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Death in a Small Town : After Months of Rumors and Startling Twists Rock Quaint Marshall, Mich., a TV Anchorwoman's Husband Faces Trial in Her Ambush Slaying


MARSHALL, Mich. — The countryside was patched with late-winter snow the evening that Diane Newton King came home to her death.

As the 34-year-old newscaster pulled a Jeep Wagoneer up to her rented house in the early darkness, her killer lay snugly in the loft of the barn overlooking the gravel driveway.

Newton King, wearing a sweat shirt with an American flag emblazoned across the chest, got out of the car. The killer shot her through the heart. While she lay dying, the sniper, firing a bolt-action .22 rifle, shot her again, in the groin.

Newton King's 3-year-old son and 3-month-old daughter remained strapped in their car seats. Authorities estimated that the morning news anchor, who lived her last days in a web of fear, died within three minutes.

At first, the slaying appeared to stump investigators, who said they had no clues regarding the killer's identity.

"Everybody is a suspect," Calhoun County Sheriff Jon Olson told reporters at the time. He added that no power on Earth could have saved Newton King after the first shot, "even if she had been standing next to an ambulance."

Now, 13 months after she died, the case finally may be building to a dramatic finish. After a series of startling twists and turns, her husband Bradford, a 45-year-old former policeman and criminal justice instructor, was ordered 10 days ago to stand trial for a crime that, for better or worse, has made Marshall something other than gas stop--and for those in the know a mecca for antiques--on the interstate between Detroit and Chicago. . . .

Before Newton King's slaying on Feb. 9, 1991, the biggest event in town probably was the annual home tour. Each September, in a ritual combining nostalgia and interior decorating, several thousand visitors line up for guided expeditions through Marshall's lovingly renovated and immaculately maintained Victorian homes.

Compared to such gentle pleasures, the cold-blooded killing of a woman in a glamorous, high-profile occupation was a shocking anomaly in this community of 6,800 in southwestern Michigan, 110 miles west of Detroit. Although no court exists to calibrate the voyeurism quotient of such cases, the death of Newton King, a Mohawk Indian who was proud of her roots, apparently contains enough titillation, terror and tragedy--even a loyal police dog--to satisfy a thousand movie producers, TV crime-show hosts and newspaper editors:

* For starters, the Kings' four-year marriage was in trouble. On the day she was killed, court testimony shows that Newton King spoke to her mother about needing time to mend her relationship with Bradford, who is unemployed. Other testimony indicated that Bradford King showed little or no emotion over his wife's death.

* Shortly before her death, Newton King had been living in fear of a "fatal attraction" admirer who had called her repeatedly at her Battle Creek television station, WUHQ, and sent her a threatening note pieced together with letters clipped from newspapers and magazines. It is now uncertain whether this demented admirer existed.

* After the slaying, the couple's children became the center of a custody fight between Bradford and his late wife's parents. And after the arrest, it was learned that the Kings' oldest child, Marler, now 4, told playmates that his father did not commit the murder.

* Last but not least, this dark eruption of the human spirit occurred, not in some grimy, murder-a-minute big city, but in the rural outskirts of a pristine, historic heartland town where a penny still buys time on a parking meter.

So maybe it isn't surprising that for more than a year the slaying--and the complex case it spawned--has attracted a steady flow of media interest. The prosecutor's office at the Calhoun County Courthouse in Marshall has logged calls from as far away as London and Australia. The state's major newspapers cover each twist in the case, often giving the story major play. The affair has even claimed a media casualty: The news director of a Colorado station where Newton King once worked was fired for unflattering comments he made about her to a newspaper. And, finally, a writer of true-crime books thinks the Newton King case may contain the ingredients for a nonfiction epic with universal appeal.

"These stories boil down to sex and death, because sex and death are the alpha and omega of our existence," says Lowell Cauffiel, author of "Masquerade," about the dismemberment murder of a Detroit psychologist, and "Forever and Five Days," about two nurse's aides who killed half a dozen residents of a nursing home where they worked.

The attention baffles some of Marshall's citizens. One courthouse worker, declining to be identified but willing to chat at length, says the publicity would be understandable if it involved the demise of a major network star.

"It's not Jane Pauley," the worker says.

Despite such disavowals, the slaying has worked a strange and sinister magic on Marshall itself.

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