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Karl Dutton has been rotting on Texas’ death row for 9 long years. Now with only 4 weeks to live, new evidence has been revealed that may just clear his name. With new hope, he embarks on a last-ditch effort to save his life – only to find that some very powerful people would prefer to see him die.
Will Hogarth is back in his most gut-wrenching and personal case ever. Thrown into an impossible race against time to save the one man he once considered his sworn enemy.
It’s a compelling feeling to be the sole occupant of a space of real estate that once captured the attention and imagination of millions, analogous, I suppose, to standing in the middle of Elm Street in downtown Dallas, staring up at the book depository in a moment of time, whereby chance, there is no other soul in sight. Perhaps I’ve chosen a comparison a bit too haughty or too well known, but for the people of Austin, Texas my current position is one of similar lore and fascination.
It was here, nearly nine years ago, on this very spot of unremarkable concrete surrounding the Austonian Tower in downtown Austin, that renowned socialite Virginia Crowley’s life came to an abrupt and tragic end amid a crowd of thousands gathered for the annual South by Southwest music festival. Ms. Crowley descended a full forty-seven floors to a gruesome death. That her resulting spray of bodily fluids was all that impacted the surrounding festival-goers was really quite a miracle. I’m told it took hours to determine her identity as the position of her body at the point of impact was that of diver completing a clumsy forward dive in the pike position, head first with legs spread and arms separated. Not at all the final impression a woman of high society and prestige cares to be remembered for.
My moment alone in this scrupulously examined space is short-lived, and it is no mystery to passersby why I continually pivot my sightline from the forty-seventh floor to the concrete below my feet and then back again. A few mumble unneeded confirmation of my location and join me in a momentary mental reenactment of the fateful fall, the details of which require no imagination. The fall itself was captured by several I-phones and shared with the world within seconds of death. And as it would turn out, this collection of horrific video footage would lend the necessary emotion to sway a jury of twelve to issue the ultimate sentence to the man accused of tossing Virginia Crowley over the rail of her penthouse suite. What once appeared to be nothing more than a dramatic suicide by a privileged but privately troubled socialite was soon determined to be cold-hearted and calculated murder by none other than Crowley’s estranged ex-husband, highly successful financier, Karl Dutton.
The prosecution effectively portrayed Dutton as a man with motive. Virginia Crowley was Dutton’s third attempt at marriage and as a settlement in their recent divorce, she effectively retained fifteen percent of Dutton’s holdings, an amount that Dutton’s attorneys claimed to be twelve million US Dollars. Crowley was certain she’d been deceived and was prepared to expose the fact that Dutton had millions more hidden in offshore accounts–much more.
In the weeks preceding her death, Virginia Crowley claimed possession of documented proof that would effectively triple the initial payout she received in the divorce settlement–or so the prosecution stated. This posthumous bombshell was shared with the jury by the D.A.’s key witnesses, Curtis and Elizabeth Crowley, Virginia Crowley’s indolent son and his quite cantankerous wife. The establishment of motive altered the mood of the proceedings dramatically. Dutton moved from grieving ex-husband to calculated-killer in the eyes of both the jury and the mass media covering the trial’s every nuance.
The defense fought back, portraying the prosecution’s key witnesses as the true killers. As the sole heir to his mother’s estate, Curtis and his wife, Elizabeth had the most to gain from Virginia Crowley’s demise. Their concocted story of offshore funds was unsubstantiated and merely part of an elaborate ruse to indict their client.
But the defense’s moment of hope was short-lived. The prosecution countered immediately with the well-established evidence against Karl Dutton, a trifecta of facts that all but sealed the fate of the accused. Video footage of the Austonian Tower clearly showed Karl Dutton exiting the building within minutes of the now famous plunge.
Second, two eye witnesses confirmed seeing Dutton casually stroll out of the building, his demeanor described as smug and satisfied; a submission that was immediately objected by the defense and sustained by the judge. The eye witnesses, however, effectively obliterated any chance that the video footage was unclear or the time inaccurate.
Third, and nearly as effective a trifle of evidence, was documented proof that Karl Dutton had received a phone call from Virginia Crowley’s cell phone just twenty-five minutes before her death, a call that the prosecution determined sent him into a fit of rage. The timing of the call allowed ample opportunity, as the prosecution would display, for Dutton to drive from his downtown office just blocks away, ascend the forty plus flights, confront Virginia Crowley and subsequently end her life in a most personal and horrific manner.
On the eve of the final day of trial the twelve jurors, an even six women and six men, were taken to the very spot where I now stand. The prosecution wanted to drive home the reality and harshness of the crime. The judge concurred despite a strong protest from the defense.
After a short while on the sidewalk they ascended to the penthouse and were each allowed a look from the balcony rail to the street some four -hundred-and-seventy feet below. The effect of the experience was clear on the faces of the jurors. One by one they glanced over the edge then retreated with a look of disbelief and disdain. Both the defense and prosecution were on-hand to monitor the on-site but were restrained from speaking by court order. No words were needed for the prosecution.
If all of that was not enough, the prosecution rested on a well-known fact that had not been allowed at trial. A looming suspicion existed regarding the accused that each side of the table knew all too well was common knowledge among the jurors, despite their denials during selection. Karl Dutton had been the prime suspect in the disappearance, and suspected murder, of his first wife, Charlotte, just five years earlier. Her body was never found. Subsequently, Dutton walked free. This time Dutton was not so lucky. After just five hours of deliberation the jury returned with a verdict of guilty in the first degree. Their recommendation for the two-time killer was death by lethal injection. The judge agreed and the appellate process began.
That was more than eight years ago. Karl Dutton has now exhausted all eight of his appeals. He is scheduled to be put to death by the state of Texas in just four short weeks. And barring a miracle, in four weeks and a day his body will be buried in an unceremonious ritual on the grounds of Huntsville State prison. Dutton has taken one final step to save his life–he’s hired me–and I, for one, don’t care if he rots.