The Color of Murder
by Loretta Moore
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A sensational murder trial brings a young African American attorney, Kevin Johnson to Briarton, Connecticut to represent a black drug dealer accused of murdering a Caucasian socialite, Charlotte Knowles. Kevin does his best to defend his client, even though he knows the real reason his two white law partners have given him this high-profile case is that he’s black and so is the client. Even though he’s the “token-minority” partner, Kevin is still determined to do the best job he can. But is his client telling him the truth? And if he didn’t kill Charlotte Knowles, who did?
Kevin Johnson saw Mathew Cook’s hands shake as he reached for the cigarette Kevin offered him.
“Mr. Johnson, I did not kill that lady. I never even heard of her; don’t know her family, nothing’. I been out here in this drug world, mindin’ my own business. I admit I like gittin’ high, but I ain’t ever bothered nobody.
Kevin had believed in Mathew’s guilt, just like everyone else in Briarton, Connecticut, but after seeing the dismay and confusion etched on the twenty-nine-year-old black man’s face, he began to have doubts. Bob and John only gave me this case because I’m black and so is the client. It’s been done before. They’re good men, but I have to say that my law partners really handed me one this time. No case in the five years I’ve been with them even comes close to this one.
“I just can’t believe I’m sittin’ here in a jail cell talkin’ about bein’ charged with killin’ somebody,” Matt continued. “If it was a drug bust, I could see it. I been down that road a coupla times. But killin’ some rich, old white lady? I feel like this is some kind of prank. I’m sittin’ here wonderin’ how did I end up a suspect for murderin’ somebody.” Shaking his head, almost in time with his trembling hands, he groaned, “This can’t be for real, Mr. Johnson!”
Kevin felt a pang of sympathy. “It’s alright to call me Kevin. I’m here because I believe you, okay?” He handed Matt another cigarette. “Now, you say you never even met the lady, and I believe that, too.” He sighed. It looked pretty bad for his client, but Kevin didn’t believe he’d committed the crime. “Do you know anyone who just might know Mrs. Knowles? Anyone at all? Think hard, because it could be our best lead.”
Waiting for Matt to speak, Kevin made notes on his legal pad. Someone had entered the socialite’s home and murdered her. And from the forensic evidence, it was clear that Charlotte Knowles let the person in. Just who was it, and why?
When Matt continued to stare at his hands without speaking, Kevin stood. “We’ll stop here for today. Remember, you need to be careful what you say and to whom. Don’t talk to anyone without me present. Understand?”
Matt didn’t answer, just turned his sad, tear-filled eyes on Kevin as if hoping he were a miracle worker. Kevin sighed and called the guard to take the man back to his cell.
“Court is in session,” announced the bailiff. Silence fell over the eager, chatty crowd in the historic courthouse. Kevin looked over at his client. The man’s eyes had lost none of their hopelessness. Kevin could relate. During the two weeks since the trial began, the only time he had had a reason to smile was after he’d returned to the courtroom following a phone conversation during recess with his son, Junior, and his mother-in-law who was taking care of him while Kevin worked.
Still, he had to keep Matt’s spirits up or the man would be useless in testifying for his own defense. He leaned over and placed his hand on top of Matt’s trembling one. “Things are not as grim as they seem. Just stay calm and tell the jury the truth.”
The bailiff called Matt’s name. He rose from his seat and headed for the front of the courtroom to take the stand. The prosecutor, forty-year-old John Goodman, brushed back his red hair from his forehead as Mathew approached. Goodman’s sparkling eyes and bright smile said he relished the opportunity to cross examine the defendant. Goodman had recently won an important case involving six young black males who’d killed a young white man in a restaurant parking lot during a robbery, and that had apparently bolstered his confidence.
Kevin took Matt through his normal daily life and then his actions on the day Charlotte Knowles was murdered. He encouraged him to expound on his alibi, such as it was. But eventually, he had to give the floor to Goodman for his cross-examination.
“Mathew Cook, did you sell drugs in Briarton?” Goodman demanded, surging to his feet.
The defendant nodded, and softly answered, “Yes.”
“You sold drugs for quite some time, I take it?” Goodman paused for a moment to let Matt nod in response. “Things began to get a little rough,” the prosecutor continued, “business started to dry up and you needed money for more drugs. You had a big drug habit, right?”
