Angel of the Dark by Sidney Sheldon

The question now was: Was her apparent insanity an act, as Frankie Mancini vociferously insisted, a charade designed to send him to death row while she lived out the remainder of her days in some cushy psychiatric ward? Or was it the truth?

Roused from his usual torpor by the mesmerizing effect that Basta’s evidence appeared to have had on the jury, particularly the women, William Boyce opened the session that began after the break aggressively, going straight for the jugular.

“Ms. Basta, when you assumed different identities expressly for the purpose of marrying and murdering defenseless elderly men—”

“Objection!” Ellen Watts screeched.

“On what grounds, Your Honor? She’s admitted that much under oath.”

“I’ll allow it. You may finish the question, Mr. Boyce.”

“When you assumed these identities, presumably that required a lot of preparation?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Oh, I think you do. Before each crime you had to change your appearance, and invent and learn an entirely new backstory for your new ‘character.’ You’d have had to practice accents, find employment, make friends. Establish a base from which you could engineer a meeting with the intended target, then begin the business of seducing him.”

Ellen Watts got to her feet again. “Is there a question here?”

“There is. How long did it take? To become Angela or Tracey or any of the others?”

Sofia looked uncomfortable. “It varied. Sometimes months. Sometimes years.”

“So you would spend months, or even years in training, preparing for your next kill?”

“It wasn’t like that.”

“Oh? What was it like?”

“Frankie would take me away for a while, after…” Her voice trailed away.

“After the murders?”

She nodded. “We were supposed to go and visit my sister. We were going to find her together. But then we’d end up moving again. The new names were supposed to be a fresh start. They weren’t part of any plan.”

“Of course they were part of a plan, Ms. Basta! Did you or did you not know, when you met Sir Piers Henley, that you intended to marry him?”

“Tracey married him.”

“You were Tracey, Ms. Basta. Did ‘Tracey’ know that her real husband, Frances Mancini, intended to murder Sir Piers?”

“I…I don’t know.” Sofia looked around her in panic, like a fox cub surrounded by a pack of slavering hounds. Matt Daley couldn’t stand to watch. Leave her alone! Stop bullying her.

“You do know, Ms. Basta. You know very well. Tracey helped Mancini get into the house in Chester Square. She disabled the alarm for him, didn’t she?”

“Yes.” Sofia’s voice was barely a whisper. “But you don’t understand. She had no choice. She had to. Frankie—”

“Yes, yes, we know. Frankie ‘made’ her do it. Ms. Basta, isn’t the truth really that you willingly and actively participated in all these murders?”


“That you and Mancini planned them together, months or even years in advance?”

“I told you, it wasn’t like that.”

“What was more sexually arousing to you, Ms. Basta? The rape fantasy? Or watching the innocent men you entrapped being mercilessly butchered?”


“Overruled.” Judge Muñoz was starting to enjoy himself. He’d waited a long time for the prosecution to make this bitch squirm and he wasn’t about to let her off the hook now. “Answer the question, Ms. Basta.”

For the first time, and quite unexpectedly, Sofia showed a flash of anger. “I wasn’t aroused, Mr. Boyce,” she shouted. “I was raped and beaten. I was forced. He told me if I didn’t do what he asked, he’d do the same to my sister. That he’d rape her and torture her and kill her. If you think I derived enjoyment from that, you’re the sick one, not me.”

Ellen Watts put her head in her hands.

William Boyce allowed himself a small smile.

“I feel obliged to remind you, Ms. Basta, that you don’t have a sister. But I do so appreciate your use of the word I. No further questions.”

EVERYONE AGREED THAT WILLIAM BOYCE’S CROSS-EXAMINATION had been devastating to Sofia Basta’s defense. The L.A. Times put it most succinctly: “Never in the history of criminal justice has not just a single word, but a single letter, had such a profound impact on a case.” In one enraged outburst, Sofia had turned all the doubt and goodwill so carefully cultivated by her attorney over the previous few days into hardened certainty: the Angel of Death’s “identity confusion” was nothing but an act. And if that was fake, how much more of her insanity defense might be put on?

