Chapter Fifteen

Of the six women remaining on the jury, the one Fitch wanted most to nail was Rikki Coleman, the wholesome, pretty, thirty-year-old mother of two. She earned twenty-one thousand dollars a year as a records administrator in a local hospital. Her husband earned thirty-six thousand dollars as a private pilot. They lived in a nice suburb with a manicured lawn and a ninety-thousand-dollar mortgage, and they each drove Japanese cars, both of which were paid for. They saved frugally and invested conservatively-eight thousand dollars last year alone in mutual funds. They were very active in a neighborhood church-she taught small kids in Sunday School and he sang in the choir.

Apparently the Colemans had acquired no bad habits. Neither smoked, and there was no evidence they drank. He liked to jog and play tennis, she spent an hour a day at a health club. Because of the clean life and because of her background in health care, Fitch feared her as a juror.

The medical records obtained from her ob-gyn revealed nothing remarkable. Two pregnancies, with perfect deliveries and recoveries. The annual checkups were done on time. A mammography two years ago showed nothing unusual. She was five feet five inches, 116 pounds.

Fitch had medical records for seven of the twelve jurors. Easter's couldn't be found for obvious reasons. Herman Grimes was blind and had nothing to hide. Savelle was new and Fitch was digging. Lonnie Shaver hadn't been to the doctor in at least twenty years. Sylvia Taylor-Tatum's doctor had been killed months earlier in a boating accident, and his successor was a rookie who didn't know how the game was played.

The game was serious hardball, and Fitch had written most of the rules. Each year, The Fund contributed a million dollars to an organization known as the Judicial Reform Alliance, a noisy presence in Washington funded primarily by insurance companies, medical associations, and manufacturing groups. And tobacco companies. The Big Four reported annual contributions of a hundred thousand each, with Fitch and The Fund sliding another million under the door. The purpose of JRA was to lobby for laws to restrict the size of awards in damage suits. Specifically, to eliminate the nuisance of punitive damages.

Luther Vandemeer, CEO of Trellco, was a vocal member of the JRA board, and with Fitch quietly calling the shots, Vandemeer often ran roughshod over the members of the organization. Fitch wasn't seen, but he got what he wanted. Through Vandemeer and JRA, Fitch put enormous pressure on the insurance companies, which in turn put pressure on various local doctors, who in turn leaked sensitive and thoroughly confidential records of selected patients. So when Fitch wanted Dr. Dow in Biloxi to accidentally send the medical records for Mrs. Gladys Card to a nondescript post office box in Baltimore, he told Vandemeer to lean on contacts at St. Louis Mutual, Dr. Dow's malpractice carrier. Dr. Dow was told by St. Louis Mutual that his liability coverage might be dropped if he didn't play the game, and he became altogether happy to comply.

Fitch had quite a collection of medical records, but nothing so far that might turn a verdict. His luck changed during lunch on Tuesday.

When Rikki Coleman was still Rikki Weld, she attended a small Bible college in Montgomery, Alabama, where she was very popular. Some of the prettier girls at the school were known to date boys from Auburn. As the routine investigation into her background progressed, Fitch's investigator in Montgomery got a hunch that Rikki probably had plenty of dates. Fitch pursued the hunch with serious arm-twisting through JRA, and after two weeks of dead-end probing they finally found the right clinic.

It was a small, private women's hospital in downtown Montgomery, one of only three places abortions were performed in the city at that time. During her junior year, a week after her twentieth birthday, Rikki Weld had an abortion.

And Fitch had the records. A phone call told him they were coming, and he laughed to himself as he picked the sheets off his fax machine. No name for the father, but that was fine. Rikki had met Rhea, her husband, a year after she finished college. At the time of the abortion, Rhea was a senior at Texas A & M, and it was doubtful the two had ever met.

Fitch was willing to bet a ton of money the abortion was a dark secret, all but forgotten by Rikki and definitely never revealed to her husband.

THE MOTEL was a Siesta Inn in Pass Christian, thirty minutes west along the Coast. The trip was made by charter bus with Lou Dell and Willis riding up front with the driver and the fourteen jurors scattered throughout the seats. No two sat together. Conversation was nonexistent. They were tired and disheartened, already isolated and imprisoned, though they had yet to see their new temporary home. For the first two weeks of the trial, adjournment at five meant escape; they left hurriedly and raced back to reality, back to homes and kids and hot meals, back to errands and maybe the office. Adjournment now meant a chartered ride to another cell where they were to be watched and monitored and protected from evil shadows out there somewhere.

