In his true-crime debut, Kirkland uses firsthand experience and trial records to tell the story of a Savannah, Georgia, shooting death that spawned a best-selling book and movie.
In May 1981, James Williams shot and killed Danny Hansford, purportedly in self-defense. To the initial responders, though, the scene appeared staged. (One of them was Kirkland, who was chief assistant district attorney at the time.) For example, the Luger pistol that Hansford allegedly fired at Williams was under, not in, the deceased’s hand. The state’s case against Williams would go on for years, spawning multiple trials featuring some legal scheming, including surprise witnesses whose testimonies may not have been true. Kirkland pieces together his personal account—he was a part of the prosecution team for the first of four trials—with careful, comprehensive examinations of court documents. His stance is abundantly clear: he believes that Williams was guilty. He isn’t above sardonicism, though; at one point, he suggests that the circumstances of the defense’s new evidence spelled “F-A-B-R-I-C-A-T-I-O-N in large red letters.” That said, he doesn’t sour his book with constant derision or denunciation. In fact, he typically allows readers to make their own judgments based on the facts, making his points with legal transcripts or testimony summaries. Williams, for example, repeatedly changed his story regarding the night of Hansford’s death; by the third trial, Kirkland simply reminds readers what Williams previously claimed. This nonfiction book often resembles a torrid TV drama as potential witnesses for the prosecution abruptly decide not to testify and more than one conviction is reversed. Other events are outright eerie, such as missing autopsy photos and Williams’ response to Kirkland concerning his imminent arrest: “If I’d wanted to, I could have shot you.” The author rounds out his book with his own scenario of the shooting based on the evidence. He also offers his thoughts on John Berendt’s best-selling book on the crime, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and Clint Eastwood’s subsequent movie version.
A meticulous, intuitive, and riveting nonfiction work.