Posts Tagged ‘punishment’

The High Price — and Catch-22 — of Parole

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

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Punishment, the first book in the trilogy known as The Justice Series, deals with a man who was found guilty of murdering his wife by using his trained pit bull dog to attack her repeatedly. The trial is loosely based on a real case that took place in my courtroom around twenty years ago. Following the jury’s verdict, I sentenced the defendant, who was in his mid-thirties at the time, to a minimum of fifteen years to life in the Ohio Penitentiary.

As the judge who presided over the case, I listened carefully to all the testimony presented by both the prosecutor and the defense counsel. I considered motions to exclude certain expert witnesses, read portions of the grand jury record of witnesses’ testimony, and studied legal precedent on a number of issues. At the conclusion of the presentation of evidence and closing arguments, I was prepared to instruct the jury on the law they should apply to the facts, as they found them, to determine their judgment in the case.

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As usual, I met with counsel for both sides to discuss certain aspects of the instructions I would give to the jury. I proposed that I would instruct the jury on the elements of a charge of murder and, additionally, that I would give them an instruction of manslaughter, a crime of passion for which the sentence was eight to fifteen years at the time.

The prosecutor agreed to the instruction, but it was vigorously protested by the defense. Their objection, as I described it in Punishment, was that they believed that no jury could find their client guilty of intentional murder and, that being the case, an instruction on manslaughter would allow them an “easy path” to a conviction where a mistaken verdict would be less onerous. Because a judge cannot overrule a defense counsel’s objection to a charge, the only instructions I gave the jury were for the murder charge.

Unlike the verdict in my book (no, not what you assume), the jury in the case in Cleveland found the defendant guilty. The verdict was upheld on appeal and the defendant remains in prison to this day.

Several months ago, I corresponded with the Ohio Parole Board regarding the defendant’s application for parole. I shared with them my view that while the evidence presented could have been, and was construed by the jury, to support a murder conviction, there was ample evidence to support a finding of manslaughter. The Board denied the parole request.

Punishment: A Legal Thriller by Linda RockerI suspect the denial of parole was based on the defendant’s refusal to admit that he was guilty of the crime for which he was imprisoned. It is a scenario repeated daily in prisons across the country. I deplore it for two reasons: First, the insistence on a guilty plea flies in the face of the increasing number of convictions for major crimes that are getting overturned — in some cases the defendant has already served decades of his or her sentence; and second, parole boards may easily overlook the consequences of decisions regarding jury instructions that doom a defendant to a Catch-22: either plead guilty to the charge or remain in prison — pleading to a lesser offense is not an option.

Judges enjoy immense power. It can be gratifying, but it can also be confounding and haunting because some decisions are made by others outside the judge’s control — juries and lawyers, in particular. And it is never the proper role of a judge to substitute her judgment for that of the jury in a criminal trial. (I admit to ordering a new trial in two unrelated civil cases where the jury’s verdict was blatantly against the “manifest weight of the evidence.” In one such case, the jury acquitted the defendant trucker because he testified that he drove President Kennedy’s casket from Air Force One to Bethesda Naval Hospital in D.C.).

All of this discourse brings me back to the reason I began this journey. If I do nothing else, I derive enormous satisfaction from the possibility that my books and stories will cause you to pay greater attention to the character and fitness of the people who don their long robes and make life altering decisions about our neighbors and families.

Could you be Casey Portman?

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Oliver asking for more Cruikshank 1846Here’s a question for you, dear reader:  Do you picture the character(s) depicted in a novel, characters for whom there is no physical description to confirm your mind’s eye invention? When Charles Dickens wrote, his folios were regularly accompanied by pen and ink drawings of his characters and the settings in which they appeared. The same is true of much of our early literature in America. Even Thoreau felt it necessary to include some illustrations of the abundance of nature’s beauty at Walden.

Walden_Thoreau cover first editionThe corollary to my question to you is, naturally, whether I see my characters as I write them.  Indeed, I do. Some of the characters come to me crystal clear and complete. Pleasure Jones, the prostitute and entrepreneur in Blame is one of those people. I not only see her, I know her. I know her voice, her temperament, her style and even her favorite colors.

