John Abrams sat in his office waiting. He was used to clients being late and a lot worse. But when Mitchell Collins finally did arrive he was not what Abrams was used to or anything like Abrams expected him to be. Abrams knew that Collins had become a recluse and that there was little pertinent readily available information on him. He had not made any suspicious financial transactions, he didn’t have a sheet, he had held several jobs ranging from menial to corporate and he was listed as being 39 years old. His age seemed uncommon, as lottery winners tended to be old, relatively well off retirees. Despite knowing the man’s age, he had expected Collins to appear older.
Abrams was skeptical of the lottery. The chances of winning were virtually nil and he suspected that most of the “winners” were actors anyway. Why payout 100 million to some old couple in the middle of nowhere no one had ever heard of when you could just hire generic looking ‘winners’ for a fraction of the cost? And who would bother to check up on whether the lottery was legitimate anyway unless they were paid to? And in this scenario, there was no one with any reason or means to pay.
Due diligence had confirmed that 1/3 of the winners were real, actual people with the appropriate assets. As far as the other 66%, he could find no evidence to support their existence or their assets. People with that kind of money could and likely would disappear, but this was inconclusive. As far as he was concerned the lottery was just another scam any way you sliced it, but knowing how it worked had just become a part of his job and he was shrewd enough to know that as far as the lottery was concerned, he didn’t really know a damn thing.
Collins was a thin, medium sized man. He appeared younger than his 39 years and was dressed shabbily. Abrams figured he had worked in the corporate world for long enough to know how to dress but had little interest in clothes or outward appearances in general. Like most, he had done the bare minimum to get by in a world that would never accept him on his own terms. He might have had some ambition as a younger man, but had long since grown out of it. He sensed in Collins a man who had resigned himself to the vicious and mundane realities of the world he was forced to participate in.
In short, his first impression of Collins was a favorable one. There was a strange, useless intelligence about him, a relaxed apathy that was easy to relate to.
Abrams filed these impressions away. He was almost certain the man would make the same impression on just about anyone he met.
Abrams stood up as Collins approached to shake his hand. He was slow to sit down. Collins waited for him before taking a seat. Abrams looked him straight in the eye. He could read nothing.
Without breaking eye contact, Abrams asked “Are you guilty or not guilty?”
“I’m guilty of a million things. You’ll have to be more specific.”
“Are you guilty of murdering Lana Parks?”
Collins winced. “I had motive, and since I won the lottery I’ve had means and opportunity. I guess I’ve always had the opportunity. But no, I didn’t murder her. I would’ve given her whatever she wanted. What does $84 million mean to me? Losing half or more wouldn’t make a difference, I’m used to being broke most of the time anyway. I thought it was wrong of her to sue me or claim alimony or do any of the dozen rotten things she did, but I would’ve given her the money in the end. Maybe it would’ve helped her. I loved her, or at least I thought I did. But I was sick of her, too, and when I really thought about it I couldn’t help hating her a little. She was out of my life until the lottery and I preferred it that way. But I didn’t really care about her or the money or anything. I guess I’ve always been that way.”
Abrams was about to instruct his client to give yes or no answers only, both here and in court, to wear a decent suit, and at the very least to not volunteer that he hated the woman he allegedly murdered and preferred that she was out of his life. If Collins was guilty Abrams didn’t want to know any more than he had to. But he realized that he had already decided that the man was not guilty and he had a hunch that the DA and the jury, if it got that far, would feel the same way. He didn’t believe Collins was not guilty, he honestly had no idea one way or the other. He had simply decided, and he doubted that any juror would be as reflective. Each would simply decide one way or the other and that would be that. The facts and evidence would be bandied about but the initial decision was all that really mattered, and the DA knew this, too.
“We don’t really care about motive, means, and opportunity at this point Mr. Collins. You wouldn’t be here if we didn’t know that you had means and opportunity. You weren’t in another country or on the moon while Ms. Parks was being murdered, so it is physically possible that you killed her. And motive? Well, what the hell is motive, anyway? I defended a man who killed his wife because she looked at him funny. One morning he complained that the coffee tasted funny and she gave him what he thought was a dirty look. What kind of motive is that?”
