Oh My Shelves welcomes A.J. Rose to the blog she shares the inspiration for her newest release Defenseless, available from The Grim Writer Press on September 13, 2016. Please welcome A.J. Rose to the blog, and she leaves an excerpt to follow. Comment below for a chance to win an e-book copy of winner’s choice!!!
On September 11, 2014, two men in the heart of Philadelphia’s Gayborhood were attacked because they’re gay. The three attackers, part of a larger group of fifteen, consisted of two men, Kevin Harrigan and Philip Williams, and one woman, Kathryn Knott. One of the victims, Andrew Haught, spent five days in the hospital with facial fractures and had his jaw wired shut for eight weeks. His boyfriend, Zachary Hesse, suffered bruising and cuts. Haught and Hesse were in an area of Philadelphia where they felt safe. Where they thought they could hold hands without fear of being sneered at or targeted. And yet they were.
From the start of the news coverage, this case held me captivated. Horrified in the beginning at the extent of the injury suffered by one of those attacked, I was also gratified to see the outpouring of support for the victims on social media. The police sought help from the public in identifying the attackers from surveillance video, and within hours, Twitter and Facebook sleuths had narrowed down the group of fifteen out on the town for a friend’s birthday, and within days, the three responsible were identified and charged.
As the case went on and we learned more about the three attackers (information about the victims was sparse and rightly so, as their privacy became paramount to their recovery), I’d like to say I was surprised by the behavior of the perps, but I wasn’t. Well, I shouldn’t say that. The two guys, Harrigan and Williams, I wasn’t surprised by them. I’ve seen their brand of bigotry played out over and over in the news and on social media.
Kathryn Knott, however, did surprise me. She was a nurse (until her employer fired her when they discovered she’d violated HIPAA laws by posting confidential patient information on Twitter of all places). She was supposed to care for the sick and injured, not be responsible for inflicting injuries. Then we found out her father was a police chief, and my gut sank. She’s going to get out of this, I all but convinced myself.
In that moment, the idea for Defenseless was born. I often wondered, during the updates on the case—including the sweet plea deal Harrigan and Williams agreed to that kept them out of jail—how the two men bashed were doing, what had gone through Zachary’s mind as he watched them beat his boyfriend Andrew in front of him, what the days immediately following the attack were like. Had they been out to their parents or was this the first they’d learned their sons were in love with each other? Were Andrew and Zachary surrounded by friends who would love them through it? What sort of emotional fallout would they face?
As Kathryn Knott, the only one to refuse a plea, went to trial, I was riveted. Having grown up with a lawyer for a father, who watched CourTV in his spare time (I remember doing a puzzle at the kitchen table while the JFK Jr. rape trial played in the background), I absorbed quite a bit of law-based knowledge just by being around conversations my dad and mom had at the dinner table (at least the things he was allowed to discuss, anyway). So I knew how the trial was going without having to read legal analysis. It didn’t look good for Kathryn. Colluding witnesses, testimony from eyewitnesses with no personal stake who contradicted her statement to the police, and her damning Twitter history of bigoted slur-filled tweets all pointed to her getting convicted of two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of simple assault, two counts of reckless endangerment, and one count of criminal conspiracy. For a case I never expected to see the inside of a courtroom, I was on tenterhooks waiting for the outcome.
Then the jury returned with a guilty verdict, but reduced the most serious charges from aggravated to simple assault, and Kathryn Knott would, at best, face months in a county jail. Months. Maybe even less time than Andrew Haught’s jaw was wired shut. Legal experts debated whether the judge would make an example out of Knott and impose the max sentence allowed, or let her off with probation and community service in lieu of jail time. But to me, justice had already failed.
That’s when I began writing Defenseless, a story of two men in a supposedly safe environment bashed for whom they love. Kyle and Jesse are not Andrew Haught and Zachary Hesse, and yet they are. Kyle and Jesse are embraced by loved ones no matter what and also judged by loved ones for their orientation. Kyle and Jesse are closeted, and out and proud. They are gay and bisexual, and they are my wife and me. They are every kid who’s ever feared coming out, and every adult who’s ever said, “It gets better.” They are those who’ve been accepted, and those who’ve been rejected. They are us. We are them.
The good thing about writing fiction is I get to decide the outcome, and even if it’s make-believe, I get to represent the victims—no, the survivors—in Kyle and Jesse’s story. I had the privilege of telling their story to the best of my ability. I hope I did them justice, not only by respecting their survival of that moment and the fallout, but by honoring them, too. And I hope those who read the book feel, even if it’s fiction, that justice was served.
Excerpt from Defenseless
Their trek to the courthouse was made in stoic silence, neither of them feeling comfortable talking about the trial in front of work commuters, and nothing else took precedence over their thoughts. Despite having to run a gauntlet of reporters outside the courthouse, they went through the metal detectors with little trouble. Schultz and Lamott led them to a small room used primarily by attorneys for privacy with clients or witnesses. Once the door was shut, Schultz eyed them.
“Your testimonies yesterday were spot on, and I think Walsh stepped in it by going after you so hard, Jesse. He came across as a brute with no sympathy for the injuries you suffered, and I think the jury is most definitely aware of that. In the media, there’s a lot of backlash about victim blaming, and by trying to play up how much you two drank that day, Walsh fell right into that. It’s a definite clue on the type of defense they plan to mount, and I want you to be aware of it, because even though you’re not on the stand anymore, you are in full view of the jury. Your facial expressions and body language will be analyzed by them, and that can’t be helped.”
