A District of Columbia Superior Court jury yesterday acquitted two former Anacostia furniture retailers of first- and second-degree murder in their business partner's fatal shooting six years ago.
But the jurors could not agree on a verdict on a charge of voluntary manslaughter against James Stanley Marshall and Leon M. Hill. They reported themselves deadlocked after six days of deliberation.
Judge John F. Doyle declared a mistrial in the case, leaving open the possibility that Hill and Marshall might still be retried for manslaughter some time in the future in the 1973 slaying of David Marrow Blair.
The trial, one of the most bizarre in Superior Court in recent years, had been spiced with testimony from self-proclaimed "hit men" hired by Marshall and Blair and by allegations that Blair and other pistol-packing employes at times blew furniture apart in the store with their guns.
Outside the courtroom, some members of the all-black, mostly middleaged jury of six men and six women, said it became deadlocked last Wednesday-- one day after deliberations began -- when two jurors refused to acquit Marshall and Hill of manslaughter.
"They agreed with us that the government did not have a very good case against Mr. Marshall and Mr. Hill," said a male juror. "But they said they still felt the men were guilty of manslaughter."
The two jury holdouts blocked a final verdict in the case for four days as 10 jurors debated the pair again and again on the evidence presented in the month-long trial that began on Aug. 1.
Assistant U.S. Attorney C. Madison Brewer, who presented the government's case, said it has not yet been decided whether Marshall and Hill will be tried again on the manslaughter charge.
R. Kenneth Mundy, the attorney representing Marshall, and John Shorter, Hill's attorney, described the jury's decision as a "just and fair verdict."
In his opening statement, Mundy described Marshall as "a black man attempting to break into the retail-furniture business" and he labeled Blair as a greedy man "who wanted more from the business than he was willing to work for."
In his final argument, Shorter declared that "it seems somebody has a vendetta against Jim Marshall -- a vendetta we can't quite understand."
The government's case, argued by Assistant U.S. Attorney C. Madison Brewer, was based on contentions that Marshall and Hill carefully planned and executed Blair's murder in order to receive some $178,000 in proceeds from Blair's life insurance policy.
Brewer maintained in his final arguments that Marshall, who shared ownership of Blair House Furniture with David Balir, was in desperate need of money to keep the firm from going bankrupt in 1973, when his thoughts turned to murdering Blair.
Two government witnesses -- Herman Overton and Joseph Raines -- both testified during the month-long trial that they were hired by Marshall to kill Blair. But when those men failed to "do the job," Marshall decided to kill Blair himself, Brewer told the all-black jury of six men and six women.
He contended that on Aug. 8, 1973, Marshall lured Blair to the furniture store and methodically shot him to death in a small black office, while Leon Hill stood watch outside. After Blair had been mortally wounded, Hill placed a loaded revolver beside him, Brewer contended.
But Marshall testified that he hired men to kill Blair only after he learned that Blair had hired men to kill him and two attempts had been made on his life.
Joseph Edward Hill, who worked as a salesman for Blair House Furniture, testified for the defense that Blair discussed the possibility of Hill either killing Marshall or hiring a hit man to "knock him off" during a vacation in Las Vegas.
Joseph Hill said Blair gave him $2,000 down on a promised $50,000 payment to be made if he could arrange to have Marshall killed.
Marshall testified that he also learned that another man who worked in the furniture store's warehouse had been invited to Blair's Annandale home where Blair attempted to hire him to take Marshall's life.
R. Kenneth Mundy, Marshalls attorney, described in final arguments how Blair had been made a partner in the Blair Furniture venture because he was white and could make connections for Marshall in the retail furniture market, where black entrepreneurs were not welcome.
At the time of the 1973 shooting, Blair Furniture was thriving and on the verge of major financial gains, Mundy told the jury. Because the firm was doing so well, Blair, who had sold his interest in the company to Marshall for $25,000, began to pressure Marshall for the last $10,000 payment.
Mundy argued that Marshall did not lure Blair to the Southeast Washington furniture store on the day of the shooting, but that Blair came to the store carrying a revolver and planning to kill Marshall if he was not paid $10,000 immediately.
Brewer told the jury that Marshall pulled a gun on Blair while Blair was unarmed. According to testimony by the D.C. medical examiner, Blair was shot once in the chest, once in the right side of the face and a third time in the left side of the face. The final bullet was fired from between 12 and 18 inches away, according to testimony.
Brewer maintained that powder burns on Blair's face and on the back of his left hand indicated that "a man stood above him and fired down . . . after Blair was already mortally wounded and his eyes were closed."
Earlier in the trial, Marshall testified that Blair pulled a gun on him during a meeting between the two men to look over the company books. Marshall described how he then pulled a revolver from a sling cradling his own broken left arm and fired wildly in Blair's direction as he stumbled and fell over backwards before running out of the cramped back office.
John Shorter, attorney for Leon Hill, argued in closing that the government had not established a connection between his client and the shooting of Blair. Shorter contended that his client's case was unfairly "piggy backed" with Marshall's case because the men are lifelong friends.
Although the government has charged that Hill and Marshall plotted Blair's death, Shorter maintained that Blair would be meeting with Marshall on the day of the shooting.
Shorter said the government presented no evidence of how Hill benefitted from the death of Blair or that he took part in a murder scheme.
At least two government witnesses testified they saw Leon Hill go into the office with Marshall and Blair during a pause between shots.
Hill testified, however, that he entered the office only after the shooting had ended to find Marshall in a daze and Blair lying on the floor bleeding and writhing from three bullet wounds. Hill said he took a pistol out of Blair's hand then ran to call for an ambulance.
Marshall, 38, described himself during testimony as a self-made man, who grew up a poor youth in Charles County, Md., but had dreams of someday developing his own business. Marshall said he did not complete high school, but went to work part-time as a salesman to support his family.
After working for a nearly a decade for Reliable Stores Inc., Marshall said, he decided to develop his own furniture retailing firm in 1970. Marshall, who was then 29, said he selected David Blair, a white man to front for his business so that the firm could obtain the needed financing.
The government maintained during the trial that Marshall mismanaged his firm and frequently spent corporate funds for his private purposes. In addition, the government contended, Marshall used company funds to help establish and sustain Leon Hill's operation of franchised branch of Blair House Furniture in Cheverly.
The case against James Stanley Marshall was first presented to a Superior Court grand jury in September 1973. That grand jury chose to ignore allegations against Marshall, who the jurors felt shot Blair in self-defense.
But a new investigation into the case was launched by police in 1976. By the spring of 1977, Brewer and a team of police investigators were interviewing potential government witnesses and preparing to seek an indictment against Marshall and Hill for first degree murder. That indictment came last Dec. 8, when the two men were indicted for murder in the first degree.