BY: BOURNE MORRIS
Kit Mackenzie, a brilliant young CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation, is on trial for the murder of her mother. Was it self-defense or homicide? After the prosecutor discovers a secret brain operation in her past, he believes Kit has a strong motive for murder. His discovery begins one of the most unusual trials in American history. Media from all over the world descend on the courtroom to cover a story they find too astonishing to believe. Mackenzie must depend on her renowned attorney and the insights of a skilled neuro-scientist in the fight to prove her innocence and gain the acceptance of a man she has always wanted.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In A Woman of Two Minds by Bourne Morris, Kit McKenzie is on trial for killing her mother. She claims it was self-defense, insisting that her mother shot first. But the prosecutor doesn’t believe her, claiming that an illegal and incredible brain surgery that put part of another woman’s into Kit’s several years earlier gives her a strong motive for murder.
Fascinating, complex, and clever, this is a story you won’t be able to put down until the end.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: A Woman of Two Minds by Bourne Morris is the story of two women, one young and one middle-aged and both critically injured, and an illegal brain surgery intended to keep both of them alive—in one body. Things go well until the woman goes on trial for murder. When the prosecutor discovers the secret in her past, he is sure he has a slam-dunk case, despite the woman’s money, standing in the community, and apparent lack of motive.
Well-written, intense, and compelling, A Woman of Two Minds will keep you enthralled all the way through.
Reno, Nevada, March 2018:
She was in her upstairs bedroom looking out of her window at the lake. Rain had left a wet coating on the dock that stretched out onto the water. A small light at the end illuminated a rowboat tied to the dock, swaying back and forth, one of its oars hitting the dock, the sound just sharp enough to awaken her. She had kept the lights off in the bedroom so whoever had rowed to her dock could not see her by the window. Nothing moved on the lawn below. But a noise like a rodent scuttling inside the wall alerted her. Her heartbeat accelerated. Visitors who drove in came through a gate and were stopped by night watchman. She had never known anyone to row across the lake to her dock. Not at night anyway.
She returned to her bed and pulled a shotgun out from under the bed frame, checked to make sure the gun was loaded and moved to the bureau across the room. She placed the gun on the top of the bureau aiming it at the door. A woman of her size and strength could handle a twenty-gauge shotgun. That’s what the retired policeman who trained her had said.
“What you need is a gun and a big piece of furniture to shield you. That’s where to make your stand,” he had said. “You don’t want to go wandering around the house looking for an intruder. That’s a sure way to have him tackle you first and take your gun.”
She pressed her body against the side of the bureau and flattened her back against the wall. The thin nightgown was not enough to keep her warm but the slight tremble in her hand was not from the coolness of the room. She heard a small squeak. A hall floorboard? She grasped the barrel and racked the gun.
“Be sure you intend to shoot anyone who doesn’t stop at the sound of a shotgun being racked,” the trainer had said. “There’s no sound like it and unless the intruder is insane or on meth, he’ll turn around and get out fast.” The trainer had paused and pulled on his mustache as he stared at her. “Are you sure you’ll be able to shoot another human being?”
She had said yes at the training session.
But in the dark, alone in the house with only the lake light glimmering out beyond the windows, she was less certain she could shoot to kill. She leaned hard into the side of the bureau shielding her body from anyone coming through the door.
Another noise. A footstep? Not the wind, not an old floorboard. Someone was in the hall outside her room. The staircase was carpeted, but the hallway floor was bare polished mahogany. She would hear steps.
She checked the safety on the gun. She couldn’t see it in the darkness but her finger assured her the safety button was pushed over to red.
“Black you’re safe; red you’re dead.”
The door opened and a figure appeared in the doorway backlit by the night light in the hall. The figure darted across the room until it was silhouetted against the window with the lake light behind. Her finger was on the trigger but she couldn’t squeeze. The figure stood motionless.
