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Jury Selection To Begin In Parkway Slaying Trial

January 14, 1986

MAYS LANDING, N.J. (AP) _ A case that started at a darkened highway rest stop and gained notoriety with charges that a businessman took out a contract on his wife’s life came to trial Tuesday in a tiny courtroom here.

Robert O. Marshall, 45, of Toms River, is accused of hiring two Louisiana men to kill his wife, 42-year-old Maria Marshall. She was shot twice in the chest while sitting in the couple’s car at a Garden State Parkway rest stop where her husband said he stopped to check a tire and was knocked unconscious by robbers.

Jury selection began Tuesday and is expected to take at least two weeks.

The case has received such widespread publicity that a judge granted a defense motion to move the trial from Ocean County south to Atlantic County.

In September, Judge Manuel Greenberg issued a ″gag order″ to all attorneys, investigators and others connected to the case, telling them not to discuss it with the news media.

Meanwhile, residents of Toms River, a colonial settlement and seat of one of the fastest growing counties in the country, wait for the story to unfold in the courtroom. Several key documents in the case have been sealed.

Joe McGinniss, author of the best-selling book, ″Fatal Vision,″ about an army doctor convicted of killing his wife and two children, plans to attend the trial and write a book about the case.

McGinniss said the case has become an ″obsession″ in Toms River.

The Marshalls were returning home from Atlantic City Sept. 7, 1984, when Marshall, owner of an insurance and estate planning business, told police he pulled into the Oyster Creek rest stop in Lacey Township to check a tire.

He was knocked unconscious when he got out of the car, and awoke to find that his wife had been shot twice in the chest, Marshall told authorities, adding that $2,000 had been taken from his wallet.

Marshall, who denied any involvement in his wife’ slaying, suffered a cut above his eye that took five stitches to close.

Three weeks later, Marshall was taken from a Lakewood motel room to a hospital after suffering an apparent drug overdose. Investigators were in an adjacent motel room on Sept. 28, 1984.

A judge later ruled that two tape-recorded messages mailed by Marshall and seized at the motel can be admitted as evidence. The defendant had written on the back of one tape, ″to be opened in the event of my death.″ The contents were not disclosed.

Marshall later signed out of the hospital and admitted himself to a Philadelphia psychiatric facility for evaluation and treatment.

Another man charged in the case, Billy Wayne McKinnon, told authorities in a statement later sealed by the court that Marshall wanted his wife killed so he could collect more than $1.5 million in life insurance and pursue an extramarital affair.

On Dec. 19, 1984, Marshall was taken into custody. He has been held without bail since Christmas Eve 1984. On Jan. 9, 1985, he was indicted on charges of conspiracy and of being an accomplice to murder.

Four Louisiana men had been arrested in connection with the slaying.

Larry N. Thompson, who faces the death penalty if convicted, is accused of carrying out the slaying. Thompson, 42, of Fairview-Alpha, La., also is charged with conspiracy.

McKinnon, 43, of Greenwood, La., is cooperating with authorities who said he has arranged a plea agreement. He was indicted on charges of conspiracy and of being an accomplice to murder.

The indictment against Robert A. Cumber, 48, of Bossier City, La., was dismissed by Greenberg, but was reinstated Dec. 31 by an appeals court. He was charged with conspiracy and being an accomplice. He will be tried separately.

Charges contained in an earlier indictment against James E. Davis, 50, of Sibley, La., were dropped.

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