“I think my client is innocent,” Liz Harper said to me.
We were in my office, on the fifth floor of the old Security Bank Building, with a view of Cahuenga Boulevard.
“I’ll freely admit he isn’t a very nice guy. He’s probably guilty of a lot of other things, but I don’t believe he killed his wife.”
“Yes, but you’re his defense attorney,” I said.
“Exactly, and that should tell you something when I say I believe he is innocent,” Liz said. She perched on the edge of one of the chairs in front of my desk, her thick honey blonde hair gleaming in the sunlight coming through the window behind me. She had on a lavender jacket with a very short matching skirt. Liz had some very nice legs. Of course, she knew that.
“Sorry? I’m not following. You’re his lawyer, so you’re supposed to believe he is innocent.”
“Oh, contraire,” Liz said. “Even if he were guilty, I’d still defend him. Like every other American citizen, he is entitled to the most vigorous defense he can get.”
“Or can afford to pay for,” I said.
Liz smiled. “Yes, there is that.”
“Does he have money?”
“He’s loaded,” Liz said.
“Tell me about your client.”
“His name is Zack Sinclair, and he’s an actor,” Liz said. “At least he has been in the past, but he hasn’t worked for a while. He was married to the victim, Holly Sutherland.”
“Yes, the darling of Hollywood,” Liz said.
“Sutherland I’ve heard of, Zack Sinclair, I haven’t. Was he loaded before he married her?”
“Not exactly, no.”
“It’s a highly technical investigative term that we sleuths use,” I said. “That’s why Sinclair is loaded. He just became heir to Sutherland’s estate.”
“Were they of similar age?”
“No, he married her when he was twenty-five, and she was thirty-nine.”
“How old is he now?”
Liz slid back into the chair and crossed her legs. She bounced the top leg up and down a little, causing her short skirt to climb a little higher. She didn’t seem to notice, but I did. After all, I was a trained observer.
“What was their marriage like?”
“Things were a little rocky,” she said.
“Were they separated?”
“Not legally. But they weren’t sharing a bed. Sutherland lived in the house. Zack lived in the guest bungalow in back.”
“He had some shortcomings she didn’t approve of. When he seemed to show little interest in addressing them, she kicked him out of the house.”
“What kind of shortcomings?”
Liz grinned. “You want them in order of severity or alphabetically?”
“Let me guess,” I said. “Booze, drugs maybe, extramarital affairs?”
Liz shook her sadly. “You’re so jaded.”
“No, I’m pragmatic. When couples have marital problems, those are the usual suspects.”
“Okay, all of the above,” Liz said. “And, he also liked to gamble and evidently wasn’t very good at it. On top of the other things, she tired of paying his gambling debts.”
“Yes, she had money, he didn’t. She wasn’t sharing anymore. He probably had gambling debts which usually means owing money to some not very nice people. He stands to inherit a lot of money now that she’s dead. I don’t think the district attorney will have any problem articulating a convincing motive.”
“It does look bad,” Liz said. “But I still don’t think he did it.”
“What kind of case do the cops have?”
“She was discovered naked in her bed, stabbed multiple time.”
“Did they find the knife?”
“Not as far as I know, but the police are still processing the scene.”
“Does he have an alibi?”
“Not really. Sinclair claims that he was in the bungalow alone, watching television at the time the police believe Sutherland was killed.”
“Was it her habit to sleep naked?”
“I don’t know.”
“Anyone else in her life?”
“There were some rumors of an affair or two after she and Sinclair stopped sharing a bed, but nothing conclusive as far as I know.”
“Okay,” I said. “He’s a solid suspect. But it doesn’t sound like they have enough to get a conviction. The lack of a definitive murder weapon is always a big problem for the prosecution in a case like this.”
“There’s more, they had a huge fight earlier in the evening on the night she was killed.”
“Yes, dozens. It happened at a party celebrating the upcoming release of Holly Sutherland’s newest picture held at The Bazaar in Beverly Hills .”
“Sinclair crashed the party. He was drunk. Witnesses told the police that they overheard him asking Sutherland for money. She refused, and they argued. Things got heated, and he slapped her. The bouncers restrained him and escorted him out.”
“But the cops can’t put him in the house afterward when she was killed?”
“No, but since they have arrested him, they probably have more than I’ve just told you.”
“Because what you’ve told me isn’t enough to convict him?”
“It might be. As you observed, the prosecution believes that they have a solid motive, and since he lived on the grounds next to the house, opportunity is a slam dunk. And the jury won’t like him.”
“Because he can be arrogant, he’s a notorious drunk and womanizer with a gambling problem who married an older woman, one of the biggest and wealthiest stars in Hollywood. He was broke, but now that she is dead, he stands to inherit a fortune as her sole heir.”
“So, maybe the prosecution does have more than they have told you.”
“Probably,” Liz said.
“What about the rights of full discovery?”
“What about Santa Claus?” Liz said. “The courts have held that there is no general duty imposed on the prosecution to disclose all material evidence to the defense before trial.”
“But isn’t it a violation of due process for them to withhold relevant evidence in a murder case?”
“It’s only a violation of due process for the prosecution to suppress evidence that the defense requests that is both material to guilt and favorable to the defendant. That’s where you come in big boy. I need someone to look into this and see what can be found out. Maybe you’ll learn they know something that is both material and favorable to my client that I need to ask them to produce. Want to see what you can find out?”
“You kidding? This is a real high profile case, the biggest murder case in LA since the Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman murders. So, sure, I’ll be happy to look into it.”