January 21, 1990
By Robert Lindsey
New York Times
More than 10 years after Don Bolles, a Phoenix newspaper reporter, was killed by a bomb, a new courtroom drama began in the long-running case today, reminding this city that Mr. Bolles’s murder is still unsolved.
In the latest twist to a case that has long been characterized by the unexpected, one of three men convicted of the murder is seeking $605 million in damages from the City of Phoenix and 10 present and former policemen, alleging that the investigators fraudulently concealed and destroyed evidence that might have helped clear him at the trial.
The plaintiff is Max Dunlap, a wealthy 57-year-old Phoenix contractor who was convicted of masterminding a plot to kill Mr. Bolles to silence him in 1977 and was sentenced in the Arizona gas chamber. But Mr. Dunlap was freed after an Appeals Court overturned the conviction, and the Arizona Attorney General, Bob Corbin, elected not to try him again because of the concern about the credibility of the star witness in the case.
The civil trial before Judge Robert A. Hertzberg of the Maricopa County Superior Court is expected to last about six months and cover much of the same ground explored at three previous criminal trials, which left unresolved the question of who ordered the death of Mr. Bolles. Murder of Crime Reporter
Mr. Bolles, a reporter for The Arizona Republic whose specialty was crime, was fatally injured June 2, 1976, by a bomb concealed beneath his car. His murder set off what the authorities have called the most intensive police investigation in Arizona’s history.
Shortly after the bombing, John Harvey Adamson, a minor local underworld figure who admitted luring Mr. Bolles to a spot where he was killed with the promise of a news tip, was convicted of second-degree murder as part of a plea bargain.
After prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty and to settle for a 20-year sentence, Mr. Adamson, a tow truck operator, asserted that he had been hired by Mr. Dunlap to kill Mr. Bolles and several other people. He asserted that Mr. Dunlap was acting on behalf of Kemper Marley, a wealthy Arizona rancher and businessman.
No charges have ever been brought against Mr. Marley. However, Mr. Dunlap, an orphan who had been reared by Mr. Marley, was convicted of first-degree murder in November 1977, along with James Robison, a former convict who Mr. Adamson said had detonated the bomb beneath the car with a remote-control device designed for guiding model airplanes. Convictions Overturned
In 1980 the convictions of Mr. Dunlap and Mr. Robison and their death sentences were overturned by Arizona’s Supreme Court, which ruled that defense attorneys at their trial had not been given significant opportunity to cross-examine Mr. Adamson.
Initially, the authorities said they would try the two men again. But after Mr. Adamson said he would testify at a second trial only if his 20-year sentence was shortened and he was given other concessions, Mr. Corbin elected not to retry the two men because Mr. Adamson could no longer be considered a trustworthy witness.
Mr. Dunlap was freed, although Mr. Robison remained in prison because of conviction on an unrelated charge.
Then, Arizona prosecutors, angered at his reneging on the plea bargain, retried Mr. Adamson, but this time on a charge of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to death. However, his death sentence was waived by a Federal appellate court last year because it was held that his second trial violated the legal prohibition against double jeopardy. Last October the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of this decision. Opening Statements in Civil Case
In his opening statement today, Murray Miller, Mr. Dunlap’s lawyer, asserted to jurors that he would show that members of the Phoenix Police Department had destroyed or otherwise concealed reports of interviews and other materials collected in the case because they would have refuted the prosecution’s theory of the case and proved Mr. Dunlap’s innocence.
Evidence he will unveil, Mr. Miller said, ”will show the state’s case was full of baloney.”
Mr. Miller said that before his death Mr. Bolles shouted the word ”Emprise,” presumably referring to a now-defunct New York-based company that was described in Congressional testimony by the reporter in the 1970’s as a front for organized crime in Arizona. Mr. Miller said that three months after the murder Phoenix detectives purged their files of virtually all data pertaining to Emprise.
He said he would prove that Mr. Dunlap had nothing to do with the murder but had been caught up in a web over which he had no control and then, in effect, framed by investigators under great pressure from the press and political leaders to solve the case.
He dismissed one of the prosecution’s key points of evidence against Mr. Dunlap, that the contractor delivered thousands of dollars to a lawyer for Mr. Adamson’s defense shortly after the murder, saying Mr. Dunlap was considered a ”dumb-dumb” by friends and had delivered the money as a favor to a friend.
Privately, some Phoenix police officials have acknowledged their unhappiness that some documents in the case were not given to Mr. Dunlap’s defense lawyer in 1977. But they contend the material consists principally of reports of interviews with informers who were not credible, and they contend that other evidence in the case overwhelmingly supports Mr. Dunlap’s guilt.
City lawyers said they would go over much of the ground of the criminal trials and would offer evidence to refute the contention that documents had been deliberately destroyed.