Only Nicholas Easter was delighted with sequestration, but he managed to look as dispirited as the rest.

Harrison County had rented for them the entire first floor of one wing, twenty rooms in all, though only nineteen would be needed. Lou Dell and Willis had separate rooms by the door leading to the main building where the reception and restaurant were located. A large young deputy named Chuck had a room at the other end of the hallway, ostensibly to guard the door leading to a parking lot.

The rooms were assigned by Judge Harkin himself. The bags had already been transported and placed, unopened and definitely uninspected. Keys were passed out like candy by Lou Dell, whose self-importance grew by the hour. Beds were kicked and inspected-doubles in every room for some reason. TV's were turned on, to no avail. No programs, no news during sequestration. Only movies from the motel's station. Bathrooms were scrutinized, faucets checked, toilets flushed. Two weeks here would seem like a year.

The bus was of course followed by Fitch's boys. It left the courthouse with a police escort, cops in front and back on motorcycles. It was easy to track the cops. Two detectives working for Rohr also followed along. No one expected the location of the motel to remain a secret.

Nicholas had Savelle on one side and Colonel Herrera on the other. The men's rooms were next to each other; the women were across the hall as if segregation was necessary to prevent unauthorized frolicking. Five minutes after unlocking the door the walls began to close in, and ten minutes later Willis knocked loudly and inquired as to whether everything was okay. "Just beautiful," Nicholas said without opening the door.

The telephones had been removed, as had the mini-bars. A room at the end of the hall had been stripped of the beds and furnished with two round tables, phones, comfortable chairs, a large-screen TV, and a bar fully equipped with every possible nonalcoholic beverage. Someone dubbed it the Party Room, and it stuck. Each phone call had to be approved by one of their guardians, and no incoming calls were permitted. Emergencies would be handled through the front desk. In Room 40, directly across the hall from the Party Room, the beds had also been removed and a makeshift dining table had been set up.

No juror could leave the wing without prior approval from Judge Harkin, or on-the-spot approval from Lou Dell or one of the deputies. There was no curfew because there was no place to go, but the Party Room closed at ten.

Dinner was from six to seven, breakfast from six to eight-thirty, and they were not expected to eat en masse. They could come and go. They could fix a plate and go back to their rooms. Judge Harkin was deeply concerned about the quality of the food, and wanted to be told each morning if there were complaints.

Tuesday's smorgasbord was either fried chicken or broiled snapper, with salads and plenty of vegetables. They were amazed at their appetites. For people who'd done nothing all day but remain seated and listen, most were weak with starvation by the time the food arrived at six. Nicholas fixed the first plate and sat at the end of the table where he engaged everyone in conversation and insisted they eat as a group. He was hyper and chipper and acted as if sequestration were nothing but an adventure. His enthusiasm was slightly contagious.

Only Herman Grimes ate in his room. Mrs. Grimes prepared two plates and left in a rush. Judge Harkin had strict written instructions prohibiting her from eating with the jury. Same for Lou Dell and Willis and Chuck. So when Lou Dell entered the room with dinner in mind and found Nicholas in the middle of a tale, the conversation suddenly ceased. She flung a few green beans alongside a chicken breast and a dinner roll, and left.

They were a group now, isolated and exiled, cut off from reality and banished against their wishes to a Siesta Inn. They had no one but themselves. Easter was determined to keep them happy. They would be a fraternity, if not a family. He would work to avoid divisions and cliques. They watched two movies in the Party Room. By ten, they were all asleep.

"I'M READY for my conjugal visit," Jerry Fernandez announced over breakfast, in the general direction of Mrs. Gladys Card, who blushed.

"Really," she said, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling. Jerry smiled at her as if she might be the object of his longing. Breakfast was a veritable feast of everything from fried ham to cornflakes.

Nicholas arrived mid-meal with a soft hello to the group and a troubled countenance. "I don't understand why we can't have telephones," were the first words from his mouth, and the pleasant morning mood suddenly turned sour. He sat across from Jerry, who read his face and caught on immediately.

"Why can't we have a cold beer?" Jerry asked. "I have a cold beer every night when I'm home, maybe two. Who has the right to dictate what we can drink here?"

