The Making of FELONY MURDER RULE
In my first book, SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES, Mike Daley observes that he became a priest after his older brother, Tommy, went missing in Vietnam after his plane crashed near the end of the war. His remains were never found. Tommy was a star quarterback at St. Ignatius and Cal before he volunteered for the Marines. Mike became disillusioned with the priesthood after a few years, went to law school, and became a public defender. I've wanted to write a story about Mike coming to terms with his relationship with Tommy ever since. FELONY MURDER RULE is that story.
In FELONY MURDER RULE, Mike and his ex-wife and former law partner, Rosie Fernandez, have returned to the San Francisco Public Defender's Office, where they had met twenty years earlier. Mike and Rosie are now the co-heads of the Felony Division, where they spend more time on administrative work than trying cases. That changes when a young woman named Melinda Nguyen visits Mike and requests a public defender for her son, Thomas, who is set to go on trial four days later on a murder charge. Melinda says that Mike's brother had survived the plane crash and died a few years later in Vietnam. It turns out that Melinda is Tommy's daughter, and Thomas is his grandson.
I've wanted to write a story about California's Felony Murder Rule for a long time. It's an archaic legal principal which says that you can be charged with first degree murder if you are a participant in a felony and somebody is killed, even if you don't pull the trigger or you are only tangentially involved in the crime. The implementation of this law can have shocking and unintended results—all of which are legal under the law as written. In FELONY MURDER RULE, Thomas Nguyen and a friend are going to a party. They stop at a liquor store in San Francisco's Tenderloin. The friend goes inside, allegedly threatens the shopkeeper with a Saturday Night Special, and demands money. The shopkeeper pulls out a gun and shoots the friend right in front of the register and calmly calls the cops. Who gets charged with murder? Thomas – even though he was just sitting in the car. It's up to Mike and Rosie to defend him even though he looks guilty under the law. It's more than a law school case study: bad laws make bad results.I've also wanted to set a book in San Francisco's Tenderloin, a hardscrabble neighborhood of homelessness, drugs, and prostitution squeezed between the upscale stores of Union Square and City Hall. It's still a rough neighborhood that time has forgotten, even as it's surrounded by gentrification and the arrival of upscale condos and tech firms. Its crime and poverty is especially jarring when juxtaposed with the affluence of San Francisco's nearby tech Neverland.