Other characters are less intuitive for me and I’m often surprised by what emerges on the page. Casey Portman, an important player in my books, has intrigued me, and baffled me, on more than one occasion because, as a young woman, her life is often in flux, her emotions are frequently close to the surface and she is changing, growing into the woman she will become over time. I see her clearly, but not consistently with the same physical features.

Could you be CaseySo it was a bit of a shock when I caught sight of a woman at a restaurant in West Palm Beach and exclaimed to my companion, “Look over there — at the bar — that’s Casey!”

I took a few pictures, although she was facing away from us, and thought briefly about going up to her, risking a tap on her shoulder followed quickly by an explanation of my interest. It didn’t take much to dissuade me. Awkward, I thought, extremely awkward and intrusive. 

But, I’ve come across the picture a few times recently and I can’t help but wonder about the young woman and whether one day she’ll walk into Liberty Book Store on Clematis Street and pick up a copy of Punishment or Blame. Will she recognize herself?

“Every court case is like a small opera.” Jeff McGinnis interview in Toledo Free Press

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

jeff mcginnis on twitterSometimes an interviewer prompts thoughts you knew you had but had never quite expressed in the same way before. Jeff McGinnis, pop culture reporter for the Toledo Free Press, recently interviewed me about Blame and about why people enjoy legal thrillers:

They understand the stakes. For so many people, it is life or death. It is loss of career or opportunity. And too much of it, in my view, remains a sort of profound mystery that is highlighted only when we see incidents such as what has occurred in Ferguson, and most recently on Staten Island.


I think the fascination is, it is always drama. Every court case, particularly criminal cases, is like a small opera, playing out on a stage where the parts are kind of preordained, and emotions run deep and high at the same time. And the characters are usually true to form. But as we all — at least at my age — have learned from “Perry Mason,” there are often surprises.

McGinnis wondered where I got the ideas for my novels, something I haven’t mentioned on this blog before:

I always take a real case as the centerpiece that all the other action kind of revolves and evolves around. So, in Punishment, it was a pit bull case that actually transpired in my courtroom. And in Blame, it is a case that is actually occurring here in West Palm Beach as we speak.


The doctor who is the inspiration for the case in Blame lives near me and has become a good friend. I never imagined three and a half years later, his case would not have come to trial. But that is, in fact, true. So in some ways, I’ve cheated myself, because there are more twists and turns to come. But I’ve promised him he’ll at least get part of a chapter in the forthcoming final book, Innocence.

You can read the full interview here: “Former Ohio Judge Pens Legal Thrillers.”

And for those of you unfamiliar with the “surprise endings” on Perry Mason, this will give you a taste.

Please be reassured: my endings are much more plausible.

Rave Review for Blame from Glenda Bixler on Book Reader’s Heaven

Friday, November 14th, 2014

bookscatslifeissweetIt’s quite a thrill when a reviewer really “gets” your book. Glenda Bixler was one of the more thoughtful readers of my previous book, Punishment, and I was delighted when she wrote on Book Reader’s Heaven:

Selecting the bailiff as the individual most involved was enlightening to me. Most of us see that individual off in the corner, just standing and watching… Casey Portman, however, wasn’t one to step back and just watch…Could this be an upcoming series similar to that provided to us by Janet Evanovich? If so, this could get verrrry interesting. In any event, I enjoyed this romp through one of the strangest set of court scenes you may ever see. Highly recommended.

But even that glowing review didn’t quite prepare me for her response to Blame. She begins her review with her own personal reaction to the theme of the novel:

One of the most used feelings we humans have is the need to place blame. I know I am just as guilty as anybody… To balance that out, I have through the years done my best to “know thyself” and, ultimately, even if not immediately, accept when I have been at fault or partially to blame. When we are able to stop and do this, we are able to settle situations in our minds and accept… But given the role of the legal system in today’s world, we all know that Blame is, perhaps, the ultimate issue behind most law cases.

Blame - A Casey Portman NovelThis was the kind of thing continually on my mind while I was writing Blame. Fixing blame can become a personal obsession and can even sweep up an entire community. That’s what I sought to explore in the story and Glenda spends much of her review detailing how blame plays a role with each of the characters in my novel. What a close reader!  What especially tickled me is that not only did she respond to my theme, she also got my humor:

Linda Rocker hooked me on her first novel so I was very happy to have the opportunity to read her again. While this novel has a much more serious set of issues, there is still the underlying humor that Rocker displays–you can almost see her sitting back with somewhat of a smirk and whispering, “OMG, will it never end???”

