Sunday, April 18, 2010

When Truth is Stranger than Fiction


We have a special guest today on the OUTFIT: crime fiction author Michael Harvey, whose third novel, THE THIRD RAIL, will be out this week. Along with THE CHICAGO WAY and THE FIFTH FLOOR, this novel features Chicago PI, Michael Kelly, and is based on the 1977 L accident in downtown Chicago as well as a 1993 Pentagon report on terrorism at home. But what you might not know about Michael is that he's a journalist and documentary film-maker who has won several Emmys and was nominated for an Academy Award. Today he posts about his current film project. Click here for more about Michael, his books, and his documentaries.




Michael's words: I am currently working on a story about a man who was sentenced to sixty years for a crime he didn’t commit. Below is a summary of the facts. I have changed the names because the project is not yet finished. For the rest of the story, you’ll have to wait until we finish shooting.



A man named Paul is sitting in his living room when he hears a knock at the door. He gets up and squeezes a look through the peephole. There’s a woman on his stoop. She identifies herself as a police officer and asks if she could talk to him. Paul is forty-three years old. White. No criminal record. Never even been inside a cop shop. Paul opens the door. Four cops tackle him, roll him onto his back and cuff him on his living room floor. Two minutes later, Paul is in the back of a cruiser. And the shit begins to roll.

Paul is brought into a room and told he’s going to be put in a lineup. What for? There’s been a woman raped. An anonymous tipster told police Paul’s the guy. He asks for a lawyer. The police tell him they’ll get him one. But the lineup first.

Paul is placed in one lineup. Then, a second. On the other side of the glass is a victim named Louise. Three months earlier, she’d been raped repeatedly in her home over the course of several hours. Louise tells police her attacker wore a mask. But Louise got a glimpse of his face. And so, the lineup.

Louise is scared. Louise is nervous. Louise is angry. She looks through the glass at the faces. The first time, she’s unsure. Police take her outside and talk to her. The second time, she’s certain. Paul raped her. The more she looks at him, the more certain she becomes. Paul raped her. And she wants him punished.

Police charge Paul with multiple counts of sexual battery. He’s denied bail, given a public defender and stuck in a county holding cell. In the cell with Paul is a man named Danny. He’s looking at a third felony conviction and possible life sentence when a detective pulls him out of the cell. Danny is offered the “deal of a lifetime”. If he testifies against Paul, Danny walks with a slap on the wrist. Danny’s all for it, but tells police he doesn’t know any details about the crime...because Paul didn’t tell him anything. Not a problem. According to Danny, the detective slides a police report across the table. Plenty of details in there. Then, according to Danny, he’s allowed to meet with the victim...so Danny can make sure he’s got it all straight. Danny takes the stand, points at Paul and gives the jury chapter and verse about how Paul raped Louise. It’s all a lie. Told by Danny and allegedly orchestrated by law enforcement. Taken together with Louise’s mistaken ID, and the lack of any forensic testing of the evidence, Paul doesn’t have a chance. After a trial that lasts less than a week, he’s convicted and sentenced to sixty years in prison.

Four months after sitting in his living room and hearing a knock on his door, Paul finds himself on a bus, hands cuffed to a belly chain. The bus turns a corner and Paul gets a first look at his new home -- a maximum security lockup where society houses its rapists and murderers. Once inside, Paul is told to strip and run through a delousing shower. Then he gets his prison uniform and bed linens. Paul stands at the top of a small ramp that leads into the main cell block. His hands and arms shake. His legs are like water. He’s crying, but barely aware of it. A female correctional officer reads out the charges. Fifteen counts of rape? They’re going to have fun with you. Paul tells the woman he’s innocent. She laughs and pushes him down the ramp. The noise builds. And then he’s in the house.

The cell block itself is five stories high and filled with four hundred inmates. Paul walks the main drag, holding his prison blues. Inmates love it. They yell at the fresh meat, tell him the many ways they’re going to shank him, rape him and otherwise own him. Paul climbs five flights to his cell and sits on his bunk. His neighbor next door pounds on the wall and screams at him. Paul listens to the noise, and wonders what happens next. He’s never been inside any sort of prison, never mind a max lockup. He’s got no money, no connections, no skills, no way to defend himself. Paul’s sentence is sixty years, but his life might be better measured in days. Maybe minutes.

That first night he rips his bed sheet into strips and prepares to hang himself. Something stops him. Maybe it’s the lies that put him there. Maybe it’s the truth that only he knows. Whatever the reason, Paul decides to walk a different road. The police have buried him. Society has washed its hands and walked away. But Paul is still alive. Doing another man’s time. And unwilling to hand over his life for a crime he didn’t commit. Instead, he decides to fight. And that’s where the story gets fun.

17 comments:

Libby Hellmann said...

Nothing like leaving us with a cliff-hanger, Michael. Can you give us a hint at what's going on now?

michael said...

This one has a (somewhat) happy ending. Once the doc. is cut, I will post a screening date for anyone who wants to see how it all turned out.

M

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