MURDER TRIAL? WHAT MURDER TRAIL?
Perhaps it has finally ended.
I have some irreverent and possibly unprofessional things to say about this haunting murder trial:
All during Max Dunlap's trial for the murder of Don Bolles, the Arizona Republic gave more space and more enthusiastic coverage in its news pages to the Rodney King case over in Los Angeles. I always thought that if a reporter performed his job in an honorable fashion, the smallest thing he might expect would be that his own newspaper would honor him by giving the trial of his killer the most intense coverage possible.
Wouldn't you think that a member of the Pulliam family, the Republic's owners, would be thoughtful enough to make a token appearance in the courtroom for either the opening or closing arguments?
Perhaps in the Republic's modern view of news, the murder of its own reporter rates as old news. Following the example set by USA Today, maybe the Republic thinks it is more important to give saturation coverage to the activities of Roseanne Arnold and Marla Maples. Maybe it doesn't have enough manpower. Is it any wonder that the only two Pulitzer Prizes this exceedingly wealthy paper has ever been able to win in 50 years were for cartoons?
And yet on certain nights, it is able to muster half a dozen reporters to cover Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns.
And there was certainly no shortage of space in the paper to cover the career crisis of quarterback Joe Montana. And the paper had more people in California covering Rodney King than it could ever muster for the Bolles trial four blocks away from the downtown office. There are days when the Republic is filled with impenetrable reports from the state legislature which appear to have been written in some foreign language. And, of course, there are the running accounts, sympathetically couched, detailing how Governor J. Fife Symington III seeks to welch on still another loan.
But through all the weeks of the Bolles trial, there never seemed enough room in the Republic for adequate play for the story even though its reporter, Brent Whiting, is one of the best on its staff. Whiting refused to comment, but it was clear that his stories were shunted inside or, on some days, even withheld from publication. You may argue that the trial was old news. I say it was an old battle still unfinished. You may say that the public is tired of hearing about it. I say write it so that the public becomes fascinated by it. There are many things in the Republic that are unpalatable. Take the columns of William Cheshire and Bill Goodytwoshoes, for example.
Besides, Don Bolles was one of its own. Why let his death go unpunished?
By all accounts, Bolles had a romantic conception of the craft of reporting. It was shared by everyone in those days. All reporters worth their salt acted like Humphrey Bogart in Deadline U.S.A. and were ready to risk death to ferret out the bad guys.
No doubt Bolles never gave a thought to the possibility that he actually might meet such a horrible death. Certainly, he had no way of knowing the case would be delayed and delayed by the incompetence of an attorney general named Bob Corbin and a prosecutor named William Shaeffer.
The two of them, Corbin and Shaeffer, with their petulant personalities, fiddled and postured while the case dragged on and the evidence cooled.
If Bolles had the slightest premonition as to how the facts would be twisted and turned in a court of law, he most certainly would have sought a new line of work.
True, it has been 17 years since the bomb blast caused Bolles to lose both legs and an arm before meeting his excruciatingly painful death.
But still his wife, Rosalie, sitting in the front row, could not restrain her tears as prosecutor Fred Newton recounted for the jury the bombing scene on June 2, 1976, at 11:37 a.m. in the Clarendon hotel parking lot.
Max Dunlap, as neatly dressed as a church usher, sat straight up in his chair at the defense table. Dunlap peered straight ahead as though the terrible word portrait Newton painted had nothing to do with him. Dunlap wore the same solemn, almost saintly expression he did on the day he sat in a pew in the crowded church on Bethany Home Road to hear the funeral oration honoring his mentor, Kemper Marley. Marley, who died in bed at 83 as rich as Croesus, was never charged in the Bolles bombing. But the widely held theory is that Dunlap engineered the killing as a tribute to the father figure who had loaned him more than $2 million over the years of their association.
Dunlap's wife sat in the front row, directly behind her husband. She has been through this wrenching scene once before. She was present in the courtroom at the conclusion of her husband's first Bolles trial on January 10, 1978. On that day, Max was sentenced to die in the gas chamber.
@body:John Harvey Adamson's testimony was the centerpiece of the trial. He was totally convincing. He was either telling the truth or giving a performance that could be equaled only by someone with the acting talents of Marlon Brando or Lord Laurence Olivier at the peak of their careers.
This was a trial during which everyone kept waiting for defense attorney Murray Miller to stop talking.
Miller was coming off a lengthy defense of former state senator Carolyn Walker in the AzScam case. It was expected that his energy level would be low. Even if it was, he wore everyone else down.
One day Miller got up and read testimony into the record of a witness who he said had died and was therefore unavailable.
That night, the prosecution found the witness alive and well in Alaska.
Another day, Miller injected an Oliver Stone element into the case. He told the jury of a man who was seen on a nearby roof when the bomb went off. Miller's take was that the man on the roof was the real killer. The prosecution came back with a janitor who had been working on the building roof that day. Yes, he had heard the blast and had seen the police cars approaching.
Warren Granville, one of the prosecutors, asked: "You weren't on the grassy knoll on the day Kennedy was shot, were you?"
This was the only time during the trial that the jury laughed.
Miller promised in his opening argument that Dunlap would take the stand. He never did. Miller's entire strategy seemed to be based on dredging up alternate killers to replace Dunlap. Miller also promised the jury: "I am going to tell you a story that will make your hair stand on end."
Three of the alternate jurors all said on being released that they were still waiting for the hair-raising story.
"My hair never went up even halfway," one juror said.
But the prosecution's case did not unfurl without mishap.
Former detective Jon Sellers, the chief investigator in the case, has been dining out for years on the fact that he is the most knowledgeable expert on the Bolles murder.
Because of his expertise, Sellers was hired by the Attorney General's Office to aid in the investigation.
But when Sellers took the stand for cross-examination by Miller, his memory drew a blank. It was a long time ago, he said, he remembered almost nothing.
Sellers' loss of memory was simply not credible. It was the single most disturbing moment in the trial. People will be whispering about Sellers' memory for years to come. And everyone will have his own theory as to why it failed him. This is something Sellers must live with.
In a case flawlessly prepared, Sellers was the only weak link. When it ended, Miller did seem to be dragging.
During his closing argument, he spoke in almost a stage whisper. But he "whispered" for six hours over a two-day period, and by the time Miller concluded, it was the jury that was worn out.
I am left with a terrible conclusion. Nothing that Don Bolles ever uncovered in all his investigations was worth the death that became his final prize.
Neither his death nor his reporting ever changed anything. And that is the secret. Nothing ever changes.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.