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 Category:  Mystery and Crime Fiction
  Posted: October 24, 2020      Views: 19
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Chapter 30 of the book Pewter's Homecoming
Roland chases down more leads.
"Chapter 10 - Present" by teols2016
Five years later, a closed homicide gets a second look.

Previously in "Pewter's Homecoming":

Marcy Sellers starts her junior year as a new student at Pewter Public High School in western Texas. She meets Lily Harvey, who shows her around. A few weeks later, both girls are attacked. The police quickly arrest a suspect, but, five years later, Roland Davis, a lawyer from Dallas, is given a chance to review the case.

The Sellers spoke non-stop for forty minutes. Roland hung on every word.

They explained how Marcy concluded she liked girls instead of boys and told them so when she was twelve. They described how they took her to a psychologist to help her sort out her feelings.

"We didn't want to change her," Burk explained. "We just wanted her to be able to understand and express her feelings. We also wanted her to understand that not everyone would be open to the way she felt about herself."

Roland could only nod as he listened.

They talked about Todd Sheridan, a classmate of Marcy's in Eagle Pass, where they'd lived before Burk was sent to his company's operations outside of Pewter. They explained how Todd was outed as being gay by some jocks at a party. The bullying and harassment he received at school the following weeks became so bad, he killed himself shortly after Halloween.

"Marcy was so scared she'd go the same way," Valerie recounted. "We tried to tell her things weren't the same for her. For one thing, she had us supporting her."

Burk scowled.

"Todd's parents," he remarked. "What a joke. As homophobic as you could find. Anyone who did try to help the boy was shoved away. It was a lot worse than simple bullying and harassment for him."

"But Marcy understood you were behind her and was still worried?" Roland asked.

Valerie nodded.

"I suppose we were too," she said. "We've all seen the horror stories on the news. 'Cruel' would be a polite word for some of those cases. I guess we never could have imagined what happened but, at the same time, we always worried about it."

"You think Marcy might have been targeted because she was gay?" Roland asked, also wondering how Lilian Harvey would fit into that theory.

"We considered it, as I'm sure you can guess," Burk replied. "But, when they arrested that man and told us about the evidence against him, those thoughts became more remote."

He stared hard at Roland.

"Do you really think he's innocent?" he asked. "Even with all that evidence, do you really think there is a chance he didn't do it?"

Roland broke eye contact for the first time, considering his answer.

"I think it's possible," he said. "There are just too many questions to not consider it."

"If he is innocent," Valerie said, "we hope you can free him. Please do that and find the person who's really responsible. Andrew Mooruff and his family would be hurting in their own way if that's true."

Roland nodded, thinking of Andrew's tiny mother.

* * *

As Roland drove away from the Seller's duplex, his phone pinged. He checked it at the next red light and saw he had a new e-mail from Janice. She and Philip were back at the office in Dallas and, to Roland's slight surprise, fulfilling his instructions. Part of him had figured they'd never speak to him again after their swift departure from Pewter.

They'd gotten halfway through the list of names Roland gathered and the results weren't encouraging. Former Alter County sheriff Keith Darden, who'd personally arrested Andrew, had left Pewter after being ousted in the last election. He now owned a ranch in Arizona as a "re-retirement" plan.

Quince Martin, the prosecutor who likewise lost his bid for reelection, also left Pewter, relocating to work as a real estate lawyer outside of Huntsville. Roland wondered if he'd chosen that location to be able to easily attend Andrew Mooruff's execution at the prison there, if things came to that. Such speculations didn't really matter. Quince Martin knew nothing about real estate and his practice fell apart in less than a year. He returned to Pewter and now worked as a general practitioner for local residents.

Neither Keith Darden nor Quince Martin would be keen to talk about this case, especially to the attorney handling the condemned man's appeals. Roland wouldn't even try to contact them.

Janice had found half the jurors, who'd been bussed in from Sierra County. Five out of those six still lived at their original addresses, two having served on other juries since Andrew's trial. The sixth, Mrs. Kathy Banks, had died of a heart attack two years ago.

Roland considered this. He wanted to talk to the jurors. He wanted to learn what happened between when they reported they couldn't agree to convict Andrew on some of the charges and when they later convicted him. He knew the judge had spoken with everyone, but the trial transcript didn't contain the details of those conversations. Roland had pestered the Alter County Criminal Court about this and feared that, despite their promises to get back to him soon, no record of those discussions was ever made. He'd need to add that to the next appeal he filed. Maybe he ought to talk to the court stenographer as well. He'd have to go back to Pewter and he needed to plan a trip out to Sierra County as well.

Janice's next report intrigued him the most. Clyde Baxter, one of three public defenders in rural Alter County, had been assigned to defend Andrew at his trial. Roland remembered Janice's clear summary of his poor performance. It seemed she wasn't alone in her opinion of the man's worth as a lawyer.

Two years after Andrew went to Death Row, Clyde Baxter was disbarred and left Texas shortly after. He now owned a souvenir shop in Florida, just south of Fort Lauderdale.

Roland arrived at his hotel ten minutes after reading Janice's e-mail. Checking in, he hurried to his room and called the number she'd provided.

"Baxter's Souvenirs," a gruff voice said. "What can I do for you?"

"Mr. Clyde Baxter," Roland asked, wondering how the man kept customers with that attitude.

