Switchblade(4)
Author:Michael Connelly


    “Was it near the time of your arrest and incarceration in 1996?”

    “It could’ve been. I don’t remember.”

    “What about before that, earlier in the nineties?”

    “I’m sure I was there. In and out.”

    “Did you know an individual named William Ratliff? He was known as Billy by his friends.”

    “Who now?”

    “William Ratliff. He went by Billy.”

    “No, I didn’t know anybody who went by Billy.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “I’m sure.”

    “Where’d you live in 1992?”

    “’Ninety-two? That’s way back. In ’92 I was still living part of the time in my mother’s place in Tustin.”

    “What about the other part of the time?”

    “Uh, you know, around. I’d stay with friends. You know, in and out.”

    “When would you go to Los Angeles?”

    “Los Angeles? Like on weekends every now and then.”

    “Did you drive up there?”

    “Yeah, I had a car.”

    “So you were in Los Angeles in 1992?”

    “I don’t remember exactly. It’s a long—”

    “Ever in Hollywood?”

    “I don’t remember.”

    “I’ve read your application for parole.”

    “You’re allowed to do that?”

    “Yes, Patrick, the department of probation and parole allowed me to see it. And I see in the candidate’s comments section that you take full responsibility for the crime that put you up here.”

    “Yes. I told them I’m sorry.”

    “So you are admitting you did it? At your trial you denied it all the way.”

    Bosch was drawing Sewell into a corner. In order to get paroled, he had to acknowledge his crimes and hope that his confession would be seen by the board as part of his rehabilitation and redemption.

    “I am admitting that I had poor self-control and that I acted out. It cost an innocent man his life and for that I am very sorry.”

    “Where did you buy the switchblade you killed that innocent man with?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “I mean exactly what I said. Where did you buy the switchblade? You killed the victim in ’96 with a switchblade. Daniel Hunter, a gay man you picked up in a bar. You went to his apartment and stabbed him repeatedly with a switchblade and you admitted as much in your application for parole.”

    Bosch paused. Sewell didn’t say anything.

    “Now, I want to know where you got the switchblade, Patrick. You told me you were cooperating here.”

    The pause continued. Sewell eyes stared cold and hard at Bosch because he knew it was one thing that could not be recorded on Bosch’s micro-recorder and used against him.

    “In TJ,” he finally said. “They sold them there cheap.”

    “Tijuana,” Bosch said. “Did you go there a lot?”

    “Not too much. When I got the urge.”

    “The urge to travel or the urge to buy a switchblade?”

    “The urge for authentic Mexican food.”

    “When did you buy the knife?”

    “I don’t remember.”

    “Did you buy more than one down there, Patrick?”

    “Just the one, as far as I remember.”

    “You sure about that?”

    “Pretty sure.”

    “Did you stab Billy Ratliff with a switchblade you bought in Mexico?”

    “No, don’t be crazy. The answer is no.”

    “Were you in Los Angeles on February 9, 1992?”

    “How am I supposed to remember something like that?”

    “Yes or no?”

    “I don’t remember!”

    “There is a witness who tells us you killed Billy Ratliff.”

    “That is bullshit!”

    “No, he says you killed him. You stabbed him with a switchblade just like you stabbed Daniel Hunter. Both of them gay, both of them stabbed with a cheap switchblade from Tijuana. It was you.”

    “No, you’re wrong and you can’t prove a thing. What witness? There was no witness.”

    “Yeah, how do you know there was no witness?”

    Sewell realized he was skirting too close to an admission.

    “Look,” he said. “You’re trying to pin this on me because I got a parole hearing coming up. I’m trying to cooperate but you’re accusing me and there isn’t one shred of evidence against me.”

    “Depends on what you consider a shred.”

    The convict stared at Bosch for a long moment.

    “And what’s that mean?”

    “It means the smallest shred in the world connects you to Ratliff. We’ve got DNA. On the murder weapon. You stabbed him so hard your fingers slipped over the hilt and you cut yourself. Just like with Hunter.”

    Sewell shook his head.

    “You are lying. I wasn’t even there.”

    “The science doesn’t lie. You can forget parole, Sewell. You can forget everything. This time we’re going for the death penalty. You want to save yourself from that, then you talk. You tell everything. You’ll never get out of here but you’ll be alive.”

    “Fuck you, liar. You wouldn’t even be here if you had a case. I’m out of here.”

    He stood up and started calling for the guard.





    Before Bosch left the Adjustment Center, he got the names of every prisoner who had ever shared a cell with Sewell. He figured the tip to the sorter had to have come from someone he had bragged to about his crimes. Bosch would start with the cell mates.

    The next month, Sewell was denied parole after the three-member board heard a presentation from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office that included graphic details of the murder of Daniel Hunter and also news that Sewell’s DNA had been linked to a homicide being worked as a cold case in Los Angeles.

    The denial meant Sewell would remain safely behind prison walls for at least the next two years. This took some of the urgency off Bosch but he still worked the case as a hobby, slowly making his way down the list of forty-one cell mates Sewell had had over his years at San Quentin. Some were dead but most were incarcerated in other prisons and jails, which made them easy to get to. Bosch sometimes piggybacked interviews with them while conducting interviews on other cases that came and went.

    Ten months passed before Bosch checked the last name off the list. He had found no one who made the call to the Open-Unsolved Unit’s public line. He visited the Lion at the DA’s Office to try to persuade him to go ahead with the case, even though DNA would be the only hard evidence. He argued that the circumstantial evidence—the similarities between the Hunter and Ratliff murders, Sewell’s evasiveness during the San Quentin interview—would help win the day in court, but Dupree was unmoved. He stuck to the argument that as long as Sewell was in prison, there was no need to mount a potentially risky and costly prosecution. He fortified this with the fact that Sewell’s first parole request had been denied, an indicator he was not going anywhere, and the hope that the longer they waited the better the chance that the anonymous caller might come to light.

    On a slow day at the start of the new year, Bosch took a ride down to Santa Ana and the Orange County DA’s Office. He asked to see Ken McDowell, the deputy DA who prosecuted Sewell back in 1996. The two men had never spoken in person, though McDowell was aware of Bosch’s efforts and had been the prosecutor who appeared at Sewell’s first parole hearing to urge that he not be released.

    Bosch explained to McDowell where the case was and why it was stalled.

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