فصل 08

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فصل 08

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Chapter eight

Family Backgrounds

Nicholas had a private meeting with Judge Harkin on Monday morning. He assured him that he was fine, in spite of the fire. He was just a student, with little to lose, except a fine computer and some good security equipment.

Since they were alone, Harkin asked him how the other jurors were. It would have been more appropriate if the lawyers had been present. But he could trust this kid.

“Everything’s fine,” Nicholas said.

“Is the case being discussed?”

“No. When we’re together, we try not to talk about it.”

“Good, let me know if there’s a problem. And let’s not talk about this meeting to anyone.”

“Sure,” said Nicholas. They shook hands and he left.

Rohr’s next witness was Leon Robilio. He was led into the courtroom through a side door. A deputy helped him sit down. He was old and pale, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, and no tie. He had a hole in his throat, covered with a bandage and hidden under a white scarf. When he swore to tell the truth, he did so by holding a pencil-like microphone to his throat. His voice was flat. He was a victim of throat cancer; he’d lost part of his throat eight years earlier, and had learned to talk in this way. He’d smoked heavily for almost forty years and his habit had almost killed him.

The jury quickly became accustomed to Robilio’s mechanical voice. He told them that he’d worked for twenty years for the tobacco industry. He’d left the job when he got cancer and when he realized that, even with the disease, he couldn’t stop smoking. He was addicted. He still worked full time, but now was fiercely critical of smoking. In his previous job he’d seen a lot of studies of cigarettes and the tobacco industry. He referred to Krigler’s evidence.

Robilio regretted many things that he’d done when he promoted the tobacco industry. But he most regretted his denials that the industry aimed its advertising at teenagers. “We spent millions studying kids. We knew that they could name the three most advertised brands of cigarettes. We knew that almost 90 percent of the kids under eighteen who smoked preferred the top three advertised brands. So what did the companies do? They increased the advertising.”

“Did you know how much money the tobacco companies were making from cigarette sales to children?” Rohr asked.

“About two hundred million dollars a year. The tobacco companies know that 3,000 kids start smoking every day and that nearly all adult smokers start as teenagers. So they have to target young kids. They know that one-third of the 3,000 kids who start smoking today will die from their addiction.”

The jury was fascinated by Robilio.

Rohr took a few steps forward. Then he asked, “How did you answer the arguments that nicotine is addictive?”

“I helped the tobacco companies think of the answer. It goes something like this: ‘Smokers choose the habit. So it’s a matter of choice. Cigarettes aren’t addictive, but, even if they are, no one forces anyone to smoke.’ I used to make this argument sound good. The trouble is, it’s not true.”

“Why isn’t it true?”

“Because the issue is addiction and an addict can’t make choices. And kids become addicted quicker than adults.”

Hoppy came to the trial that Monday morning, for the first time. Millie was thrilled to see him. His sudden interest in the trial was strange, however; he’d talked about nothing else for four hours the night before.

After a coffee break, Cable started to question Robilio for the defense. He started well when Robilio admitted that he was being paid for attending at court. Cable then tried to make Robilio lose his temper. He asked Robilio about his children, who’d all smoked, and reminded him about the work the industry was doing to stop teenagers smoking.

Robilio wasn’t persuaded. “The industry will spend a little money to look responsible. But they do that because they know the truth. If they spend two billion dollars next year advertising cigarettes, more young people will become addicted. And you’re a fool if you don’t believe this.”

Judge Harkin leaned forward. “Mr. Robilio, that is unnecessary.”

“Sorry, Your Honor. And sorry to you, Mr. Cable. You’re just doing your job. It’s your client I hate.”

“Why?” Cable immediately regretted asking the question. “Because these tobacco people are clever. They’re bright, intelligent, educated, and dishonest. They’ll tell you that cigarettes aren’t addictive. And they know it’s a lie.”

“No further questions,” said Cable.


Nicholas was silent during lunch. He avoided glances and looked sad. The mood was generally serious. The jurors could still hear Leon Robilio’s mechanical voice. Three thousand kids start to smoke each day. One-third of these will die from their addiction.

One of the jurors asked Jerry Fernandez, “How old were you when you started smoking?”

“Fourteen.”

“Why did you start?”

“The Marlboro Man.” The jurors thought of the image in the advertisement. The cowboy on the horse, the hat, the snow on the mountains behind. Why would a young boy of fourteen not want to be the Marlboro Man?

“Are you addicted?” Rikki Coleman asked Jerry.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess I could stop. I’ve tried to stop a few times. Sure, it would be nice to stop.”

“You don’t enjoy it?” Rikki asked.

“Oh, there are times when a cigarette is just what I want, but I smoke two packs a day now, and that’s too much.”

“I was sixteen when I started,” Sylvia admitted.

