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.
JASON FRANCO, JOURNALIST
Monday June 1, 2015
The only newspaper in Torrington, The Torrington Star-Gazette, covered the Littlefield murder case with daily details. Now its editor, Sean Tyler, and its only reporter, Jason Franco, sat in the courtroom to hear the judge’s sentence. Sean was a baby boomer pushing or pulling on seventy -- Jason wasn't sure which. Sean's hair was gray but still holding on. Each ear supported a super sized hearing aid. He wore a suit with a red power tie.
This was all new to Jason who was hired by Sean just a few months ago. It was his first trial and first murder story. At Sean's insistence, Jason wore a pair of gray dress pants, white dress shirt and a black tie – no jacket. He was twenty four years old and own only one suit which he rarely wore. His dress shoes were a high school graduation gift. They still locked new and squeaked when he walked. They were uncomfortable. The courtroom stood in silence as the judge entered. Paulo had pleaded guilty to a lesser charge to avoid the death penalty; second degree murder. The lack of a full blown trial left unanswered the question of motive; why did Paulo rape and kill his high school sweet heart?
Paulo’s mother sat directly behind him. She had been crying. Angelina’s family sat a few rows back. Her mother sat with an older woman. Other relatives from both families were there to offer support. Paulo sat with his lawyer, Howard Patton. His head was bowed. He wore the jail’s orange jump suit, was handcuffed and had on leg chains. Everyone in the courtroom hoped that Paulo would offer some rationale on why he killed Angelina and apologize to her mother. That didn’t happen. When the judge asked if Paulo wanted to make a statement, his lawyer said that his client declined to speak. The judge asked Angelina’s mother if she wanted to say anything and she also declined.
The press was well represented. There aren’t a lot of murders in Wyoming; not like Chicago or New York. Any murder was major news. There were two camera crews from TV stations in Cheyenne and one from Casper. Another crew came from as far away as Omaha. Sean knew a couple of the reporters and introduced himself to the others, exchanging business cards. The newspaper office was only two blocks from the courthouse, so he made it available to the out of town press. There was coffee, donuts, bottles of water and a clean restroom.
When the judge read the sentence, Paulo shouted, “I didn’t kill her.”
Thew court room exploded in shouts of protests and disbelief. The judge pounded his gavel for order. Then he told Paulo that he already had his chance to speak. The judge asked Mr. Patton if his client now wished to make a statement. He whispered with Paulo and then shook his head to the judge.
Paulo’s mother broke down in tears as the bailiff led Paulo out of the court room. TV camera crews were waiting outside to cover the exit of the family. Angelina’s family hugged each other. The out of town press rushed in to talk to the mothers who declined to speak to reporters.
Sean didn’t want any part of it. He shook his head. He lowered his eyebrows. “This isn't right. This isn't right.”
“What’s not right?” asked Jason.
“Paulo didn’t do it. I know he didn’t. He’s innocent. Something’s not right.”
“Why do you say that? The evidence was very compelling. Do you know Paulo?”
Sean frowned. “I met him on several occasions. Paulo and Angie dated since their sophomore year in high school. He’s a nice kid. I don’t believe he did it. They were planning to marry. He has no history of violence. I never saw him get mad. He worshiped Angie. I was dating Angelina’s grandmother.”
“Is that who was sitting with Mrs. Littlefield?”
“Yeah, her name is Kate Smith.”
“Should we catch Paulo’s lawyer outside and interview him?”
Sean lifted his chin, looking down his nose at the other reporters rushing outside. “No. I don’t have the energy to join this circus.”
“Do you want to write up the story for the front page?”
“No. There'll be a press release in a couple of hours. We’ll run that along with pictures of Angie and Paulo.”
“That won’t take up much space.”
“We’ll blow the pictures up to half a page. That, plus the press release will take up the whole front page.”
Jason and Sean walked the few blocks back to the newspaper office in silence. Once inside, Sean motioned for Jason to come into his office. Sean was the editor for thirty some years and the owner for twenty two.
Sean sat down at his desk and removed his tie. He sighed and messaged his left wrist. He fiddled with his pen for a few moments. “Jason, I want you to take over the lead on this story. Write up a follow up. Take whatever time you need and we’ll run it when you’re done.”
“Okay, but after our story tomorrow, there isn't much more to say, is there?”
Sean put down his pen. “There’s a lot to be said. Take a different point of view on this. Interview town people and ask how this murder has affected them. How have they changed? How do they feel about it? Write about feelings and emotions not just the facts.”
“The only things I’ve written for the paper up till now have been sports and wedding. You always write the big stories. I’ve never done an interview. Are you sure you want me to do this?”
“There’s nothing to it. I’ll help of course. I need you to do this. I’m missing something. I’m too close to this. I need someone with a fresh pair of eyes to look at it and report what’s wrong.”
Jason took out his notebook and a pen. “Tell me what you want me to do.”
“First, brush up on the case. Read the press releases, the police reports and the lab reports. Check on the background of the keys players. Memorize the facts. Then interview everyone.”
“I don’t know how to do an interview.”
