Michael Connelly, jury trials, NYC’s first female detective, and getting ready for National Poetry Month: newsletter, March 29, 2019

April 1, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, newsletter.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,854) on Friday, March 29, 2019.

Gardening has taken me from using a tiller attached to a tractor last week to this week using a smaller motorized tiller, a trencher, and finally a hoe. The result (so far): one row of onions is in the ground.
I also reintroduced myself to iMovie this past weekend, and I will be showing you some of the results of that next week. This re-introduction is connected to the fact that April is National Poetry Month, and the Blount County Public Library, where I hang out a lot these days, has some special things planned for the event. Stay tuned, as they say.
So, it has once again been a good week for me, and I hope it’s been the same for you.

Whatever you are reading this week, keep reading and have a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,867 subscribers and had a 29.8 percent open rate; 9 people unsubscribed. A chart showing the percentage of newsletter recipients who opened the newsletter each week during 2019 is below the signature of this email.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Michael Connelly, even after 30 novels, still a journalist

Mystery novelist Michael Connelly attended a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game several years ago and got to talking with the guy he was sitting next to. That’s what happens at baseball games.

Turns out, that guy was a lawyer who told him that he didn’t have an office. Instead, he worked from his Lincoln Continental.

There are more than 40 courtrooms in the Los Angeles area, the lawyer explained. Being mobile gave him an edge.

The journalist in Connelly couldn’t pass up a story like that, and he pumped the lawyer for details. The novelist in Connelly took that character and those details and made him into Mickey Haller, a protagonist of one of the finest crime thrillers I have ever read, The Lincoln Lawyer.

If anyone asked me how to write a thriller (no one ever has), I would tell them to read The Lincoln Lawyer.

One of Connelly’s great strengths as a writer is not only his journalistic experience — he as a degree in journalism from the University of Florida and worked as a police and crime reporter in Florida and for the Los Angeles Times — but also his “nose for news,” his continuing quest for factual information and true-life characters to put in his books.

Here’s part of what he told an interviewer for the Los Angeles Review of Books about continuing to be a reporter, even though he’s now a novelist:

It is vitally important because I am no creative genius. I am a journalist at heart and so rather than sit in a room and try to make it up, I go out like a reporter to get the real stuff. That is where inspiration lies for me. I wish I was a creative genius but I’m really just a fisherman who can throw out a nice spread of net. I then pull up all kinds of stuff — anecdotes, clever pieces of dialogue, sometimes whole book stories — and my skill is that I know how to pick and choose what’s come up in the net, slap on a layer of fiction, and then cobble it all together into story. But every time a reader or a critic points to a particular thing in a book and says I love this part, I know it is something I didn’t make up. I always remember who and where I got it. Source: A Journalist at Heart – Los Angeles Review of Books

Connelly, among many other activities these days, has published the latest of more than 30 novels, and he is hosting a true-crime podcast series, The Murder Book. Even if you don’t want to listen to all of the episodes in this podcast, you should hear the first 10-15 minutes of Episode 7 when Connelly talks about his writing and his life as a reporter.

His latest novel is Dark Sacred Night in which he puts together his old friend Detective Harry Bosch with his new protagonist Renee Ballard to delve into an old murder case,

Plea bargains and jury trials: a reader’s reactions

The newsletter a couple of weeks ago contained an item citing the decrease in jury trials and the increase in plea bargaining — with a slant toward saying this was not a great thing. Were people accused of crimes giving up their right to a jury trial too easily? Newsletter reader A.J. Norton, who worked as a prosecutor for many years in Texas and Wyoming, clearly knows a lot about the topic and sent the following to me (which I am sharing with his permission).:

When discussing jury trials, I realize that my history as a former prosecutor makes me biased,* but please at least consider the “other side of the story:”  there are far too many crimes committed in our society; with the high numbers of criminals who are arrested and charged, it is not possible for every case to be tried by a jury. 