“Okay,” Kyle said. “Any advice?”
“Keep as neutral an expression as you can,” Lamott said, squeezing Kyle’s elbow. “It’ll be hard, but you have to. If you look angry, you’ll play into the defense’s tactics, and the jury could wonder if maybe you provoked the defendants with the same attitude the day of the attack.”
Jesse rolled his eyes, but nodded anyway. “I’ll do my best.”
Schultz said, “That’s all we can ask, and it’s why I’m warning you now, so your immediate reaction remains private. The defense they’re planning to mount is what’s generally known as a gay panic defense, which is actually illegal in California. Basically, by stating one or both of you made sexual advances toward the defendants, one or all of them snapped and felt the need to defend themselves against you.”
Kyle went cold from his scalp to his toes, while beside him, Jesse exploded. “Are you fucking kidding me?” Kyle took Jesse’s hand, both to ground himself and keep Jesse from a more fiery outburst.
“I wish I were,” Schultz continued as though Jesse’s reaction was exactly what he expected. “Kyle, you’re a little pale. Why don’t you sit down?”
Jesse went from angry to concerned in an instant, and pulled out a chair for Kyle, then stood behind him, kneading his shoulders as Schultz went on.
“Between victim blaming and this farce of a defense, it’s about the best they can come up with against the evidence and witnesses we have. If they can convince the jury that either of you came on to the defendants, or drank enough to otherwise provoke them, they believe the jury will have enough doubt in their minds to obligate them into a not guilty verdict. But I want you to keep in mind two things. We have a portion of the attack on cell phone video, which clearly shows the fight’s escalation falling squarely on the defendants’ shoulders. Second, we have Parker Harris, who will be testifying to the defendants’ behavior prior to their crossing your path that night. The defense will do everything they can to discredit him, but we’re well prepared for that.”
Kyle focused on the heft of Jesse’s hands on his shoulders rather than the anger and despair threatening to swamp him. Jesse spoke his thoughts perfectly.
“How do they get away with such a shitty defense if it’s illegal in at least one state?”
Lamott crossed her arms. “Because it’s not illegal in Illinois and has actually worked as recently as 2011 to acquit a man charged with murder. But that was a different crime, different time, and different charges. We’re warning you up front so you’re not sucker-punched, and because Walsh’s tactics will be much more subtle in front of a jury. This isn’t to say we aren’t prepared to counter their argument. Not at all.”
Schultz asked, “Are you going to have too much trouble maintaining your composure? There’s a closed-circuit camera room where you can watch out of sight of the jury if necessary.”
Jesse’s refusal was vehement. “No, we can handle it.”
“There’s no shame in giving yourselves distance,” Lamott said. “Better the jury not see you at all than see you stewing in your seat.”
“I’m good, I promise,” Jesse said, voice steely.
“Kyle?” Schultz focused on him. Kyle looked up, took a fortifying breath, and nodded. “Okay. Today’s going to be tough. There’s nothing that says you have to remain in the courtroom. If you think you can’t stay, it would be better to wait for a break, but if you need to leave immediately, do it with as little disruption as possible.” Schultz moved toward the door. “You have about twenty minutes before they call us into session. Take a moment to compose yourselves, and we’ll see you in there.” He and Lamott left.
Jesse bent to kiss the top of Kyle’s head, then took the seat beside him and rested his chin on Kyle’s shoulder.
“You going to be okay?” Kyle asked him.
“Yeah. I’m more worried about you.”
“Because I’ve had more practice keeping my temper in check. Your therapy is much less extensive than mine.”
Kyle gave him a self-deprecating smile. “I’ll be okay, as long as you’re next to me.”
“Then we’ll be each other’s strength.” Jesse grinned. “You look hot in your suit.”
Kyle snorted. “We may need to get another one for each of us, so it doesn’t look like these are the only ones we own.”
Jesse nuzzled the side of his face. “Could be fun.”
They spent ten more minutes in the quiet room, gearing up to face the trial. Kyle had thought the day they’d give their testimony would be the most difficult. Obviously, he’d underestimated the time the defense would paint them as terrible people, but as long as he could hold Jesse’s hand, and feel their friends and his brother near them, he’d be all right.
Book Information & Blurb
Release Date: September 13, 2016
Pages:438 • Format:Kindle Edition
Published By: The Grim Writer Press
Amazon • ARe
Kyle Decker knew dating Jesse McGovern would change his life. Young and in love, and with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, the world is theirs to conquer.
But their victorious Pride celebration ends in a savage attack, brutally demonstrating they’re far from equal. Instead of wedding planning, Jesse and Kyle face an arduous recovery and a shattered sense of their place in the world, their once-promising future suddenly something to survive.
While Jesse struggles with a permanent injury and its emotional aftermath, Kyle’s single-minded focus on Jesse’s recovery is the only thing keeping his demons at bay…for now. What was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of love is now full of lies and resentment.
With their dreams tattered and forever changed, trusting anyone—even each other—is daunting. So how can they have faith in twelve strangers on a jury? They’ve already learned the hard way it only takes a moment to become truly defenseless.
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