PLAYING POLITICS WITH THE GHOST OF BOLLES
The Don Bolles case continues to be a political tar baby for anyone who gets close to it. The latest Brer Rabbit is new Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods.
One of Woods' first acts as successor to Bob Corbin was to fire Judson Roberts, an assistant attorney general who was co-prosecuting the resurrected case.
Don Bolles was a 47-year-old reporter for the Arizona Republic. He died in June 1976 from injuries sustained in a car-bomb explosion.
Roberts learned of his termination nine days ago as he listened to his car radio. The manner of his firing, not the firing itself, surprised him. "People on the defense side threatened us that some or all of us would be dismissed on Grant's first day in office," Roberts tells New Times. "Then it happened. I hope this isn't the first step in sweeping this case under the rug."
Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers
TicketsWed., Nov. 2, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
TicketsThu., Nov. 3, 7:00pm
Arizona State University Sun Devils Hockey vs. University of Michigan
TicketsFri., Nov. 4, 7:05pm
2016 Charles Schwab Cup Championship
TicketsWed., Nov. 9, 9:00am
Some close to the Bolles case say Roberts' firing is a blow to the prosecution because of his excellent working knowledge of the alleged murder conspiracy's tricky facts. Others, such as Phoenix defense attorney Larry Debus--a staunch Woods supporter--applaud Roberts' dismissal.
"That case was not going to be won by Jud Roberts as a prosecutor," says Debus, who worked on Bolles co-defendant Max Dunlap's successful appeal for a new trial in the late 1970s. "Jud is a lousy lawyer, and he's miserable to deal with. If this case is to be won, you'd have to get Roberts off of it. It was a brilliant move by Grant."
Woods' inaugural strike is just the latest chapter in Arizona's own criminal-justice briar patch. Why did he pull the plug on Jud Roberts? Wasn't Roberts doing the job?
Woods tells New Times that his decision to fire Roberts has "nothing to do with politics whatsoever." He adds that he "would never take a step that would hinder our ability to effectively prosecute the case."
Woods points out that co-prosecutor Warren Granville and former State Representative George Weisz, who heads the murder investigation, still have their jobs.
Several sources tell New Times that defense lawyers despised Roberts. By most accounts, Roberts drives an insufferably hard bargain in a world where greasing the judicial wheels is as important as the just disposition of a case. Roberts, one associate admits, is "not a people person, to put it mildly." And that's from an admirer.
Roberts' brusque, occasionally sarcastic manner and his inability to bend have long rubbed his legal adversaries the wrong way. Unlike some of his former peers at the Attorney General's Office, however, Roberts is reputed to be thorough, if tunnel-visioned, to a fault.
Some say Woods jettisoned Roberts as a painful political payback to Bob Corbin. Corbin announced last year he wasn't running for re-election as attorney general. As a courtesy, Woods later phoned Corbin to tell him he was going to announce his candidacy for the powerful slot. That set up a September primary battle between Woods and Corbin's top assistant Steve Twist.
On the day of Woods' announcement, Corbin called a press conference to reveal that a grand jury would be investigating the Bolles case. Not surprisingly, the grand-jury bombshell pushed the Woods story to the back pages of the dailies.
Like impish schoolboys, Corbin and Twist swore it was all a big coincidence. Right. Then Woods beat Twist in the primary. Paybacks, several sources agree, are a bitch.
Roberts says he doesn't know for sure if the reasons for his abrupt firing go deeper than personal animus. No one, he says, has told him one way or the other. But he has ideas. He lists several possible factors, including the tight relationship between Woods and several members of Phoenix's defense bar--most prominently, Larry Debus and former Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Derickson.
"Derickson was extremely pissed that we mentioned him in the recent complaint against Max Dunlap and Jimmy Robison," Roberts says. "I'm not saying that he asked Grant to let me go, but study the complaint and you can draw your own conclusions."
Woods finds Roberts' version of events ludicrous, saying that Derickson and Debus made no attempt to sway him in his decision to fire Roberts.
