So that we're all on the same page, we'll revisit my first story, "Jane's Affliction," and then I'll fill you in on what happened with my friend:
Meet Jane I have this friend. We'll call her Jane. She's a journalist and true-crime author. For reasons that will shortly become evident, Jane would prefer to remain anonymous. Actually, she'd rather be forgotten altogether, and by one person in particular: a prosecutor who recently tagged her.
I have this friend. We'll call her Jane. She's a journalist and true-crime author. For reasons that will shortly become evident, Jane would prefer to remain anonymous. Actually, she'd rather be forgotten altogether, and by one person in particular: a prosecutor who recently tagged her.
See Jane Subpoenaed
I learned of Jane's predicament by e-mail. In my Inbox was a message with the subject line "Whoa! What does this mean?":
I just got my mail out of the box and found a big package from the [redacted] DA's Office. In it was the transcript of my interview with [the Defendant] and a note that said here are copies of your reports and transcripts of your involvement in the [redacted] case. . . . What does this mean? Is this a hint that I'm going to be called to testify?
During Jane's research ten years ago, she'd interviewed the man who would go on trial for his life a second time—not for the murder Jane wrote about, but for another killing. In the 2007 capital murder trial, the prosecution wanted Jane's testimony to show a consistent modus operandi in the separate slayings.
For Jane, the sticking point was that the prosecution stated its intent to seek the death penalty. Jane is against capital punishment.
See Jane on the Fence Jane sought my advice because she remembered a subpoena I received in a murder case. I was practically in tears when I discussed my situation with her. So when Jane e-mailed me, she expected I would empathize. And I did, to a degree.
Jane sought my advice because she remembered a subpoena I received in a murder case. I was practically in tears when I discussed my situation with her. So when Jane e-mailed me, she expected I would empathize. And I did, to a degree.
But my dilemma had been different from Jane's. My concern was with protecting my sources. Jane is bound to protect a core belief. And she is tormented by the thought of violating it:
The more I think about it the more uncomfortable I am. They're going for the death penalty. And I'm just not sure I can help put someone to death, even if he is a murderer. . . .
Something about reading an official document that "commands" you to do something you consider fundamentally wrong messes with your mind. Reason tends to leave as abruptly as the subpoena arrives.
I tried to break things down into terms she could live with. I reminded Jane that this type of proceeding, a capital case, contains two trials: In the first, called the "guilt/innocence phase," a defendant's culpability is determined, and if found guilty, the accused is convicted. In the second stage, known as the "punishment phase," a penalty is assessed.
In my reply, I tried to ease Jane's conscience: "You need to put the death penalty out of your mind. Prosecutors may seek it, but it's up to the jury to choose death as a punishment."
See Jane Take a Stand(?)
[I]n my heart, mind, in every limb of my body and soul, I think the death penalty is wrong, utterly wrong. So how can I grease the wheels to it? . . . Beyond my moral and ethical beliefs, I also disagree with their death penalty decision because it gives [the Defendant] what he wants. And it seems to me that to [him] the greater punishment, the more horrible punishment, would be life in prison since that's the very thing he did not want.
See Jane ______________
So what did Jane do? . . . It's not a secret anymore, nor is the identity of my friend, Suzy Spencer. Today, her publisher re-released her first book, WASTED, and you can read all about the capital murder trial that Suzy was caught up in.
An Austin Chronicle reviewer called the book "everything a true crime book should be: lean, fierce, and unsparing." The story is riveting. From the back cover:
In 1995, Austin, Texas was rocked by the brutal murder of a lesbian princess named Regina Hartwell. Even though Regina's body was burned beyond recognition, within days police had two suspects. One was the beautiful ex-cheerleader who was the object of Regina's desire. The other was a man who would take the fall for murder. . . . In this new edition of her bestselling book "Wasted", true crime master Suzy Spencer chronicles a fatal love triangle—and lives driven out of control by sexual desire, drugs, and shocking childhood demons. Four years after Regina Hartwell's murder, a new charge was brought against one of her suspected killers. Now, Suzy Spencer adds a new chapter to "Wasted"—detailing a killer gone wild, a nerve wracking legal standoff, the shocking twists that would take place in a second, explosive trial. . . .
Long story short, Suzy did not dodge the trial. She flew to California, not in compliance with the prosecution's subpoena, but at the request of the defense. Her presence meant she would have been available for questioning by either side, though she might have refused to answer for the State. She did not end up testifying at all. Court was canceled that day—in part, Suzy explained, because Justin didn't want any witnesses testifying on his behalf for fear it would ruin his chance of receiving the death penalty.
In the end, Justin Thomas was convicted and sentenced to death. Without putting Suzy on the stand, the State opted to use a portion of the transcript from her taped interview, which was introduced in the punishment phase. As it turned out, Justin's own words netted him a death sentence.
After Suzy's legal battles with this book and with BREAKING POINT, on the Andrea Yates case, she considers the 10th anniversary edition of WASTED her "good-bye" to true crime. Her entry into true crime—hitting the New York Times best-seller list with her first book—was as unconventional as her exit. The "true crime master" has converted to sex book mistress, working on a memoir of sex in America for Berkley. Few would blame her for trading Draconian courtrooms for Hedonism resorts.
As for Justin Thomas, he is now #G11032 at San Quentin State Prison, home of Scott Peterson and Richard Ramirez. Like most prisoners of California's Death Row, Justin will probably die waiting to be executed (assuming the current moratorium is lifted). If so, his "death sentence" will have been converted into what he feared more: the rest of his life in prison, with little hope of his suffering cut short.
That statistics indicate Justin Thomas will not be executed at all should bring Suzy some measure of relief. But not enough to stay in true crime.Tweet