“I started at fourteen,” Herman offered. “Gave up when I was forty.”

“Did anybody start smoking after the age of eighteen?”

Not a word.


Nitchman met Hoppy for a sandwich. Hoppy was nervous about being seen in public with an FBI agent, and was relieved when Nitchman arrived wearing jeans. Nitchman handed Hoppy a piece of paper. He said it had just come from Cristano at the Justice Department. In fact, the document had been written by two of Fitch’s people.

It was a faxed copy of a report on Leon Robilio. Hoppy read it quickly while eating French fries. Robilio was being paid half a million dollars to testify. He’d been fired from his job for dishonesty, he had a history of mental illness, and his throat cancer was probably the result of his alcohol abuse.

“Really?” Hoppy said, his mouth full of potatoes.

“Mr. Cristano thought you should somehow give this to your wife,” Nitchman said. “She should only show it to people she can trust on the jury.”

“Right.” Hoppy folded the paper and put it in a pocket.


Nicholas’s mother, Pamela Blanchard, lived in the old part of Gardner. She was married to the president of a local bank. He wasn’t the father of Nicholas or Jeff or whoever he was. She had two sons by a previous marriage which ended in divorce. One was in Alaska, one was a lawyer, or studying to be a lawyer. Something like that.

Fitch’s people finally found a college teacher who told them that Jeff Kerr had gone to law school in Kansas. Fitch arranged for a local security firm to start searching Lawrence, Kansas for any trace of Jeff Kerr.

They discovered that Jeff Kerr had registered as a law student, but didn’t receive a degree. A local investigator found a lawyer who’d been a student with Jeff and went to see him. The lawyer, Tom Ratliff, said he hadn’t seen Jeff in four years. Jeff had left law school because he suddenly hated the idea of being a lawyer. Also, he fell in love.

“Who was the woman?”

“Claire. She worked in a bar, Mulligan’s. I heard that he and Claire left town, but I never heard from him again.”

Employment records at Mulligan’s gave her full name: Claire Clement.


On Monday afternoon in court, an economist gave some information about Jacob Wood’s finances. He told the court what Mr. Wood’s salary was when he died, and calculated how much his future earnings would have been. One of the defense lawyers tried to challenge the figures. But the lost salary was just the beginning. Rohr would add pain and suffering, medical care, and the price of the funeral.

An hour before the end of the day, Rohr announced his last witness, Mrs. Celeste Wood. The jury hadn’t realized that the plaintiff was almost finished. Several of them smiled. Tonight would be their seventh night in sequestration. According to Nicholas’s theory, the defense would take no more than three days. They did the math. They could be home by the weekend!

Celeste Wood was fifty-five, thin, with short gray hair. She worked for a library and had brought up three children. She’d practiced what she was going to say and she answered Rohr’s questions easily. She talked about her husband, kids, and grandchildren. Her husband had wanted to stop smoking, but he couldn’t. The addiction was too strong.

Cable didn’t question her. What could he ask?

Judge Harkin looked at his jury. They were tired. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I have good news and bad. The good news is obvious. The plaintiff is calling no more witnesses. The defense has fewer witnesses. The bad news is that the lawyers and I have to deal with other business concerning the trial. We’ll have to do that tomorrow, probably all day.”

Nicholas raised his hand. “You mean we have to sit around at the motel all day tomorrow?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“I don’t understand why.”

“What do you want to do?”

“We could hire a big boat and go fishing.”

“I can’t ask the taxpayers to pay for that, Mr. Easter.”

“I’m sure that the lawyers wouldn’t mind paying.”

Rohr answered first, “We’d be happy to pay half.”

“It’s a great idea, Judge,” said Cable loudly.

Nicholas put up his hand again. “Excuse me, Your Honor, maybe some jurors would prefer to shop in New Orleans.”

No problem. Rohr and Cable would divide the costs.


Rohr and his team had presented ten witnesses to the jury, including the video of Jacob Wood. It had taken thirteen days. If the jury hadn’t been sequestered, Rohr would have called at least three more experts, but he knew it was time to stop. This was no ordinary jury, with a blind man as foreman, at least two strikes, and lists of demands.

The jury didn’t seem ordinary to Fitch, either. He had huge experience of influencing juries. Things were going well. Only one fire, and no broken bones. But Marlee had changed everything. With her, he could purchase a verdict. In this, the biggest tobacco trial ever, his lovely Marlee would hand him a verdict. A victory over Rohr in Biloxi would make future litigation much more difficult. It might even save the industry.

When Fitch counted the jury’s votes, he thought there were four jurors with him and one that could go either way. Another would probably vote against the tobacco companies. That left Easter and the remaining five, who’d vote with Easter. Nine votes were needed by either side for a verdict, or the trial would have to take place again.

In his office, Rohr was sure that he had nine votes.

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