The Attorney General's Office on December 19 filed the "complaint" against Dunlap and Robison. It accuses Dunlap of first-degree murder and both men of conspiring to obstruct an investigation, of influencing a witness, and of bribery. (Robison was charged with murdering Bolles last year in a separate complaint.)
Part of the complaint alleges Dunlap handed over $15,000 in cash to his lawyer, John Savoy, over a two-year period from May 1977 to September 1979. (Savoy has been charged with several felonies for allegedly lying to the Bolles grand jury.) Savoy in turn gave the cash to Derickson--Robison's lawyer at the time--and Derickson turned it over to Robison's longtime live-in girlfriend Bette Gleason.
Prosecutors allege Dunlap funneled the money to Robison's girlfriend to try to ensure Robison's silence. It remains unclear, however, exactly how Robison could hurt Dunlap.
(Investigators last year confiscated from Robison diaries he had compiled in prison over several years. Prosecutors have made very little public from the journals. A March 1980 entry excerpted in the recent complaint says: "They are trying to divide us so it will look like Max will go free, then they can get me to plea-bargain. I see that as the only solid chance they have to convict Max. It will never happen, but they do not know that.")
Derickson tells New Times that the Attorney General's Office has accurately portrayed his role in the Dunlap-to-Bette Gleason payoffs. But, he insists, "I never looked at this as anything improper. Bette was having a hell of a time making it day-by-day after Jimmy got arrested, and I looked at this as an act of charity by Max. Max was under the impression that he was going to be acquitted in a short period of time and that this was a temporary situation."
Derickson admits he "was not too pleased" at seeing his name in the recent complaint against Dunlap and Robison. But, he adds, "I didn't get Jud Roberts canned. I had some input with Grant into who I thought would be good in his administration, but not on the trial level. My feeling about Jud was that he was overzealous. Now, I'll also say that he is irresponsible as well."
Former Phoenix street con Adamson is expected to testify again that Phoenix contractor Dunlap hired him to kill reporter Bolles, former adman Al "King Alfonso" Lisanetz, and then-Attorney General Bruce Babbitt. The alleged motive, according to the prosecution's venerable theory?
Kemper Marley, Dunlap's business and personal mentor, was furious at the trio for various reasons and, explicitly or implicitly, wanted them dead. His longtime partner-in-crime Jimmy Robison, Adamson testified, had used a remote-control device to trigger the dynamite bomb Adamson had placed under Bolles' car. The late Marley never was charged in the case.
Dunlap and Robison were convicted in 1978 of murdering Bolles. Sent to death row, they gained a reprieve only after the Arizona Supreme Court reversed the convictions on a technicality. A remarkable series of legal machinations, screw-ups and politics kept them from being charged again until recently.
Jud Roberts says the new information about Dunlap's alleged payoffs became known to the Attorney General's Office last year. Investigators executed search warrants at several locations, including searches of onetime Dunlap attorney Savoy's office, Dunlap's home and Robison's cell at Florence.
If it isn't smoking-gun material, it does bolster the prosecution's case. It also suggests the Attorney General's Office hasn't been content to rely strictly on tired old evidence to retry a tired old case.
According to the complaint, Dunlap's first cash payment of $1,500 to Robison's girlfriend occurred in May 1977, a few months before the pair went to trial. The payments continued at a steady rate of $500 per month after the men were convicted and sent to death row. The complaint alleges the payments stopped in September 1979, five months before the Arizona Supreme Court reversed the convictions on technical grounds.
Dunlap and Robison have always contended they never knew each other until Phoenix police arrested them in January 1977 for murdering Don Bolles. In the months that followed their arrests, Phoenix street thug Adamson sang to investigators in return for a plea bargain. Adamson then testified against Dunlap and Robison to save his own skin.
Why would any reasonable person give money to the girlfriend of an accused hit man, especially when that hit man, Robison, is your co-defendant? Former Robison attorney Dave Derickson calls it "an act of kindness and generosity" on Dunlap's part. Prosecutors call it bribery.
