by Irvin Muchnick
(P.S. Spokesperson Debbie J. Garlicki emailed at 8:35 a.m. Pacific time: “District Attorney James B. Martin had no role in the Snuka matter in 1983.”)
There have been questions, and rightly so, about why Detective Gerald Procanyn, part of the police and prosecution team that whiffed on charging Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka in Nancy Argentino’s death in 1983, is still working as a point person on the 32-year-old cold case for the Lehigh County district attorney.
That we recently learned Procanyn is effectively being double-paid by the region’s taxpayers — once for his retirement pension from the Whitehall Township police and once for active duty in his dotage in the D.A.’s office — only turns appearances from bad to terrible.
But it gets even worse. The Allentown Morning Call, whose coverage of the reopening of the Snuka-Argentino case, setting in motion a chain of events that led to the indictment of the 72-year-old WWE Hall of Famer last month, not only failed to record Procanyn’s bald-faced lies about the investigation to this reporter in 1992. The newspaper also didn’t clue its readers in on the fact that D.A. James Martin, too, was part of the police-prosecution team at the time of the incident.
We’ve now learned that, from 1981 to 1986, Martin served as first assistant D.A. under D.A. William Platt (who currently is a senior state judge).
We don’t know if Martin had a role in the Snuka matter as substantial as that of Platt and another assistant D.A. at the time, Robert Steinberg. Both Platt and Steinberg were named in the Morning Call’s overpraised 2013 “cold case” article, which mentioned Martin only as the current D.A. At minimum, this was a failure to clarify a crucially relevant point, and it again highlights the assumed cronyism and lack of transparency of both the Lehigh Valley criminal justice leadership and their putative press watchdogs.
Piling this nugget on top of all the other inconsistencies and warps in the Snuka file and its mysteriously crabbed local media narrative, I would go so far as to wonder if now-D.A. Martin himself was also present at the June 1, 1983, meeting that we already know involved Platt, Steinberg, and three Whitehall detectives (including Procanyn), plus Snuka and his de facto mouthpiece Vince McMahon — then the young owner of the World Wrestling Federation and now the near-billionaire chairman and chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange-traded WWE.
I will send this story to Martin’s spokesperson, Debbie Garlicki, and ask for a direct response, but the experience of past contacts does not make me hopeful. Recently, when I asked Garlicki when Detective Procanyn left the Whitehall police’s employ and joined the D.A.’s, she referred me to the right-to-know offices of the city and county, respectively. The D.A.’s office rejects the simplest media inquiries about the curricula vitae of top law enforcement figures on the grounds that they are requests for “comment on open and pending cases.”
Most municipal and county law enforcement agencies publish straightforward chronological bios of their chiefs. Not the Lehigh County D.A. — there, the website stands pat with the note that “Martin has more than 25 years [sic] experience as a prosecutor and more than 43 years [sic] experience as a trial attorney.” The bio goes on to list, with back-and-forth dates, his membership on the executive committee of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association; his terms with the Governor’s Victims Services Advisory Committee and other official or quasi-official boards and commissions; and his leadership in the start-up of a grand jury system in Lehigh County in 2001. However, there is no listing of the order and tenure of his public and private jobs.
Perhaps “everyone knows” Martin is the former first assistant D.A. from the time of the Snuka incident. But the Morning Call’s pick-and-choose brand of journalism hardly inspires confidence that the lapse is either unintentional or meaningless.
The way I found out about Martin’s previous D.A. office stint was in an email, via an intermediary, from a Pennsylvania judge who did not want to be named. Reading archival media stories confirmed the information. Before that, I had known only that Platt was widely considered to have been Martin’s professional mentor.
After the Morning Call’s big Snuka story, complete with pulled punches, was published in 2013, and Martin — combining his announcement with the lowest of expectations — said his office would revisit the case, a retired police officer named Peter L. Pavlovic, from Lower Macungie Township in Lehigh County, wrote a letter to the editor.
Pavlovic said he had only one problem with D.A. Martin’s fresh look — “that this isn’t exactly a ‘fresh look’”:
“To have a fresh look you need a new investigation team, and that should be the state police, not a county detective who investigated the case as a Whitehall police detective and did not file any charges. This case was not rocket science; this case was a case of conflicting stories by the person involved. This was a case of just bad police work. Please give this victim the fresh look she deserves.”
These were true words about Gerald Procanyn.
Now we know that they apply to James Martin, as well.
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.