A jury could only declare my son “not guilty,” never “innocent.” The stink would never leave us. I doubted I would ever walk into a courtroom again as a lawyer. But things were racing too fast to linger over the past or future. There was only now.
When Ben Rifkin is found stabbed three times in the chest, his schoolmate Jacob Barber quickly becomes the murder suspect. Jacob’s father, Assistant Defense Attorney Andy Barber, tells the story from the point of view as a lawyer and as a father. It is a compelling, and shocking ride, through which I was riveted at every turn.
The clues start piling up against Jacob quite quickly. There is a knife found in his bedroom which Jacob bought because it “was cool”; there is a fingerprint on the victim’s sweatshirt that is identified as Jacob’s. But of course, didn’t he stop to see if he could help Ben when he found him lying face down in the leaves? There is a story that Jacob has written, and published on Facebook, which describes in eerily accurate detail the specifics of the murder. Which only a murderer could know. Yet how can a parent believe his son is a killer?
Interspersed with the account of Jacob’s defense in the courtroom, is the trial which the family endures in their own home. The parents suffer terribly: their reputation in the town, their careers, their marriage, and even their own doubts about their son’s culpability. Isn’t it possible that Andy’s genetic history of violence could be passed down to their son? Andy visits his father, in jail for murder, and finds his father comes through for them in his own way. For which Andy and his wife are grateful.
But, it isn’t over until one turns the last page. Even when the case is ‘resolved’, the question remains: who is innocent? And worse yet, what do we do with our doubts? I found Defending Jacob to be an incredible book, well written and unforgettable.