He was shorter than she had expected. He raised his arm. The shot whistled by her ear and slammed into the wall. She felt a sharp pain on the left side of her scalp.
She aimed for the middle of his body and pulled the trigger. The shotgun roared back. The figure fell.
She crouched behind the bureau, breathing deeply. She could feel blood trickling down her left cheek. Her ears were deaf from the shotgun blast. Gradually, hearing returned. She thought she heard another noise. Then silence. She stood up, stepped over to a bedside table, and turned on the lamp.
The figure lay still. He should be dead. He had been no more than twelve feet away. She stepped tentatively toward the body, turning on overhead lights with her left hand. The figure was slim with light hair mostly covered by a black hoodie. The torso was shattered. Blood bubbled over the chest and stomach and spilled onto the carpet.
Below her, the kitchen door slammed shut. She turned and tiptoed into the hallway. She leaned against the bannister looking down into the front hallway. Nothing. Just the wind outside. Back in the room she leaned down, pulled the hoodie off, and stared at the face. The eyes were wide open. She put her fingers on the side of the throat then gently brushed the hair off the forehead.
She sank to her knees, barely breathing.
For six days, the Reno Police had called it self-defense. No trace of the rowboat she had described could be found anywhere on the lake, yet the officers who arrived had believed her version of events. She was known to them, a prominent citizen, rich and influential. If she said so, there must have been two people in that boat. One of them, the one dressed from head to toe in black, was dead. The other must have escaped through the kitchen, run across the lawn, and rowed the boat away before the police arrived. No, she hadn’t gone back to the window to check. She was too upset, “devastated” the officer had written in his report.
The medics confirmed that the wound on the left side of her head was superficial, just a graze on her scalp, but bloody and definitely caused by a bullet. The police dug a bullet out of the bedroom wall. Looked like self-defense, all right. Indeed she was lucky to be alive.
Then the new assistant district attorney decided to make it more complicated. He was new to Nevada. He didn’t know the town. Even after two weeks on the job, he still hadn’t figured out that Reno’s spring sun was strong enough to sunburn his bald spot in an hour. Idiot. He should have found time to buy a hat. A Stetson maybe. Where he came from, a Stetson would have seemed comic. His old buddies back east would have told him he was too short and too pale to carry it off. But in Reno, why not? His scalp itched.
He put his feet up on his new desk and growled at the police chief facing him. “How does a woman shoot her own mother in self-defense? The mother was sixty-five and small. The daughter was much taller. She should have been able to disarm her mother not blow her away with a twenty gauge.”
“Perhaps,” said the police chief, trying to conceal his impatience with the new ADA. “But if the daughter was really scared for her life, she may have felt she had to shoot back.”
“And the daughter told us she thought the mother was an intruder,” added the tall detective who had been first on the scene and had examined the body. He was in charge of the investigation. “She says she didn’t know who she had shot until after she turned the lights on.”
The new ADA looked perturbed. In his mind, the two Reno cops were not only skeptical of his theories on the case but borderline disrespectful. “Listen, folks. Something’s not right with this,” he said. “You don’t know who shot first. The daughter could have also had a pistol, shot the wall, and put the pistol in the mother’s hand, to make it look like…”
The chief covered his face with his hand. Sweet Jesus what an asshole. Where did the DA find this dipshit? The chief cleared his throat. “What about the bloody wound on the daughter’s scalp. You know how difficult it would be to shoot yourself in the scalp? For Christ’s sake–”
Another detective appeared in the door of the office. “Ballistics is back. The bullet we dug out of the bedroom wall turns out to be too mangled to be sure it came from the gun we found in the mother’s hand.”
The ADA spun in his chair his feet striking the floor. “Damn. See? I thought something didn’t fit.” He patted his bald spot with his fingertips and stood up. No more than five foot six, it irritated him that he had to look up to the police chief. Unable to raise his height, he raised his voice. “I’ve got a strong feeling this Katherine Mackenzie killed her mother and then tried to make it look like self-defense. Shit, we should be going for murder one.”