Ellen Watts did her best to limit the damage, calling Sofia’s current, state-appointed prison psychiatrist to give an evaluation of her mental state. Dr. Lucy Pennino was a strong witness and her testimony was unequivocal: Basta was “without question” suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Like most schizophrenics, her condition was cyclical—it would come and go—and her mental state now, during the trial, was almost certainly more lucid than it would have been during the times of the murders, when she was taking none of the mood-stabilizing medication she was taking now.

“A person suffering from her condition would be highly susceptible to influence by others, both for bad and good. Matthew Daley, for example, seems to have had a profoundly positive effect on Sofia, when she met him as Lisa Baring. During my sessions with Ms. Basta, she has described theirs as being a genuine love relationship. Had she met Mr. Daley before the first murder, rather than after the fourth, it is my professional opinion that the Azrael killings would never have taken place.”

It was good stuff, made all the more poignant by the sight of Matt Daley openly, and copiously, weeping from his wheelchair in the front row. But one look at the jurors’ stony faces told anybody watching that Pennino’s evidence was too little, too late.

Inevitably, Judge Muñoz’s summing-up was as black and white and compassionless as was legally possible.

“The question before you today,” he told the jurors, “is not whether Frances Mancini or Sofia Basta had unhappy childhoods. Neither do you need to ask yourself whether either defendant has, or has had, psychological problems. You do not need to understand their motives, their relationship or anything about the inner workings of their twisted minds other than this: Did they kill those four men deliberately? If you believe that they did, you must convict.

“We already know that together, Frances Mancini and Sofia Basta carried out these horrendous crimes and that they were brought to justice in the process of committing another. Make no mistake. Had they not been caught, Mr. Ishag would not be alive today. And despite his impassioned pleas for clemency for Ms. Basta, the truth is that Mr. Daley too was lucky to escape from her clutches with his life. Had they not been caught, thanks to Assistant Director McGuire’s dogged determination, their killing spree would have continued, perhaps for another ten years. More innocent men would have lost their lives in the most unimaginably terrifying circumstances, betrayed and slaughtered by a woman they loved, and who they believed loved them. This court has heard no convincing expression of remorse from either defendant.

“Much has been made of the defendants’ mental capacity, in particular Ms. Basta’s. In light of this, I am obliged to remind you that according to the law it makes no difference whether she believed herself to be somebody else at the time she perpetrated these crimes. All that matters is whether she intended to kill. The same goes for Mr. Mancini. If you believe there was intent, you must convict.

“You may now retire to consider your verdict. All rise.”

Once the accused were led away, the spectators began to disperse. Danny McGuire turned to David Ishag and Matt Daley. “Can I take you both to lunch?”

Ishag looked tired, but Matt looked gravely ill, white as a sheet and shaking.

“We should get out of Beverly Hills before those reporters mob us.”

“Thanks, but I can’t,” said David, gathering up his notes and stuffing them into his briefcase. “I’m catching a plane back to India tonight.”

Matt looked amazed. “Before the verdict is announced?”

“I have to. The jury’ll be out for days and I have a business to run.”

“You really think they’ll be out for days?” asked Matt hopefully. “You think they’re that uncertain?”

“I think they’re totally certain,” said David. “They have to go through the motions of weighing up all the evidence, that’s all. Boyce’s footnotes alone would take a week to read.” He shook Danny McGuire’s hand, fighting hard to control his emotions. “Thank you. What Muñoz said was true. I’d be dead if it weren’t for you.”

“You’re welcome. You’re sure you won’t stay, at least for lunch?”

“Quite sure. Good-bye, Matt. Good luck.” And with that, David Ishag strode out of the courtroom and into the blacked-out limousine that was waiting for him, swatting aside reporters’ shouted questions like a giant dismissing a swarm of gnats.

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