“I panicked,” he said. “I ran out of the house. I was so scared I even forgot my booty. I drove away fast. Unfortunately, my car didn’t fit the neighborhood profile. That’s why I got stopped by the police. If I’d had another car, I wouldn’t be here.”
Unsaid, but directed to Danielle with a telling look, he proclaimed the injustice. And somewhere in the look was also the hint that he should have been driving a new European sedan with the kind of privacy glass that hides its occupants from admiring eyes.
“The police didn’t hold me,” Clay said, “but after the murders were discovered they picked up one of my prints on the gold coins I left behind. Taking off my gloves was felony stupid, but I never expected it would get me convicted of felony murder.”
His initial statement was what hung him, Clay told them. He had tried to deny ever being in the house, and later, when he recanted, the prosecution made much of his changing stories and admitting to “fabricating.” The jury, faced with four bodies (two of them children, aged eight and twelve), and having a hardened criminal at the scene of the murder, sentenced him to death. The Golden State had decided not to let Clay see his golden years. His death was scheduled in six months.
“My lawyer says you’ve helped others,” Clay said, addressing Helen with his eyes and words. “I don’t have many cards left to play, but the one survivor in the family was an older son that was away at college. He and his parents weren’t getting along. Apparently he had a drug problem. That’s what they call it when you have money. You’re a junkie otherwise. The day before the murders there was a big family fight. The parents said enough was enough, and that they wouldn’t be supplying the kid with any more money.”
Clay theorized that the night after the fight the son had left his university apartment, driven home, turned off the burglar alarm, and then bludgeoned his family to death. Their son was the one who would have benefitted from their deaths, Clay said. And who would benefit from his as well.
“That little preppie did whatever he could to help build the state’s case against me. He hired some private dicks, and they dug up the dirt on me.”
“Was there a lot of dirt?” asked Danielle.
Clay shrugged. “I was never any angel, but they made it sound like I was up to my ears in it. Their tactics didn’t only work on the jury. They worked on me. I felt dirty, especially when preppy showed up every day in his thousand dollar suits. He was always quick with his silk hankie too. Pulled it right out of his fancy suit like a magician, and started with the waterworks.
“Maybe if I’d had one of them suits, and a fifty dollar haircut, and a Swiss timepiece, I wouldn’t be in here.”
Helen was too polite to disagree, but in her own mind she thought sheep’s clothing would not have helped Clay Potter. He looked like a criminal. No. He looked like a murderer. When driving home later, Helen made a point of apologizing to Danielle.
“This wasn’t what I expected at all,” she said. “I often assist with prisoner’s aid. But this is not the sort of case I would involve myself in. There are not the extenuating circumstances here which would warrant my involvement.”
Danielle only half listened. She knew Helen liked to throw herself into frays that made her feel good about herself. Helen needed her noble causes, relished helping the disadvantaged, and the downtrodden, especially if they were victims of persecution or prejudice. But assisting an unlucky criminal – or more to the point – an inventive murderer, was not something that would benefit society, and more importantly, Helen.
“I might help him,” said Danielle.
“Yes. I might.”