The cost of a jury trial is staggering – thousands of dollars for even a “simple” misdemeanor case, and hundreds of thousands for a capital murder trial.  This cost is borne by the local taxpayers, and does NOT include the cost of building more courtrooms and creating more judge / prosecutor / court reporter / bailiff / county clerk / district clerk positions, which must be staffed and for whom office space must be found and at least minimally equipped.

MOST of the defendants who plead guilty do so because they ARE guilty, and the legally admissible evidence clearly proves that they are.  Even so, they would “take their chances” and “hope their lawyer can get them off” unless the prosecutor offered them LESS time than a reasonable jury would be expected to assess, based on all the evidence that would be presented.  This is why an offer might be made to plead to a “lesser included offense,” such as manslaughter instead of murder, or to include other pending cases, such as burglary or assault or DWI, which might be “considered and dismissed” if a plea is taken to a higher-level case. 

In such instances, the local taxpayers benefit because a group of cases are disposed, a criminal is sent to jail (or placed on probation, with community service hours to do and appropriate classes to take) and the money has not been spent on a trial in this instance.  The judge is happy to clear a group of cases off the docket, making way for the many others that are still waiting to be heard.

When I left the local county D.A.’s office in 2003, we had some 600 felony cases awaiting jury trials, and about 1200 misdemeanor cases pending, any of which could have demanded jury trials.  This does not count the Class C (traffic) cases, which are tried in the local J.P. courts.  For all but the last few months of my career, the elected prosecutor and I were the ONLY two attorneys representing the State, in our entire county.  We handled ALL criminal cases, all civil cases involving Child Protective Services, and any civil cases involving the county, from filing through final disposition, including any appeals. 

We did felony jury trials one week each month, and usually managed to pick all our juries on Monday and try a different case each of the other 4 days.  Some cases took 2-3 trial days, and very rarely could we finish one case in the morning and start another that afternoon.  We also did misdemeanor jury trials one week each month, but those were usually only about a half-day each, so we could pick 6-8 juries on Monday and try all the cases by 6 p.m. on Friday.  So we tried, on average, 3 or 4 felony cases and 6 or 7 misdemeanors per month.  Best case, 10-12 trials per month. 

I personally was lead prosecutor in about 100 jury trials over the course of my 7 years in the D.A.’s office, but we routinely “pled out” many times that number of cases, with dispositions that both the prosecutor and defendant thought were fair and reasonable.  Some months, we would reach plea agreements on 35-40 felony cases and 80-100 misdemeanors, and there were always more new cases brought to our office by local law enforcement every morning.  I worked about 80 hours a week, most weeks, and earned about $40,000 per year. 

My point is, before we start refusing to make plea bargains and demanding that every defendant get a jury trial, we need a major new source of funding to build all the new courtrooms, hire and equip all the new judges and prosecutors, court reporters, bailiffs, county clerks and district clerks.  We will also need more jurors who are willing and able to devote their time to hear all these cases and make reasoned determinations of whether the defendant is guilty or not.

* (And if you think the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is an unbiased source, please think again.  It is certainly in their members’ best interest to hold more jury trials, as they earn huge fees for trial work – usually at least 5 to 10 times as much as the state’s attorney is paid.  Some attorneys advise their clients against accepting a plea bargain, if the client can afford a $25,000 attorney’s fee, but are rather quicker to accept a deal for a client whose fees are being paid by the court, at a rate of only $50-$100 per hour … which is still far more than the prosecutors earn.  And they say the state has the advantage?)

Thanks, A.J., for your insightful information and perspective on this issue.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”

Isabella Goodwin, New York City’s first female police detective

It was an audacious bank heist with a bold plan to elude police.

One day in 1912 — in broad daylight — thieves hijacked a bank cab full of bank employees and stole $25,000. They got away in motor vehicles and became known nationally as the “taxi bandits.”

Because of the national attention the bank job drew, the New York police were desperate to solve the crime. So desperate that they turned to a woman — police matron Isabella Goodwin.

Goodwin was the widow of a police officer, and the department helped her and her four children out by giving her a job as a matron, a position that did not qualify her as a police officer. The robbery investigators had a solid lead; they believe that one Eddie Kinsman was behind the robbery, but they had no way of getting any evidence on him.