“Don’t know if the DA will go for that,” said the police chief, stepping forward so he could enjoy hovering over the shorter man. “You probably know that Ed Vick is Nevada’s most successful DA, but you don’t know the woman. I can tell you Katherine Mackenzie’s close friends with the governor and she financed the campaigns of half the state legislature. She knows everyone and employs hundreds.”
“Chief’s got a point,” said the investigating detective. “Mackenzie’s rich, smart, good-looking, and tough as a two-dollar steak. Ed Vick’s never lost a case and may not want may not want to risk his reputation trying to convict her.”
The ADA slapped the desk with his hand so hard the chief and both detectives winced. “You mean to tell me the DA is going to let some bitch get away with murdering her own mother just because she’s influential and got money?”
The chief and the detectives were silent, staring down at the man beside his desk. They didn’t like him. He was a pipsqueak. He wasn’t Nevada. He was from some hellhole back east. He didn’t fit in. It would be tempting to let him get into trouble with Ed Vick. The lead detective concealed a smile behind his hand. Go for it, you stupid bastard.
But the chief knew screwing with the DA would also mean more work for everyone in the department. He sat down heavily in a chair in front of the desk. Now he was looking up at the ADA. His voice softened. “Think about it, sir. A woman with photos of a visible scalp wound who is rich enough to hire the best lawyer in the country is gonna plead self-defense for damn sure. And, if MacKenzie’s acquitted, come next election, she could make Ed Vick’s life a nightmare.”
The ADA stared back. He inhaled deeply and pushed his hands into his trouser pockets. “Dig deeper, gentlemen. Vick will come around to my point of view when we can give him a motive. I’m betting there’s a reason Mackenzie killed her own mother, and it wasn’t no god damned accident.”
First day of the trial, Reno July 2018:
The judge spoke slowly and so softly the jury had to lean forward to hear him. From time to time, he gestured toward the defendant sitting with her hands flat on the table so you could see her fingernails clean and short. She wore no rings.
The prosecution had brought large color photos of Katherine Mackenzie’s house into the courtroom where they sat against the wall opposite the jury. The photos, taken earlier that summer, showed a massive stone house set on two acres overlooking a lake. Fir trees towered above the rooflines shading the green lawns and shrubs. Tall rhododendrons grew beneath deep porches that faced the lake. Red and pink rose bushes marked the property lines. The lawn led down to a dock with a light mounted at the end. The photos were meant to stay in the courtroom throughout the trial, a constant reminder that the defendant was rich.
The old courtroom ceilings were high, the walls paneled in dark walnut, the windows tall and infrequently washed. An elaborate wooden wall, the “bar,” separated the well from the gallery, which, as of 1970, had upholstered chairs instead of the original wooden benches. The judge’s bench and witness chair were raised above the rest of the room overlooking the tables for the prosecution and the defense. The jury box held fat swivel chairs upholstered in red. Updated, yet it looked very nineteenth century to the reporters from out of town.
Judge Herman Mays, who was presiding over the trial, had been born on a cattle ranch in Winnemucca, Nevada. Years of law school and practice in Reno, plus twenty on the bench had softened his voice but not his temper. “Members of the Jury, this is a murder trial. The defendant, Katherine Mackenzie, is charged with the murder of her mother, Lenore Mackenzie. Both defendant and victim came from a prominent family, which is why all those reporters and photographers are here, clogging up the courtroom. Try to ignore them.”
The air, never too fresh in the old building, was warm and heavy. Mays turned to face the gallery behind the bar and, adjusting his rimless glasses, tapped the gavel. “As for the members of the media in attendance, no cameras may be used during the trial, no photographs inside the courtroom, and certainly no cell phones. I will not hesitate to expel anyone who disregards these rules.” He banged the gavel harder for emphasis.
