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Death row inmate Robert Marshall hopes his autobiography, “Tunnel Vision: Trial and Error”, will draw national attention to his 16-year effort to prove he is a victim of a justice system gone awry. His editors at Algora Publishing in New York suggest that even if readers don’t believe Marshall is innocent of killing his wife, this is America, and everyone has the right to tell his side of the story. But it wasn’t Marshall’s hope or guilt that attracted attention in official circles last week as his memoir hit the bookshelves. It was money. The New Jersey Victims of Crime Compensation Board started a private discussion of whether it’s time to reinvigorate a law that limits criminals’ ability to make profits by selling their stories. Participants at a VCCB meeting last week say Marshall’s book, plus reports of media interest in the story of paroled killer Thomas Trantino, triggered interest in a possible rewrite of the “Son of Sam” law on the books since 1983. The statute, N.J.S.A. 52:4B-26 et seq., patterned after a New York law adopted to stop the literary career of “Son of Sam” serial killer David Berkowitz, requires inmates to place the proceeds of their media earnings in an escrow account for distribution to their victims. The law is a vestige that couldn’t survive a challenge, because the nearly identical New York law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in Simon & Schuster v. New York Crime Victims Bd., 502 U.S. 105 (1991). Last year, Gov. George Pataki signed a revision expanding New York’s law to cure its First Amendment defects, and the discussion at the VCCB last week included the sentiment, “if New York can fix its law, we can, too,” a participant at the meeting said. It remains to be seen how vigorously the board will pursue a rewrite. During last week’s meeting, VCCB Chairman Richard Pompelio was the most outspoken advocate of efforts to limit prison authors’ profits. In a coincidental reshuffling of the board the next day, however, New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey exercised his right to replace Republican Pompelio with Democratic Commissioner Jacob Toporek, who was chairman from 1990 to 1996. Pompelio will remain on the board, but Toporek is now the agency’s chief executive. Toporek said in an interview last week that he is not sure how he will proceed on the “Son of Sam” issue and first wants to “see what Rich had in mind,” before getting into a public discussion of the issue. The current law appears to require an escrow deposit of any proceeds from Marshall’s book, but VCCB attorney Amedeo Gaglioti was noncommittal about how it would apply in specific cases, or whether it would be worth enforcing, given the Supreme Court’s decision in the New York case. Marshall apparently has no interest in making a bundle, and the terms of his deal with Algora Publishing suggest there won’t be much profit, anyway. His agent, Sunny Mays, of the Carroll Grace Literary Agency in St. Petersburg, Fla., says the contract with Algora calls for all royalties to go to John Marshall, the only one of Marshall’s three sons who has stood by their father steadfastly. What royalties? Mays says Algora gave Marshall no advance payment, and his royalties would be 5 percent of the $18.95 paperback price and $25.95 for hardcovers. The initial press run by the small publishing house is 2,000, she says. The only possible big payoff would be from sale of film or television rights. Mays says that if the publisher sells such rights, Algora would get half, Marshall would get 30 percent, and Mays’ agency would get 20 percent. Mays says the CBS news show “48 Hours” has expressed an interest in Marshall’s case, and a report by that program could generate more interest. She says her agency isn’t getting any percentage of the book royalties. Although the agency negotiated the contract, the actual sale to Algora was arranged by a friend of Marshall’s who doesn’t want to be identified. During two interviews with a Law Journal reporter last year, Marshall talked about how he had been pecking away at his portable typewriter for years, but that his first literary effort wasn’t the memoir. It was a “survival guide” for inmates that included games, puzzles and other diversions, advice on dealing with prison life and suggestions for reading and correspondence contracts. No publisher was interested in the survival guide, and there were no nibbles on his memoir, either, until Algora agreed to publish it as the fourth in a series on criminal issues. Previous titles include a collection of prison letters from women who committed murders and a study of female serial killers. Supporters on the outside, including Marshall’s sister Oakleigh Valentine whose help is acknowledged on the title page, assisted him with the manuscript, and the title is a play on the name of the book “Fatal Vision,” Joe McGinniss’ best-seller about the trial and conviction of Green Beret doctor Jeffrey MacDonald. McGinniss also wrote a book about Marshall’s case, “Blind Faith”, which came to the conclusion that Marshall was guilty. Marshall says he hasn’t read “Blind Faith”, but he knows enough about it to conclude that McGinniss distorted the facts and turned his oldest son, Robert, against him. “Tunnel Vision,” in effect, is Marshall’s response to McGinniss’ reporting on the death of Marshall’s wife, Maria, and the trial at which Marshall was convicted and sentenced to death. Ironically, Marshall uses a device of McGinniss’ that is at the top of many literary nitpickers list of no-no’s: manufacturing verbatim dialogue and body gestures to give a dramatic, novelistic, you-are-there feeling to encounters that occurred years earlier. To his credit, Marshall, unlike some authors, uses the technique only to describe encounters at which he was present. As McGinniss did in “Blind Faith”, Marshall uses pseudonyms for most of the people in his book, apparently for two reasons. Algora editorial director Andrea Sengstacken says the purpose of the book was to air Marshall’s story, not to put the focus on other participants or embarrass them. Agent Mays says there also were legal concerns about identifying people. A publisher’s note says Algora doesn’t “vouch for the veracity or correctness of the facts as stated in this book.” Lawyers who have followed Marshall’s story will find no shocking disclosures about his case, but the book does include his never-before-aired personal reflections on the legal process and provides texture to his lawyers’ arguments that he didn’t get a fair trial and was hurt by his trial counsel’s presentation. Marshall was convicted in Atlantic County, N.J., Superior Court after the prosecution presented evidence that he hired a hit man from Louisiana to kill his wife so he could collect insurance money and run off with his girlfriend. The chief witness at the trial, testifying in return for leniency, was the man who said Marshall hired him, but the jury acquitted the supposed trigger man and convicted Marshall and sentenced him to death. Because his appeals are further along than any other inmate’s, Marshall is in line to be the first person executed in New Jersey since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1982. He has insisted that he hired the Louisiana man only as a private investigator to learn how much Maria knew about his infidelity. The murder was the Louisiana man’s idea, and the motive was robbery, Marshall says. His habeas corpus petition is to be heard by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on March 21. THE ‘MUDMAN’ KILLING Marshall’s account of what it’s like on death row includes his eyewitness story of the 1999 killing of death row denizen Robert “Mudman” Simon by fellow inmate Ambrose Harris while they were locked in a recreation area. Harris stomped on Simon’s face after he was unconscious and was therefore guilty of murder, the state argued at a trial last year. But Harris was acquitted after witnesses testified that Simon started the fight. Evidence at the trial suggested that guards were at fault because Harris was supposed to be segregated from other prisoners because of previous violent acts. Marshall goes further in his book. He says “the fight was set-up” by guards who didn’t like either inmate, who Marshall refers to as “Mudding” and “Hoyes.” “Mudding was a confessed cop-killer, Hoyes was a major annoyance,” Marshall writes. He says the guards knew about the segregation order, but, he adds, “They didn’t care who got hurt.” Corrections Department spokesman Chris Carden says there was an internal inquiry about the guards after the killing, but there was no finding they did anything wrong, and no action has been taken against any corrections officer. Marshall’s story, meanwhile, is still unfolding. He says in the book that a private investigator who has taken an interest in his case has made contacts with witnesses who might be able to help him. And he concludes his book with the vow to keep searching for a light that will guide him to a safe landing. “I hope it comes before it’s too late,” he writes.

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