BILL DENNEY TRIES TO FIGURE OUT THE SCORE
It was none other than Bill Denney, the television sportscaster. With a great deal of nonchalance, Denney sauntered up the center aisle of Judge Norman D. Hall's courtroom. He took his seat in the witness chair.
Max Dunlap, the accused killer of Don Bolles, nodded his head like an avid sports fan, awaiting the good news from Channel 12's expert about a last-second rally by the home team.
Murray Miller, the loquacious defense attorney, suppressed a cough.
"Will you state your name?" assistant attorney general Warren Granville asked.
"I'm Bill Denney."
"And what do you do for a living?"
"I'm on TV," Denney said. He grinned over toward the jury box. Several of the jurors grinned back.
Denney seemed every bit as relaxed and in control on the witness stand as when he offers those incisive nightly remarks about the world of sports for the television audience. The jurors were at attention now. To them Denney was the familiar and friendly face who reads the football, basketball and baseball scores to them from their television screens. The realization that this well-known personality was actually going to be speaking to them obviously energized the members of the entire jury panel. Several jurors looked at each other and smiled.
Prosecutor Granville, however, was extremely serious. Denney was going to be an extremely critical witness. Because of his celebrity, everything he said would be remembered by the jurors.
"How long have you lived in the Valley?" prosecutor Granville asked.
"Fifty-nine years," Denney said, grinning over at the jury again. It was uncanny. Life was imitating art.
Denney was every bit as cheerful on the witness stand as he is on the nightly news predicting that the Phoenix Cardinals are about to become a winning team.
"How do you know Max Dunlap?" Granville asked.
"I went to school with Max," Denney said. He then added that they have met only twice since leaving North High School more than 40 years ago.
In 1985, they met at an Arabian horse show in Scottsdale. They were both accompanied by their wives at the time and the meeting, according to Denney's recollection, lasted about 15 minutes.
"What did you talk about?" Granville asked.
Denney said he had told Dunlap he was convinced of Dunlap's innocence and felt he was getting a dirty deal.
Dunlap leaned forward in his chair, suppressing a smile.
As a television performer, Denney understands that perception is everything in life.
He recalled telling Dunlap that he could not understand why Dunlap always seemed to be in the company of Jimmy Robison every time he appeared on television.
"Max told me the only time he ever met Robison was in jail," Denney said. He grinned. As far as Denney was concerned, that seemed to settle the entire matter.
But Granville was on a serious mission here. The weakest point in Dunlap's alibi has always been his explanation for showing up with $5,000 in a bag to give John Harvey Adamson after the bombing.
Dunlap has said that a mysterious stranger came to his home at 7 a.m. and asked him to bring the money to a bank and change the money into small bills and deliver it.
"If you know Max," his friends say, "that's the kind of guy he is. If you ask him to do a favor, he'll always do it."
The prosecution maintains the money was the payoff for bombing Bolles' car.
And now, years later, no less a personage than Bill Denney appears with an account from Dunlap's own mouth explaining why he brought the money to Adamson. "And then," Granville said, "you asked Max why he changed the bills to smaller denominations and delivered them?"
At this point, Denney became uncomfortable. "I remembered," he began, "or I disremembered, Max telling me he had done so because Kemper Marley asked him. What I did was create Max's answer out of my own mind."
Being a celebrity, Denney apparently often feels it is his responsibility to make pronouncements on various public issues. And since he is in the business of what is essentially idle chitchat, it's not entirely necessary that any of these pronouncements be based on hard evidence.
So it came to pass that in 1991, Denney was sitting in Jordan's restaurant on Central Avenue.
He spotted John Sellers, who had been the chief police investigator in the Bolles murder, heading toward the cash register. Denney also remembered Sellers from the detective's early days as a bike racer.
Denney called him over and a conversation ensued.
"I said to Sellers that I felt Max Dunlap was not guilty. That's when I misspoke."
Granville spoke quietly:
"And you told Sellers how Dunlap had told you that the reason he brought the money was because Marley asked him to?"
Denney's face turned rueful. It was an expression he might adopt if compelled to announce that his great pal, Cardinals coach Joe Bugel, had been fired by Denney's other misunderstood acquaintance, Billy Bidwill.
What Denney didn't realize was that he had filled in the last piece to the puzzle. He was the one who could provide the missing link in the case. Denney didn't understand the importance of what to him had been an offhand remark until he received a visit from George Weiss, an investigator from the Attorney General's Office, a short time later.
Denney repeated the story to Weiss.
And then Denney received a visit from his old pal, Max Dunlap. On January 7 of this year, Dunlap dropped over, unannounced, to Denney's home. "He dropped by to ask me about the things I had said to Sellers about him."
And suddenly, the realization hit Denney that Max Dunlap hadn't told him that story about the money, after all.
Denney seemed truly flustered now.
"I had been following the case very closely," he said. "I read the newspapers. I think they confused me."
As a prosecutor, Granville possesses an effective, low-key style. He does not display a domineering attitude. He allows witnesses to jump into their own mistakes.
Defense attorney Miller took over the questioning. He was extremely friendly. He referred to Denney as "Bill." And Denney referred to him as "Murray." This was a nicety the jury might well pick up on. It was the kind of subtle lawyer's technique that might make a difference in the end.
"As I said, Murray, I could never understand why Max was involved. A guy gets kicked off the racing commission. Are you going to have a contract over that?"
Denney told Miller of his anguish over the matter.
"I spent six or seven nights when I couldn't sleep. All because I said things that weren't true. I had created these things in my mind over the years."
Miller got into Marley's relationship with Dunlap.
"The guy was like a father to him. Marley was like an old cowboy. If my father asked me to do something like that, I probably would have done it, too."
Miller wanted to make sure the point was made to the jury that Dunlap hadn't brought the money as a favor to Marley.
"Max never told you these things, did he?" Miller asked.
"I got it from the papers, Murray," Denney said. "I absorbed it like a fish. I apologize to the court."
Over in his chair, Dunlap shook his head and took a deep breath. He had dodged another bullet.
Judge Hall told Denney that his presence was no longer required and that he was free to go about his business.
Denney's training as a television personality took over. He raised both hands expressively and gave the jury a big smile. It's the same little shtick he uses as an exit gimmick after delivering the nightly scores.
But by now, the jurors seemed puzzled. After all, was this a man who really knew the score?