An Arlington judge rejected a request yesterday that the murder-for-hire trial of a former life insurance salesman be moved from Northern Virginia because of pretrial publicity and directed that the trial begin today.
Circuit Court Judge Charles S. Rusell ruled that despite extensive newspaper coverage of the case against JOSEPH N. Martin 28, "there is nothing inflammatory against the defendant in any of this publicity."
Martin is accused of hiring Richard Lee Earman to kill a young Arlington couple in 1977 in one of the area's most notorious murder cases.
During an hour-long hearing, Martin's attorney, Gerard F. Treanor, had argued for a change of venue because Martin's chances for a fair trail were jeopardized by "scandalous name-calling" between Virginia Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman and Arlington prosecutor William S. Burroughs jr. Two officials have been locked in a bitter feud that was prompted by a state police investigation Coleman ordered last year into Burroughs' handling of the murder case.
Treanor told Judge Russell that the publicity "has been generated by insensitive public servants," and accused both Coleman and Burroughs of "crass and senseless" behavior.
But special prosecutor Donald S. Caruthers Jr., who is acting Burroughs, replied that the newspaper articles cited by Treasnor "add nothing new" about the case against Martin. He urged Russell not to move the trial, which is expected to last four to six weeks and involve more than 80 witnesses.
Russell agreed and said he would order jury selection for the case to begin in his Arlington courtroom at 10 a.m. today. The judge also rejected defense motions that the trial be delayed until after Virginia's Nov. 6 elections.
"It is true that the commonwealth's attorney (burroughs) is embroiled in an election campaign . . ." Russell said. "However, aside from that, there is no idication that this case will be any freer of publicity then than it is today . . . This case has been going on entirely too long as it is," the judge said.
Burroughs' handling of the murder charges against Martin and Richard Lee Earman in 1977 has become the central issue in the prosecutor's race. Burroughs, a Democrat, faces a tough challenge by his former chief assistant, Republican-backed Henry E. Hudson, who has charged that Burroughs mishandled the case.
Martin, now a Las Vegas resident free on $50,000 bond, has pleaded innocent to charges that he hired Earman to murder Alan Foreman, then 26, and the latter's fiance, Donna Shoemaker, 25, in order to collect on a life insurance policy Martin sold Foreman.
During an eight-day trial in 1977, which resulted in Earman's acquittal, Burroughs unexpectedly dropped charges against Martin, citing new evidence that he did not disclose. "I believe him to be innocent," Burroughs said then.
Earlier this year both Martin and Earman were indicted again by a grand jury. On March 1 Earman pleaded guilty to a murder conspiracy charge, which carries a 10-year maximun prison sentence. He is expected to be a key witness against Martin, repeating his dramatic testimony from an April hearing when he said that he shot the couple to death for a promised $15,000 from Martin.
Martin has testified that Burroughs had once promised him immunity from prosecution, assuring him: "It should be obvious to you that I'm not going to prosecute you in the Earman case."
Burroughs has denied that charge, but testified he remained in contact with Martin after the first trial.
Last week, while a grand jury was considering Burroughs' request for a special investigation of Coleman, the attorney general filed unusual court papers detailing why he ordered Burroughs probed.
In the papers Coleman, a Republican, said he had received "corroborated information" that the prosecutor may have commited bribery by refusing to prosecute Martin. Other allegations, Coleman said 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 that the police investigation produced insufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges and that "Mr. Burroughs' conduct could merely have been the result of poor judgment."
Burroughs immediately denied those allegations, citing the advice of a former colleague whom he said advised him, "Don't get into a p -- contest with a skunk."