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“Everybody Pays” by Maurice Possley and Rick Kogan (Putnam, 276 pages, $25.95) When the murder trial of Harry Aleman is mentioned within the community of lawyers, it’s usually in the context of double jeopardy. After all, it’s unusual for a defendant to be acquitted of murder, then placed on trial for the same crime 20 years later. But authors Maurice Possley and Rick Kogan, both Chicago Tribune reporters, have written a book that ranges far beyond the double jeopardy issue. In the long run, their book is quite likely to be talked about because of the compelling story it tells about how a well-intentioned bystander can destroy his life, plus the lives of family members, by agreeing to testify in a criminal trial. Bob Lowe, witness to the Sept. 27, 1972, murder of Billy Logan on Chicago’s West Side, paid a price beyond his comprehension. Before the lives of Aleman and Lowe intersected, they had little in common. Aleman, a man admired by his Chicago neighbors as a loving husband, doting father and community do-gooder, actually made his living as a contract killer for organized crime bosses. He decided to kill Logan because of a custody battle Logan was waging against Aleman’s second cousin. Lowe lived in Logan’s neighborhood. The night Logan lost his life, Lowe had finished work at his family’s service station and returned home briefly, only to leave to walk his dog. That is when he witnessed Aleman and his underling Louie Almeida kill Logan. Aleman and Almeida fled the crime scene, but Lowe was able to describe the hit men to police. Having done his civic duty, Lowe expected to hear from the authorities about testifying at Aleman’s trial. But for four years, police and prosecutors did nothing to move against the suspected murderer. Lowe went on with his life, thinking little about the strange handling of the case. Then, in 1975, authorities in Ohio arrested Almeida on charges unrelated to the Logan murder. Almeida wanted to reach a deal with prosecutors. So he offered information about the nearly 3-year-old murder of Logan, still an open case in Chicago police files. Suddenly, police and prosecutors found Lowe’s long-ignored eyewitness account to be of interest. Lowe understood that cooperating would be time-consuming and could be dangerous. As a conscientious citizen, though, he said he would indeed cooperate. He had no idea that his cooperation would mean almost immediate placement for him, his wife and his two young children into a witness protection program. The Lowe family would have to change identities, vacate their comfortable home and move far away until Aleman’s trial. For five months, the Lowe family lived like vagabonds, with law enforcement officers along for the bumpy ride. Despite their hellish existence, the Lowes figured they could return to normal with the conviction of Aleman for murder. They did not anticipate that the judge in the nonjury trial would acquit Aleman. What should the Lowes do, with their lives shattered by the witness protection program, and suddenly in danger? Aleman might put a contract on them anytime. It is emotionally draining to read Possley and Kogan’s account of how Lowe descended into alcoholism, cocaine use and robbery, visiting suffering on his family members. When Lowe catches a break, and Aleman goes to prison for crimes unrelated to Logan’s murder, Lowe finally feels as if he might get his life back. Then, in 1993, Lowe hears unexpectedly from the authorities. They have received evidence that the judge who acquitted Aleman in 1977 had accepted bribe money. The prosecution hoped to try Aleman for the Logan murder again. Understandably reluctant, Lowe finally agreed to testify. But he refused to re-enter the witness protection program. After seemingly interminable delays caused mostly by Aleman’s appeals, a jury sat in judgment. On Sept. 30, 1997, the jury convicted Aleman of Logan’s murder. Lowe could feel safe with Aleman in prison for life. Or could he? After all, Aleman had lots of killer acquaintances. Unsure whether they could guarantee Lowe’s safety after the conviction of Aleman, police and prosecutors decide he and his wife would have to adopt new identities. Their children grown and gone, the former Bob and Fran Lowe now live in an undisclosed town. For their suffering, they received a handshake of thanks and $10,000 in moving expenses. Possley and Kogan’s telling of Lowe’s sad tale lacks a certain suspense. That Aleman will first be acquitted of Logan’s murder and much later convicted is no secret to the reader. And it is clear early on that Lowe and his family will reach unimagined depths of despair in exchange for their good citizenship. Yet, what “Everybody Pays” lacks in suspense it makes up for in two other ways. The first is the authority with which Possley and Kogan explain the criminal justice system in all its facets — how criminals, police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, jurors and witnesses are thrown together in a complicated, sometimes ludicrous, dance. The second is the strength of the character studies of the cast members, with Aleman and Lowe in the leading roles. Steve Weinberg is a free-lance investigative reporter in Columbia, Mo. He is currently conducting a national study of prosecutorial misconduct along with Washington, D.C., lawyer Neil Gordon at the Center for Public Integrity.

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