MURDERERS COME IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES
Friday, July 10. 1:32 p.m. 8 days, 10 hours, and 29 minutes until execution.
Pete and I have had our share of brotherly issues over the years, though we get along reasonably well nowadays. Nonetheless, Rosie correctly surmises that we may get more out of him if she initiates this discussion.
“How much did your father tell you about the Fineman case?” she asks him.
“A little.” My brother inherited our dad’s proclivity for short answers. “He said he was guilty.”
“Did you believe him?”
“Pop was genetically hardwired to tell the truth.”
So is Pete. His expression indicates he’s prepared to leave it there, but I’m not. “I met with Fineman earlier today,” I say. “He didn’t strike me as your garden-variety murderer.”
“Maybe he’s your garden-variety sociopath.”
“Gimme a break, Pete. He was a defense lawyer.”
“Same thing. He spent his life hanging out with drug dealers and mobsters. Murderers come in all shapes and sizes.”
“Pop could have been wrong.”
“He was never wrong.”
“Sure he was.”
He jabs his finger in my direction. “About parenthood, yes. About murder, no.”
Pete was always more protective of our parents than I was. He also spent more time with them. After our father died, he moved back home to take care of our mother when her Alzheimer’s got worse. Pete lives with his wife and daughter in the little house at Twenty-third and Kirkham that my parents bought over forty years ago––back in the days when cops could afford them. I’ve suggested that it might be healthier if he moved somewhere with fewer memories. He insists he’s staying put.
“Pop was losing interest in police work toward the end,” I observe. “Remember that stakeout in the Tenderloin?”
Pete chased a couple of crack dealers into a roadblock set up by our father and his partner, but they weren’t able to stop them. Pop insisted it was bad luck. Pete said our dad lost his nerve.
His tone turns testy. “What does that have to do with the Fineman case?”
“Pop told me he wasn’t going to get his ass kicked before he collected his pension.” Ironically, he died within months after he retired. “Maybe he wasn’t at the top of his game when the Fineman case came down.”
“Easy for you to say. You never worked on the street.” My brother divides people into two categories: those who have experience in law enforcement and those who don’t. Pete was always the first to come to Pop’s defense on police matters. “He wouldn’t have let Fineman rot in prison if he knew he was innocent. Neither would Roosevelt.”
“Pop was near the end of the line,” I say. “Roosevelt was interested in getting a conviction.”
“Are you saying they covered for each other?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t like to mix business with family,” Pete says.
Neither do I. “Pop’s gone,” I say. “He didn’t testify.”
“He was one of the first officers at the scene. There were allegations that the cops planted the murder weapon. Lou Cohen is no dummy. He’s bringing you in for a reason.”
“You think he’s using us?”
“Call me a cynic.”
Or a realist.
“Besides,” he adds, “Fineman is a first-rate asshole.”
“Says Pop. He spent years working on the task force that finally pieced together enough evidence to bring charges against the Bayview Posse. It was dangerous work. They were really bad guys. They had a rock-solid case, and then Fineman found a way to weasel them out of jail.”
“Just because he represented gang bosses and drug dealers doesn’t mean he committed murder. He started the San Francisco Legal Aid Society. He raised a ton of money for charity.”
“Spoken like a defense attorney. He was a mob lawyer who made a mint manipulating the legal system to keep drug dealers out of jail.”
Spoken like an ex-cop. “Drug dealers are entitled to representation too.”
“They aren’t entitled to sleazebags who will do anything to get their clients off. He was paying people down in the Bayview to intimidate witnesses in the Posse case. There’s a fine line between defending criminals and becoming one yourself. Fineman crossed it. He wasn’t just a lawyer––he was part of the problem. It wasn’t just dirty clients or shady courtroom tactics. The word on the street was that he wasn’t just representing the drug dealers––he was helping them run their operations. There were also allegations that he was getting things fixed at the Hall of Justice.”
“You name it: cops, judges, bailiffs. Maybe even some of the ADAs. The head brass wanted him so badly that we had him under surveillance. We knew there were payoffs, but the money was always laundered through an intermediary. We never had enough to nail him until he killed those guys at the Golden Dragon.”
“Can any of this be corroborated?”
“Not a chance, Mick.”
