CALL THE FINAL WITNESS: The People vs. Darrell Mathes by Melvyn Bernard Zerman

CALL THE FINAL WITNESS: The People vs. Darrell Mathes

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The final witness is Zerman himself, reviewing his performance as the eleventh juror in the Potato Chip Murder Case. The victim was delivering potato chips in a van when gunned down; the accused, Darrell ""Ricky"" Mathes, was a seventeen-year-old black kid with no alibi worth a damn. Zerman kept a journal from the voir dire proceedings to the verdict: not guilty. In the words of a frequentlysnoozing, Italian blue-collar juror, about whom Zerman had worried: ""The state ain't got no case."" In between, there is Zerman's day-by-day log of witnesses interrogated, jurors playing poker, the ripostes of the DA and the defense attorneys. There is also Ricky, who spent eleven months on Riker's Island and who agreed to give Zerman his ""life story"" to flesh out the book, at trial's end. The case, such as it was, came down to the ""eyewitness identifications"" of three inconsistent teenagers, sloppy police work, and a $1000 reward which had moved the witnesses to come forward. After ten hours only a single holdout remained: an East European bigot who knew ""in his gut"" that the kid was guilty. Eventually he backed down. Zerman is not a professional writer but he tells his story with modesty and a modicum of dramatic flair; anyone who has ever sat through a prolonged criminal trial has probably, at one time, contemplated writing it up. Zerman did-satisfied that in this case the common sense of ordinary men and women prevailed. He admits that though utterly convinced of Ricky's innocence, he never got to know him as well as he would have liked--and certainly, the reader gets only a shadowy impression. As courtroom pyrotechnics go, this is a very small fizzler.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row