Collins was about to speak but Abrams gestured to him that he understood and continued.
“I’m sure there was more to it than that. Or maybe there wasn’t. My point is that no one really knows, I doubt that even the husband knows, and no one ever will. That’s what motive is. What we’re concerned with are mens rea and actus reus. Guilty mind and guilty acts. Do you drink, Mr. Collins?”
“How much do you drink?”
“Can you put a number on it? How many drinks a day, a drink being a beer or a shot?”
“I have about 14 or 15 drinks a day.”
“How long have you been drinking this much?”
“Too long. A long time.”
Abrams took a brief pause and again looked his client in the eyes.
“I think you should stop drinking.”
Collins started laughing. “I think that would be a mistake. I’m past that point. You wouldn’t want to see me without a few drinks in me, I shake and shudder and generally make a mess of myself.”
“You have millions of dollars, you can get treatment, or at least get on vicodin or something else that isn’t so sloppy, smelly and obvious. You come across alright, but jurors and judges don’t like alcoholism. It makes you look unstable.”
“Well I am unstable and sloppy, and I’m already on heroin. Nothing helps. Well the heroin definitely helps, but I still need to drink. I’m a drunk, pure and simple.”
“You’re on heroin? And you have 15 drinks a day? I don’t think we have anything to worry about, you’ll be dead before we go to trial.”
“I’ve hoped the same thing, but I doubt it. I’ve been this way for a long time.”
“Do you plan on being this outspoken in front of the DA or a jury if it comes to that? You’re a good drunk, you speak well and you don’t stink, but I sensed there was something off and the prosecution will be far more relentless. They’ll get your liquor bills, your phone records, they’ll tie you to anything they possibly can.”
“I’ll give you these bills, records, or whatever you need to get them. They’ll confirm that I’ve always been this way.”
“It isn’t just the fact that you’re a drunk or that you might get sloppy and trip yourself up. It’s that you’re an unrepentant drunk who doesn’t care about the consequences of your actions or because you’re so guilty you want to punish yourself and can’t stop. Either way it doesn’t cut it for us. Quitting now can be made to look suspicious, too, but everything about you is suspicious. That’s why you’ve been charged with murder. And since we look bad no matter what you do you’re better off being sober. Hearing about your liquor bills is one thing, watching you on the stand in a drunken haze is another. You aren’t a sloppy drunk, but like I said, it’s still off-putting. You’re better off cleaning up.”
“I don’t think that’s possible.”
Abrams took a deep breath, blinked his eyes, and looked back at Collins. Collins was more afraid of quitting drinking than he was of going to trial.
“Did Lana have a case? Did you father any of her children, or any other children?”
“I honestly don’t know.”
“This is a problem. You’re irresponsible and your memory is suspect. You don’t know what the hell you did. There’s certain to be evidence that you were with Lana, witnesses, items you left at her apartment, maybe you cut yourself shaving there a few months or years ago. If you straighten out now it’d be better for you. The prosecutors will imply that it’s suspicious but the jury will see a man trying to reform himself. Or at least a man who cares enough about his life to clean up and try to defend himself. This goes a long way with judges, wearing a suit, being sober, at least giving the pretense that you care or remember what the hell you’ve been doing.”
Abrams was angry despite himself. He cared more about Collins’ fate than Collins did and it was usually the other way around.
“Last I recall, being a drunken irresponsible drug addict isn’t proof of murder. If anything it should be proof against murder. I can barely get out of bed in the morning.”
“Murdering someone isn’t difficult. Getting away with it is difficult. And being a drunk or a drug addict isn’t proof of murder but the three go together an awful lot. Suppositions like this aren’t supposed to fly in court but unfortunately court is still a part of the real world. My advice to you is to go home and spend some of those millions on rehab. You’re in a lot of trouble. More than I think you realize. Maybe you don’t care now but you will when you’re drying out in prison.”
Abrams stood up. Collins followed suit and the two shook hands.
“I’ll see you back here in one week. For what it’s worth, I think you deserve to give yourself a break and get past this. I hear life can be pretty decent, especially if you’re rich. You should give it a try.”
Collins managed a weak but genuine smile, nodded his head and left the office.