Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jack Abbott: From the Belly of the Beast

The Verdict

Jack Abbott
Jack Abbott

The case went to the jury on January 20, after eight days of testimony. Norman Mailer earlier told reporters that he hoped Abbott didn't get a life sentence if he was found guilty. "It would destroy him," he said to the press. Mailer also acknowledged some responsibility in getting Abbott out on parole. "It's something Abbott's friends are going to have to live with for the rest of their lives," he announced. During a tumultuous press conference outside the courtroom, Mailer told reporters, "I am willing to gamble with certain elements in society to save this man's talent!"

The next day, January 21, 1982, the seven man, five women jury announced they had reached a verdict. Abbott was found guilty of manslaughter in the first degree. It was a compromise reached by a panel that was strongly divided over the murder charge. Jury members later said that Abbott's experiences during a lifetime of incarceration had an adverse psychological effect on his judgment. But it was not an easy decision. At one point the jury was evenly divided. "Six of us felt compassion for Abbott because of what had happened to him in his life," one juror told reporters after the verdict was announced, "but six others felt he should go to prison for murder with intent."

But not everyone was as understanding. Richard Adan's family was devastated by the lenient verdict. His father in law, Henry Howard, called the decision an outrage. "I'm shocked," he told reporters from the Daily News, "I just don't have any anger left. This Abbott never deserves to walk the streets again." Abbott accepted the verdict without a reaction. The judge asked for a psychiatric examination to guide him in sentencing and remanded the defendant back to jail.

In some ways, Abbott was fortunate. If he was convicted of second-degree murder, he would have received a life sentence. A manslaughter conviction meant he could get anywhere from 6 years to 25 years. The judge had many options in sentencing based on a variety of factors. For Abbott, it was his lucky day, and also his 38th birthday. As the jury left the courtroom, one juror looked over at the defendant.

"Happy birthday, Jack!" said the man.

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