don’t you think that’s odd?”
“Honestly, I didn’t want them tested.”
Jason raised his eyebrows. “Why not? If they weren’t from Paulo, then it would prove his innocence.”
“Not really. It would show that Ms. Littlefield had sex with someone other than Paulo. But if they’re Paulo’s, there would be no plea bargain. He would get death row. Because there was doubt about the pubic hairs, we had room to maneuver and get the plea bargain. I don’t want those hairs tested for DNA. Even if they came from someone else, the prosecution would say that Littlefield had intercourse with someone beside Paulo. They would say that was his motive; jealousy. They still have the murder weapon and cellphone found at Paulo's house.”
Jason shook his head. He didn’t agree but felt it was useless to argue. He felt had learned nothing new from Paulo’s lawyer, so he returned to the office.
When Jason got back to the office, he asked Mary how to get an interview with Paulo.
“Jeez. That’s a pain in the butt. I think they make it tough on purpose to discourage the public.” She opened a filing cabinet and pulled a form out of a file. “Here we go; a visitor request form.” She handed the form to Jason. “Fill this out and return it to me. I’ll mail it to the warden. They take their time approving it. Once they do, you have to attend an orientation on a Friday night.”
“Can't I complete the request on line?”
“Are you kidding? That would be too easy.”
Jason filled out the form and Mary mailed it. The next day, Sean set up a interview for Jason swith Paulo's mother, Jo McAdams. Jason arrived at her home at ten am. Mrs. Jo McAdams was a short, heavy set woman. Jason knew she was a school bus driver for the last twleve years. He expected a hard, cold disciplinarian. In stead, he found a warm friendly lady. Jason knew from following the trial but had never spoken to her. They sat down at the kitchen table. Jo already placed coffee and cups on the table. Jason would have preferred ice tea but he didn't want to put Jo to any more trouble. He helped himself to the coffee. He place the pocket recorder on the table. Before he could ask Jo if it was okay to record the interview, Jo moved the recorder closer to her.
“Mrs. McAdams,” Jason began. “I can't imagine the nightmare you've been through this past year.”
“Year?” Jo interrupted Jason. “Try two years. Please, call me Jo. Everyone does.”
Jason paused and took a deep breath. “I saw you at the trial every day supporting your son. How's he holding up?”
“How do you think? He cries every day, not for himself though. He misses Angie. I'm afraid he might try to kill himself. He says he can't live without her.” A tear formed and ran down Jo's check.
“At the sentencing, Paulo said he didn't kill her. Why did he plead guilty?”
Jo shook her head. “I was there when he talked to this lawyer. The lawyer said that the evidence was so overwhelming that unless he agreed to a plea bargin, he would be found guilty and could get the death penalty. Paulo asked me what to do. I said to take the plea bargin. I didn't want to see him die.”
“Why, if you thought he was innocent?”
“I didn't want to take a chance. I thought maybe the police needed more time to catch the real killer. Now I wish I had lied.”
“Lied about what?”
“When they asked me if Paulo was home all night.”
“Mrs. McAdams, the police found the murder weapon and Anglina's cellphone in your house. No matter what you said, the police would have arrested him.”
'I know, I know. I just feel so helpless.”
“The medical examiner said that Angelina and Jason were intimate – apparently for a couple of years.” Jason tried to choose his words carefully. “Were you aware of that.?”
“Yeah, I knew. I mean, I did his laundry so I suspected. It didn't matter to me. They were going to marry. After they dated for a year, I began to think of Angie as my daughter-in-law. She was like a daughter to me.”
“What kind of person is Paulo?”
“He is the nicest son. I know when people say things like that, it turns out later that they weren't that nice – but not Paulo. He was never any trouble. I mean, he wasn't on the honor roll or any type of athlete, just an average teenager. Angie too. I mean, she was just an average teenager. She was no swim suit model or anything, but Paulo thought she was a goddess. ”
“I hate to ask this but I have to. Do you think honestly Paulo is innocent?”
“Absolutely! He loved Angie. He worshiped her. No way would he ever hurt her.”
“The police said maybe they were breaking up brecause he was going to join the Army.”
“No way! That was their plan. Joining the Army was her idea. She didn't want him to work in the sugar plant or oil fields.”