She also has a little tidbit which I came to look forward to. At the end of each chapter, she baits the reader with some hint of what’s coming:

“Myrna wasn’t clairvoyant, but this time her premonitions were pretty good…”

I immediately got in the habit of trying to guess what was going to happen…Soon each chapter flies by and you realize the book is finished! LOL Wonderful!

Talk about being simpatico. Too bad I’m already married. But the clincher for me is how she ends her review:

This overview doesn’t even begin to tell you about the chaos, disorder and insanity, albeit, temporary sometimes, that surrounds each of those who dare to play the Blame Game….

If you think the legal system is a farce, read Rocker–she might not entirely disagree with you but she’s quite willing to allow us into that inner realm and help see the humor behind the very real efforts to make the system work… Highly recommended!

glendabixlerThank you so much, Glenda. You are my ideal reader. I so wish I could clone you. I know I’ll be hearing your words zinging around my head as I type my next book, and then sit back with a smirk and whisper . . .


What Does Casey Portman Really Look Like?

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Are you a fan of Linda Rocker’s debut novel Punishment: A Legal Thriller?  How about the main character Casey Portman?  Have you ever wondered who Casey REALLY is?  What about your other favorite characters, such as Luke, Charlie and Judge Janet Kanterman?

What Does Casey Portman Really Look Like?

Get ready… in the coming weeks you’re going to get the inside scoop and background info on your favorite characters from Punishment -people who you’re going to meet again in Linda’s upcoming sequel – Blame.  Stay tuned!

The Last Night In Chautauqua, Clean Margins & Blame

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

A note from Linda:

“Our last night of the season in Chautauqua is a reminder of how lucky we are to be a part of this remarkable community and how sensational the lectures, plays, classes and walks by the lake have been for us and our family and guests. I’m nevertheless excited by the prospect of more time to write the last chapters of Blame, The Sequel, and to begin work of the Killers of Kielce. Our visit to Kielce in the late Spring has made me rethink some of my assumptions about Poland, but has reinforced my determination to inform and educate people about the last pogrom – an event that occurred in Kielce nearly a year after the end of WWll.

Finishing Blame will be cathartic in its own way since the characters you met in Punishment will face a number of new challenges. Some of those will be disturbing (they were very difficult to write about) and some will be the logical outcome of a culture that zealously searches for excuses for misbehavior (make that criminal) while fixing blame on others (make that the most vulnerable among us).

Clean Margins is receiving great reviews and I’ll try to post them as they arrive. I hope this book will become a good stocking stuffer for a woman you like and respect. That wonderful demographic is my market. If you read it and like it – any of the nine stories – do let me know. It means a lot to me.”

The Scene Maker: Linda Rocker On The PB Pulse

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Janis Fontaine, staff writer for The PB Pulse, recently posted and outstanding article about Linda Rocker.  This piece will give Linda’s fans insight into not only her current and upcoming works, but also her favorite dining spots, tourist destinations, parks and theaters.  Linda’s first novel Punishment has been getting rave reviews and she’s working on the follow up novel Blame current.  In addition to her next novel, Linda is putting the finishing touches on a collection of short stories entitled The Setting Sun which is due in May.

Linda Rocker On Her Patio In Junipter, FL

A few questions from the interview:

Favorite breakfast place?

My porch is my favorite breakfast place. I’m an admitted news junkie and that’s the best place to spread out the three or four newspapers I read each day (of course, the Palm Beach Post is at the top of stack).

Favorite lunch spot?

My favorite lunch place is the Starbucks on Clematis Street. The yogurt parfait and skinny latte are a perfect combination and so is the mix of stores up and down the street.

Read the full interview on the PB Pulse site here:

Download as PDF

About The PB Pulse

The PB Pulse is the entertainment component of the Palm Beach Post. The Palm Beach Postbegan as The Palm Beach County, a weekly newspaper established in 1908. In January 1916, the weekly became a daily, morning publication known as The Palm Beach Post