It was my fortieth birthday, and the first thing I had to do was deal
with Johnny Wayne Neal. The forensic psychiatrist I’d hired to examine
him said Johnny Wayne was a narcissist, a pathological liar, and a
sociopath, and those were his good qualities. He called Johnny Wayne an
“irredeemable monster.” I’d asked the shrink not to write any of
that down. I didn’t want the district attorney to see it. Monster or
not, Johnny Wayne was still my client.
Johnny Wayne Neal had hired two of his thug buddies to murder his
beautiful, heavily insured young wife. She woke up at 3:00 a.m. on a
Wednesday morning about a year ago to find two strangers standing over
her bed. The men clumsily and brutally stabbed her to death while Johnny
Wayne’s three-year-old son, who’d been sleeping with his mother that
night, crawled beneath the bed and listened to the sounds of his mother
It took the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Johnson City
Police Department less than a week to figure out who was responsible for
the murder. Johnny Wayne was arrested and charged with both first-degree
murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and because of the
heinous nature of the crime, the state of Tennessee was seeking the
death penalty. A heartless judge appointed me to defend him. The hourly
rate was a hundred bucks, about the same as a small-time prostitute’s.
The prosecutor had offered to take the death penalty off the table if
Johnny Wayne would plead guilty to first-degree murder and agree to go
to prison for the rest of his life. When I told Johnny Wayne about the
offer a week ago, he’d reluctantly agreed. We were supposed to be in
court at 9:00 a.m. so Johnny Wayne could enter his plea. I was at the
jail to make sure he hadn’t changed his mind.
Fifteen minutes after I sat down in the attorney’s room, Johnny Wayne,
in a sharply creased, unwrinkled orange jumpsuit, was escorted in. He
was handcuffed, waist-chained, and shackled around the ankles.
“I wanted to make sure you’re still willing to take this deal before
we go to court,” I said as soon as the uniformed escort stepped out
and Johnny Wayne awkwardly made his way into the chair. “Once you
enter the plea, there’s no turning back.”
Johnny Wayne stared at the tabletop. His short hair was the color of
baled straw, wispy and perfectly combed. He was much smaller than me,
well under six feet, thin and pale. His face and arms were covered with
tiny pinkish freckles. He started tapping his fingers on the table, and
I noticed that his nails looked recently manicured. He smelled of
“How do you manage to stay so well groomed in this place?” I said.
“Every time I see you, you look like you just came out of a salon.”
He rolled his eyes. They were a pale green, sometimes flecked with red,
depending on angle and light. They were closely set and the left eye had
a tendency to wander. It made looking him in the eye uncomfortable. I
never quite knew where to focus.
“The fact that I’m incarcerated doesn’t require me to live like an
animal,” he said. “I’m able to procure certain services.”
“You mean a barber?”
“I have a barber, one of the inmates, who comes to my cell once a
week. He trims my beard and shampoos and cuts my hair.”
“Does he give you a manicure, too?” I glanced at his fingernails.
“I do that myself.”
“Who does your laundry? All my other clients look like they sleep in
their jail uniforms.”
I could tell the questions were irritating him, so I kept on.
“My laundry is done along with everyone else’s,” he said. “I
simply purchase commissary products for an individual who treats my
laundry with special care.” His speech was a tinny, nasal tenor, his
diction perfect. I imagined shoving a turd into his mouth, just so
he’d mispronounce a word.
“Why are you so interested in my personal hygiene?” Johnny Wayne
said. “Does it offend you?”
“Nah,” I said, “I was just curious.”
His disdain for me was palpable. With each visit I could sense it
growing like metastasizing cancer, but I didn’t care. I disliked him
as intensely as he disliked me. He’d lied to me dozens of times.
He’d run me and my investigator all over east Tennessee following
false leads and locating bogus witnesses. He whined constantly.
“So now that we have those incredibly important matters out of the
way,” Johnny Wayne said, “explain this deal, as you so eloquently
put it, one more time.”
“It’s simple,” I said. “A moron could understand it.”
“Are you insinuating that I’m a moron?”
Answering the question truthfully would have served no useful purpose,
so I ignored it.
“The deal is you plead guilty to first-degree murder. You agree to a
sentence of life without the possibility of parole. You give up your
right to appeal. In exchange, you get to live. No needle for Johnny
Wayne. That’s it, sweet and simple.”
He snorted. “Doesn’t sound like much of a deal to me.”
“Depends on your point of view.”
“It depends on whether you want to spend the rest of your life in the
general prison population where you can at least get a blow job once in
a while or spend the next fifteen years in isolation on death row, then
die by lethal injection.”
“But I’m innocent.”
“Of course you are. Unfortunately, the evidence says otherwise.”
Excerpted from "An Innocent Client" by Scott Pratt. Copyright © 0 by Scott Pratt. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.