"Yeah. You calling to sell me something or promote a political campaign. I'm not interested in either."

"My name's Roland Davis. I'm a lawyer in Texas."

A second later, Roland realized that was probably the wrong thing to say.

"I've got nothing to say to you people," Clyde Baxter replied as though to confirm this notion. The man didn't sound angry, but it was clear he wanted to leave that chapter of his life behind him. Still, he hadn't hung up yet.

"Wait," Roland said, seizing this chance. "It's about Andrew Mooruff."

He heard a long sigh.

"There's a name I'm definitely trying to forget," Clyde Baxter muttered. "Which side of the appeals are you on?"

"I'm representing Andrew," Roland replied.

"You got yourself a real winner there. Either that or Andrew Mooruff is the unluckiest guy in Texas."

"Do you think he did it?"

"Never mattered what I thought. Look at the evidence. Last I heard, it's still as valid and damning as ever."

"Did you ever pursue an alternate theory or suspect?"

Clyde Baxter sighed again.

"Not really," he said. "I was just trying to find any way to keep the poor guy off Death Row."

Roland had read that such a strategy was common in capital murder trials. It made sense. A defendant couldn't do everything possible to deny they killed someone during the guilt phase and then do everything possible to present mitigating circumstances for killing someone during the penalty phase. Many attorneys defending such clients focused on one or the other, and the mitigation strategy usually won out.

"Lot of good I did there," Clyde Baxter continued, "but it was my first death penalty case. I'd have hoped to go my whole career without one of those. No such luck. That's something I don't miss about being a lawyer. Still, that case haunts me. I know I made a lot of mistakes and I have to live with those. The Bar was kind enough to fully outline my short-comings."

He paused.

"You use my performance in an appeal yet?" he queried.

"Not yet," Roland replied. "I haven't had a chance to review all those records."

"Well, they're juicy. I can promise you that."

Roland had read in Janice's e-mail that Clyde Baxter was disbarred for sleeping with a client's twenty-five-year-old daughter while representing the man in a DUI case, allowing this affair to interfere with his responsibilities and causing him to miss crucial filing deadlines. Granted, he might have been served a lesser punishment if he hadn't already had a history of questionable conduct. Roland doubted Andrew came up much in the Bar's considerations when Clyde Baxter's law license was on the chopping block.

"What alternate theory did you have in mind, anyway?" Clyde Baxter inquired.

Roland saw no harm in telling him. After all, he'd announce it however he could if the theory ever gained any traction.

"Marcy Sellers was gay," he explained. "I think she was targeted, and Lilian Harvey got caught in the crossfire or something."

He was spit balling that last part as he had no confirmation of the latter's sexual orientation. He hadn't thought to ask the Sellers following their revelation. After his previous encounter with Gabriel Harvey, he doubted the rest of that family would want to deal with him.

Through the phone, Roland could hear Clyde Baxter chuckling.

"It's as good a theory as anything else," the former attorney was saying. "I'd believe a place as conservative as Pewter would have a nutjob or two who'd go that far. Your problem is the existence of solid evidence that already put a man on Death Row for this. You'd better have something good to counter that if you're gonna open those cans of worms."

He chuckled again. Roland had to concede his point.

"Thanks for your time," he said. There was nothing more to gain from Clyde Baxter.

"Good luck," Clyde Baxter said. "Believe it or not, I'll be rooting for you."

Resigned, Roland hung up the phone and pulled up Janice's e-mail again. There was one more name he saw worth pursuing. He went on the Internet to book another flight, only pausing for a second to consider all the travel expenses his firm was incurring from this pro bono case. They'd be all right.

The book continues with Chapter 11 - Before Homecoming. We will provide a link to it when you review this below.

Author Notes
These chapters are, for the most part, divided into 3 sections: "Before Homecoming", "After Homecoming", and "Present". There will be a couple exceptions to this structure in the last few chapters. The "After Homecoming" section also has the largest time shift throughout the chapters,.

Pewter is a fictional town in fictional and rural Alter County in western Texas.

Cast of characters:

Marcy Sellers: a new student at Pewter Public High School,, starting her junior year. Was raped and left comatose in the girls' locker room after the Pewter Homecoming game.

Lillian "Lily" Harvey: a junior at Pewter Public High and a cheerleader. Was raped and murdered in the girls' locker room after the Pewter Homecoming game.

Andrew Mooruff: custodian at Pewter Public High. Convicted and sentenced to death for the locker room attack. Awaiting execution on Texas's Death Row.

Keith Darden: sheriff of Alter County. Personally investigated the locker room attack. Lost his bid for reelection.

Clyde Baxter: public defender assigned to represent Andrew at his capital murder trial.

Quince Martin: Alter County District Attorney who prosicuted Andrew for capital murder.

Roland Davis: corporate attorney and former NFL player who is assigned to work pro-bono on Andrew Mooruff's appeals.

Janice Cooper: junior associate assigned to assist Roland in reviewing Andrew's case.

Phillip Decker: paralegal assigned to assist Roland in reviewing Andrew's case.

Valerie Sellers: Marcy's mother.

Burk Sellers: Marcy's father.

Gabriel Harvey: Lily's older brother.

Feedback, specifically suggestions for additions/subtractions/alterations, is always welcome. Enjoy.
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