Police then asked Goodwin to go undercover — to take a job as a scrubwoman in the boardinghouse of Eddie’s girlfriend Swede Annie. She did so and gathered enough evidence to have Eddie arrested and convicted. Goodwin’s success led her to land a position as New York City’s first female detective — a position she held for the next 15 years.

When she died in 1943 at the age of 78, the New York Times neglected to run an obituary of her. The Times recently corrected that in an account that included the following:

Goodwin’s story may sound familiar to fans of the recent television series “The Alienist,” based on Caleb Carr’s 1994 novel of the same name. In the series, Dakota Fanning plays Sara Howard, a character based on Goodwin, whom Carr learned about from old newspapers in the bowels of the New York Public Library.
“The fact that she turned this matron role into a detective role was very intriguing,” Carr said in an interview. Source: Overlooked No More: Isabella Goodwin, New York City’s First Female Police Detective – The New York Times


Freida M.: I am really looking forward to reading more about Marie Connolly Owens. As I’ve mentioned before I am very fond of female biographies. Thanks once again for the informative newsletter. Have a great weekend and hope you can get some more gardening done!

Margaret M.: I have to laugh. I’m 62 and since I was 10 I’ve read crime and adventure novels.  I can even remember requesting “new” James Bond etc under my mum’s name from the local library in the early 60s. I’m lucky. I’m Scottish and come from the Dunfermline area.  It was Andrew Carnegie’s birthplace and the site of his first UK library. We were lucky his Carnegie Fund/ Foundation paid for 1000s of novels in our area.  Name an author and we probably had access to their newest novels.

I’m also old enough to remember Dick Francis being a jockey!   He was an amazing writer and there was a UK tv series based on his novels 70s/80s. They were the novels based on ‘the jockey ‘ who lost part of an arm?

Elizabeth F.: I agree that this country abounds with excellent educational opportunity and that would include many self-educated persons with or without formal degrees.  My concern is those who falsify credentials, rather than learn what they want and need to know out of the passion for learning  I am concerned about people who brag, as our current President does, about not needing to be educated in any manner by those who study and report their findings.  I have been appalled at the celebration on deliberate ignorance all my life and this cultivated unknowing that is being celebrated today, diminishes this country, its opportunities, and blessings.  Keep opening the doors and windows to enlightenment with your civility, kindness, practical reality and appreciation of the finest things in life, whether they are found in the soil of your garden and the pleasure of turning it, or on the shelves of our libraries or in the meeting of fine minds and seekers of knowledge, young and old.

There were more reactions to various items, but I will hold those until next week.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Capital Theater, Maryville, TN

Best quote of the week

Money may be the husk of many things but not the kernel. It brings you food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; acquaintances, but not friends; servants, but not loyalty; days of joy, but not peace or happiness. Henrik Ibsen, playwright  (1828-1906) 

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall 

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: America’s first female police officer, Dan Jenkins, lots of emails, and a modest proposal: newsletter, March 22, 2019



March is Women’s History Month; so, once more, Seeing Suffrage

March is the month to pay special attention to women’s history. And what better way to do that (he said, self-servingly) than taking a look at Seeing Suffrage. So, once again:

Several years ago I wrote a book about the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade that was held on March 3, 1913, in Washington, D.C. It was the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated. Not only did this event turn out to be a pivotal one in the history of the suffrage debate, but it also was one that was well-covered by the newspapers of the day — particularly photographers. In my research, I had discovered a trove of photographs in the Library of Congress and in the library of the Sewell-Belmont House, the historic headquarters of the National Woman’s Party. Many of these photographs had never been published before and were included in the book.

The book, Seeing Suffrage: The 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, Its Pictures, and Its Effect on the American Political Landscape, was published by the University of Tennessee Press. The press published it only in a hardback edition, however, and has never brought it out as an ebook. Since I hold the copyright, I decided that it was time for that to change. That project was completed just two days before Christmas and is now available on Amazon (free if you are a Kindle Unlimited member). If you have a chance to look at it, I’d like to know what you think.

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