The HBS Author's Spotlight SHOWCASES Thomas Benigno's New Book: The Criminal Lawyer.
Bestselling Author Thomas Benigno is the author of The Good Lawyer. He is a Mystery & Thrillers writer.
The Criminal Lawyer
A Good Lawyer Novel
Author: Thomas Benigno
Barnes and Noble
INSPIRED BY THE CRIMES OF THE LONG ISLAND SERIAL KILLER!
A serial killer is littering the south shore beach of Long Island with the bones of his victims stuffed into burlap bags. Nick Mannino (THE GOOD LAWYER), a former South Bronx Legal Aid Attorney, is now middle-aged. A complex and compelling character, Nick has a disturbing family history--his constant court battles nothing more than a futile effort to hide and deny a haunting truth about himself and a sinewy bloodline marred by unspeakable crimes.
Then this brutal serial killer turns on him, and worse, his family.
As much a thriller as it is a mystery, with an ending as riveting as that in Silence of the Lambs, The Criminal Lawyer is also a love story, a novel of family secrets and crimes beyond forgiveness.
Excerpt from The Criminal Lawyer
It was the perfect day and the perfect place...
He parked his green sun-bleached van on the shoulder alongside the dune. Standing beside the tall mound of sand speckled with beach grass, he had yet to see or hear another car pass on the road behind him.
Amid a warm and oddly soothing June wind, he turned to face north and the bay—a mirror of tranquility. The faint hum of a crossing motorboat was testament to the resolute serenity of this beautiful day.
He took a long deep breath, looked up at the sky, and smiled. A resplendent sun shone beside a lone white cloud, and as far as his eyes could see, he was alone, but for the man sitting high on the dune, staring blankly at the ocean.
Arms outstretched for balance, he buried each wolverine boot in the sand as he climbed. Once on top, he surveyed the beach from one end to the other.
It was late afternoon. The crowd had thinned. Soaking up what remained of the sun, a few leather-skinned seniors lay face up on their recliners.
Two teenagers threw a Frisbee. Others played volleyball. Parents gathered together blankets, towels and chairs while struggling to corral their small children into leaving.
In an hour or two, this quarter mile stretch between the dune and the ocean would be nearly desolate; but come morning, it would begin to populate, as ever, once again.
Because the beach is winsome, and seductive, and therapeutic.
There is no cause for worry and fear in the pure and uncomplicated world of sun, wind, and water.
As he pivoted and stepped back down, only the fleeting movement of a shadow marked his presence to the man who remained sitting on the dune, and seemed to pay him no mind.
Walking quickly past his van he looked both ways before crossing the two-lane roadway aptly named Ocean Parkway. After twenty precise steps, and in the marsh up to his knees, he paused to study the small stretch of wetland where the stalks spread thin then disappeared into the encroaching bay. Turning around again toward the ocean, he looked up and across in an attempt to decipher the precise distance between the parkway lamps and the limits of its cones of light in the dead of night.
This would be his last visit, his only visit, in the bold brightness of day.
One last breath, one last taste and smell of the salty air, and he would be gone, never to return in the light, but more certain than he had ever been.
This area so close, yet so secluded was, bar none, the perfect place to leave the bodies.
Tragedy, like a derailed freight train, did not discriminate on its errant path of ruin.
Desmond Lewis was a fifty-two year old black man.
We had much in common.
Born in the same month and year, July, 1954, we were each happily married for over twenty years (or at least I thought I was), with two children to show for it, a boy, and a girl.
We were also hard working to a fault and much too proud for our own good.
It was a hot summer night in June of 2005, when Desmond’s son attended a party in his hometown of Valley Stream, Long Island. The boy was seventeen, and had been dating a girl from his high school. She was white and Italian American. It was his first serious relationship. It wasn’t hers.
She broke it off a week before the party. They had been the only interracial couple at their school.
On the evening that would forever change the Lewis family’s life, and all those involved, Desmond’s son and his former girlfriend found themselves at that same party. She had moved on. He hadn’t. She was there with her new boyfriend, also white and Italian-American.
A beer keg in the living room and an unknown quantity of secluded hard liquor fueled the fires of discontent. Words were exchanged, and a fight broke out between the two boys. The new boyfriend got the worst of it. Bruised, beaten, and worse, embarrassed, he left the party.
At 3 AM, there was a pounding on the Lewis’ front door. It woke the entire family.
Desmond Lewis was scheduled to be at work at 8 AM. He was a supervisor for the Long Island Power Authority and had just clocked in twenty-five years on the job, while his wife worked nearly as long as an elementary school teacher. They planned to retire after the kids graduated college.
They would travel and see the world. They earned it. They deserved it. They raised two good kids, a son and a daughter who attended the Marianist-run parochial high school just fifteen minutes from their home.
The Lewis’ were also keenly aware that black families like theirs were still a minority in Valley Stream, though the neighborhood was becoming more racially diverse with each passing year. A proud and God-fearing man, every Sunday morning at 8:45 AM sharp, Desmond would drive his wife and two children to Sunday mass at the Blessed Sacrament Church nearby. He was a member of the Holy Trinity Society. His wife volunteered at every church function. To all eyes and ears, their family was well liked and respected. So when Desmond peeked out his bedroom window and into the darkness of that hot summer night, and saw four high school boys on his front lawn, he was as surprised as he was frightened. The boys, members of the same lacrosse team, were screaming and shouting racial epithets.
