The Guilty is the story of Robert Bratt, once a high-flying defense attorney, but now haunted by doubts over his chosen profession and the violent people he represents. He is hired to defend Marlon Small, a young tough who is accused of a brutal double-slaying. The accused’s mother is a devoutly religious woman who is certain that her son has been falsely accused, and looks to Bratt to save him. Despite the mother’s protestations, Bratt’s instincts tell him that Small’s airtight alibi is too good to be true, and he is very probably guilty. But Bratt’s drive to succeed, combined with his sympathy for the heartbroken mother, push him to defend the young man.
Can he continue to turn a blind eye to what his client has done, and manipulate the truth as he so often has in the past, while no longer being able to look himself in the mirror?
Loosely based on a multiple-murder that shocked Montreal in the 1990s, this riveting story pulls the reader into the inner workings of a murder trial, and reveals what one lawyer must do when he has to defend “The Guilty.”
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I practiced criminal law for nearly a quarter of a century in Montreal. During that time I saw many honest, ethical lawyers who worked hard to guarantee that anyone accused of a crime got a fair trial. These were honorable men and women who took their obligation to defend their clients to the best of their abilities very seriously. But, occasionally, I would meet a lawyer who would gladly cross the ethical line, as long as he, and his client, came out winners. And, sometimes, in the heat of battle, and under the pressures that a major trial can create, even usually honest lawyers have made decisions that they later came to regret. In writing this book I pictured the main character, Robert Bratt, as someone who is essentially a good person, but whose need to win has led him to forget his inherent honesty, and driven him to do things that he wished he hadn’t. I felt that this kind of character would be more interesting to readers than the usual heroic, selfless lawyers that abound in books.
I based the facts of the crime and trial on a case I defended earlier in my legal practice. I can honestly say I have little in common with the lead character, be that his strengths or his weaknesses.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
While many had traits of people that I met in my practice, none are actually based on anybody, living or dead. I had a story in mind, and a point of view I wanted to put forward, so I developed characters that would fit into what I wanted to do. Of course, once I created the characters they ended up changing the direction of the story on several fronts. Often characters do things that surprise even the author, and we just have to follow along at those times.
In room 4.05, where Nate Morris’s trial was being held, the sequestered jurors all arrived together and on time from their downtown hotel. They rendered their verdict shortly after arriving at the courthouse, suggesting that they had held off on giving their verdict the previous day in order to enjoy at least one night on the government’s tab.
About three-quarters of an hour after his own arrival at court, Bratt was still sitting and chatting happily with Nancy Morin when Jeannie walked into the courtroom. Bratt’s back was to the door, so he had no idea she was there until he noticed several people looking toward the rear of the room. He turned and saw his daughter, tears streaming down her face, staring at him from where she stood.
Morin was in the middle of some not so slight sexual innuendo when Bratt suddenly stood up, as if she had offended him. He paused only long enough to take in the scene in front of him, before rushing toward Jeannie. He was unsure how she felt about him at that moment, but his paternal instincts permitted no hesitation. As soon as he got to her he opened his arms and enveloped her in them. She pressed her face into his chest and sobbed, her hands grasping the vest he wore under his robes.
“They let the bastard go, Daddy! They let him go!”
He had no words to comfort her at that moment, so he just squeezed her tighter. After a few seconds it occurred to him that she was there alone and he asked, “Claire?”
He could barely make out Jeannie’s answer through her tears. “They took her to the infirmary. She fainted when they…when they gave the verdict. She was on the floor and he just walked out without even looking at her!”
“Christ, I’m so sorry, Jeannie.” It sounded trite, but what else could he say? How else could he express how badly he felt at the turn of events? He only hoped that she would recognize the sincerity in his words. She looked up at his face, her sobbing starting to ebb, and nodded. He wanted to take her somewhere more private, where they could talk without being the center of attention. Out in the hallway, though, the cameramen and journalists would be waiting to swarm all over them. He looked over to the constable and signaled him closer.
“I can’t take her out the front door with those cameras out there.”
The constable nodded his understanding. “OK, you can take her through the judge’s door into the back hall. But you better follow me so you don’t run into any jurors back there.”
His arm wrapped protectively around Jeannie, Bratt hustled her down the aisle toward the front of the courtroom. Morin was still standing where he had left her, her concern evident on her face. He glanced at her briefly, but didn’t know how he could express his myriad feelings in that split-second’s look, so he turned his eyes back to the constable ahead of him and hoped she would understand.
Once into the corridor running behind all the courtrooms, the constable directed them to an empty meeting room where they could talk privately, and then left them. Bratt sat facing
Jeannie, holding both her hands in one of his, stroking her tear-streaked cheek with the other.
He waited for her to speak first.
“This really sucks,” she finally said.
“I really wish I hadn’t come today. I hate this whole place. I hate everything that goes on here.”
Bratt feared this comment might signal a renewed attack upon him or his profession, but he resisted the impulse to defend himself.
“I just don’t understand,” she continued. “You take twelve average people off the street, people that are as honest as anybody else, and then convince them to let a guilty man go.
How do you do that?”
Again Bratt held back from answering. Maybe it was a rhetorical question, but he suspected that her comments were directed at him personally.
She cleared up any doubts when she asked him, “Don’t you have anything to say?”
“I really wasn’t sure what I should answer. I didn’t think you would like whatever I had to say, so I thought it better…”
As he let his words trail off, she jumped to her feet. The anger in her eyes reminded him of the look she had given him in the hallway the day Claire broke down on the stand.
“Since when are you afraid to defend yourself, Daddy? You can defend any scumbag that can afford to hire you, so how come you can’t come up with a brilliant argument to convince me of how I’m seeing it all wrong?”
“Jeannie, honey, let’s not do this now.”
“Why not? This is as good a time as any. Aren’t you supposed to think fast on your feet?
So, think about this, Mr. Defense Lawyer: he raped her and he walked away! You used to give us both piggyback rides, and this creep raped her!”
“Dammit, why are you blaming me for what he did to her?”
“Because you helped him get away with it!”
Gabriel Boutros has lived in Montreal for most of his life, and being a rabid fan of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, could not imagine living anywhere else. He is married and the father of two boys, and practiced criminal law for 24 years.
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