Suddenly, Sergeant Ellis Cooper rose from his seat at the defendant's table. The courtroom audience gasped. He was six feet four and powerfully built. At age fifty-five, his waist was still thirty-two inches, just as it had been when he enlisted in the army at eighteen. He was wearing his dress greens, and the medals on his chest included a Purple Heart, a Distinguished Service Cross, and a Silver Star. He looked impressive, even under the circumstances of the murder trial, and then he spoke in a clear, booming voice.
"I didn't kill Tanya Jackson, or any of those poor women. I never went inside the house that night. I didn't paint any bodies blue. I've never killed anyone, except for my country. I didn't kill those women. I'm innocent! I'm a war hero, for God's sake!"
Sergeant Cooper hurdled the wooden gate at the front of the courtroom. He was on Marc Sherman in seconds, knocking him to the floor, punching him in the face and chest.
"You liar, liar!" Cooper shouted. "Why are you trying to kill me?"
When the courtroom marshals finally pulled Cooper away, the prosecutor's shirt and jacket were torn, his face bloodied.
Marc Sherman struggled to his feet and then he turned back to the jury. "Need I say more? The verdict is guilty. Put this monster down."
THE REAL KILLERS had taken a small risk by attending the final day of the trial in North Carolina. They wanted to see the end of this, couldn't miss it.
Thomas Starkey was the team leader, and the former Army Ranger colonel still looked the part, walked the walk, and talked the talk.
Brownley Harris was his number two, and he remained deferential to Colonel Starkey, just as it had been in Vietnam, just as it would always be until the day one or more likely both of them died.
Warren Griffin was still "the kid," which seemed marginally funny, since he was forty-nine years old now.
The jury had come in with a verdict of guilty less than two and a half hours after they were sent out to deliberate. Sergeant Ellis Cooper was going to be executed for murder by the state of North Carolina.
The district attorney had done a brilliant job - of convicting the wrong man.
The three killers piled into a dark blue Suburban parked on one of the narrow side streets near the courthouse.
Thomas Starkey started up the big car. "Anybody hungry?" he asked.
"Thirsty," said Harris.
"Horny," said Griffin, and snorted out one of his goofy laughs.
"Let's get something to eat and drink then maybe we'll get into some trouble with the ladies. What do you say? To celebrate our great victory today. To us!" shouted Colonel Starkey as he drove down the street away from the Courthouse. "To the Three Blind Mice."
I CAME DOWN to breakfast about seven that morning and joined Nana and the kids around the kitchen table. With Little Alex starting to walk, things were back in "lockdown" mode in the kitchen. Plastic safety locks, latches, and outlet caps were everywhere. The sounds of kid chatter, spoons clattering in cereal bowls, and Damon coaching his baby brother in the art of blowing raspberries, made the kitchen almost as noisy as a precinct house on a Saturday night.
The kids were eating some kind of puffed-up chocolate- flavored Oreos cereal and Hershey's chocolate milk. Just the thought of all that chocolate at seven in the morning made me shiver. Nana and I had eggs over easy and twelve-grain toast.
"Now isn't this nice," I said as I sat down to my coffee and eggs. "I'm not even going to spoil it by commenting on the chocoholic breakfast two of my precious children are eating for their morning's nourishment."
Copyright © 2002 by James Patterson
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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