Sean smiled. “It’s really quite simple; be the dumbest guy in the room. Ask the dumb questions. Let the interviewee do the talking. The key is not to be judgmental or to form a conclusion. Let the facts speak for themselves. Do you know about the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal?”
“It was before my time, but I read about it in history.”
“Well, Congress questioned President Clinton. He danced around the issue because no one wanted to ask the President of the United State the obvious question. The whole interview would have been over in ten minutes if someone had asked him if Monica blew him. You need to ask those questions, the obvious questions.”
“Don’t write anything down. Use a pocket recorder, not a big one. Big recorders are intimidating. But don't hide it either. Let people know that you'll record what they say and whatever they say is on the record. Nothing is ever off the record. It’s best to ask open ended questions instead of yes or no questions.”
“I don’t understand. Why not write anything down.”
“If you write anything, you’ll have to write everything down. If you don’t, people assume that you’re judging their answers. Besides, you might miss something. Later, if they claim that you misquoted them, you have the recordings.”
“Okay, got it.”
“And maintain eye contact. Watch their body. Their body language tells you a lot. You can't watch the body language if you're writing.”
“I don't know how to read body language.”
“Subconsciously you do. Go with what your gut tells you.”
“Who should I interview?”
“Start with the Chief of Police, Jeri Cruse. He’s a friend of mine so I can set up an interview. Then talk to the arresting police officers, Paulo’s lawyer and Paulo. After that, it’s like ripples in a pond; expand upon it. Just run down the leads.” Jason appeared a little overwhelmed. “This will be good experience for you,” said Sean. “You want to be a writer. Investigative journalism is writing.”
Jason smiled slightly. “I want to write a novel.”
“Many great writers started out as journalists: Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway. Consider this story as background research. Learn how the police operate. Learn what a crime lab can do. Then write a crime novel.”
“But Twain and Hemingway had great life experiences. Twain sworked a riverboat and Hemingway was an eye wirtness to warfare. Nothing happens here. I don't have exciting experiences.”
“Should I interview Mrs. Littlefield?”
“No. No. Leqve her alone. The press has mobbed her. Maybe in a few weeks. Besides, I think Kate Smith is the family spokeperson. She's not speaking to me, so forget it.”
“What about Mrs. McAdmas?”
“Yeah. Talk to her. Her perspective would b important.”
Sean turned toward the door of his office and shouted, “Mary, bring Jason the Littlefield file.”
Mary, Sean’s daughter, was a heavy set, forty something devorcee. He hired her a few years ago when the paper started losing customers and money. He paid her minimum wage but also paid her rent and utility bills. She came through the door just as Sean called her and handed a thick file to Jason.
Sean laughed. “Oh, you were listening.”
Mary didn’t even look back as she shufled out of the office. “I would never presume to eavesdrop on your conversations.”
Sean stood up. “I need coffee.” He walked into the outer office and over to the small table that held the coffee pot and condiments. He searched through the debrie left by the out of town reporters for a donut.
Jason shared the outer office with Mary. There were a couple of other empty desks that belonged to other employees now long gone. Sean, Mary and Jason made up the entire staff of The Torrington Star-Gazette. The paper had seen better days. When Jason returned to his desk, a young man was sitting there looking at his computer. “Can I help you?”
Mary jumped up. “I’m sorry. I told Zac he could sit there. He’s my son.”
Sean turned around with half a donut in one hand and a coffee mug in the other. “It’s okay, Jason. Zac’s going to be working here part time. He’s going to help with our computers.” Sean didn’t wait for a response but went back into his office. Jason followed him.
“We can’t afford decent software, but you can hire someone part time?”
“I’m not paying Zac. He got into little trouble at school. I worked out a deal with the judge. He has to do three hundred hours of community service.”
“Working part time at a newspaper is community service?”
Sean smiled. “I convinced the judge, a personal friend of mine, that Mary and I’ll keep him busy and out of trouble if he worked here. The newspaper is part of the community, hence community service. His parole officer will stop by from time to time.”
Jason was not satisfied. “He didn’t kill someone or sell drugs, did he?”
Sean shook his head. “No, nothing like that. He’s just too smart for his own good. He hacked into the school computers and changed his grades. The school pressed charges.”
“What's he going to do here?”
“He’s very bright. I want him to upgrade our website and Facebook page. He has some great ideas. Work with him. Give him some things to do. He can research things for you. He’ll use whatever computer is available at the time; yours when you’re out or Mary’s or mine.”
Jason was not happy about it but went back to his desk. Mary had Zac move to an empty desk. “I’ve an old laptop at home that I can bring in tomorrow for Zac to use,” said Mary. “He’s a good kid, really. Just keep an eye on your wallet.”
Jason looked at Mary. He wasn’t sure if she was joking or not. He decide that as long as they would be working together, he'd better introduce himself to Zac. Zac stood up when Jason introduced himself, a gesture that impressed Jason. Zac seemed like a niceyoung man. Jason didn't care much for his pink hair with red highlights. Zac kept his hair under a John Deere hat worn backwards. He had one nostral pierced with a nose ring, a ring in his lower lip, and two rings on each ear.
