|The Last Plea Bargain
By Randy Singer / Tyndale House
Jamie Brock, assistant DA does not believe in plea bargains…for anyone! She’s never plea bargained a case and scoffs at the attorneys who do. However, when a powerful defense attorney is indicted for murder and turns the entire justice system upside down, including letting felons walk on technicalities; he must be stopped…but at what cost?
Randy: Who said I had a life?
But seriously, it helps that these three things all draw on common skill sets. For example, principles of powerful story-telling are important for a pastor, lawyer and (obviously) writer. I’m a little ADHD and like being able to go from one thing to another. It’s like crop rotation—keeps things fresh. And, to be honest, writing is more like relaxation for me than a job. It gives me a break from the pressures of the other “real life” jobs and lets me go into a world where I get to control things! (aka “God complex”)
On the practical side, there are three principles that help me juggle. One, I try to stay focused on the big stuff. It’s not that I do the little stuff second, I try not to do the little stuff at all. Second, I stay focused on what I can do well and let others worry about the stuff that is out of my control. And third, I’ve learned to get comfortable with the fact that I will always have stuff in each of these areas that does not get done. As long as the ball is moving forward, I’m satisfied with that.
Ultimately, I thank God that, in His grace, He allows me to do three separate things that I love. My prayer is that I might bring glory to Him in all three arenas.
FCB: The Last Plea Bargain is loosely based on a case you tried. Can you briefly share with us some of the details of that case and why it is special to you?
Randy: In 2002, Donna Somerville was indicted for the murder of her husband, Hamilton Somerville, Jr., in Orange County, Virginia. Hamilton Somerville was heir to the DuPont fortune. The prosecution alleged that Donna Somerville had poisoned her husband with a lethal cocktail of hospice drugs and the case drew national media attention, including a front-page story in Vanity Fair and a Lifetime movie, Widow on the Hill. Donna Somerville was found not guilty in the criminal case in 2004, but I represented the daughters of Hamilton Somerville in a wrongful death civil case against their step-mother which had a very different outcome. That litigation, and the tension between seeking justice and extending forgiveness, played a large role in the writing of The Last Plea Bargain.
FCB: Your main character, Jamie Brock, originally appeared in your novel, False Witness. Why did you decide to bring her back, and will we see more of Jamie in the future?
Randy: Readers will often ask me whether I’m going to bring back one character or another. I make a mental list of the characters mentioned the most often, realizing that those characters must have resonated with the readers in some way. Jamie is mentioned a lot. In addition, in False Witness, we saw her as an idealistic and persistent law student. Given her intriguing backstory and motivation for going to law school (her mother was killed in a home invasion and Jamie wanted to become a prosecutor), I thought it would be fun to follow her as she matured into a tenacious but conflicted prosecutor.
FCB: Jamie takes a pretty hard stance against plea bargaining. How rampant is plea bargaining in the legal system and is it necessary?
Randy: Most people don’t realize that about 90% of the criminal cases in our country are disposed of by plea bargains. A plea bargain is when the defendant pleads guilty to a crime, frequently in exchange for a lighter penalty.
This book asks the question: What if the defendants in a certain jurisdiction banded together and decided not to plea bargain, insisting on a full jury trial for every case? It would overwhelm the system. There wouldn’t be enough prosecutors or public defenders or available court dates. Even the defendants who lost would be able to claim ineffective assistance of counsel or the lack of a speedy trial on appeal. The system would be thrown into chaos.
That’s what happens in The Last Plea Bargain. Jamie Brock is staring down defendants who have found a way to wreak havoc with the system. Who is willing to compromise? Who will blink first?
FCB: While plea bargaining is part of the overall plot, at the heart of the book are the issues of justice and mercy. How does Jamie learn to balance those two?
Randy: Justice without mercy is legalism. Mercy without justice is license. Only when we realize the need for justice tempered with mercy do we have a fair and equitable result.
It takes courage to pursue justice. You have to stare evil in the face and demand accountability. It is easier to let evil have its day. So, if we cling only to mercy, then there is nothing to stop the advance of true evil. We live in a constant state of spiritual warfare. And God is a God of justice. We should be irate at injustice in the world and willing to risk our own lives to stop it.