"Judge Harkin," said Millie Dupree, a woman who avoided alcohol.

"I'll be damned."

"And what about television?" Nicholas asked. "Why can't we watch television? I've been watching television since the trial started, and I don't recall much excitement." He turned to Loreen Duke, a large woman with a plate full of scrambled eggs. "Have you seen any sudden newsbreaks with the latest from the trial?"


He looked at Rikki Coleman, who was sitting behind a tiny bowl of harmless flakes. "And what about a gym, someplace to go sweat after eight hours in the courtroom? Surely they could've found a motel with a gym." Rikki nodded her complete agreement.

Loreen swallowed her eggs and said, "What I don't understand is, why can't we be trusted with a telephone? My kids might need to call me. It's not like some goon's gonna call my room and threaten me."

"I'd just like a cold beer, or two," Jerry said. "And maybe a few more conjugal visits," he added, again looking at Mrs. Gladys Card.

The grumbling gathered speed around the table, and within ten minutes of Easter's arrival, the jurors were on the verge of revolt. The random irritations were now a full-fledged list of abuses. Even Herrera, the Retired Colonel who'd camped in jungles, was not pleased with the selection of beverages offered in the Party Room. Millie Dupree objected to the absence of newspapers. Lonnie Shaver had pressing business, and deeply resented the notion of sequestration in the first place. "I can think for myself," he said. "No one can influence me." At the least, he needed an unrestricted telephone. Phillip Savelle did yoga in the woods each morning at dawn, alone, just himself communing with nature, and there wasn't a tree within two hundred yards of the motel. And what about church? Mrs. Card was a devout Baptist who never missed prayer meeting on Wednesday nights and visitation on Tuesdays and WMU on Fridays and of course the Sabbath was crammed full of meetings.

"We'd better get things straight now," Nicholas said solemnly. "We're gonna be here for two weeks, maybe three. I say we get Judge Harkin's attention."

Judge Harkin had nine lawyers packed into his chambers haggling over the daily issues to be kept away from the jury. He required the lawyers to appear each morning at eight for the warm-up bouts, and he often made them stay an hour or two after the jury left. A heavy knock interrupted a heated debate between Rohr and Cable. Gloria Lane pushed the door open until it hit a chair occupied by Oliver McAdoo.

"We have a problem with the jury," she said gravely. Harkin jumped to his feet. "What!"

"They want to talk to you. That's all I know."

Harkin looked at his watch. "Where are they?"

"At the motel."

"Can't we get them over here?"

"No. We've tried. They're not coming until they talk to you."

His shoulders sagged and his mouth hung open. "This is getting ridiculous," Wendall Rohr offered to no one in particular. The lawyers watched the Judge, who looked absently at the pile of papers on his desk and collected his thoughts. Then he rubbed his hands together and gave them all a huge phony smile. "Let's go see them."

KONRAD TOOK THE FIRST CALL at 8:02. She didn't want to talk to Fitch, just wanted to give him the message that the jury was once again perturbed and not coming out until Harkin hauled himself over to the Siesta Inn and unruffled their feathers. Konrad ran to Fitch's room and delivered the message.

At 8:09, she called again and gave Konrad the information that Easter would be wearing a dark denim shirt over a tan T-shirt, with red socks and the usual starched khakis. Red socks, she repeated.

At 8:12, she called for the third time and asked to speak to Fitch, who was pacing around his desk and pulling on his goatee. He clenched the receiver. "Hello."

"Good morning, Fitch," she said.

"Good morning, Marlee."

"You ever been to the St. Regis Hotel in New Orleans?"


"It's on Canal Street in the French Quarter. There's an open-air bar on the roof. It's called the Terrace Grill. Get a table overlooking the Quarter. Be there at seven tonight. I'll be there later. Are you with me?"


"And come by yourself, Fitch. I'll watch you enter the hotel, and if you bring friends the meeting's off. Okay?"


"And if you attempt to trail me, then I disappear."

"You have my word."

"Why am I not comforted by your word, Fitch?" She hung up.

