Friday, February 1, 2002
Philadelphia In the solitude of his cell on death row, Robert O. Marshall pecked away at his aging Smith Corona typewriter.
He wrote about being arrested in connection with his wife's murder, his journey through the New Jersey court system, and his efforts ï¿½ so far unsuccessful ï¿½ to win a new trial in a Garden State Parkway slaying case that became the focus of a best-seller, a documentary and a TV movie.
Now it is Marshall's turn to publish. His book from prison, "Tunnel Vision," is about to hit bookstores nationwide. And the timing is important: Marshall could soon become the first convicted murderer in New Jersey to be executed since 1963.
"He's clearly the first in line right now," said his lawyer, Stephen W. Kirsch, a public defender who also said Marshall could be put to death as early as this year unless he won relief.
Tuesday, the New Jersey Supreme Court heard legal arguments on the sufficiency of one part of the jury instructions in his 1986 trial. In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia is scheduled to hear a wide-ranging appeal.
If Marshall loses in either place, he could seek review in the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected an earlier appeal. Barring an unexpected development, such as a moratorium on the death penalty, Marshall's final option, if necessary, would be to seek clemency from Gov. Jim McGreevey.
Marshall, 62, is not typical among death-row defendants in New Jersey or the rest of America. He is white and middle-aged, and he was a successful insurance broker in Toms River, N.J., before he was arrested.
He was convicted in 1986 and sentenced to death for arranging the 1984 murder of his wife, Maria, a homemaker who doted on their three sons and did charity work for a hospital. She was shot after Marshall pulled their car into a desolate rest stop along the parkway after an evening at an Atlantic City casino.
The prosecution contended that Marshall had hired two men for the killing so that he could collect $1.5 million in life insurance and continue having an affair. Marshall acknowledged the affair but insisted he had nothing to do with the killing, which he contended was a robbery.
He started working on the book soon after he arrived on death row in March 1986. He dedicated the book to his wife "for her love and forgiveness"; to their youngest son, John; and to his sister and several friends who have supported him.
Tuesday, Kirsch argued that the judge who presided over Marshall's 1986 trial had not properly instructed the jury on the option of a nonunanimous verdict on the penalty, which would have meant a life sentence for Marshall.
But Robert E. Bonpietro, deputy state attorney general, argued that the case had received ample review.
Marshall, who was not in court Tuesday, is hoping for final relief.
"I continue searching for that beam of light that can guide me to a safe landing; I hope it comes before it's too late," Marshall wrote in the last sentence of the 217-page book, which will be available in bookstores next week.
The book offers no stunning revelations but puts forth Marshall's side of the case and describes the distress of being separated from his family.
His literary agent, Patricia Jozwiakowski, said Marshall deserved the chance to tell his side.
As a convicted murderer, Marshall is barred from profiting from any book sales under the state's "Son of Sam" law, and Jozwiakowski said any profits would go to Marshall's son John.