Perhaps you heard the murder on National Public Radio. Not a news account of the murder. Not a play about the murder. But the awful deed itself. The taped murder was news because, thought it was available for broadcast, the Florida courts were divided over whether it should be admitted as evidence to prosecute the murder.
Earvin Trimble and Anthony Inciarrano were feuding about a business deal they were trying to put together. On a July afternoon in 1982, Mr. Inciarrano arranged to come to Mr. Trimble's office to discuss the matter. Mr. Trimble thought it would be a good idea to tape the encounter secretly, so he put a recorder in his desk drawer and turned it on as his partner was coming up the stairs. Within minutes a neighbor called the police after hearing something that soulded like gunshots in the office. The police found Mr. Trimble's body, complete with five bullet holes, a lot of blood and, eventually the tape recorder. It was all there: greetings degenerating into an argument, threats, five shots, the thud when the victim fell to the floor moaning and, in the words of one Florida judge, ''sounds like the gushing of blood . . . footsteps departing the scene, ending with the closing of a door. Then silence.''
The police were naturally delighted to break this case so quickly, for aside from the tape, there was not a single shred of evidence to link Mr. Inciarrano to the crime. But when a trial judge ruled that the tape could be introduced into evidence, he was reversed by an intermediate court because a Florida statute prohibits ''the interception of wire or oral communications'' without the consent of both parties. It goes without saying that Mr. Inciarrano never agreed to the recording session.
Now the Florida Supreme Court, using some legal gymnastics and a lot of common sense, has reversed. The court looked at the statute from about 20 angles and found a number of reasons why the legislature could not possibly have meant the statute to be applied in a case like this. Surely the law was designed, the judges at last concluded, for ''circumstances that justify a reasonable expectation of privacy,'' and it is not reasonable to count on your privacy rights when you're pumping slugs into your partner.
Legal scholars may differ about whether this construction of the statute was correct. but few ordinary citizens will argue with the result. If Mr. Inciarrano had gone free when the evidence of his guilt was so clear and certain and when there had been no police misconduct to deter by excluding it, -- public respect for the law would have been dealt a severe blow. Privacy laws are an important protection of civil liberties. Few states go as far as Florida in requiring the consent of both parties to a taping; the laws are designed generally to protect citizens from governmental intrusion. The Florida Supreme Court was wise to interpret that state's statute in a manner that made sense and furthered justice.