Haisley told Bennie to get his Bible and open it to the Book of Psalms; then he handed the phone to his wife and rushed out the door. By the time he got to Heisser's house, the .357 was sitting on the floor, and Thompson, still on the phone with Haisley's wife, wore a look that Haisley had not seen on a man before. "Eyes vacant," he recalls. "Staring off into space. Looked like he hadn't slept for a week. Burned out. This was it. The cutoff point."
Thompson was free to go to Cleveland, but Kelly and Kohnke didn't want to risk the perception that he was fleeing. Besides, if he were arrested in Ohio, it would create the unseemly spectacle of him returning to New Orleans in chains. But when Thompson showed up at their office to make a last, desperate appeal—"I didn't do it!" he said. "I'm going to be arrested for a crime I didn't do! My own son!"—the lawyers thought he might be breaking down.
"Go on, go to Cleveland," Kohnke said.
So Thompson went. He hurled himself into Simmons's world of weights, mirrors and measures. The previous year he had been the hardest grinder on the Browns, arriving first for the off-season conditioning programs and leaving last, but now he was grimmer and more fiercely driven than ever. "He just worked and worked, lifting and running the stairs until he was exhausted," recalls Simmons. "Then he would play racquetball for two hours. He couldn't sleep, and he was trying to get everything out of himself and go home and pass out."
He rarely spoke about what was happening back in New Orleans, and the other players rarely brought it up. "The whole football team accepted me," Thompson says. "Knowing they had faith and confidence in me meant a lot."
He might be a murder suspect in New Orleans but not in Simmons's house. He found some comfort there. Jerry and his wife, Rebecca, had Thompson over for dinner every chance they could and sought to make him part of their family. They even encouraged him that spring to take their three kids—Joe, then 12; Jennifer, 10; and Jordon, 7—on outings to Cleveland sporting events. It was the most eloquent way they could express their absolute trust in him.
Only the New Orleans police had problems with Thompson. They had been badgering Kelly and Kohnke to bring him in to make yet another statement. Late in March, talking through a speakerphone with a homicide detective, the lawyers learned just how certain the police were that Thompson had committed the murders. The cops needed another statement, the detective said, because the one Thompson had given on Feb. 13 was a fabrication.
"The whole statement, from beginning to end, is a lie!" the detective said. "Until Bennie comes forward to straighten it out, the police will look at him like he's the biggest criminal in the world.... He threatened to do it, it happened. He said he didn't have that type of gun, he did. He said he was at home, he wasn't."
"You say he wasn't at home?" Kelly asked. "Where was he?"
"He was on Morrison Road, that's where he was!"