“What happened to Paulo's fsather?”
“Oh, he left years ago. He worked in the oil fields from Texas to Canada. He was never home anyway. We divorced when Paulo was very young.”
Two weeks after Jason sent in the visitor request form so he could interview Paulo, he received an e-mail from someone from the prison public relation department asking him why he wanted to interview Paulo. Once Jason agreed not to mention anything about the prison in his story, he was approved. He was scheduled for the next orientation. Finally, after three weeks, he had an appointment to meet Paulo.
Jason had driven by the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution many times but never paid it much attention. Now he was going inside. It was a new facility having opened in 2010. From the outside it looked much like an office building. Paulo was transferred there from the city jail after he was sentenced. The facility was a medium security prison for men. Had Paulo been sentenced to death row, he would not be here.
Jason left all his change and metal objects in his glove compartment along with his cellphone and recorder. Prison policy dictated that there could be no recording devices. He was given an ID badge with his picture on it and the word PRESS in large, bold letters. The badge intimidated him a little. He was escorted to the meeting room and given a seat at a booth. A telephone hung on the wall. Family members met in a different room; face to face with inmates. Since Jason wasn’t family, he had to talk to Paulo separated by bullet proof glass using a telephone. Paulo was escorted in by a guard. He had handcuffs and leg chains on. He looked as if he had shaved and combed his hair. Jason figured the prison wanted him to look presentable to the press. Paulo sat down and pointed to the telephone on the wall.
Jason picked up the phone at the same time as Paulo. “Thanks for letting me interview you.”
“Thank my mom. She said I should.”
“I just want to ask you a few questions for a story I’m writing for the paper. I’ll try to be brief.”
“No sweat. I’m not going anywhere.” Paulo made a short smile. It was he first time Jason had seen him smile.
Jason smiled back. “Okay. First question. You confessed but at your sentencing that you said you were innocent. Why?”
“Cause I didn’t do it, man.”
“Then why did you confess in the first place?”
“I didn’t think I had any other option. My lawyer said if I confessed to second degree, I would get life, but if I didn’t, I could get convicted of first degree and be executed. That scared the heck out of me, so I confessed. What would you do?”
“Why did you say you were innocent at the sentencing?’
“Like I said, I didn’t do it. Once I’d time to think, I realized that my confession was a mistake.”
“The police found the knife that killed Angelina at your house. They also found Angelina’s cellphone at your house. How do you explain that?’
At the mention of Angelina’s name, tears formed in Paulo’s eyes.His lower lip and chin began to quiver. “That’s pure bullshit. I was framed. The police took me to the station and my mom went along. They had the house to themselves. I think the police planted the evidence.”
“Why would the police want to frame you?’
“I don’t know. I think whoever raped and killed Angie framed me. It must have been one of the police.”
“Could someone have gotten into your house after killing Angelina and before the police arrived?”
Tears began to flow down Paulo’s face. “Yeah, I guess. We never locked the doors. Someone could have planted the evidence. I guess maybe it could have been anyone.”
“Who'd want to frame you? It would have to be someone who knows you and Angelina.”
“I don’t know. I can’t think of anyone who'd want to hurt us.”
“Did the police have a beef with you? Did you ever have a run-in with the police?”
“Not that I can recall. I never even had a ticket.” Paulo wiped his tears on his sleeve. He hung his head down and held one hand over his eyes. His shoulders shook from sobs. He put the phone on the table.
Jason waited for Paulo to regain his composure. He wanted to console Paulo, touch his shoulder or something, but he couldn’t. He made a few notes in his notebook. as he waited. After a minute, Paulo picked up the telephone again.
“Why would I kill her? We had plans. I was going to join the Army. I wanted to learn a skill and save money. If I volunteered for a combat zone, I'd get extra combat pay. As soon as we had enough money saved, we planned to marry and go to where I was stationed. People say that she broke up with me. That’s a lie. We had plans.”
Jason didn’t know what to say next, so he wrote down some more notes. Now Paulo was crying so hard that Jason figured he couldn’t continue the interview.
“Paulo, if you think of anything else, please call me.”
Paulo looked up. “I'll have to get that approved. It'd be easier to just tell my mom and she could call you.”
“Okay. That will work. I may need to talk to you again later. You take care.”