Kevin long, Vietnam veteran, ex-prosecutor, current successful defense attorney, increasingly jaded by the grim realities of the arena within which he operates, and still wading through the detritus of his unraveled marriage, spontaneously and uncharacteristically accepts precisely the type of vexing case he’d vowed to forever put behind him: a brutal jailhouse murder in nearby Florida State Prison. Relying upon his jailhouse rat eyewitness, the prosecutor is eagerly demanding the death penalty, making it a case guaranteed to highlight everything Kevin loathes in a system he increasingly questions. Is Kevin’s new client the young, naïve victim acting in self-defense that his mother professes him to be, or is he the ruthless homicidal maniac the prosecutor portrays? When Kevin considers accepting unsolicited help offered by Earl Voorhees, a wily, enigmatic career convict and escape artist whose true motives remain debatable, Kevin must decide whether Earl is a star defense witness just wanting to do the right thing or a Trojan Horse sent by the state to sabotage the case, a desperate man determined to do whatever it takes to win his freedom.
Against this backdrop Kevin agrees to represent Homer Benning, a seemingly self-effacing Jacksonville schoolteacher charged with savagely murdering his elderly rural neighbor, The Widow Nye. An ex-World War II French Resistance fighter with her own brutal past, living out her last days in a faded Victorian mansion occupying a prized lakefront lot being eyed by a real estate developer, her adamant refusal to sell, the state contends, stood between Homer and his own pecuniary dreams. As Kevin wrestles with his psychologically fragile client’s Walter Mitteyesque personality - infused with a brittle rage and a decidedly dark streak – he is less surprised by Homer’s steadfast claim of innocence than by his insistence that the old woman isn’t even dead. Kevin’s investigative sweep gathers up the past and present, arcing from Nazi-occupied France through the bowels of the prison system and Florida’s death row, as Earl Voorhees surprisingly reemerges as a potential bombshell defense witness. Thrown into the mix is the cantankerous elderly trial judge with whispered ancient links to rural south Florida drug smuggling and a sensational, decades-old murder, along with two homicide detectives with their own reasons for ensuring that Homer sits in the electric chair.