Mystery writer Richard North Patterson published his novel “Silent Witness” in 1997. In 2011, the novel became a TV movie starring Dermot Mulroney as Tony Lord. “Silent Witness” is the second Patterson book about Tony Lord.
Dermot Mulroney - Wikimedia
When Tony Lord (Dermot Mulroney) was in high school twenty-eight years ago, he was indicted for the murder of a girl named Allison Taylor, who was Tony’s first love. His best friend and fellow teammate, Sam Robb (Michael Cudlitz), stuck by him, and they have been friends since then. Tony was acquitted when it was learned that another young man, Donald White, was found to be the guilty party. Tony went on to become an attorney, and a very successful one, in San Francisco. He and his wife Stacey (Sarah Allen) have a son whom they named Sam after Tony’s best friend. Tony and Stacey have not been back to Tony’s hometown, Lake City, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie, for many years. Tony had reason to return though when his best friend Sam Robb informed him that he need a lawyer.
Sam had an Affair
Sam was the Assistant Principal of Lake City High School as well as the coach of the girls’ track team at the school. His star player was 16-year-old Marcie Calder who had the talent that Sam remembered that he and Tony had in their high school days. He enjoyed being a part of Marcie’s success. Marcie admitted to Sam one afternoon after school that she loved him and enticed him, a 46-year-old man, to have an affair with her. Sam wanted to resist, but succumbed to Marcie’s charms and they worked out a plan. Marcie would park her car in a supermarket lot and join Sam in his car behind the store. They would then drive to a quiet place near the lake to be alone.
When Marcie pressed Sam to marry her, he told her that he could not. Marcie left the car even though they were aware that a car had followed them and was parked some distance away. That was the last time Sam saw Marcie. Her body was discovered the next day.
Anne Heche - Wikimedia
The Case Comes to Trial
Assistant District Attorney Stella Marz (Lisa Berry) felt that there was enough evidence to take the case to trial. Tony’s good friend, Saul Rubin (Judd Hirsch), who had defended Tony in his own murder trial as a teenager, agreed to join Tony as a consultant on the case. He proved to be an asset to Tony who respected the older man’s advice on how to proceed.
Revelations at the Trial
Stella Marz informed Tony that medical evidence indicated that Marcie was pregnant when she was killed, and that DNA evidence would prove that Sam was the father. Marcie had never told Sam she was pregnant, but her insistence upon getting married when she saw him last, explained to him her aggressive behavior.
Patterson’s Red Herring
A red herring was thrown into the case by author Richard North Patterson. By definition, an irrelevant fact is introduced to throw the reader off to divert him from the facts that would come out later.
In an effort to turn the jury’s attention away from Sam, Tony pounded away at a possible scenario which would be plausible. He learned from a neighbor of Michael Ramos, Marcie’s middle school track coach, that after Michael was divorced last year, Marcie visited his house often. At first, Marcie and Michael would only sit on the porch, but eventually Marcie went indoors when she visited. Tony was intent on convincing the jury of the possibility that Michael could have committed the deed since Marcie had visited him prior to her meeting Sam on the evening of her death. When Michael was on the witness stand as a witness for the prosecution, Tony inferred that Michael might have been in the car that followed Marcie and Sam that night. Michael denied it, and insisted over and over that Marcie came to him only for advice, and his role in the matter was only to advise her in her decisions. He did learn from Marcie that she was seeing an older man, but he did not know who the man was. She had even told Michael that she was pregnant.
Michael Cudlitz - Wikimedia
A medical examiner testified that Marcie died from three blows to the head from a bloodied rock which was found near her body. Saul Rubin, in his cross-examination, introduced the possibility that Marcie might have struck her head on the way down the cliff and again on hitting the ground, inflicting the blows that had supposedly come from Marcie’s killer.
A young girl, Janice (Romina D’Ugo), Marcie’s best friend, testified in court also. She indicated that Marcie had sought knowledge from her friend about rough sex which she said her lover wanted to do. Because Marcie wanted to please him, she agreed to his wishes. Marcie’s friend did not know who the older man was.
A Hung Jury
The jury was unable to reach a decision on Sam’s guilt or innocence, and a mistrial was called because of the hung jury. Sam was able to leave a free man.
Sam’s wife Kate (Anne Heche) came to Tony after the trial and was highly disturbed. It had been determined at the trial that Sam would have had blood on his clothes if he had murdered Marcie, but no bloody clothes were found as evidence. Kate told Tony she had looked all over for Sam’s sweat shirt and sneakers that he had worn that day and they were nowhere to be found. She was fearful and nervous that Sam might have gotten rid of them, indicating that he must have been guilty. Kate also told Tony that she had often thought of the night when Allison was killed twenty-eight years ago. When Sam left Kate off that night, he said that he was going home, but his car went in the opposite direction. She had buried those remembrances for all of those years.
Judd Hirsch - Wikimedia
Another Look at Allison Taylor’s Records
Tony returned to the Assistant District Attorney Stella Marz and asked if he might have a look at all of the records of Allison Taylor’s death many years ago. Stella Marz agreed. Apparently some semen samples had been taken from Allison’s body, and Tony knew for a fact that the samples were not his own. Unfortunately, the slides containing the samples had been lost over time. There was also a notation that rough sex had been part of the situation that had led to Allison’s death.
I will not introduce a spoiler here concerning the meeting between Tony and Sam before Tony leaves Lake City to return to his home in San Francisco. You can have that pleasure when you see the film. You may also wonder what happened to Donald White. I can only hope that more of Richard North Patterson’s novels will be transformed into theater productions. He is a master storyteller.