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The Nation

Counterculture Figure's Trial in Slaying Begins

Court: A prosecutor says Ira Einhorn killed his ex-girlfriend and left her in his closet in 1977.

October 01, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — Ira Einhorn jealously murdered his former girlfriend in a classic case of domestic violence, and even wrote a poem after he struck another ex-lover with a bottle and tried to strangle her, a prosecutor charged Monday.

The poem was titled "An Act of Violence," Assistant Dist. Atty. Joel Rosen told the jury during opening arguments in the trial of the onetime counterculture figure.

"Suddenly it happens. Bottle in hand I strike away at the head. In such violence, there may be freedom," Rosen quoted Einhorn as writing.

"He had his own little bizarre philosophy of violence," Rosen said as Einhorn stared intently at the jurors. "This defendant believed in the use of violence when breaking up a relationship."

Einhorn, 62, fled Philadelphia just before going on trial in 1981 on charges of killing Helen "Holly" Maddux and placing her body in a locked trunk in a closet of his apartment. He remained a fugitive in Europe until his capture in France in 1997 and used legal maneuvers to avoid extradition until last year.

In his opening statement, defense lawyer William T. Cannon said Einhorn left the city because he believed the district attorney was withholding information that could help him during the trial and was "not playing with a fair deck."

Cannon said the "$64,000 question" in the case was who killed Maddux and put her body in the trunk.

Maddux, a former student at Bryn Mawr College, had decided to end a stormy five-year relationship with Einhorn, the prosecutor said, and had traveled to Philadelphia after threats that he would throw her belongings into the street.

"I just have to go down and get Ira off the wall," Rosen quoted Maddux as telling her new boyfriend before she arrived at Einhorn's apartment on Sept. 10, 1977.

"That was the last day anybody saw Holly alive again," the assistant district attorney told the court. "She literally disappeared off the face of the planet. Nobody heard from her at all."

The prosecutor said Einhorn ran "for one reason only: He didn't want to face the evidence at his trial" and came back "kicking and screaming."

"Even after 25 years, the case is overwhelming against the defendant," Rosen concluded.

Einhorn, whose lawyer promised he would take the witness stand in Common Pleas Court, contends that the CIA framed him because he had learned of secret government mind-control experiments.

"One of the things that attracted Holly to Ira was his great mind," Cannon told the jury, "not a mind stupid enough to keep a body in his closet."

The lawyer characterized Einhorn as a philosopher, futurist and leader of the counterculture underpinnings of Philadelphia decades ago. He said his client had once run for mayor and was appointed a Kennedy fellow at Harvard in 1978.

Rosen said there would be testimony that downstairs neighbors were so distressed by a foul-smelling liquid dripping from Einhorn's closet that they had to move out of their apartment.

The prosecutor said witnesses would testify hearing "loud thumps upstairs" and a woman screaming about the time of Maddux's disappearance, that Einhorn had refused to let workers into the closet and had stopped subletting his apartment when he was traveling.

Rosen said Einhorn attempted unsuccessfully to move the trunk and had asked two girls to dump it in the river "because it was filled with secret Russian papers."

When the prosecutor was finished, many of the jurors looked stricken--prompting Cannon to begin his opening argument with a question.

"Ladies and gentlemen on the jury," he said, "anyone think the case is over right now?"

The lawyer said Maddux was preparing to rent an apartment only a block from Einhorn's home, and they had made reciprocal wills--indicating that the relationship was not over.

Cannon said that he would present three witnesses who would testify seeing Maddux after the date the prosecution said she was killed and that experts called by the defense would dispute laboratory tests and autopsy findings during the murder investigation.

While a fugitive in 1993, Einhorn was tried in absentia in Philadelphia and found guilty of murder. No defense lawyer was present during the proceedings, and he was sentenced to be executed upon his return.

But after his capture, courts in France found the trial held without Einhorn intolerable and temporarily freed him.

In response, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed a law granting Einhorn a second trial with the promise that he would not receive the death penalty if convicted. As part of the arrangement, the first conviction was thrown out.

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