Desmond immediately told his wife to stay put and grabbed his deer rifle.
She called the police the moment he left the room.
Less than a minute later, the new boyfriend was lying on that same front lawn, shot dead, a baseball bat by his side.
The Nassau County District Attorney’s Office charged Desmond with second-degree murder. Jury selection began in 2006, a year later.
After a grueling one-month trial, wherein I lost over fifteen pounds and called twenty-five character witnesses, mostly white neighbors and coworkers, I delivered a two-hour summation to an all-white jury that ended in tears—mine and the jury’s.
Five days later, after the foreman complained three times that the panel was deadlocked, and three times the judge sent the jury back to continue deliberating, a verdict was reached. Desmond stood in stoic silence while it was read aloud on another hot June night, only this one was rattled by a thunderstorm that lasted until daybreak.
I collapsed into my chair when the jury convicted him of second-degree manslaughter. As for Desmond, he just nodded to the jurors, and then consoled me with thanks and praise for the “fine defense work” I had done.
In retrospect, it is as clear to me now as it was then that I was not trying a case in the Jim Crow South, and that my client have should never left the house until the police arrived even if he had to barricade himself inside.
When Desmond took the stand, he held up well during cross-examination by the head of the felony division of the Nassau County DA’s Office.
Evidence corroborated his testimony that his front door had been kicked and punched so hard, the deadbolt broke away part of the door- frame.
Desmond also testified that all four boys surrounded him once he went outside, that he feared for his life, and fired his rifle only when the one boy—the new boyfriend, swung a bat at the air between them. The bullet pierced the boy’s aorta and killed him instantly. Like Desmond’s son, the boy was seventeen.
When I saw several jurors with tears in their eyes just before the verdict was read, I knew what was coming. They just couldn’t reconcile my client leaving his home with a rifle in his hands. It also didn’t help that the victim was a high school student, screaming drunk or not, and not previously known to act in a threatening or racist manner. The boy’s father, like Desmond, had worked one job his whole life. The boy’s mother was also a schoolteacher.
It didn’t matter that the police took six minutes to arrive, and that in those six minutes, I argued, everyone in the house could’ve been beaten to death, especially his son, the attackers’ prime target.
Desmond was sentenced to three years in State prison. He refused to allow me to ask for bail pending appeal, or to appeal the conviction at all.
My primary ground would have been the DA’s uniform exclusion of every prospective black juror on the panel, while I used up my peremptory challenges, excluding every apparent racist I suspected.
Desmond, who also believed he should never have left the house, was grief-stricken over the death of the boy. The appeal would have taken years. He wanted this tragedy behind him and his family as soon as possible. He was released from prison after serving less than twenty-four months.
I took no fee for Desmond’s defense. After the conviction and sentence, I paid off the mortgage on his house so his wife and their two children could afford to live there on just her schoolteacher salary.
My client was furious with me for doing so. I told him it was my Uncle Rocco’s mob money. He thought I was joking, and laughed. I told him I wasn’t, and he stopped laughing.
As for me, the case was over. I had lost, and as a result, was impossible to live with. My wife Eleanor had seen it all before. It wasn’t the first time I took my workload, and my cauldron of discontent, home with me.
Then came the inevitable meltdown.
While she was initially understanding in the face of my biting remarks and irascible behavior, in my mind’s eye, I had failed, and although I seemed to be the only one who thought so, I was inconsolable.
Mystery & Thrillers, Literature & Fiction
Thomas D. Benigno
Check Out Goodreads
Check Out Facebook
Post with Profile + Interview:
HBS Author's Spotlight
Amazon Author Profile
THE GOOD LAWYER IS INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY…
Thomas Benigno is a practicing attorney on Long Island, N. Y. After graduating Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan in 1979, at the behest of his Criminal Law Clinic Professor, Barry Scheck (who later obtained fame for representing O. J. Simpson) he was fast-tracked to a position as Associate Attorney with the New York City Legal Aid Society in the Bronx.
While there he sought out and tackled the grittiest of cases, even representing the infamous Spiderman Rapist. If you ask him why he repeatedly took on the defense of child molesters and rapists, he'll sound off two reasons: 1) no other attorney would take these cases, and 2) he was young and out to prove himself.
The year before he left Legal Aid to go into private practice he was featured in a two page spread in the New York City Legal Aid Society's Annual Report for his success in winning what seemed like an unwinnable case-a teacher's aide charged with molesting three of his students. At a party held in his honor he was handed a beautiful plaque commemorating his court victory-a plaque he never hung up or put on display ever.
Two years later he left Legal Aid, and within eighteen months after that, left the practice of criminal law behind forever having never lost a trial. Currently he practices real estate and business law, enjoys acting in staged productions on Long Island, appeared as an actor in two movies, one an award winning short film, and even produced (along with others) a Broadway show (Burn the Floor and its U.S. tour).
He is married to the same beautiful woman since shortly after graduating law school and has three adult children. THE GOOD LAWYER is a novel inspired by real events while he was working as a Legal Aid Attorney in the Bronx.
Author Recommended by:
Publisher of ebooks, writing industry blogger and the sponsor of the following blogs:
eBook Author’s Corner
Mystery Reader’s Circle
Check out the index of other Spotlight authors. Spotlight Index.