The Perry March Murder Trial

In a Nashville mansion on the night of Thursday, Aug. 15, 1996, lawyer Perry Avram March murdered artist Janet Gail Levine March while their son, 5, and daughter, 2, were in beds upstairs. The killer stuffed his wife’s body in a leaf bag and drove it to a remote area. He later enlisted his father Arthur to dump the bag of skeletal remains in a brush pile beside Interstate 65 north of Bowling Green, Ky.

Because of subsequent roadwork, probably those remains will never be found.

What was the motive? The marriage had been rocky ever since March tried to seduce a married paralegal at his first law firm. Settlement installments were made to the paralegal, with a balloon payment due soon. Janet had planned to visit a divorce attorney on Friday, Aug. 16.

March and the kids moved to Chicago, where his brother lived. Then they relocated to Mexico, retirement home of his father.

Nine years after the murder March was arrested in Mexico and taken to Los Angeles. Metro detective Pat Postiglione went west to bring the felon back to Tennessee. On the Aug. 12, 2005, cross-country flight March ran his mouth.

At the end of the flight Postiglione prepared a summary of March’s remarks. It was introduced at trial without objection as Exhibit 1. Here are pertinent excerpts:

He began by asking questions about the strength of the case against him and said that it was all circumstantial. He then asked if we had any physical or direct evidence. I told him that I would not discuss any evidence with him, whether it be circumstantial, physical, or direct. He was persistent in asking whether or not Janet was deceased and asked if we had located her. I told him that if we didn’t believe that Janet was deceased, he would not be sitting here charged with her homicide.

Initially he adamantly denied involvement in Janet’s disappearance, but then began to talk about a deal where he would plead guilty and do no less than five years and not more than seven years in prison. I explained to him that I would listen to what he had to say but could not speak for the district attorney’s office and had no authority to make any deals regarding a guilty plea.

The case was tried Aug. 7–17, 2006. Judge Steve Dozier presided. Tom Thurman and Katy Miller prosecuted. John Herbison, Bill Massey and Lorna McClusky defended. The jury, imported from Chattanooga, found Perry March guilty. On Sept. 6 Judge Dozier set the sentence at 56 years in the penitentiary.

You will find Judge Thomas Woodall’s appellate opinion at 395 S.W.3d 738 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2011). He and his colleagues held the defendant’s foolish flight fantasies admissible despite the absence of Miranda warnings. There was custody but no interrogation. “Based on our review of the totality of circumstances surrounding the giving of defendant’s statements, we conclude that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings that the admission of defendant’s Aug. 12, 2005, statements did not violate Fifth Amendment principles.”

His Legacy Lives On in These Pages

We learned as this issue was going to press the sad news that Don Paine had died. A former Tennessee Bar Association president, he was also a Journal columnist and contributor for 24 years. Perhaps his most enduring TBA legacy is his idea for and institution of the Editorial Board in 1989. He not only started it, but served on it as a member and later an emeritus member. Don was so organized and had a passion for educating the lawyers of Tennessee and he always wrote his “Paine on Procedure” columns months ahead of the deadlines. Because of this foresight, you will be able to continue to read this column halfway into 2014. For now you can see more details at www.tba.org/node/62835, and look for an expanded tribute in the Journal’s January issue.
— Suzanne Robertson, editor

 


Don Paine DONALD F. PAINE is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is of counsel to the Knoxville firm of Paine, Tarwater, and Bickers LLP.