by Irvin Muchnick
The stipulation by prosecution and defense to bypass the formality of a preliminary hearing in the Jimmy Snuka-Nancy Argentino murder case in Pennsylvania has given us yet another major clue as to the potential end game of this outrageous 32-year-long saga of provincial cover-up.
Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin (who just so happened to have been first assistant district attorney in 1983 -- though you wouldn’t know that from reading the Allentown Morning Call) had petitioned Judge Maria Dantos to summarily find probable cause on the basis of the Snuka indictment presentment, which was publicly announced last month. Martin’s deputy, Charles Gallagher, argued that It would squander judicial resources not to accept the insignificant level of hearsay in a second-hand summary of the testimony of 20 grand jury witnesses. Snuka has a constitutional right to a fair trial, but not to a redundant preliminary hearing. Just get on with the trial.
Snuka’s new lawyer, Robert J. Kirwan II, said fine -- but first give us access to all the grand jury testimony, and keep those details sealed from public view.
Kirwan has reiterated Snuka’s position that what happened to Ms. Argentino, his girlfriend, in May 1983 in Room 427 of the George Washington Motor Lodge in Whitehall was “an accident.” In the process, the parties jointly lay the groundwork for what could become the next and final step: a guilty plea to the charge of involuntary manslaughter -- while letting the Superfly off the hook for the more serious charge of third-degree murder.
It is intuitive that the prosecution’s chief challenge in convincing a jury that Snuka is guilty of murder, beyond a reasonable doubt, is the three-plus decades of reasonable doubt emanating from D.A. Martin and Detective Gerald Procanyn themselves. This adds up to an indictment not of WWF’s most popular wrestler of the early 1980s so much as of the criminal justice system of the Lehigh Valley. It’s also the reason why we have the saying “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
But when all is said and done, a plea deal might be the best option for the Martin gang. If Kirwan is an even halfway decent defense lawyer, he will focus on impeaching the details -- the pettier, the better -- in the grand jury testimony. Across all this minutiae from nearly two dozen third parties (who, it must be emphasized, did not themselves witness exactly what went down with Snuka and Nancy), there are bound to be inconsistencies. Whether those inconsistencies bear meaningfully on the guilt of the defendant is not his problem. Let’s say one witness testified that Snuka beat his wife daily, while another said it was only monthly -- presumably, that’s a defect on a par with Snuka’s multiple versions of how Nancy fell and hit her head while peeing at a roadside stop … or is that she fell during horseplay with Snuka in the motel room … is it that she was pushed by the 250-pound wrestler and struck her head on a blunt object during a lovers’ quarrel … or ....
Hey, let’s just call it even!
All along, I’ve felt involuntary manslaughter was the curious count of the indictment. It’s the kind of thing thrown in to enable face-saving and an unsatisfactory denouement. Snuka can defiantly say, in effect, “OK, I should have called 911 earlier -- but as to the rest, you’ve got nothing.” Under Pennsylvania law, I.M. is focused on gross negligence or recklessness, not on direct agency, whether intentional or not, in another person’s death. It is a misdemeanor. It is not a felony.
The whole idea of an involuntary manslaughter count is fishy. In Pennsylvania, I.M. it carries a statute of limitations of two years. D.A. Martin has not explained what makes this charge tenable 30 years past expiration. The only theory I’ve heard so far from experts is that, perhaps, special circumstances allow the prosecutor to “toll,” or stop the clock, on the S.O.L.
I keep falling back on the idea that the real Jimmy Snuka verdict here is the one of history. In light of the foregoing, we can debate whether a 72-year-old man with cancer should be incarcerated. What the upcoming national (not local) media coverage of this whole episode seems certain to expose is the cronyism, corruption, and incompetence of the Lehigh County police and courts. That this was all the launchpad of what would become the World Wrestling Federation’s historic, industry-transforming expansion is, I believe, no accident.
The 2013 ebook, JUSTICE DENIED: The Untold Story of Nancy Argentino’s Death in Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s Hotel Room, annotates our original article and benefits a women’s shelter in Nancy’s memory. You can order the ebook for $2.99 on Amazon Kindle (http://amzn.com/B00CPTP6VM) or a PDF copy by email (send $2.99 via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org). One hundred percent of the proceeds are donated by the Argentino family, in Nancy’s memory, to the women’s shelter in development at the Salerno, Italy, church Centro Evangelical dei Fratelli.