By Richard Speight
Warner Books, NY, 1988, 262 pages, fiction
Review by Hans Sherrer, For Justice:Denied magazine
Triple Jeopardy is as close to real life as a novel can get, and it has a plotline as gutsy as it is straightforward: An alcoholic state judge who is the business partner and lifelong friend of the governor runs over a man while drunk, frames an innocent man for the death, and is then assigned to preside over the accused man’s trial.
It becomes apparent from the way the story unfolds that the judge, Cullen Whitehurst, hastily conceived his frame-up plan with every reason to think it would work. With his intimate knowledge of how the legal system works, Judge Whitehurst knew that a framed person’s innocence would be irrelevant because juries and onlookers invariably accept the superficial appearance of a defendant’s guilt as a substitute for their actual guilt. So if the judge could simply make it look like someone else killed the man he ran over, that would likely be enough for the person’s conviction. There would be no need for anyone to ever look further into the circumstances of the victim’s death, because no matter how much the accused person wailed about his innocence, his claim would be casually dismissed. Setting up the innocent man provided a neat and tidy solution for Judge Whitehurst to protect his reputation and career from the scandal that would be caused by the sticky situation of it becoming publicly known that he killed a man.
It was icing on the cake when because of his outspoken support for a new “get tough” drunk driving law, Judge Whitehurst was appointed to preside over the accused man’s trial. As the trial judge, he would be able to dictate what evidence was admissible, and who could testify about what. It was also a stroke of luck that the accused man had several drinks at a bar on the night the victim was killed. Everything was set to ensure a perfect frame-up of an innocent man for the judge’s misdeed. Especially after the prosecutor uncritically swallowed the frame-up hook, line and sinker, and let it be known he was going to throw the book at the accused man.
However, there was one wild card that the judge hadn’t counted on. The lawyer for the patsy believed he was innocent, and she dug like a bulldog to find the pieces to the puzzle of how and why he had been fingered for something he didn’t do.
The dialogue and scenes in Triple Jeopardy are so true to life that it makes the story seem more like a biographical chapter in the life of a real judge than a work of fiction.
The story relentlessly maintains its intensity until the last chapter. After the defense lawyers digs up evidence implicating the judge in the victim’s death, the story strangely shifts gears to portray the judge as the helpless victim of his vices, and that the accused man deserved to be framed because of his personal problems. There are also a couple of patently ridiculous plot twists, including an unbelievable one involving the judge’s wife, that are plainly intended to make the judge seem more sympathetic and less culpable for his atrocious conduct. Contrary to the rest of the book, the last chapter is written from the slant that the reader should feel sorry for poor Judge Whitehurst and the inconvenient fallout he experienced from having killed a man! While reading the final chapter I thought to myself – “What hogwash!” However the author may have done a last minute whitewash of Judge Whitehurst and demonized the framed man for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with the inner workings of the legal system, otherwise such people may have not been able to relate to the way the story plays out at the end.
Triple Jeopardy is written for the average reader and it can be read in a few nights. Although the book’s plot revolves around the legal system, there is a notable absence of technical jargon. It can be enjoyed as either an off-beat mystery story where the protagonist is known from the beginning, or as an honest portrayal of how people within the legal system will react when needing to choose between protecting a judge’s reputation or helping an innocent man to clear his name and record.