File this post under, “You couldn’t make this stuff up” or “What I learned during eight weeks of a bronchitis bout.”  In a recent blog, I put Miss Demeanors’ readers on alert for four trials that I believed would give insight and inspiration to crime writers. In three out of the four cases, the verdict is in, but there is so much more than conviction or acquittal to learn from. The human behavior of the accused, lawyers, law enforcement, judges, and court personnel drive the story just as characters in fiction do. Let’s check in on the four cases I profiled and the takeaway for writers:

  1. The Jennifer Crumbley trial.  I didn’t include James Crumbley, husband of Jennifer, in my last post because he had yet to go to trial. The married couple faced charges in individual trials of involuntary manslaughter when their fifteen-year-old- son shot and killed four students and injured others at the high school he attended. The theory of the case was that the parents knew their son was having psychological problems and failed to provide the care he needed. Worse, they purchased a gun for him, which was the weapon used in the murders. Both Jennifer and James were found guilty and will be sentenced next week. In yet another bizarre twist in a case filled with unconventional turns. The latest is the request by the flamboyant attorney for Jennifer that she serve her sentence in the home of defense counsel. I doubt anyone saw that coming and that the judge will find it equally bizarre.

The TAKEAWAY: The prosecution clearly understood the value of telling the story by creating vivid and chilling scenes to unfold it. Most notable is the meeting the parents and their son had in the office of a school counselor with an administrator just hours before the shooting occurred. The parents had been summoned because their son had drawn troubling pictures of a gun and a bleeding victim. The administrator had fetched the son’s backpack from his last class, bringing it to the meeting. He even remarked how heavy it was. The bag contained the gun the parents had purchased as a gift for their son just four days before. The parents never mentioned the gun. The school officials sat at the meeting never knowing the backpack sitting just feet away from them contained a gun. No one thought to examine the contents of the bag. Regardless of the point of view, this scene is alarming and unsettling and creates significant tension. For me, it also nailed the guilt of both parents.

2. The Gone Mom trial: Michelle Troconis was found guilty on all counts, including conspiracy to commit murder (which carries the same sentence as the underlying crime) after a multi-week trial. Troconis sat without expression throughout the trial and opted not to testify. Absent from the trial was Fotus Dulos, her boyfriend, who committed suicide rather than face homicide charges. The victim was Jennifer, his ex-wife, a devoted mother of five, including two sets of twins, who was engaged in an ugly custody case with her husband. Her body was never found.

The TAKEAWAY:  I’ve read that people enjoy reading mysteries because there is satisfaction in the resolution when the murderer is caught, and justice is served. The Troconis trial would seem to confirm that. Throughout the case, the theme from the prosecution seemed to be, “Justice for Jennifer,” which was buttressed by the strong presence and support of Jennifer’s family and friends. The clamor for justice is entirely understandable, but seemed to translate into the need to blame someone and since Dulos avoided the consequences of his actions, someone must pay. While Troconis’s stoic presence at trial was criticized as being cold and unfeeling, her guilt should not be affected by such. There were several facts introduced by defense counsel that created reasonable doubt, most notably the presence of Dulos’s employee being within miles of the scene of the crime when it occurred. Troconis didn’t help herself by making some bad decisions, one of which resulted in contempt of court charges. But for a writer, the lesson may be the power of likeability to sway a reader’s judgment.

3. Murdaugh Ad Nauseum: The Alex Murdaugh murders and financial crimes have no end in sight. After being convicted of killing his wife and son, Murdaugh cut a deal with the feds to plead guilty to charges he stole client funds in exchange for a shorter sentence that would run concurrent with his sentence for the murders. But apparently Alex can’t help himself and was accused of committing perjury in an affidavit filed in conjunction with the federal charges. His sentence was forty years, longer than the prosecution requested. In addition, Becky Hill, the court clerk who was previously accused of jury tampering, has now resigned for “family reasons.” With multiple appeals filed, the Murdaugh case may outlive us all.