Thank God his tongue isn't pierced, thought Jason. At least he can answer the phone.
Mary handed Jason a small package.
“What's this?” asked Jason.
“That's your pocket recorder. The instructions are inside. It's a little dated but it works.It includes software so you can download your interviews”
Sean came back into the room. “Chief Cruse will see you at three today. ”
Jason sat down and opened the file. It was quite thick. It included a lot of photographs. His attention was drawn immediately to the pictures. There were pictures that newspapers wouldn't normally have access to. Jason guessed that Sean used his connections to get the pictures. One set was clipped together with a sticky note labeled Crime Scene. The first picture was that of Angelina’s body. The rest of the pictures were obviously taken around the crime scene. Each picture had a yellow numbered placard next to a piece of evidence. Several pictured the living room where the rape occurred. There were pictures of blood splater on the carpet. More pictures included blood splater by the side door, on the door and on the floor. Others pictured the kitchen where the murder occurred. A pool of blood lay to the side of Angelina's body. A second picture taken after the body was removed indicated that the pool of blood occurred after she had been dragged into the kitchen and stabbed. A yellow arrow pointed to a couple of drops of blood on the kitchen floor. A note stated that the drops may have come when the murder weapon was removed. There was another picture of an open drawer full of knives.
A second set of pictures were clipped together under a sticky note labeled, McAdams’s House. The first picture was of a butcher knife on the kitchen counter. The second picture was a close up of the knife. A yellow arrow pointed toward a red spot where the blade joined the hilt of the knife. The next picture was of a cellphone in a pink case.
The next picture must have been taken during the autopsy. Angelina’s body was washed clean. The single wound in her chest over her heart was clearly visible. Her face was swollen and black and blue. Her nose appeared to be broken and between swollen lips a tooth apparently was missing.
The last set of pictures came off Angelina’s cellphone. One was a picture of Angelina’s body with the knife still in her chest. The picture appeared to have been taken from the dining room. There were several selfies taken earlier of Angelina either naked or in seductive poses. One selfie was of Angelina and Paulo both naked. The pictures from Paulo’s cellphone were grouped and printed with several to one page.
Next, Jason read the police report which said that the police responded to a 911 call.
Case Number: 0815120761
Reporting Officer: Chief Jeri Cruse Prepared By: Natalie Hathaway
Incident Type: Aggregated assault, murder, rape
Address of Occurrence: ???? Torrington, WY 82240
Victim: Miss Angelina Littlefield
Witnesses: Mrs. Margaret Littlefield, white female, age 39, nurse at County Community Hospital, mother of victim.
Evidence: Knife, cellphones, crime scene pictures attached.
Weapon/Objects Used: Knife, single edge, 10 inches long.
Description of Incident: Mrs. Littlefield called 911 around 11:30 pm and reported that her daughter had been stabbed. Officers Marini and Rudd were dispatched and were the first to arrive on the scene. They met Mrs. Littlefield in her driveway. She said that when she came home from work, she discovered her daughter's body in the kitchen. Mrs. Littlefield led the officers inside the house. There they found Angelina Littlefield's body. She had been badly beaten around the face and stabbed in the heart. Her shorts were pulled over her head. A searched of the residence did not find anyone or any point of force entry. Chief Cruse and officer Dunley arrived shortly later. He dispatched Officers Marini and Rudd to the McAdams house to question Angelina’s boyfriend, Paulo McAdams. Paulo McAdams was taken to the station for questioning. Officer Marini stayed behind to search the house. She found the murder weapon, a butcher knife. She also found the vic's cellphone. Upon examination of the cellphone, she saw the picture of Angelina’s body. The State Police Regional Enforcement Team arrived and took charge of the crime scene.
Next, Jason read the medical examiner’s report which concluded that Angelina had been raped and killed. Her vagina had been torn in manner consistent with a violent rape. Her face was beaten severely. The ME stated that she may have been unconscious when she was raped and killed. None of her wounds were postmortem. The report stated that two hairs were found inside the vagina. The ME speculated that they were pubic hairs and bagged them as evidence. The cause of death was a knife wound to the heart. The wound was made by a two and a half inch wide knife probably eight to ten inches long with a single edge similar to a butcher knife.
Jason had followed the case in the newspaper, so he just glanced over the clippings again. Finally, Jason read the lab report. The crime lab in Cheyenne confirmed that the blood on the knife was Angelina’s and that the knife was the murder weapon. It also said that all the blood found in the crime scene was Angelina’s. DNA testing indicated that the semen found inside Angelina’s vagina was from Paulo. The lab tested Paulo's clothes and shoes but found no blood. Jason rifled through the file. There was no DNA report on the pubic hairs.
Jason made a few notes for questions for his interview with Chief Cruse. One question was about the total lack of any witnesses. He also wanted to know about the pubic hairs. Where’s the lab test on the hairs? Sean said to ask the dumb question. Jason figured that wouldn’t be a problem with him because of his lack of experience.