Jack Abbott's Other Victims Fight Back, Suing for the Royalties That Came with His Fame

updated 02/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Since most violent criminals are flatly and deservedly broke, they don't get sued for their felonies. Jack Henry Abbott, convicted of the fatal stabbing of a 22-year-old Manhattan actor and sometime waiter named Richard Adan, is no ordinary killer. His ballyhooed prison memoir, In the Belly of the Beast (Random House, $11.95), has already grossed $500,000 in hardcover and will be released in paperback by Vintage Books next month. The thought of Jack Abbott as a rich man infuriates Adan's grieving relatives. In retaliation, his wife, Ricci, and her family have sued Abbott for $10 million. Snaps Ricci's stepfather, Henry Howard: "I want to make sure that neither Abbott nor anyone else makes money off the blood of my son-in-law."

Howard has hired F. Lee Bailey to represent Adan's widow in court. Last November lawyers from Bailey's firm persuaded a New York Supreme Court justice to freeze Abbott's royalties. The money—about $50,000—is being held in an escrow account until the case is resolved. Ricci, 22, is considering another lawsuit against the parole authorities who released Abbott from prison six weeks before the killing. According to Bailey, there is a lesson in such litigation. "It's about time to face the fact that some prisoners should never be released," he says. "Abbott, for example, is an unsalvageable person."

There is no shortage of applicants for a share of the contested royalties. "We haven't committed any crime, so we feel we should get our 10 percent," says Russell Galen, whose firm acted as Abbott's agent. According to Bailey, defense counsel Ivan Fisher has already received $25,000 of his $100,000 fee and has asked for the rest from the escrow account. "The court will have to decide who deserves the money more—the widow or the lawyer," says Bailey.

For Ricci Adan and her family, of course, the money is almost incidental. Once a college literature teacher in her native Philippines, Ricci's mother, Luisa Howard, says she and her daughter felt betrayed when they saw writer Norman Mailer, who backed Abbott's bid for parole, sitting near the defense table in the courtroom. "I taught The Naked and the Dead," she says. "Literature to me is the highest form of art, and I thought Norman Mailer was the great literary genius of America. But what kind of literary man is this, a man with no sensitivity?"

Henry Howard, a former actor and owner of the restaurant where Adan was killed, goes even further. He blames Mailer and others among Abbott's literary sympathizers for swaying the jury in his favor. Apparently accepting the defendant's contention that he felt he was being threatened at the time of the killing, the seven men and five women found Abbott guilty not of second-degree murder, but of the lesser charge of first-degree manslaughter. It carries a maximum sentence of 8½ to 25 years. (This could be increased to life if Abbott is found to be a "persistent violent felony offender" at a hearing this month.) Banned from the courtroom after disrupting Abbott's testimony with a bitter name-calling outburst, Howard paced the corridors outside, brooding. During one break he approached philosopher-novelist Jean Malaquais, 73, who had befriended Abbott through Mailer. "How can you sit there and influence the jury?" asked Howard. "Are you so old that you're crazy? In your daughter's lifetime Abbott is going to be back on the streets with a knife."

Less outspoken than her stepfather, Ricci Adan cherishes the small reminders of her slain husband, who was also a promising playwright. The walls of her room are covered with pictures of Richard and the couple's February 1981 wedding at the Howard family retreat in rural Woodstock, N.Y. During the day she teaches dance. At night she rearranges Richard's black leather portfolio of pictures, résumés and reviews and reads his clippings again and again. In December her stepfather took her back to the Philippines to bury Richard's ashes in a family plot. (Adan's parents, both Cuban immigrants, are divorced. His mother, who lives in Florida, attended the trial every day; his father lives in New Jersey.)

Howard, meanwhile, has consulted a literary agent about publishing some of Adan's poems, but he is determined not to exploit the dead man's memory. "We're not into the marketing of my son-in-law," he says grimly. "We don't want to start a writing competition between Jack Abbott and Richard Adan."

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