The TAKEAWAY: Subplots! Spinoffs! The Murdaugh case has them both. We have two murders in cold blood, the theft of millions of dollars, a tragic boat accident, and a fatal hit-and-run, which may not have been an accident. Add to that, Miss Becky’s ill-timed book about the trial and you can be sure you’ll be hearing about the Murdaughs for longer than you may want. For me, I am still troubled about how a man can have dinner with his wife and son, then shortly after follow them down to their kennel, and blow them away. Why? Why then? If it was planned, it was botched. Was Murdaugh high on drugs? Did his wife Maggie and his son Paul give him an ultimatum about some of the chicanery he was up to? How does someone approach his wife and son, one right after the other, and kill them? I want to know why. If I were reading this as a fictionalized story, I wouldn’t be satisfied until I did.

4. The Karen Read trial: Karen Read is charged with second degree murder of her boyfriend, Boston police officer John O’Keefe, in a Boston suburb where the community is divided over the case, which is scheduled for trial this month. The plot in this case is more twisted than a pot of spaghetti. Read and her vocal supporters claim she was framed by police who are complicit if not guilty of O’Keefe’s death. Read’s attorneys have alleged prosecutorial misconduct and recently we have learned that the FBI is investigating the local police investigation. A report claims that the injuries O’Keefe suffered were not consistent with Read’s car. While Read’s defense has picked up momentum, the judge recently denied her motion to dismiss, finding the decision should rest with the jury.

The TAKEAWAY:  These are murky waters! Google searches about how long it takes for a body to freeze to death. Dog bite wounds. Broken glass from a car found hours after the investigation began. Add a community so divided that a vote of lack of confidence in its police department just passed. Police supporters demanding justice for their fallen colleague. When the camera spans the courtroom, Karen Read and her attorneys sit on one side, their supporters crammed in the gallery behind them. On the other side, sits the prosecution with OKeefe’s supporters behind them. It reminds me of going to a wedding when an usher asks if you’re a friend of the bride or the groom. This is a case where, again, there is no shortage of subplots and where the personality of the defendant may be on trial as much as it was in the Troconis trial. Maybe the jurors will like Karen Read as much as her supporters do. But while I think there appears to be more than reasonable doubt at this stage of the trial, I also think Read wears a cocky smirk that could irritate and perhaps prejudice a jury like it may have in the Troconis case.


                  I’ll be following the Read trial and the sentencing and appeals in the others. I won’t be following the Day Bell zombie cases because I think they have limited value for writers, unless you write about zombies and the like. What cases are you following or would like to hear about?

C. Michele Dorsey is the author of Oh Danny Girl and the Sabrina Salter series, including No Virgin Island, Permanent Sunset, Tropical Depression, and Salt Water Wounds. Her latest novel, Gone But Not Forgotten was published by Severn House IN 2023. Michele is a lawyer, mediator, former adjunct law professor and nurse, who didn’t know she could be a writer when she grew up. Now that she does, Michele writes constantly, whether on St John, outer Cape Cod, or anywhere within a mile of the ocean.  


  1. These are so fascinating, Michele. I was interested in Murtaugh, but then it all got overwhelming. Right now I’m reading The Romanov Sisters, which is far enough removed that I can deal with it.

  2. The George Floyd murder case was the last one I followed. I feel so overwhelmed by all the craziness generated by that former guy, so I’m selective about what I read. And I’ve never watched much TV so I don’t catch the cases there.

    Thanks for keeping us updated.

  3. Michele, this blog alone read like a true crime presentation for eventual books or movies! I’ve followed the Murdaugh layers because, like you, I have such difficulty imagining the scenario where a man murders his wife and son as dessert! It’s also on our news frequently down here.

    Thx for bringing your smart legal mind to these cases!

  4. Cases that hooked me: the Kennedy rape trial in 1991, the Anita hill testimony during the Clarence Thomas nomination to Supreme Court and the OJ Simpson trial. Each was a horrendous indictment of the justice system. I watched in horror as those miscarriages of justice proceeded and realized that the law can be grossly perverted by those with wealth.
    Yes it might have had something to do with my decision to become a crime writer.

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