“Is there a chance the cops nailed Fineman as payback?”
“Pop wasn’t that kind of a cop.”
“He wasn’t the only one involved in this case.”
I ask him straight up. “Do you think Fineman killed three people?”
“Pop thought so.”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t there.”
“Is there a chance he may be innocent?”
“There’s a chance he didn’t kill the guys at the restaurant, but he’s far from innocent.”
I need to lower the volume. “What did Pop do that night?”
“He and Joey D’ helped secure the scene.”
Our father’s last partner was a punk from the Excelsior District with anger-management issues, a gambling problem, and a Napoleon complex who also happened to wear a uniform. “Little Joey” D’Amato placed a higher priority on making arrests than observing legal niceties. There were rumors that he extracted protection money from the businesses on his beat. Later, he was “asked” to take early retirement after he was accused of shaking down some pimps in the Mission District to cover his gambling debts. The allegations were dropped when he agreed to retire.
“What’s Joey up to nowadays?” I ask.
“He’s running a currency exchange in the Tenderloin.”
“Is it legit?”
“As legit as any business that gouges people to cash their welfare checks. Some people whose opinions I respect think it’s a front to launder drug money.”
“Is he still playing the ponies?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why don’t the cops nail him?”
“Joey is still one of the smartest assholes you’ll ever meet––especially when it comes to looking out for himself.”
He also hated my dad’s guts––a sentiment that was reciprocated in kind. They came at police work from opposite ends of the spectrum. Pop did things by the book. Joey believed in expedience—even if it meant stretching the rules and taking a few bucks on the side.
“What do you know about the three victims?” I ask.
“Christ, Mick. The damn trial was on the front page of the Chronicle
for weeks. Fineman’s
client was a guy named Terrell Robinson.
He operated out of the Sunnydale
projects. He was a construction
contractor who controlled the heroin trade down to
“Not a consensus builder.”
“Nope. Robinson was at war with a Chinatown
gang run by a man named Alan Chin, who was every bit as ruthless. He controlled everything north of
I recognize the name. Fong was Chinatown’s most flamboyant
contribution to the
“Why would Fineman have killed the lawyer?” I ask.
“Maybe he was the only witness. Maybe he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Pete quickly adds, “They all died of gunshot wounds from bullets fired from the pistol found on Fineman.”
You need a scorecard to keep track of all the drug dealers. “What made them think Fineman was involved?”
His voice fills with sarcasm. “It may have had something to do with the fact that they found his fingerprints on the murder weapon.”
“Look at it this way,” I tell him. “It’s two weeks of work for a fat paycheck. You may get some good publicity. You may even help save a man’s life. What’s the downside?”
“For one,” he says, “I was still on the force when this case came down. Fineman and his lawyers took a bunch of potshots at the cops. Nobody down at the Hall of Justice was heartbroken when he was convicted––including me. Some people are going to be unhappy if the execution is delayed.”
“Since when did you start worrying about hurt feelings at the Hall?”
“I still have friends down there.”
Pete won’t duck a case just because a few people might get their noses out of joint.
“For two,” he continues, “Mort Goldberg made a big stink that the murder weapon was planted. Pop said it was a bunch of crap, but they still brought in IA to investigate. All things being equal, I’d rather not work on a case where we may have to smear Pop’s reputation to help a client.”
His point is well-taken––even though neither of us had an especially warm and fuzzy relationship with our father. “Aren’t you remotely interested in trying to find out what really happened?” I ask.
“I’m willing to give Pop the benefit of the doubt. So should you.”
“If he was telling the truth, we have nothing to worry about.”
He looks intently at Rosie for an interminable moment, then he turns back to me. “You really want to do this, don’t you, Mick?”
“Are you prepared to pay for backup for me?”
“Are you going to second-guess everything I do?”
He knows me too well. “Probably,” I say.
His mouth turns up slightly. “It’s just a couple of weeks of my life that I’ll never get back. I’m in if you are.”
“Where do you want me to start?” he asks.
“With the victims. We need everything you can get about Robinson, Chin, and Fong. Then I want you to track down Joey D’Amato.”
Rosie stands up. “I’ll start looking at the trial transcripts and the appellate briefs,” she says. “Where are you going first?”
“To talk to Roosevelt.”