Blind Faith (book)
US first edition cover
|October 3, 1989|
Blind Faith is a bestselling 1989 true crime novel by Joe McGinniss, based on the 1984 case in which American businessman Robert O. Marshall was charged with (and later convicted of) the contract killing of his wife, Maria. The book was adapted into an Emmy Award-nominated TV miniseries in 1990.
McGinniss attended the Marshall trial, and used court transcripts, extensive interviews with family and friends and general research to recreate the events surrounding the murder of Maria Marshall, the subsequent trial and eventual conviction of her husband. The book concludes with a status update of key players (including the Marshalls’ three sons) in 1987, a year after the conviction. The eldest son Roby is married to actress Tracey Gold.
Blind Faith maintains that to the affluent residents of Toms River, New Jersey, Marshall was a devoted family man and respected member of the community. But soon after his wife’s death, Marshall’s perfect image began to unravel as the police investigation uncovered debt, infidelity and a $1.5 million insurance policy. McGinniss wrote that by the time Marshall was convicted and sentenced to death in 1986, everyone who knew him, including two of his three sons, believed him guilty.
McGinniss changed the names and some personal details of most of the real people involved in the case, except for the Marshall family themselves, Judge Manuel Greenberg, assistant prosecutor Kevin Kelly, and a handful of others.
In 2002, Marshall wrote the book Tunnel Vision: Trial & Error, in which he challenged the conclusions McGinniss drew in Blind Faith. While pointing out flaws in the judicial process he believed failed him, Marshall also alleged that his trial was contaminated by police misconduct and compromised testimony and evidence.
The Marshall murder case
According to Robert Marshall, on September 7, 1984, he and his wife Maria had pulled into a deserted picnic area on the way home from a recreational trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Marshall claimed that another driver pulled in behind them and that he was knocked unconscious while changing a tire. He awoke to find that his wife had been shot to death in the front seat of their car.
After a police investigation, Marshall was arrested on December 19, 1984. The prosecution theorized that Marshall had hired two men to kill his wife so that he could collect on a $1.5 million insurance policy. He was later convicted of the murder-for-hire and sentenced to death by lethal injection.
In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was being administered unconstitutionally across America. Death penalty states enacted new statutes to comply with the strictures of this decision, New Jersey acting in 1982. The first 26 murderers whose death sentence reached the New Jersey Supreme Court got their sentences vacated on one ground or another. Marshall's was the first to be affirmed by the state's High Court, on January 24, 1991. The vote affirming the conviction was 6 to 1, and to uphold the death penalty phase was 5 to 2. The court's opinion was lengthy, and found errors, particularly in the guilt phase of the trial which, however, were found to be harmless, meaning there was no reasonable chance they affected the jury's verdict. There were later post-conviction proceedings in the state courts, and the N.J. Supreme Court wrote opinions in three other proceedings, including a so-called "proportionality" review that compares the appellant's culpability with others in death penalty cases.
U.S. District Court Judge Joseph E. Irenas ruled on April 8, 2004 in Camden, New Jersey that Marshall received ineffective assistance from his attorney during the death penalty phase of his trial. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision on November 2, 2005. On March 20, 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office. On May 12, 2006, Prosecutor Thomas F. Kelaher declined to retry the death-penalty phase of the case, citing as reasons the difficulty in presenting evidence more than 20 years after the crime, and the probability of many more legal appeals should Marshall be sentenced to death again. With resentencing pending, Marshall faced a minimum of 30 years in prison (in which case he would have been released in 2014) and a maximum of life in prison with no possibility for release on parole before serving 30 years.
On August 18, 2006, Marshall was resentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole in eight years. This will make Marshall, incarcerated since his arrest, eligible for parole in 2014.
Until his removal from New Jersey’s death row, Marshall had been the longest-serving inmate there since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1982.