The young Assistant State’s Attorney stood at the center of “The Trial of the Century” in the mid-1960s — as the chief prosecutor of mass-murderer Richard Speck.
By Mark Vruno
As the Fenwick Bar Association celebrates its the 20th Annual Accipter Award Luncheon on May 18th, we remember 2006 recipient William Martin, who passed away last July at the age of 80, following a long battle with cancer.
During a legal career that spanned more than 50 years, Bill Martin lawyered — later as a defense attorney — and taught the law. After serving as editor of The Wick student newspaper and graduating from Fenwick in 1954, Martin attended Loyola University Chicago and its law school, where he was voted the outstanding student. He founded and was editor of the Loyola Law Times, a Journal of Opinion.
Until his death last year, the native Oak Parker (St. Giles) was a private practitioner specializing in attorney ethics and criminal law. He is, however, known best for putting a monster behind bars. The murderer’s name was Richard Speck, who went on a killing spree on Chicago’s southeast side the hot night of July 14, 1966.
An Assistant State’s Attorney at the time, the then 29-year-old Billy Martin had been selected from a pool of more than 30 criminal court prosecutors, many much older and with far more felony trial experience, according to an article in the spring 2018 edition of the Journal of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Despite his relative youth, Martin had earned the respect of Cook County State’s Attorney Dan Ward and his chief assistants, including John Stamos.
Twenty-five years later, Martin told the Chicago Sun-Times, “In a way, it was the end of innocence. In this case, eight women asleep in a middle-class, crime-free, virtually suburban neighborhood were subject to random violence from a killer who basically came out of the night.” Reflecting in a 2016 interview with the Wednesday Journal, he added, “By committing the first random mass murder in 20th-century America, Richard Speck opened the floodgates to a tragic phenomenon that haunts us today.”
Martin believed that Speck was evil incarnate. The 24-year-old ex-convict from Texas stabbed or strangled (and, in one case, raped) the female nursing students. While in hiding two days after the grisly murders, Speck tried to kill himself by cutting his wrists with a broken wine bottle. But once he was locked up in Statesville Correctional Center, Illinois’ maximum-security prison near Joliet, the human monster never showed any remorse for the bloody, heinous acts he committed.
There was one person who survived that horrible night: 85-pound student nurse Corazon Amurao. Originally from the Philippines, Ms. Amurao hid, terrified, under a bunk bed during the five-hour killing rampage. One by one, her nursing school classmates were ruthlessly slain by the madman. At dawn, in shock, she crawled through the carnage to the townhouse balcony. For 20 minutes she screamed, “Oh my God, they are all dead!”