Virginia Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman yesterday signed unusual court papers saying he had corroborated information last year that the Arlington prosecutor was suspected of bribery and a cover-up in a celebrated double-murder case.
Though Coleman said a state police investigation of prosecutor William S. Burroughs did not contain sufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges, the court papers escalated a lengthy feud between the two officials less than three weeks before the Nov. 6 election in which Burroughs faces a tough challenge.
Coleman, a Republican, and Democrat Burroughs have investigated each other, in effect, in the year-long controversy over Burroughs' handling of the 1977 murder case.
An Arlington grand jury is scheduled to decide Monday whether, at Burroughs' request, it will form a special grand jury to investigate alleged official misconduct by Coleman in ordering last year's police probe of burroughs. Two attempts by burroughs earlier this year to have special grand jury empaneled were rebuffed by state judges in Arlington.
In the papers filed yesterday for the grand jury's consideration, Coleman said for the first time publicly that an inquiry by his staff last year turned up allegations that bribery might have been committed by Burroughs in refusing to prosecute a defendant, Joseph Martin, in the murder case.
Other allegations, which Coleman said his staff checked with Arlington police and other county officials, were that Burroughs intervened in a lie detector test "in a manner which may have benefited Martin" and that Burroughs' "close relationship with Martin . . . may have constituted malfeasance in office."
Coleman said a fourth allegation was that Burroughs "found out about a series of burglaries occurring in Fairfax County and did not bring this information to the attention of the appropriate authorities."
Martin and a codefendant, Richard Lee Earman, have testified they committed Fairfax burglaries, but Coleman did not elaborate.
At a hastily called press conference yesterday, Burroughs vehemently denied Coleman's allegations. "This motion was filed while I was at the funeral of [William J.] Hassan, [former Arlington commonwealth's attorney]. Bill Hassan always used to say, 'Don't get into a p---ing contest with a skunk.' I'm going to take that advise.
Burroughs said that the secret state police report, which Coleman has consistently refused to release, "is of no interest to me." Burroughs said his chief concern was that Coleman "doesn't describe how he corroborated the evidence."
"It is the initiation of the investigation which is the point in question," said Burroughs, who last year ordered two Arlington sheriff's deputies to investigate Coleman's handling of the state probe and interview the same witnesses.
"The same [Arlington] police officers he [Coleman] is referring to indicated to sheriff's investigators that they provided no such evidence," of criminal wrongdoing on his part, Burroughs said. "The question is whether false information was either given to the attorney general which precipitated an investigation or what was received was not evidence of a crime."
If Coleman ordered the investigation in the latter case, Burroughs said, "that would indicate misfeasance."
Asked to comment on Coleman's statement that "the report showed that Mr. Burroughs' conduct could merely have been the result of poor judgment," the prosecutor responded, "That is merely speculation on the part of Mr. Coleman."
Burroughs said that reports that he has been involved in a long-standing feud with the attorney general were "a misconception fostered by inaccurate media reports."
Burroughs declined to comment on whether he tought the attorney general's action was politically motivated. "I would merely quote Mr. Hassan," he said, smiling tightly.
In Richmond, Coleman aide Anson Franklin declined to comment on Burroughs' statements. "The motion was filed for the benefit of the court and the special grand jury," Franklin said. "It speaks for itself."
In his motion, Coleman said he ordered the probe of Burroughs because "to receive corroborated evidence of possible criminal activity and not act to investigate . . . would constitute . . . misconduct."
Coleman's motion comes one week before the scheduled start of Martin's trial on charges that he hired Earman, a former real estate salesman, to kill a young Arlington couple in return for the promise of $15,000.
Martin, now a Las Vegas resident free on $50,000 bond, has pleaded innocent to the charges.
This is the second time in as many years Martin has faced murder charges in connection with the case, one of the most celebrated in Northern Virginia.
Both Martin and Earman originally were charged with the gangland-style execution of Alan Foreman, 26, and his 25-year-old fiancee, Donna Shoemaker, found shot to death in the garage of their North Arlington home in May 1977.
During an eight-day trial, Burroughs unexpectedly dropped the charges against Martin, citing new evidence that he did not disclose and saying of Martin, "I believe him to be innocent." A jury acquitted Earman of the murder charge.
In the year following that trial, Arlington police complained to state officials, including Coleman's staff, that Burroughs interfered in the murder investigation and refused to prosecute Martin. That led to the Coleman-ordered investigation.
Earlier this year Martin and Earman were again indicted by a grand jury.
After Earman and his attorney negotiated a plea bargain with Burrgouhs, Earman pleaded guilty last March 1 to a murder conspiracy charge, which carries a 10-year prison sentence he will serve in a federal prison. Burroughs permitted Earman, then free on $2,000 bond, to take a week's vacation in the Bahamas before being jailed.
Last April, in a dramatic court hearing, Earman admitted killing the couple and testified that Martin hired him to kill Foreman in order to collect on a life insurance policy Martin had sold Foreman.
In August, Martin testified in a court hearing that Burroughs had previously plromised him immunity from prosecution, telling him, "It should be obvious to you that I'm not going to prosecute you in the Earman case."
Burroughs denied that statement on the witness stand, but said that he remained in contact with Martin after the latter moved from Loudoun County to Las Vegas last year.
Because Burroughs is expected to be a witness against Martin in next week's trial, Arlington Circuit Court Judge Charles S. Russell has named Donald S. Caruthers Jr. as special prosecutor in the case.