One morning in June of last year, Houston defense attorney Jack Carroll arrived preoccupied at Harris County’s 338th District Criminal Court. He had never appeared before the court’s presiding judge, Brock Thomas, and he needed to ask for a continuance. As he waited for his client to be brought in, he ignored the disheveled woman in jail orange waving frantically at him, trying to get his attention.
The woman was Ana Lilia Trujillo, who was on her way to becoming the most notorious accused murderer Houston had produced in years. She’d been arrested for killing her boyfriend, Alf Stefan Andersson, less than 24 hours earlier, and already it was nationwide news.
If she had stabbed Andersson with a steak knife, it would have been unremarkable, a commonplace if terrible act of domestic violence. But instead she had stabbed him with her five-and-a-half-inch stiletto heel. The legal sharks of Houston’s criminal defense corps, who like nothing better than the kind of attention the case was receiving, sent emissaries to tout their skills to Trujillo.
She already knew who she wanted, though. In the nineties Trujillo had frequented the same downtown bars that Jack frequented, back before downtown Houston was trendy, back when bars in the area were for serious drinkers. Jack in those years was a heavy drinker who came to know many prospective clients in the process, and he represented them well enough to earn street cred as a tough defense lawyer, which is how Trujillo remembered him. Two weeks after her arrest, the Stiletto Heel Murder was still reverberating on cable news, and Jack’s mother, in Miami, learned about it that way. She called her son to see whether he knew any juicy details. That same day he took the case.
I should mention here that Jack Carroll is my brother-in-law. His twin sister, the actress Lisa Hart Carroll, has been my wife for 25 years, so I’ve known Jack since the eighties, before he became a lawyer. He was an oil and gas headhunter when I met him, poaching geologists and oil traders from and for prominent companies, and was very successful. He drove a Jaguar and golfed for large bets with Major League Baseball Hall of Famers, several of whom showed up for his wedding in 2005, by which time he’d put heavy drinking behind him.
The headhunting job helped pay for law school and prepared him for the career he really wanted. After graduating from South Texas College of Law, in 1990, he took on court-appointed indigent clients, mostly drug offenders and drunk drivers, while also practicing corporate law to help pay the bills. Jack discovered he was adept in the courtroom. He was tall and lanky and good-looking, he could think on his feet, and juries liked him. Because he wasn’t afraid of going to trial, he soon found himself taking tougher cases, defending accused drug dealers and the occasional accused murderer. He once defended a man charged with killing a policeman, in a courtroom filled with officers in uniform, and managed to get the case dismissed.
He made a nice living, but Jack still called himself “a ham-and-egg lawyer.” His wife worked as a registered nurse. His office was a walk-up above a bail bondsman, near the criminal courts building. He’d never had a big, splashy case, the kind that propels trial lawyers into high-rise office suites, until Trujillo asked him to defend her. She had no money to pay his fees, but TV producers soon began calling and offering to buy the rights to her story, all promising prime-time attention.
As the trial drew near and reporters kept circling, Jack would ask me whether he should trust them. I could tell he was excited by the fuss but also resentful of the pressure that came with it, the mounting concern that this one trial might define his career. He spent more and more time, unpaid time, preparing for it—studying the case file, interviewing potential witnesses, pondering the killing. He became convinced, truly convinced, that Ana Trujillo was innocent.