nhl jersey ‘Blind Faith’ killer up for parole

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Robert O. Marshall, who was convicted of arranging the contract murder of his wife in 1984 and who successfully fought to overturn his death sentence two decades later, is eligible for parole for the first time.

The public has until Wednesday to comment to the state Parole Board, in writing, on Marshall’s appeal for release. A hearing could take place as early as August, with Marshall eligible for release up until March of next year, if the board were to approve it.

The parole eligibility date for Marshall, whose crime was the subject of the TV movie “Blind Faith,” is Dec. 19, according to David Thomas, executive director of the state Parole Board.

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato wants Marshall to stay behind bars.

“Parole would not be appropriate for Mr. Marshall at this time,” said Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office.

Marshall, 74, is incarcerated at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

Marshall, a once prominent and respected Toms River insurance broker, was convicted in 1986 of orchestrating an elaborate scheme to murder his wife, Maria Marshall, who also was the mother of their three sons.

Marshall, drowning in debt and in love with another woman, sought to collect a $1.5 million life insurance policy that would pay out on the death of his wife.

Returning home from a night out at Harrah’s casino in Atlantic City on Sept. 7, 1984, the Marshalls stopped at the Oyster Creek picnic area on the wooded median of the Garden State Parkway in Lacey.

Robert Marshall had pretended there was a problem with the right rear tire on their 1980 Cadillac Eldorado. That allowed the Louisiana hit men he had hired, who were trailing behind in another car, to carry out the execution.

To make the crime look like a plausible robbery, Marshall had himself struck on the head and knocked unconscious as he was ostensibly inspecting the rear wheel. After the trigger man shot and killed Maria Marshall, he slashed the tire so investigators could be led to believe the couple’s vehicle had been sabotaged in Atlantic City. The cover story told to investigators and a jury was that robbers had followed the Marshalls from Harrah’s, waiting to strike at some point after the damaged tire forced the couple to pull over somewhere.

The murder was the subject of the bestselling 1989 book “Blind Faith,” by Joe McGinniss, which in 1990 was adapted into a made for TV movie of the same name starring Robert Urich and Joanna Kerns.

(Photo: File photo)

In April, the man who fired the .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol that killed Maria Marshall confessed his guilt almost 30 years after the crime.

Larry N. Thompson, 71, incarcerated at Louisiana State Penitentiary for his part in an unrelated armored car robbery and the attempted murder of a Shreveport police officer, concluded he had nothing to lose when he told Louisiana and New Jersey law enforcement officials that he was the shooter.

In 1986, a jury in Mays Landing found Thompson not guilty of Maria Marshall’s murder. Constitution prevents criminal defendants acquitted of crimes from being retried for the same offenses, even if new evidence comes to light or a confession is made.

Thompson spoke matter of factly about his guilt and agreed to be recorded doing so, to James A. Churchill, retired from the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. In the mid 1980s, Churchill was the lieutenant in charge of the agency’s Major Crime Unit and supervised the Marshall murder case.

However, Churchill said Thompson was unable to implicate Marshall because a middle man was involved in the murder for hire scheme and the two had never spoken.

Marshall has maintained his innocence and in 2002 published a memoir from behind bars, “Tunnel Vision: Trial and Error.”

Marshall and Thompson never met until they were seated in a courtroom during their trial for the killing. All of the arrangements made in the murder plot went through another defendant, Billy Wayne McKinnon, who accompanied Thompson to the scene of the crime.

McKinnon, who agreed to testify against his co conspirators, including Marshall, served one year in state prison and returned home to Greenwood, La.

Another co conspirator, Robert Cumber, who was convicted of having a role in organizing the conspiracy and connecting the defendants, was sentenced to 30 years in prison after he refused a plea agreement with prosecutors. In January 2006, just before leaving office, Gov. Richard J. Codey commuted Cumber’s sentence. Cumber has since returned home to Shreveport, La.

That leaves Marshall as the only figure still behind bars for the crime.

As late as December 2012, Marshall unsuccessfully sought to have his sentence reduced, citing a number of health issues. Those ailments as listed in court documents include diabetes, hypertension, dementia, hemorrhoids, athlete’s foot and a post nasal drip.

(Photo: THOMAS P. COSTELLO, Asbury Park Press file photo)

Marshall has never confessed to his wife’s murder, but he’s come close. In a cryptic statement Marshall made before a packed courtroom on Aug. 18, 2006, just before he was given a life sentence with the possibility of parole in eight years, Marshall said he was at fault for events that led to Maria Marshall’s demise.

At the time, the Prosecutor’s Office had determined that it made no sense to continue fighting the seemingly never ending appeals process that kept Marshall from his death sentence.

“I made a terrible mistake,” Marshall told the court then, reading from prepared notes. He had caused a lot of suffering for his family and had begun cheating on his wife about 14 months before her murder, he said.
nhl jersey 'Blind Faith' killer up for parole