“Your Honor, I object,” Kevin declared, rising as he spoke. “Whether or not my client has a drug addiction does not make him a murderer!”
“Overruled. The defendant will answer the question.”
“No, sir, I don’t have no drug habit,” Matt replied solemnly.
“You needed money and so on the evening of February twelfth, two-thousand, you went to the home of Charlotte Hornsby Wainsborough Knowles.”
Matt mutely shook his head, his eyes bleak.
No, Matt, don’t squirm up there for God’s sake, Kevin silently commanded his client. It makes the jury think you’re guilty.
“Was the gun one you stole or one you purchased?” Goodman demanded. “Did you have a license for it? You found the victim in the kitchen, used the gun you carried there, and shot her to death. You then grabbed valuables and money, and left the house.”
The courtroom was so quiet Kevin could swear he heard Matt’s heart pounding in fear. Or maybe it was his heart and not Matt’s he was hearing, he thought.
Lying in bed the next morning, Kevin still couldn’t believe the judge had dismissed the trial and told Goodman that he didn’t have enough evidence to support a murder charge against Matt. “Maybe some of this luck will rub off on my other trials.” He had to admit, his two white law partners had done a lot for him. The cases Robert Gordon and John Wright had given him were for his benefit. Kevin realized he wouldn’t have had it better with any other law practice. But then, Robert and John had every reason to accept him, didn’t they? Ideally he possessed everything they wanted in a token African American law partner. He was clean cut, with a medium-brown complexion, and a close cropped afro. He also had impeccable scholastic credentials. And personality wise, if he had to say so himself, he was likable, calm and reasonable. Over his five years with the firm Robert and John had given him the kinds of opportunities any ambitious attorney would want. Nonetheless, all of his clients had been black. It pleased him to be able to say that he’d won every case they’d given him.
But out of the cases he handled for Gordon, Wright and Johnson one – where he’d defended a woman who’d killed her abusive husband – had affected him more than any other.
It had come at a time when Kevin’s wife, and the love of his life, Chanel was dying. The abusive young husband had had a chance to be happy, to protect and enjoy his wife, something that Kevin could no long do. But instead, he’d beaten her until she broke.
Chanel’s death had thrown Kevin into a dark depression, deeper than he could have ever imagined. It was as if a watershed had overtaken him, drowning him inch by inch. He suffered from panic attacks and often felt as though he was suffocating slowly, for all eternity, unable to give up and die. But he had won the young wife her freedom.
Even now, two years after Chanel’s death, Kevin still lay in bed some mornings, staring blankly at the ceiling asking how God could have done this to their family.
But he had a young son to care for and self-pity wasn’t an option. With a sigh, he climbed out of bed. Each day it seemed he had to reach further down inside of himself to find the strength to go on.
By Taylor Jones
The Color of Murder by Loretta Moore is a novella revolving around Kevin Johnson, a black attorney, who is what Moore calls “the token black man” at a prestigious East Coast law firm. Although Kevin’s white partners give him some good cases, it does not slip Kevin’s notice that all of his clients so far have been black.
When Kevin is handed the case of a black drug dealer accused of murdering a wealthy, white, socialite, Kevin wants to believe his client is innocent. Although the reader knows from the beginning who the killer is, the plot revolves around how Kevin finds out in order to save his client.
The story is intriguing and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep it interesting. For a debut novel, The Color of Murder is a very good effort.
From the Author
Loretta Moore is an African American female writer of many genres, residing in Dover, Delaware. She is married, the mother of three, and grandmother of eight.
Loretta is the author of From a Narrow Path and The Color of Murder (Black Opal Books). Other published works include poetry, essays, and short stories in several magazines and journals. Wright also contributes to a church newsletter.
Loretta is also a playwright and several of her dramas and musicals have been full productions. Presently, two of her plays are in the hands of theater in Philadelphia, PA and Roanoke, VA. Ghostwriting is another area which Moore enjoys. She have a college degree in English and has received literary and theatrical recognition and awards.
Loretta belongs to an honor society and other laudable organizations, and volunteers in her community and church. Her interests include writing, reading, music, and attending the theater and concerts, as well as some involvement with outdoor activities. She is currently busy writing two new novels, The Light of Day and Saving Grace and Love.