The district attorney smiled. Ed Vick looked forward to prosecuting what he expected to be his fifteenth successful murder case. His new ADA had dug deep for evidence and found an amazing story about Katherine Mackenzie. Vick was as sure of his ground as he has ever been. He stood six foot five in cowboy boots and pressed jeans. His legs stretched past the prosecutor’s table and the boots moved back and forth to some internalized rhythm.
Vick spoke in a deep voice with a western accent. He wrote cowboy poetry and, when not on duty as Reno’s District Attorney, recited his verses at cowboy poetry gatherings in Nevada and Idaho. He had appeared twice on national television.
At the defendant’s table, the opposing lawyer smoothed the sleeve of an expensive lightweight suit. Damon O’Hara was tall, rail thin, oldest son of a San Francisco law family who practiced on both coasts with offices in Palo Alto and New York. Mackenzie’s Reno lawyers had described him as, “perhaps the best defense attorney in the country.” Perhaps. They had convinced her to hire O’Hara once the district attorney had announced he would personally prosecute the case.
“A genius but a newbie who has to catch up to the details,” was how the reporter from CNN described O’Hara to the writer from the New York Times.
“John Wayne vs. Clint Eastwood. A great fuckin’ duke out,” said Slate.com to MSNBC.
Or the best medical mystery story of our time, thought the senior writer from Vanity Fair who was sitting behind them.
The judge nodded to the prosecutor.
Ed Vick rose, turned to look at the defendant, then back to the jury. Five men and seven women gave him their full attention. “Ladies and gentlemen. This is a trial of murder in the first degree. Brutal, pre-meditated murder. The defense will claim self-defense, but we will prove that Katherine Mackenzie had a strong motive to kill her mother and that the act was deliberate and planned.” He paused for effect and stepped closer to the jury. “In addition, let me say Miss Mackenzie’s medical story, which bears directly on the murder, will be complex and even bewildering to those of you who have not made a study of brain science. We have witnesses who will try to make it as comprehensible as possible, but you are going to be required to keep track of an amazing, perhaps even monstrous, narrative.”
Oh, for Christ’s sake, Damon O’Hara wrote on a legal pad in front of him in large letters so his client and the media behind him could see them.
Vick put one booted foot up on the edge of the railing that ran in front of the jury box. “You jurors will hear a detailed description of a procedure performed by an unethical surgeon who took advantage of two vulnerable women. The first woman was the defendant, Katherine Mackenzie, also known as Kit, who was admitted to Westbridge Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles in October 2012. Kit was twenty-three, an attempted suicide not expected to survive the bullet lodged in the front part of her brain.”
Vick inclined his head to look at her. “The second woman was Margaret Carlson, age fifty, President of Faukland Industries, admitted that same day to the same hospital. Carlson had been in a major accident on the San Diego Freeway. Her taxi and two other cars had collided with a gasoline truck. All the vehicles caught fire. The flames could be seen as far away as the airport where Carlson had been headed. The taxi driver was killed. Carlson was badly burned over most of her body. She was barely alive and facing multiple plastic surgeries on her face and body.”
Ed Vick put his hands on the top of the railing. He braced his boot against the bottom and spoke in a voice so hushed Damon O’Hara almost rose to object. “Two nights after both women were admitted to Westbridge Memorial Hospital, a strange and highly illegal operation took place.”
“Louder, please,” said the judge.
Vick’s voice rose just enough for the gallery to hear. “Unscrupulous surgeons performed an illegal operation that created the defendant you see today. That woman is the transformed Katherine Mackenzie who, in fact, thinks, feels, and acts on the impulses from the cerebral cortex of another woman–the impulses of a brain that should have died six years ago. Kit Mackenzie is now a woman controlled by the thought process that once belonged to the late Margaret Carlson. And that thought process, ladies and gentlemen, ordered Mackenzie to murder her own mother.”
© 2019 by Bourne Morris