A former District of Columbia furniture store owner took the stand in D.C. Superior Court yesterday and testified that he hired two men to kill his business partner, David Marrow Blair, six years ago.
But James Stanley Marshall said he made the move only after he learned Blair had hired men to kill him, and after two attempts had been made on his life.
On one occasion, Marshall testified, a gunman shot at him in a parking lot as he was entering his 1972 Jaquar.
Another time, Marshall said, he returned home to find his front and back doors battered in and two guard dogs "blown in half."
Marshall testified that he hired the two hit men on separate occasions but each time canceled after he had "cooled off" from his disputes with Blair.
Marshall said tensions between him and Blair grew and culminated in an Aug. 8, 1973 meeting at the store when, he said, he drew a gun from a sling holding his broken left wrist and emptied it in Blair's direction.
But Blair, he said, drew first.
Marshall is on trial for first degree murder in Blair's death, along with Leon Hill, another business partner.
On the morning of Aug. 8, Marshall testified, Blair requested a meeting with him at their jointly-owned Blair House Furniture store at 2901 Minnesota Ave. SE. Marshall said he had bought Blair's interest in the store for $25,000 but owed a balance of $10,000 when the two men met.
"We shook hands in a cordial, but very stern greeting," said Marshall, under questioning by his attorney, R. Kenneth Mundy. "We went into the back office and started talking. He said, 'Jim, I want you to pay me all the money you owe me.'"
"I told him I was not in a position to pay -- that it was a slow time of the year," Marshall testified.
After a brief discussion of the store's financial records with Blair, Marshall said, he left the small back office and went to the men's room, where he spent 15 or 20 minutes because of the awkward plaster cast on his arm.
"When I went back into the office, I noticed the ledger had been moved from July to May," Marshall said. "Dave said, 'Jim, you can pay me . . . I'm going to kill you.'"
"Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Dave had a gun," Marshall testified. "I threw up my left arm. I must have hit Dave's gun or knocked it out of his hand. I must have pulled my gun at the same time from my sling, where I had been carrying it that day."
"I fired once as I was stumbling backwards," Marshall told the jury. "I fell to the floor and the gun went off again. I shot until the gun wouldn't shoot any more."
Then, Marshall said, he remembers scrambling out of the cramped office and running into the store's showroom, bumping into someone as he ran. That person, he said, was later identified as Leon Hill.
"As God may strike me dead, Dave tried to kill me," Marshall said. "I did not draw my gun until Dave said he was going to kill me and I saw his gun out of the corner of my eye."
In earlier testimony, Marshall told how he grew up a poor youth in Charles County, Md., but in later years amassed personal assets worth $250,000. He said he did not graduate from high school, and started in the furniture business as a part-time salesman in 1963 to earn extra income to care for a wife and three children.
Through a series of sales and management positions with Reliable Stores, Inc., Marshall said, by 1970 he had learned all he needed to know about how to start his own furniture retailing firm.
"I talked with my wife about opening a store, but as a black man, I knew there would be pitfalls," Marshall testified. "You can be a billionaire. But if the companies don't want to sell to you, you can't make it."
To make quick inroads into the world of furniture retailing, Marshall said, he selected a white partner, David Blair, also an employe of Reliable stores.
"Dave was to do all the buying and bring in people who were strong in financing," Marshall said. Marshall, who was then 29, "was to handle the sales force. And I did a lot of outside jobs as an interior decorator."
Marshall said he put up $20,000 to get the store opened, but Blair "didn't put up a dime."
During various times in the formation of his corporation and in later years, Marshall said, his firm was represented by Carlisle Pratt and Shelley Bowers, both now D.C. Superior Court judges, and Theodore Newman, who is currently chief of the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Marshall said that tension between Blair and himself began to flare in 1971 after Marshall was ill for two months and away from the business.
"When I first got out of the hospital, I noticed that about half of our inventory was missing," Marshall testified. Marshall said arguments over what he described as Blair's mismanagement of the company eventually led to Blair's request to sell his share of stock in the furniture store.
Cross-examination of Marshall by Assistant U.S. Attorney C. Madison Brewer focused on Marshall's personal and corporate financial dealings.
The government contends that Marshall and Hill planned Blair's death in order to collect some $178,000 in proceeds from his life insurancy policy.
The money was needed to keep Marshall's virtually bankrupt business afloat, the government has maintained.
Brewer sought yesterday to show that Marshall repeatedly mingled private and business money in order to siphon funds from his furniture store for personal use.
At one point, Brewer introduced cancelled checks that indicated Marshall had used $3,500 in company funds to purchase a 1971 automobile. Marshall testified that the money was immediately repaid to his company when he obtained a loan through an insurance company.
Brewer also attempted to show that Marshall had used large sums of money to help Leon Hill establish a franchised branch of Blair House Furniture in Cheverly.