San Francisco Spring 1995
District Attorney Carl Andrews was in a fury. "What the hell is going on here?'' he demanded. "We have three doctors living together and working at the same hospital. One of them almost gets an entire hospital closed down, the second one kills a patient for a million dollars, and the third one is murdered."
Andrews stopped to take a deep breath. "And they're all women! Three goddam women doctors! The media is treating them like celebrities. They're all over the tube. 60 Minutes did a segment on them. Barbara Walters did a special on them. I can't pick up a newspaper or magazine without seeing their pictures, or reading about them. Two to one, Hollywood is going to make a movie about them, and they'll turn the bitches into some kind of heroines! I wouldn't be surprised if the government put their faces on postage stamps, like Presley. Well, by God, I won't have it!" He slammed a fist down against the photograph of a woman on the cover of Time magazine. The caption read: "Dr. Paige Taylor— Angel of Mercy or the Devil's Disciple?"
"Dr. Paige Taylor." The district attorney's voice was filled with disgust. He turned to Gus Venable, his chief prosecuting attorney. "I'm handing this trial over to you, Gus. I want a conviction. Murder One. The gas chamber."
"Don't worry," Gus Venable said quietly. "I'll see to it."
Sitting in the courtroom watching Dr. Paige Taylor, Gus Venable thought: She's jury-proof. Then he smiled to himself. No one is jury-proof. She was tall and slender, with eyes that were a startling dark brown in her pale face. A disinterested observer would have dismissed her as an attractive woman. A more observant one would have noticed something else—that all the different phases of her life coexisted in her. There was the happy excitement of the child, superimposed onto the shy uncertainty of the adolescent and the wisdom and pain of the woman. There was a look of innocence about her. She's the kind of girl, Gus Venable thought cynically, a man would be proud to take home to his mother. If his mother had a taste for cold-blooded killers.
There was an almost eerie sense of remoteness in her eyes, a look that said that Dr. Paige Taylor had retreated deep inside herself to a different place, a different time, far from the cold, sterile courtroom where she was trapped.
The trial was taking place in the venerable old San Francisco Hall of Justice on Bryant Street. The building, which housed the Superior Court and County Jail, was a forbidding-looking edifice, seven stories high, made of square gray stone. Visitors arriving at the courthouse were funneled through electronic security checkpoints. Upstairs, on the third floor, was the Superior Court. In Courtroom 121, where murder trials were held, the judge's bench stood against the rear wall, with an American flag behind it. To the left of the bench was the jury box, and in the center were two tables separated by an aisle, one for the prosecuting attorney, the other for the defense attorney.
The courtroom was packed with reporters and the type of spectators attracted to fatal highway accidents and murder trials. As murder trials went, this one was spectacular. Gus Venable, the prosecuting attorney, was a show in himself. He was a burly man, larger than life, with a mane of gray hair, a goatee, and the courtly manner of a Southern plantation owner. He had never been to the South. He had an air of vague bewilderment and the brain of a computer. His trademark, summer and winter, was a white suit, with an old-fashioned stiff-collar shirt.
Paige Taylor's attorney, Alan Penn, was Venable's opposite, a compact, energetic shark, who had built a reputation for racking up acquittals for his clients.
The two men had faced each other before, and their relationship was one of grudging respect and total mistrust. To Venable's surprise, Alan Penn had come to see him the week before the trial was to begin.
"I came here to do you a favor, Gus."
Beware of defense attorneys bearing gifts. "What did you have in mind, Alan?"
"Now understand—I haven't discussed this with my client yet, but suppose—just suppose—I could persuade her to plead guilty to a reduced charge and save the State the cost of a trial?"
"Are you asking me to plea-bargain?"
Gus Venable reached down to his desk, searching for something. "I can't find my damn calendar. Do you know what the date is?"
"June first. Why?"
"For a minute there, I thought it must be Christmas already, or you wouldn't be asking for a present like that."
"Gus . . ."
Venable leaned forward in his chair. "You know, Alan, ordinarily, I'd be inclined to go along with you. Tell you the truth, I'd like to be in Alaska fishing right now. But the answer is no. You're defending a coldblooded killer who murdered a helpless patient for his money. I'm demanding the death penalty."
"I think she's innocent, and I—"
Venable gave a short, explosive laugh. "No, you don't. And neither does anyone else. It's an open-and-shut case. Your client is as guilty as Cain."
"Not until the jury says so, Gus."
"They will." He paused. "They will."
After Alan Penn left, Gus Venable sat there thinking about their conversation. Penn's coming to him was a sign of weakness. Penn knew there was no chance he could win the trial. Gus Venable thought about the irrefutable evidence he had, and the witnesses he was going to call, and he was satisfied.
There was no question about it. Dr. Paige Taylor was going to the gas chamber.
It had not been easy to impanel a jury. The case had occupied the headlines for months. The cold-bloodedness of the murder had created a tidal wave of anger.