Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jack Abbott: From the Belly of the Beast

Abbott Defends Himself

Jack Abbott in court
Jack Abbott in court

After a parade of damaging prosecution witnesses, it was time for Abbott to defend himself. On the morning of January 14, 1982, he was called to the stand. Abbott was not a large man. He stood only five-foot-seven and had a thin, wiry build. Since he almost never smiled, the defendant had a hard, stern appearance, marked by chiseled facial features with a touch of Asian ancestry. His dark brown hair was slicked back and combed neatly. Wearing thin wire framed glasses, which gave the impression of a serious minded college student, Abbott sat uncomfortably in the witness chair. Guided by defense attorney Ivan Fisher, he recounted for the court the awful story of his luckless life from the time he was a child in Michigan. He told of years of foster homes and his inability to adjust. While he was still a teenager, Abbott said, he was incarcerated in a reform school where he was frequently placed in solitary confinement. Later, as an adult, Abbott said he was tortured with drugs and more during solitary confinement.

"They were out to get me!" he said of prison guards.

On the night of the killing, he admitted that he met the two women in a bar and later they agreed to eat something at the Binibon. He said they had been drinking but it did not affect his mood. "We put away quite a few but I don't get drunk so I felt fine," he told the court. He said that Adan was the one who was aggressive and whatever Abbott did, he simply reacted to perceived hostilities. "If I was alone," Abbott testified, "I would have walked out of it a long time ago." He said that Adan asked him to step outside. Abbott admitted carrying a knife from his apartment. He said that he was afraid of Manhattan streets and was armed only to defend himself.

Abbott said that Adan took him to a dark alley and appeared to pull out a weapon. "I was going to run," Abbott said to the court, "but then I thought 'You don't do that.'" According to Abbott's explanation, Adan tried to stab him and he only defended himself. Abbott told him not to come any closer but Adan approached in a threatening manner. "All of a sudden, the knife was in his chest and it was dead still," Abbott testified. He then returned to the restaurant, told the girls what happened and they all left the Binibon immediately.

"It was one of the most tragic misunderstandings I can imagine," Abbott explained to the court. Of course, Abbott's version was very different from that of other witnesses who testified it was Abbott who was the aggressor. During cross-examination, prosecutor James Fogel had the defendant repeat the story in detail and challenged him on his self-defense claim. When asked why he didn't retreat if Adan was threatening him, Abbot replied, "I couldn't back off!" As cross examination continued, Fogel read excerpts from In the Belly of the Beast to the jury. He wanted the jury to see what type of a man Abbott really was.

"You move your left foot to the side to step across his right side, body length. A light pivot toward him with your right shoulder and the world turns upside down. You have sunk the knife to its hilt. Into the middle of his chest Slowly he begins to struggle for his life... You can feel his life trembling through the knife in his hand."

When he finished reading the paragraph, Fogel turned to Abbott and asked, "Did you write that?" Abbott smirked and replied, "It's good isn't it?"

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