The biggest challenge the prosecution faces in pursuing the Don Bolles murder case is that time may have finally drained all passion from what was a shocking crime.

Nevertheless, prosecutors Fred Newton and Warren Granville have been working through mountains of documents and interrogating hundreds of witnesses for two years while girding for this dramatic showdown.

The case boasts a colorful cast of characters. There is a varied assortment of criminals, discredited cops and lawyers, and politicians of varying reputation, and a dizzying array of dipsomaniacs who will be paraded to the witness stand in Maricopa County Court Judge Norman Hall's courtroom after the jury has been seated this week.

Granville is a solid, highly regarded veteran prosecutor in the Attorney General's Office. Newton is Attorney General Grant Woods' hired gun. A formidable force in any courtroom, Newton, who stands six feet eight inches tall, once played both basketball and baseball at Arizona State University. Once Newton stands up in the courtroom, it will become difficult for loquacious defense attorney Murray Miller to dominate the scene.

Miller, rebounding from a long and disappointing battle to defend former state senator Carolyn Walker, will be defending Max Dunlap, the man the state claims was the mastermind behind Bolles' murder.

Newton may turn out to be the most interesting figure in the case. He moves about a courtroom slowly but surely. He tries no clever tricks. He is a solid, thoughtful, make-no-glaring-mistakes lawyer, who hounds his prey without courtroom pyrotechnics. Juries grow comfortable with him.

After building a lengthy record of consecutive prosecution victories in Tom Collins' County Attorney's Office, Newton moved to Flagstaff, where he won several high-profile murder cases.

Now in his 40s and the father of two young children, Newton remains an ardent outdoorsman and hiker.

He was brought back down to Phoenix by Woods, who made trying the Bolles case a campaign promise. For all his talk about pursuing law and order, Bob Corbin, the previous attorney general, had allowed the case to fade into the background.

Newton doesn't really like big cities and urban blight. When the Bolles case is completed, Newton will gladly take a pay cut to return to Flagstaff. He owns a four-bedroom house in the woods, and a job in the prosecutor's office is waiting for him there.

@body:The problem with the 1976 Bolles murder is that it has almost become a history lesson. Bolles was an investigative reporter for the Arizona Republic who was known and feared by politicians all around the state at the time. But almost all of those politicians are out of office now. There has been such a turnover at the Republic that none of the people now in command was here in Phoenix to experience the shock and outrage of having one of the top staff members murdered during his lunch hour. Few, if any, of the spectators who plan on sitting in the courtroom to watch what should be several fascinating weeks of testimony will feel passionately about avenging Bolles' death.

In fact, the only passion likely to be exhibited will be on the side of Dunlap, a 65-year-old contractor who now looks more like a lovable grandfather than a criminal mastermind.

Years ago this would have been a romantic crusade to avenge the murder of an investigative reporter for the state's most powerful newspaper. But nobody here cares about Don Bolles anymore. His wife and children left town. His friends have died or moved on.

Sure, he was blown up by explosives attached to the underside of his car in the parking lot of a hotel on Clarendon Avenue, a few blocks from the KTAR-AM radio station.

As Bolles lay mortally wounded in his red Datsun automobile, he blamed the bomb on John Harvey Adamson and the Mafia.

That Bolles identified his assailant as "John Harvey Adamson" tells you something about Bolles' reportorial methods. Only lifelong cops include middle names when identifying people. Any normal reporter would have called the bomber simply John Adamson. That's the name by which Adamson was known in all the Central Avenue taverns in which he was a regular. The idea of a reporter being blown away by the Mafia was so exciting at the time that an entire task force of reporters from all over the country descended on Arizona to help with the case.

It was pack journalism at its worst, with everyone on the self-righteous scent of revenge and journalistic awards. They managed to turn Arizona into a Super Bowl of crime reporting. They wrote so many stories about so many different Arizona crimes that newspaper readers became confused and lost interest in the case. The readers threw up their hands and said the hell with it, and went back to the box scores on the sports pages.

And there was one thing the reporters never admitted, even to themselves. The more they learned about Don Bolles, the less they liked and admired him. He was arrogant. If he disliked a politician, he threatened to get him, and then went about doing it.

So maybe this is a story without either a hero or a real victim. But there is one thing the Bolles case does have. It is teeming with unsavory characters. And if you take it in small bites and don't try to swallow it whole, this trial will provide you with one hell of a continuing story.

The thing that went wrong with the Bolles story was that most people expected it to be a thriller in the style of Elmore Leonard. In reality the entire case is populated by a cast of characters as varied as those in a novel by Count Leo Tolstoy.

Maybe prosecutors Newton and Granville can finally tell it in the right style.

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Tom Fitzpatrick