CABLE, ROHR, AND JUDGE HARKIN were met at the front desk by Lou Dell, who was flustered and scared and rattling on about how this had never happened to her; she'd always kept her juries under control. She led them to the Party Room where thirteen of the fourteen jurors were holed up. Herman Grimes was the lone dissenter. He had argued with the group about their tactics, and had angered Jerry Fernandez to the point of getting himself insulted. Jerry had pointed out that Herman had his wife with him, that he had no use for either televisions or newspapers, didn't drink anymore, and probably didn't need a gym. Jerry apologized after Millie Dupree asked him to.

If His Honor had a chip on his shoulder, it didn't last long. After a few uncertain hellos and good mornings, he said, starting badly, "I'm a little bit disturbed by this."

To which Nicholas Easter responded, "We're not in the mood to take any abuse."

Rohr and Cable had been expressly forbidden from speaking, and they hung near the door and watched with great amusement. Both knew this was a scene unlikely to be repeated in their litigating careers.

Nicholas had written down their list of complaints. Judge Harkin removed his coat, took a seat, and was soon hammered from all directions. He was pitifully outnumbered and virtually defenseless.

Beer was no problem. Newspapers could be censored by the front desk. Unrestricted phone calls made perfect sense. Same for televisions, but only if they promised not to watch the local news. The gym might be a problem, but he'd look into it. Visits to church could be arranged.

In fact, everything was flexible.

"Can you explain why we're here?" Lonnie Shaver demanded.

He tried. He cleared his throat and reluctantly attempted to justify his reasons for locking them away. He rambled for a bit about unauthorized contact, about what had happened so far with this jury, and he made some vague references to events that had occurred in other tobacco trials.

The misconduct was well documented, and both sides had been guilty in the past. Fitch had left a wide trail across the landscape of tobacco litigation. Operatives for some of the plaintiffs' lawyers in other cases had done dirty deeds. But Judge Harkin couldn't talk about them in front of his jury. He had to be careful and not prejudice either side.

The meeting lasted an hour. Harkin asked for a no-strike guarantee in the future, but Easter wouldn't commit.

PYNEX OPENED DOWN two points on news of a second strike, which according to an analyst waiting in the courtroom was caused by an ill-defined negative reaction by the jurors to certain tactics employed the day before by the defense team. The tactics were also ill-defined. A second rumor by another analyst in Biloxi cleared things up a little by speculating that no one in the courtroom knew for certain exactly why the jury was on strike. The stock moved half a point lower before correcting itself and inching upward in the early morning trading.

THE TAR in cigarettes causes cancer, at least in laboratory rodents. Dr. James Ueuker from Palo Alto had worked with mice and rats for the past fifteen years. He'd conducted many studies himself and he'd studied extensively the work of researchers around the world. At least six major studies had, in his opinion, conclusively linked cigarette smoking with lung cancer. In great detail, he explained to the jury exactly how he and his team had taken tobacco smoke condensates, usually referred to simply as "tars," and rubbed them directly onto the skin of what looked like a million white mice. The pictures were large and in color. The lucky mice got just a touch of tar, the others got fairly painted. To no one's surprise, the heavier the tar, the quicker skin cancer developed.

It's a long way from surface tumors on rodents to lung cancer in humans, and Dr. Ueuker, with Rohr leading the way, couldn't wait to link the two. Medical history is filled with studies in which laboratory findings have ultimately been proven to apply to humans. Exceptions have been rare. Though mice and humans live in vastly different environments, the results in some animal tests are fully consistent with the epidemiologic findings in humans.

Every available jury consultant was in the courtroom during Ueuker's testimony. Disgusting little rodents were one thing, but rabbits and beagles could be cuddly pets. Ueuker's next study involved a similar plastering of tar on rabbits, with virtually the same results. His last test involved thirty beagles which he taught to smoke through tubes in their tracheas. The heavy smokers worked their way up to nine cigarettes a day; the equivalent of about forty cigarettes for a 150-pound man. In these dogs, serious lung damage in the form of invasive tumors was detected after 875 consecutive days of smoking. Ueuker used dogs because they exhibit the same reaction to cigarette smoking as do humans.

He would not, however, get to tell this jury about his rabbits and his beagles. An untrained amateur could look at Millie Dupree's face and tell she felt very sorry for the mice, and held a grudge against Ueuker for killing them. Sylvia Taylor-Tatum and Angel Weese also expressed overt signs of displeasure. Mrs. Gladys Card and Phillip Savelle emitted subtle evidence of disapproval. The other men were unmoved.

Rohr and company made the decision during lunch to forgo more testimony from James Ueuker.