I'm having breakfast in the cafeteria on the main floor of the Maricopa County Courthouse. Since I'm going to the Suns game that night, I'm sitting there checking the box scores of the previous night's NBA games in USA Today.
Al Sitter, for 20 years an investigative reporter for the Arizona Republic, suddenly plops down alongside me. He's retired now, but still thinks he might write a book about the Don Bolles murder case.
For this reason, Sitter has been covering every minute of Max Dunlap's trial.
"Are you actually reading the sports section?" Sitter demands.
"First thing I read every day, Al." Sitter frowns.
"That really turns me off," he says. "Sports! What a waste of time." We worked together at the Republic for five years. I'm accustomed to his idiosyncrasies. Sitter glares at the multicolored pages of the USA Today sports section as though they were an abomination produced by the devil. "There was something I was going to show you," Sitter says. "But it can wait. It's hardly as important as Charles Barkley."
I had been more than willing to forgo my study of the rebounds, assists and steals collected the previous night by the nation's youngest class of millionaires. But Sitter's discovery of my journalistic priorities had exhausted his patience. In an obvious state of irritation, he bolted from the table and headed for Judge Norman Hall's courtroom on the 11th floor.
Sitter is a curmudgeon. But he's also a thorough reporter who once was honored as Arizona's Outstanding Journalist of the Year.
During the period of the Bolles slaying, it was actually Sitter who was reporting and writing many of the Republic's best stories.
By that time, Bolles was reporting politics from the state legislature. He had become burned out with full-time investigative reporting. So when word flashed through the Republic newsroom that a reporter's car had been blown up, most staffers assumed the victim was Al Sitter.
They were shocked to see Sitter walk into the newsroom only minutes later after finishing his lunch.
@body:It wasn't until the morning recess of the Dunlap trial that Sitter favored me with his attention once more. "Did you ever see this?" Sitter asked. He opened his notebook. From it he removed a copy of a canceled check.
It was a check written on the account of Kemper Marley in the Valley National Bank to be deposited in a Mexican bank. The amount was $3.1 million.
I studied the check. I'd never seen a check that large before.
"What does it mean, Al?" I asked.
"That's what I've been trying to find out for ten years," Sitter said. "I keep showing it to all kinds of people, cops, lawyers, bankers . . . anybody who might be able to tell me something. Maybe someday I'll get an answer."
Sitter made a face as if he'd bitten into something that tasted bitter.
"My guess is that Marley was attempting to wash this money and use it as a payoff to somehow help Dunlap. He wanted to buy somebody off."
"Did you ever write a story about this check?"
"No," Sitter said. "I've never been able to hook it up to anything concrete yet. I'm missing the most important link. I can't prove where the money ended up." The $3.1 million check is mind-boggling. It reminds you once again how rich and powerful Marley actually was. Since that time, millions of dollars of Marley's fortune have been donated for public buildings that now bear his name. Marley was a multifaceted man. His name is on the agricultural school building at the University of Arizona. His framed caricature rests behind the bar in a famous sports restaurant in the heart of Scottsdale.
Given the scope of his wealth, estimated at close to $30 million, it's understandable how he could lend Dunlap more than a million dollars and then forgive the loan. Besides, Dunlap had been his surrogate son for more than 25 years.
It is easy to see that with Marley's involvement, rumors would overtake the case in the same way they did in the John F. Kennedy assassination.
The first question to answer about his $3.1 million check is to determine what else of significance took place around the time the check was written.
"Was there anything that could be worth a payoff that big?" I asked Sitter. Sitter nodded his head slowly. He grinned.
"Well, one rather significant event did occur during this period. In March 1980, two months after this check was deposited, the Arizona Supreme Court voted unanimously to overthrow the murder convictions of Dunlap and Jimmy Robison in the Bolles case."
I later checked the Supreme Court ruling.
Actually, there were two separate Supreme Court rulings that overturned the convictions of Dunlap and Robison. Both were issued on March 13, 1980.
The opinion in Dunlap's case was written by Justice Frank X. Gordon. The opinion in Robison's case was written by Justice Willam Holohan. Both decisions were unanimous.
But many lawyers still shake their heads in wonderment over the unusual grounds cited for freeing Dunlap and Robison from death row.
Dunlap and Robison's defense attorneys argued that John Harvey Adamson, the chief prosecution witness, should not have been allowed to take the Fifth Amendment during the murder trial. But the questions Adamson refused to answer had nothing to do with the bombing of Bolles' car.
Here's what happened. While under cross-examination, Adamson refused to say whether he was also engaged in the business of receiving stolen goods at the time of the bombing. Later, Adamson also refused to tell whether he had filed income-tax returns that year.
Adamson conferred with his attorney about answering the questions and then offered to answer them fully.
But by that time, Dunlap's attorneys had a change of heart. They didn't even want the questions answered.
All of this information was available to the members of the Supreme Court. Amazingly, they still signed on to their bizarre ruling--freeing both Dunlap and Robison.
Judge Frank X. Gordon wrote one of the opinions. This is the same highly regarded jurist who presided over the impeachment of former governor Evan Mecham. Most recently, Judge Gordon issued the ruling opening the entire state of Arizona to casino gambling.
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"The defendant had a right to gain more complete disclosure about this subject matter on cross-examination," Judge Gordon wrote of Dunlap.
"That he was prevented from so doing constitutes reversible error."
And that was enough to set Dunlap free.
Adamson is scheduled to take the witness stand sometime this week. Then we'll see how relevant the matter of his income-tax returns are.
This is Max Dunlap's last time around the track. He has been haunted by the Bolles murder since 1976. If Murray Miller, his attorney, is able to convince the jury of his innocence, Dunlap will be a happy man. At 64, he will walk out of the court a free man after 17 years spent under a cloud of suspicion. But if the jury finds him guilty, Dunlap, the father of seven, will be driven south to Florence under heavy guard. Once there, he will be placed again in a cell on death row.
As they say on the street, "What goes around comes around.