Say You're Sorry Page 23

“You used to be a prosecutor. How does it feel to be trying to free a suspect rather than put one away?” He thrust the microphone back.

The press had already done Nick a huge disservice with their sensational, clickbait headlines. Unfortunately, the first station to report news won, and success had nothing to do with accuracy. But Morgan couldn’t afford to ruffle any media feathers.

“I have no comment at this time other than to say that my client is innocent, and we’re anxious to get busy proving it.” She lifted her chin and shot the camera a sincere and confident look.

“What about Tessa Palmer?”

Morgan softened her expression. When her eyes filled, she didn’t bother to hide it. “What happened to Tessa was terrible and tragic. She was a kind and intelligent young woman with a bright future ahead of her. No one should ever have to suffer as she did.” Morgan wouldn’t shy away from condemning the crime or sympathizing with the victim. “But the horrific nature of the crime doesn’t warrant rushing into an assumption of guilt or making a premature arrest.”

She turned from the reporter to the camera. “I will prove that Nick is innocent, but I also want to see Tessa’s real killer caught. My client didn’t commit this terrible crime. Therefore, someone else did.” Morgan paused, giving the camera a dead-certain gaze. “And so long as Nick is unjustly held behind bars, the real murderer is still out there.”

She left the press with that final sound bite and went inside.

Five minutes later, she faced the DA across his desk. “I felt I owed you the withdrawal of my application in person.”

“Thank you for that.” Bryce gestured to one of the chairs facing his wide desk. “I can’t say I’m not disappointed.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” Morgan eased onto the edge of her seat.

But under Bryce’s quiet facade, anger simmered. The DA wasn’t taking her decision well. “I can’t believe you’d throw away a great job for a hopeless case. Nick Zabrowski is guilty as sin.”

Morgan didn’t comment. What was the point? She hadn’t even reviewed the evidence yet. Bryce wasn’t going to offer much of a plea, not on a murder case this juicy. Tessa was the girl next door. She was brutalized and killed right in her own community. Tessa represented innocence spoiled. Her murder pulled at the emotions of every parent, brother, sister, and neighbor. What did people fear more than a vicious attacker raping and killing their daughters?

Nothing.

Bryce rested his forearms on the desk. The French cuffs of his white shirt poked out of his jacket sleeves. His cufflinks were sterling-and-onyx discs, classic and understated. “Let’s talk about your client pleading guilty and saving the tax payers time and money.”

“Talk away,” Morgan said. “As I haven’t received or reviewed all the evidence at this time, the discussion will have to be one-sided.”

“Before she was stabbed nine times, Tessa Palmer was sexually assaulted. DNA from the semen matches your client’s. Blood scraped from under the victim’s thumbnail also matches your client’s DNA. This is all noted on the affidavit, in case you were thinking about challenging the probable cause for the search warrant.”

How had Bryce gotten DNA results that quickly?

Bryce continued. “We have a witness who saw your client arguing with the victim shortly before she was killed and a video tape of him fighting with the victim’s ex an hour before that. On the video, your client is clearly the aggressor in the altercation.”

Morgan didn’t panic even though the evidence seemed overwhelming. The prosecutor would spin every fact into proof of Nick’s guilt. It was Morgan’s job to find an alternative explanation and uncover other evidence or testimony that would cast doubt on the DA’s theory.

Bryce leaned back, interlacing his fingers and resting them on his blotter, confidence oozing from every pore. The man was very good. “Did you know that Tessa was pregnant?”

Shit.

Only her experience as a trial lawyer kept the shock from Morgan’s expression, but she was sure he’d seen it in her eyes.

“You’ll see this in the autopsy report, but in case you were wondering, your client was not the father.” Bryce watched her face.

How many favors had Bryce called in to get those DNA results expedited? And why hadn’t he served the Zabrowskis with a search warrant before receiving the test results? Most judges would have signed a warrant based on witness statements that Nick had argued with Tessa shortly before her death. Probable cause was often balanced with the need to collect evidence before the suspect disposed of it. But Bryce had dotted every I and crossed every T.

Morgan simply nodded while her mind worked. When she’d worked on Bryce’s side of the court, she’d been threatened and harassed by criminals. She’d learned to keep her game face through just about anything.

“Still no comment?” Bryce lifted his brows.

“Not at this time.”

“Here’s the way I see it. Your client found out that Tessa cheated on him. She was pregnant by another guy. She broke up with him. Your client was jealous. Enraged. So he raped and stabbed her.”

“That’s a pretty big stretch.”

Bryce’s body tipped forward. “Here’s the only offer your client is going to get. If he pleads guilty to first degree murder and rape, I’ll recommend a twenty-five-year sentence instead of life without parole.”

In the state of New York, the death penalty wasn’t an option.

“I will be sure to pass your offer along to my client after I review all of the evidence.”

“You do that.” Bryce straightened. The only sign of his irritation was a tightly clenched fist on the desktop. “Once the grand jury convenes, the offer is off the table.”

“Thank you.” Morgan stood, reached across the desk, and offered Bryce her hand.

“I will give you this, counselor.” Bryce took it in a brief squeeze. “You are a class act. It’s a shame you’ve just destroyed your career.”

Morgan left Bryce’s office with a weighted heart. Even if Bryce was stretching with his theory, the evidence against Nick was convincing. Juries loved DNA. She hurried down the hall and into the elevator. Some of the evidentiary documents were being sent via secure email and should start hitting her inbox in a few hours. She was anxious to get started. She had some decisions to make, like how she would hire an investigator without a retainer.

She had one option: Lance.

She drove home distracted, her mind on the case, and pulled into her driveway as if on auto-pilot. No one was home. She checked her watch. Not even lunchtime yet. On Friday mornings, the house was typically empty. Gianna had dialysis, Sophie was in preschool, and Grandpa played chauffeur.

Grabbing her purse, Morgan climbed out of the van and went up the front walk. Her phone buzzed with an email, and she dug it out of the pocket of her bag. She was opening her email app as she approached the house.

She was nearly to the door before she saw it. Her phone slipped from her fingers and hit the brick path.

It couldn’t be.

Her brain refused to believe what she was seeing. She squeezed her eyes shut for a second then opened them again. But it was still there.

Just below the monogrammed pewter knocker, a bloody heart was pinned to the door with a knife.

Chapter Fifteen

“A knife through the heart?” Anger surged through Lance as he viewed the photo Morgan handed him.

“The symbolism is clear.” Morgan rubbed her biceps and perched on the second folding chair he’d brought into his makeshift office.

By agreeing to defend Nick, in the neighbors’ eyes, Morgan had turned on them.

“It’s a cow heart. I reported it to the police.” Morgan shivered and crossed her long legs. “They took pictures and filed a report. I doubt anything will come of it. No one in the community except Bud is on Nick’s side.” She pressed a hand to her forehead. “Where can you get a cow heart? I called the local grocery stores and butcher shops. No luck.”

“Have you called the ethnic markets? There’s an Asian supermarket out near the interstate. Sharp goes there to buy sweet potato greens. I know they carry more than the usual cuts of meat. I’ve seen whole chickens and pig heads.” Lance handed the picture back to her. “What about your grandfather’s surveillance camera?”

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