by Irvin Muchnick
Jim Martin has announced his retirement after 25 years as district attorney of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. In two capacities in the DA’s office – assistant DA in 1983 and then elected head of the office since 1998 – Martin bears majority responsibility for ensuring that the famous late star of what is now WWE, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, faced no consequences for what was, at minimum, the involuntary manslaughter death of his girlfriend, Nancy Argentino, in a Whitehall motel room while the wrestling company was taping its syndicated television show in nearby Allentown 41 years ago.
The story of the Snuka incident and its cover-up has been told extensively: in a chapter of my 2007 book WRESTLING BABYLON: Piledriving Tales of Drugs, Sex, Death, and Scandal; in a 2013 ebook – at the 30th anniversary of Nancy’s death – entitled Justice Denied, which was produced in association with her surviving sisters; and in the long article at https://concussioninc.net/?p=14447 under the headline “How Jimmy Snuka Got Away With Murder. How the Allentown Morning Call Helped Cover Up the Historical and Ongoing Corruption in Lehigh County Criminal Justice. Here’s the Story VICE TV’s ‘Dark Side of the Ring’ Was Afraid to Tell.” There are scores of other related items in this site’s searchable archive.
Martin was part of an all-too-familiar pattern of local lawyer incest and cronyism. Martin’s DA predecessor and career mentor, William Platt, fell upward to a state judgeship, and the DA’s office was a cesspool of connected attorneys on the way up, of criminal investigators with agendas, and even of the occasional Allentown Morning Call reporter passing through the revolving door to coordinate public storytelling.
No local citizen made these connections as diligently and aggressively as a blogger and sometime local radio interviewee, Bill Villa, whose 25-year-old daughter Sheena was killed in a vehicular homicide by a drunk driver in a heinous narrative – similar to that of the NFL player Henry Ruggs, who is now in prison for his 2021 crime. Villa was incensed when Sheena’s killer, Robert LaBarre – son of prominent local lawyer Donald LaBarre Jr. – got released on $0 bail and immediately repaired to a Caribbean vacation, and was poised to receive a slap on the wrist before Villa’s public pressure helped bring about a more palatable sentence.
In retaliation, DA Martin abused his office by filing a “private” defamation lawsuit against Villa. You don’t need to be a First Amendment expert in order to appreciate the applicable term of art here. This was a “SLAPP” (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), which the laws in many states prohibit and sanction to various degrees. Only the nearby Philadelphia Inquirer called out Martin v. Villa for the SLAPP it was. And even the Inquirer’s account was weak and bowdlerized. The Morning Call reprinted the Inquirer’s 2019 article referencing the case, but produced blatantly skewed coverage of its resolution.
In its newly published article reviewing the Martin era as DA, the Morning Call doesn’t even mention Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. In the paper’s too-little-too-late hyped 2013 “cold case” story, the fact that Martin had been assistant DA at the time of the failure to prosecute in 1983 was omitted. So was his very name as the contemporary DA making the office’s decision on whether to prosecute later. (Snuka was ultimately indicted, the judge dismissed the case because he wasn’t competent to stand trial, and he died of cancer shortly thereafter.)
And the new Morning Call piece mentions Villa only to the extent that it says Martin “hit back” at him “through the courts.” The newspaper says nothing about the litigation’s SLAPP essence. The Call’s online version of the story links to the settlement. Concussion Inc. readers can look up all these things for themselves. I’m not going to provide further links to such shoddy and corrupt journalistic practices – part and parcel of the shoddy and corrupt criminal justice system of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.