By John Grisham
(Originally published in the Oxford American, www.oxfordamericanmag.com, April 1996)
The town of Hernando, Mississippi, has five thousand people, more or less, and is the seat of government for DeSoto County. It is peaceful and quiet, with an old courthouse in the center of the square. Memphis is only fifteen minutes away, to the north, straight up Interstate 55. To the west is Tunica County, now booming with casino fever and drawing thousands of tourists.
For ten years I was a lawyer in Southaven, a suburb to the north, and the Hernando courthouse was my hangout. I tried many cases in the main courtroom. I drank coffee with the courthouse regulars, ate in the small cafes around the square, visited my clients in the nearby jail.
It was in the courthouse that I first met Mr. Bill Savage. I didn't know much about him back then, just that he was soft-spoken, exceedingly polite, always ready with a smile and a warm greeting. In 1983, when I first announced my intentions to seek an office in the state legislature, Mr. Savage stopped me in the second-floor rotunda of the courthouse and offered me his encouragement and good wishes. A few months later, on election night as the votes were tallied and the results announced to a rowdy throng camped on the courthouse lawn, it became apparent that I would win my race. Mr. Savage found me and expressed his congratulations. "The people have trusted you," he said. "Don't let them down."
He was active in local affairs, a devout Christian and solid citizen who believed in public service and was always ready to volunteer. For thirty years, he worked as the manager of a cotton gin two miles outside Hernando on a highway that is heavily used by gamblers anxious to get to the casinos in Tunica. Around five pm, on March 7, 1995, someone entered Bill Savage's office next to the gin, shot him twice in the head at point-blank range, and took his wallet, which contained a few credit cards and two...