a patsy: the unofficial story
federal prosecutor elisabeth lamb is a slender, sharp-featured woman of 44. her hair is cut at squared edges. she greets me with a firm handshake and the self-confidence of a four-star general. i sit across her broad cherry desk. her office is as clean as an operating room. a green laurentii is the most vibrant life in the office.
‘did sal winkler kill belinda carson that day?’ i ask.
she laughs a bit before reassembling her professional demeanor.
‘yes,’ she says. ‘sal david winkler is the man responsible for the death of belinda carson.’
‘there’s no doubt in your mind?’
‘not only is there no doubt in my mind, but sal david winkler was convicted because there was no doubt in the minds of twelve jury members.’
mrs. lamb stops, pauses. her pause, combined with an assertive stare, is a maneuver that feels capable of assuring any supporters and distressing any doubters.
at last she continues.
‘the state’s prosecution relied on plenty of physical evidence in addition to his obvious proximity to the murder. we had sworn statements from former acquaintances of mr. winkler who described him as a deranged and unstable man. finally, we subpoenaed material directly from mr. winkler’s myspace page which provided further evidence as to his state of derangement and complete irreverence towards mrs. belinda carson’s personal safety.’
‘and we had the statements of mr. winkler taken directly after his arrest. these not only put him in the room almost precisely when the murder occurred, but also gave us perhaps our greatest gift which was his admitted contact with the murder weapon.’ she smiles. ‘not that we needed this from him. they caught him across the hall in the restroom and forensics lifted his print off of the rifle.’
‘did forensics,’ i ask, ‘lift any gun-shot residue off of mr. winkler’s hands?’
she does not laugh at this question. sternly she says, ‘you know, i cannot speak to that particular issue. i was not made aware of it if they did. but i don’t see what relevance that has.’
‘it’s just that mr. winkler has a radically different portrayal for his behavior that day than has been generally accepted by the public since the assassination of belinda carson.’
‘well i don’t see what that has to do with anything. mr. winkler says he didn’t kill her? i’m flabbergasted. you know he’s not the first murderer to lie about his involvement in a murder. i understand that lying is a common phenomenon among crooks and killers. and if he feels that he is being portrayed inaccurately, then he may be more detached than investigators initially believed.’
‘look,’ she continues, ‘i’m not saying he’s a monster. but he does have a history of crude and outlandish behavior. psychologists have long agreed that patterns of minor, disruptive behavior are indicators of future disruptive behaviors. and, as in this case, if left unchecked, often these minor disruptive behaviors end up erupting in violent acts like the one committed by mr. winkler.’
‘yes, but what about the dozens of character witnesses that testified on mr. winkler’s behalf?’
‘mr. winkler had the privilege of running with some rather loutish and surly characters, didn’t he? there was his life-long friend who’d gone to prison after multiple drunk-driving convictions. i remember a woman who waited on mr. winkler every week at a bar called ‘gina’s hole.’ his wife talked about how fat and unlucky was. he himself, when he got up on the stand, could only talk about breakfast burritos and defecating in his pants.’
‘sounds like a real-life political assassin, doesn’t he?’
‘it doesn’t matter what he sounds like,’ she says icily. ‘what are you his lawyer? another conspiracy nut? i thought you said you were with that magazine.’
‘i am. i’m reporting on the truth,’ i say. ‘all of it.’
‘well, if you’d like to know anymore about the truth the trial’s transcripts are on file. the evidence is a matter of record. you know what i think. i don’t suppose you need to speak with me anymore to find what you’re looking for.’
‘i’m sorry,’ i say. ‘i’m just not certain he did it.’
‘people snap,’ she says. ‘did oswald do it? did he do it alone? what do we have to go on? i’ll trust earl warren and his commission. they did a thorough investigation, as thorough as ever, and decided that he did. despite what all the fiction writers and conspiracy theorists want to believe.
‘and i want you to know that i support thorough investigations, so do your best. if he’s innocent, i want him to be free. find the truth if it’s out there. but please don’t let yourself discover that you’ve lost your objectivity. as a young reporter, that is your most important asset. to lose that so young would be a travesty.’
‘thank you, mrs. lamb,’ i say. i stand up to leave. she stands up behind her desk and is smiling at me like a proud mentor.
‘you’re welcome,’ she says.
i shake her hand and turn towards the door. turning the handle, i push the door open. then pull it closed again.
‘may i ask you one more question ma’am?’
she says ‘sure.’
‘as a prosecutor with thousands of convictions under your belt, do you always approach each case with objectivity? would you ever go easy on a defendant if he were innocent in your eyes? even if your boss’s demand a guilty verdict?’
‘i prosecute charged criminals. if they are innocent, then the law will discover the truth,’ she says.
‘so then it is not your job,’ i say, ‘to pursue the truth. it is only your job to ensure the best possible outcome for the state that circumstances allow.’
‘well,’ she says. ‘i think you’d better go. i’ve got a meeting.’
‘sal winkler is innocent. you put him in prison, and you let a guilty man walk.’
‘we’re done,’ she says. her eyes stab like icicles.