Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jack Abbott: From the Belly of the Beast

The Trial

On October 7, 1981, Jack Henry Abbott was indicted in Manhattan for second degree murder for the death of Richard Adan. In a press conference later that day, District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau said the evidence indicated that Abbott intentionally murdered Adan. "There was no self-defense," he told reporters, "It was intentional. Abbott stabbed Adan with a knife and killed him immediately." At his arraignment, Abbott pled not guilty and was remanded to custody. In the meantime, the royalties from his book, In the Belly of the Beast and any other income derived from that project were frozen by court order. Richard Adan's widow, Ricci Adan, filed a wrongful death civil suit against Abbott for $10 million.

The criminal trial began in Manhattan Supreme Court on January 3, 1982. Defense attorney Ivan S. Fisher told reporters he would be calling Abbott to the stand and the court could expect to hear from Norman Mailer and others in the literary field. Fisher said that the killing may have been an act of self defense. "Simply because of the celebrity of this man," he told the court, "you don't convert an accident into a murder."

After opening statements were completed, prosecutors called Susan Roxas to the stand. She was one of the two females who were with Abbott in the restaurant on the night of the killing. Roxas testified that she and her friend had run into Abbott in a bar that night and had a few drinks together. Afterwards, they agreed to get something to eat at the Binibon located at Second Avenue and Fifth Street. While they were at the restaurant, Roxas saw Abbott become involved in an argument with a waiter. "He looked very angry," Roxas told the court. She saw the two men go outside and then a minute later, Abbott returned alone. "He said 'Let's get out of here, I just killed a man!" she said.

Another witness, Wayne Larsen, 35, testified that he actually witnessed the killing as he walked along Fifth Street. He told the court he saw Abbott stab the waiter after a brief but loud argument. Larsen saw Adan backing up away from Abbott and then turn to go back to the restaurant. The witness told the court he then saw Abbott reach around the victim and stab him from the front "with terrific velocity." The witness said, "it was a resounding impact!" At this point during the testimony, Jack Abbott asked to leave the courtroom and the request was granted. Defense attorney Fisher later told reporters that, "the testimony was extremely upsetting to him, reliving the event."

Attending the trial were many of Abbott's friends and supporters, including Norman Mailer, his wife, Norris Church, writer Jerzy Kosinski, author of Being There, actress Susan Sarandon and actor Christopher Walken. "I often go to court to watch people's emotions," Walken told a reporter from the New York Post. Sarandon especially, became enamored by Abbott. Shortly after the trial, she gave birth to a baby. She and the father, actor Tim Robbins, named him "Jack Henry." Abbott had become a celebrity himself, a social curiosity, a point of contention utilized by both sides of the political aisle. His situation was debated on news programs and in the printed press. "Let's not destroy Abbott!" begged Mailer to the New York press. Jack Abbott was described as a literary star, a Marxist revolutionary, a convicted murderer, "an author of the highest magnitude." He was many things to many people. But lost in the quagmire of debate and obscured by the endless pleas of mercy for the misunderstood killer, was the forgotten life of Richard Adan. A man who did nothing more but advise a diner that the restaurant had no men's restroom.

He had been killed in an argument over a toilet.