Adamson has testified Dunlap told him soon after the Bolles bombing to keep quiet and his family would be compensated. Dunlap has vehemently denied this. Phoenix police arrested Adamson hours after Don Bolles succumbed to his wounds June 13, 1976. He's been in custody ever since.
(Though his injuries proved fatal, Bolles had been able to tell passers-by Adamson's name, knowing Adamson had lured him to a midtown Phoenix hotel with the phony promise of an investigative scoop. Adamson told New Times in 1986 he gave Bolles his real name, certain the reporter would die in the blast. But Bolles survived for eleven days.)
The recent complaint also alleges Dunlap indirectly showered Robison with presents through the 1980s. Investigators confiscated paperwork from Dunlap that allegedly shows 54 checks totaling about $5,000 written by Dunlap between June 1982 and September 1989 for gifts destined for Robison. This doesn't include 65 other presents--most of them tools and materials for Robison's prison wood shop.
Dunlap's gifts to the imprisoned Robison may be more easily explained by defense lawyers than the $15,000 that went in the late 1970s to Robison's girlfriend. Look at it for a moment as a defense lawyer: Dunlap has been out of prison since charges against the pair were dismissed--temporarily, as it turns out--in 1980. But Robison has remained incarcerated since 1977 for his role in the savage beating of a Scottsdale talent agent.
Dunlap and Robison, now in their sixties, have become friends during their legal ordeal. What, defense lawyers will argue, is the big deal about Max buying Jimmy a pair of new shoes, an electric sander, a color television, a watch, an electric razor, clothing, a tennis racket, whatever?
In sworn testimony during a civil case he brought against the Phoenix Police Department, Dunlap responded this way to a question about what he had sent to Robison over the years: "Wood to carve, model airplane . . . I think we sent him Christmastime, sent him a warm-up suit, a jogging suit, something like that. I think I sent him $50 maybe a couple [of times]."
Dunlap's best bet at his upcoming retrial may be to take the same approach he did the first time when trying to explain his delivery of almost $6,000 to John Adamson shortly after the Bolles bombing. The "money drop," as it came to be known, led mightily to Dunlap's conviction, according to jurors. They said they didn't buy Dunlap's story that a mysterious stranger had come to his home June 10, 1976, and had asked him to deliver the money to Adamson as a favor for a mutual pal.
Given his varying versions of crucial events, the bumbling Dunlap has long been one of the state's best weapons. But the upcoming prosecution has a ton of weaknesses too, not the least of which is former Attorney General Bob Corbin: There aren't many cases around where the chief prosecutor publicly has derided his one essential witness as unreliable. Then, after a decade, he one day proclaims that witness--John Harvey Adamson--rehabilitated. Defense attorneys could have a field day with Corbin at trial.
One can hear the questions: "Isn't it true, Mr. Corbin, that you told New Times in June 1986 that `John Adamson's credibility is shot?'"
Jud Roberts--who already has taken a job as a prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office--says he was confident that Corbin's numerous public tirades against Adamson will not present a problem at trial.
"This case isn't a slam-dunk conviction," says Roberts, making an early bid for 1991's biggest judicial understatement. "But I'll tell you that we, I guess I mean they, have an enormous amount of evidence developed that hasn't seen the light of day yet. I don't think Bob Corbin's testimony will be a problem, and John Adamson's testimony has never been disproven. It just remains to be seen just what Mr. Woods has in store for this case."
Woods says he doesn't plan to try Dunlap and Robison himself "unless I change my mind." In any event, he promises to "drive the case personally."
Use these pullquotes, too.
"I hope this isn't the first step in sweeping this case under the rug."
CHRIS: the following pullquote is a must!
Woods' inaugural strike is just the latest chapter in Arizona's own criminal-justice briar patch.
Some say Woods jettisoned Roberts as a painful political payback to Bob Corbin.
Like impish schoolboys, Corbin and Twist swore it was all a big coincidence. Right.
following pullquote is a must! Per Bodney
There aren't many cases around where the chief prosecutor publicly has derided his one essential witness as unreliable.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories
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.