Tuesday, April 3, 2001 | 11:26 a.m.
A four-time convicted felon arrested by FBI agents on drug charges last week may hold the key to solving the 1972 car-bombing death of William Coulthard, a prominent attorney who once headed Las Vegas' FBI office.
There were signs Monday that 67-year-old Robert Marshall, part of the criminal element in Las Vegas for years, was on the verge of providing investigators with information about Coulthard's well-publicized slaying.
"We certainly know that Bobby Marshall has been involved in a lot of criminal activity dating back decades," Metro Police Lt. Wayne Petersen told the Sun Monday. "He was around town at the time, and we believe he knows several of the people involved in the bombing."
Petersen said Metro homicide detectives are working closely with FBI agents pursuing fresh leads in the case that were uncovered last year.
"We're still committed to the case to see if there's anything we can do to bring some closure," he said.
U.S. Magistrate Lawrence R. Leavitt Monday ordered Marshall held in federal custody without bail until his April 12 preliminary hearing on a two-count FBI complaint charging him with distributing a kilogram of cocaine to a Las Vegas man on March 10.
A co-defendant in the drug case, Clarence Jay Crozier of Southern California, was arrested by FBI agents in Yuma, Ariz., on Monday.
Leavitt described Marshall, who is on parole until 2016, as a flight risk and a danger to the community. He said the defendant has at least four felony convictions, including one for possessing an unregistered explosive device.
At the start of Marshall's detention hearing, his lawyer, Richard Schonfeld, a partner of well-known attorney David Chesnoff, told Leavitt that their law firm was withdrawing from representing Marshall.
Schonfeld said the firm, which is headed by Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, may have a "conflict down the road with a present client."
The decision to bow out was made following a meeting last week between Chesnoff and Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Johnson of the Organized Crime Strike Force.
Johnson, who appeared in court Monday with Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Frayn, declined comment on the meeting with Chesnoff. He also declined to talk about any connection Marshall might have to the Coulthard bombing.
But several sources within the legal community said Chesnoff's decision to withdraw means that Marshall may be in a position to assist investigators.
Schonfeld and Marshall's new lawyer, Deputy Federal Public Defender Shari Kaufman, said they have no knowledge of whether Marshall may cooperate with authorities.
Both Chesnoff and Goodman have had longstanding ties to the politically connected Binion family, whose name has been associated with the Coulthard case over the years.
The 56-year-old Coulthard was a landlord of the Horseshoe Club at the time of his July 25, 1972, death. He was reported to have been in the middle of intense lease negotiations with Horseshoe Club founder Benny Binion, who had come to Las Vegas in 1947 with a notorious reputation in Texas, where he twice faced murder charges.
Binion, a Las Vegas gaming pioneer who died in 1989, was questioned early in the investigation, but never charged in Coulthard's slaying. His family has insisted that Binion had nothing to do with Coulthard's death.
"There's been a lot of theorizing about this case, said Beecher Avants, who headed up the Coulthard investigation in 1972 as the lieutenant in charge of Metro's homicide unit. "If I felt that Benny Binion had done it, and there was some way to prove it, I would have picked him up and put him in jail."
Avants said he went to local and federal prosecutors several years later in 1977 with new information linking the killers of Culinary Union boss Al Bramlet to the Coulthard bombing. But the prosecutors were shy about pursuing the lead.
At the time, the killers, Tom Hanley and his son Gramby Hanley, were helping federal prosecutors put together a high-profile criminal case against Bramlet's successor, Ben Schmoutey, in the firebombing of two local restaurants at odds with the Culinary Union. Schmoutey, who no longer is alive, was charged in the bombings, but acquitted.
Avants said the Hanleys, who had ties to Binion, were identified by the gardener as being at Coulthard's house the morning of his death. Coulthard was killed about 3:45 p.m. when a bomb ripped through his Cadillac, which was parked in the garage of the old Bank of Nevada Building downtown.
"I would have loved to have put this thing together and have the cooperation of the U.S. attorney and the district attorney, but they were reluctant," Avants said.
Tom Hanley died a couple of years after pleading guilty to Bramlet's murder, and Gramby went into federal protection while serving a life sentence for Bramlet's murder. Gramby still is in prison.