As a registered user, you'll also enjoy the ability to save content, access subscriber-only content and share. Above everything else I want to remind you that today and all days you and all people and persons are beloved children of God. I want to quickly add that the truth that we are beloved is not a guarantor that we will consistently act out of belovedness. Across the last ten days I have wondered if we have been condemned to an endless cycle of violence or to awaken every morning not from a nightmare but to a new nightmare of gun violence, bombings, carnage and death.
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God knows we had not recovered from the insanity of Orlando. Behind every one of these tragedies are real human beings, body and soul. The department informed the Missouri Major Case Squad, which mobilizes law-enforcement agencies in proximity to a serious crime, and it connected the tip to a suspect: teenager Brandon Hagan, whose family had a white Ford truck with a camper. Once crowned the prettiest girl at the Livingston County fair, Rochelle had slender hips and long hair, with bangs she liked to tease to a crisp high above her forehead.
Now away at college in St. Joseph, about 75 miles west of Chillicothe, on the Kansas state line, Rochelle lived with a roommate and worked at a clothing store called the Brass Buckle. She came home frequently, however, and she was still seeing Brandon. Lyndel himself accused Brandon of being the shooter.
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Brandon, however, had an alibi. His family had recently moved miles southwest of Chillicothe, to Independence, Missouri, closer to a job site where his stepfather operated a crane. Law enforcement considered a few other individuals—men with personal or professional beefs with Lyndel, for instance—but no evidence stuck. Most likely whoever it was had simply wanted the Robertsons dead. Lyndel began to wonder if it was someone he and Cathy had trusted intimately, someone who lived close enough to cross Highway , fire a weapon six times, and get back home without anyone noticing. In early , Lyndel told some farmhands that Claude might have been involved.
Claude denied wrongdoing, and he passed a polygraph test.
The farming partnership, sealed with a handshake 17 years prior, dissolved in the spring of A lawsuit ensued. Lyndel kept a portion of the land but sold his house and moved his children closer to town. Eventually, rumors and mistrust engulfed the town, pitting friend against friend and neighbor against neighbor.
The Law Offices of Michael R. Bilbrey, a person firm just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, were generic in every sense of the word. The attorneys took on workplace-injury cases, specializing in claims of asbestos poisoning, while a squad of administrators handled paperwork and court filings. They operated out of a nondescript brick building with frosted glass doors and dark-wood accents in a suburban office park. Every day was a race for billable hours. Louis for two decades, working at firms large and small and even trying his hand at a private practice.
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Ramsey took over a slate of complex cases with potentially lucrative payouts. He had a soft spot for underdogs and what he sometimes referred to as ten-foot-pole cases: ones that seemed so unwinnable, no other lawyer would touch them. Sixty years old, with dense gray hair and a goatee to match, Ramsey had inherited his conscience from his father, Brooks, a Southern Baptist minister. When the civil rights leader arrived at the First Baptist Church, however, he was met by an angry crowd.
Ushers prevented him from entering, throwing King and some of his entourage down the front stairs. A riot ensued along bitter racial lines, spreading throughout Albany until the National Guard arrived. Soon after, his family left Albany. Ramsey studied English at St. Louis University. Once practicing, he made a name for himself mounting cases to free women imprisoned for killing their abusive husbands. He also took on what he believed to be wrongful convictions.
In one instance, he embarked on a freedom march from St. Ramsey, who represented the woman, decided to go on a five-day, mile walk to draw media attention to her appeal. He asked Ramsey to take a look at the case.
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Ramsey did one better: He agreed to represent the defendant. It involved the murder of a woman named Cathy Robertson and a man convicted twice for the crime who was now serving a quadruple life sentence. The odds that he would get the conviction overturned were slim.
As far as the state of Missouri was concerned, the case was closed; it had already been subjected to the scrutiny of one appeal. Still, Ramsey never considered abandoning the Chillicothe case, even when he died, briefly, in A fit man who regularly practiced the martial art of aikido, Ramsey suffered sudden cardiac arrest while working out at a YMCA. He was revived with a defibrillator, then fell into a coma; the doctors told his wife and two children that he had little chance of recovering.
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Ramsey underwent surgery, during which his heart stopped a second time. Not everyone was pleased. So was Kelly Williams, recently hired as an administrator. Williams was 35 and a single mom of two kids. She stood just over five feet tall, smoked Marlboros, and had a brash, infectious laugh. She was good at her job—organized, quick, intuitive—but she ran afoul of a supervisor with her outspokenness, to the point that her job was on the line.
Ramsey liked Williams. When he heard about the trouble with the supervisor, Ramsey took Williams on as his assistant. He ushered Williams into his office, where stacks of paper, legal pads, and court documents were on every surface, including the floor.
Ramsey settled into his desk chair and pointed to the infamous brown boxes full of his work on the Chillicothe case. Williams had heard chatter about how it was a lost cause. When Ramsey began to explain why he believed otherwise, Williams was adamant that she would prove him wrong. That night she took one of the boxes home. Eventually, she took another, then another. Using a color-coding system, she organized depositions and created timelines based on witness testimony. After feeding her kids dinner, she sat on the couch, documents scattered around her, filling up legal pads with notes.
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Nineteen when he was arrested, Mark had spent almost his entire adult life behind bars. As a teenager, Mark kept to himself. Shy and awkward, with doleful brown eyes and a narrow chin sprinkled with pimples, he was more comfortable building cabinets in shop class than memorizing formulas in algebra. In , Claude set Mark up with a few acres of soybeans to manage, a trial run to determine if the teenager would be a good addition to the family business.
The morning after the shooting, Claude treaded mournfully down the stairs to his basement and jostled Mark, then 16, awake. Mark was characteristically quiet, even in the face of tragedy.