But passionately seeking justice is just one step away from vengeance. And Scripture tells us not to take revenge into our own hands. Romans 12:19. Instead, we should leave room for God’s wrath, not trying to overcome evil with evil but overcoming evil with good. Romans 12:20-21.
How do we draw this line? I believe a lot of it has to do with motivation. Are we mad because somebody hurt us or disrespected us? Chances are, that’s vengeance. On the other hand, are we striving for justice for others, or devoting ourselves to a just cause? Chances are, that’s seeking justice.
FCB: What do you hope readers walk away with after reading this book?
Randy: First, I want readers to be entertained. If the story isn’t compelling, nothing else matters. So my primary goal is that readers will find it impossible to put the book down and, when they turn the last page, shoot me an email asking how long it will be until I finish another.
Second, I want to present readers, in the context of story, with compelling characters on both sides of the death penalty debate, so that readers might draw their own conclusions. And third, I want readers to walk with my characters down that thin line that separates the lust for revenge from the hunger for justice. And…hopefully, to learn which side of the line they might be walking on.
FCB: Okay, Randy, what’s next?
I’m working on my next book tentatively entitled Rule of Law. It will come out next spring. It’s the story of another flawed protagonist. He is a former college quarterback who got caught up in a point-shaving scandal, served time in prison, and then went to law school and became a lawyer. He finally gets his first job but ends up at a firm where somebody is killing off all the firm’s lawyers, one-by-one (even lawyers who try to leave the firm). It’s a story about loyalty and trust, honor and betrayal.
At the same time, I’m working on a longer-term project (one that’s been on my desk for a long time) which will give readers a front-row seat to the two most important trials ever—the trial of Christ and the trial of Paul in front of Nero. The story is told from the perspective of Theophilus, Paul’s court-appointed advocate, and may be the most important book I’ve ever attempted.
Thanks Randy! I was definitely entertained!
Learn more about Randy Singer by visiting his website: http://www.randysinger.net/
My Summary: What would happen if defendants refused to take a plea bargain and demanded a jury trial? In this fascinating and thought provoking story that is exactly what happened. Once again Randy Singer delivers an entertaining story with several messages. Initially, I thought his main goal was to wrestle with the subject of the death penalty, but that was only one dimension of this story and as a typical Randy Singer book he will get you thinking.
Mr. Singer weaves a couple of different subplots that are engaging and support the main storyline. The beginning of the story seemed to drag for me as it laid the foundation of the story, but it soon picked up and kept me engaged and guessing. As the story progressed I found myself staying up later and later trying to finish it.
Digging a little deeper: Antoine Marshall had been convicted and sentenced to death for the death of Jamie Brock’s mother. While in prison he maintained his innocence and claimed to find Christ, he and his new lawyer, Mace James, are looking to get his death penalty sentence reversed or at the least get him a new trial. The author hits head on the debate on the death penalty and the flaws of the legal system. He doesn’t shy away from the issue of forgiveness versus the need for restitution. Even the main character’s brother, Chris, who is a pastor, wants to see justice served on behalf of his mother but also recognizes a changed man by God.
I enjoyed the viewpoint in which the author told the story. Much of the story is told Jamie Brock’s point of view while at other times it is told from the point of view of other characters or the omnipresence. He often retold the scene from two points of view reminding us that we all look at situations differently.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys legal suspense story that will challenge your thinking. I’ve heard Randy Singer compared to John Grisham, I’ve never read John Grisham so I can’t tell you, I can tell you Randy Singer writes strong stories that will entertain and educate. He also pulls some surprises at the end that I didn’t see coming.
The Giveaway: Randy’s publisher has been gracious enough to offer a copy of this excellent book. Actually the winner will receive a certificate that they can redeem at their local bookstore. To enter leave a comment with the state you live in and the name of the other book that featured Jamie Brock. Winner will be picked on April 15th at 9:00PM PDT.
Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher, Tyndale for the opportunity to review this book, my only obligation was to provide my honest opinion.