Do something long enough, and you’ll begin to get good at it. After a while, memories of doing that thing will start to run together.
Even if that thing is reporting on murderers.
In the 38 years Les Stewart spent as a staff writer at the Lebanon Daily News, he covered nearly 50 murder trials. Most his time on staff was spent as a court reporter.
He doesn’t remember every detail of every case he covered. The 1993 murder of Palmyra florist Guy Goodman, however, is an exception.
Local residents Bradley Martin and Carolyn King were convicted of first-degree murder in the case, and sentenced to death, but the two are currently serving lifetime prison sentences.
“There have been murder cases I covered where I found out about the why,” said Stewart, 66. “It helped me understand it. It sounds kind of sick, but I would never do anything like that. People are fascinated by murder. Murder trials were always a lot of work. Covering a trial was exhausting, physically and mentally.”
But Stewart said he knew the story had to be told, and the Lebanon Daily News had to tell it.
“It’s the most horrific crime someone can commit,” continued Stewart. “I always think of the why. What led to this? You always know the how and who and when. But why? To me, that’s always the most fascinating part of a murder case.”
Back in November, Stewart and former Lebanon County detective Mike Wahmann, who investigated the murder, were contacted about doing on-camera interviews for an Oxygen program featuring the case.
Stewart said he does not know the ongoing status of the interview. Prior, Stewart had been interviewed by two other networks about the case.
Stewart recalls the specifics of Goodman’s horrific death, as detailed in court.
“From what I remember, Martin contended that Mr. Goodman made a homosexual pass at him,” Stewart said. “He was hit over the head with a vase, taken down to the basement of his house and they hog tied him” by tying his hands and legs together behind his back. “They put a plastic bag over his head, and then wrapped a bath robe and a bed spread around him and put duct tape over his mouth so he couldn’t breathe.”
If Goodman struggled to free himself, he’d use up more oxygen. He was left to die in that state. A Palmyra police officer discovered the body on Sept. 25, 1993. Goodman, 74, was last seen on Sept. 17.
“At that time, Martin was in prison. I believe it was for the unauthorized use of a vehicle,” Stewart continued. “He was out on a pass. King was supposedly waiting outside prison for him, and he never returned. This was supposedly a couple of days before they killed Goodman. Goodman knew Martin. He had visited Martin in prison. He went to Goodman for a ride, and he refused.”
Martin and King took Goodman’s car and they used his credit card and checks 33 times over the next week, during a 12-state getaway that took them to Illinois, North Dakota, Nevada, California and eventually Yuma, Arizona. As a result of their crime spree, Martin and King were later sentenced for the first-degree murder of Donna Martz in Elko, Nevada.
“I always thought it was premeditated,” said Stewart of the Goodman killing. “That was part of their defense, that Goodman made a pass at Martin. They took Goodman’s credit card, check book and car, and headed out on the road. They were using his checks and credit cards along the way.”
Stewart adds that he doesn’t believe the slaying was “well-thought out,” considering Goodman’s checks and credit cards were used.
“They were eventually captured,” Stewart added. “They were in southern California when a California highway patrolman spotted the car they were driving. There was a nationwide bulletin out for these two.”
At their trial in October of 1994, Martin and King were found guilty and sentenced to death. After years of appeals, their sentences were reduced in 2016 to life in prison without parole.
Stewart wrote more than 80 stories related to the Goodman case, and Martin and King, over the next decade for the Lebanon Daily News. Along with the 1980s case of convicted killer Freeman May, the Goodman murder still stands as one of the most unsettling cases Stewart has ever covered.
“It was toward the end of the case, and I thought the best thing to do was sentence them to life, because all of the court hearings were putting Goodman’s son and daughter through the whole thing again,” said Stewart.
After hearing about the backgrounds of King and Martin, Stewart said it was clear that the attorneys weren’t prepared to try a case like this.
“At the last hearing I covered, it seemed Martin showed remorse. I couldn’t get a read on King,” Stewart said. “She appeared by video hook-up and her head was down the whole time.”
Stewart recalls the method used to select defense attorneys for capital murder cases, a process he described as being the “one of the most unfortunate things” about the Goodman case.
“It was almost like picking names out of a hat,” he said. “There weren’t any rules for how you pick defense attorneys for those types of cases.”
The local trial of Martin and May lasted over a week, in 1994.
During his time at the Lebanon Daily News, Stewart covered everything court-related, from rapes to bank robberies. But nothing was as dramatic as murder cases.
“When I was working at the paper, there were only two cases where defendants were sentenced to die,” said Stewart. “Part of King’s defense was that she was afraid of Martin. But I still think she was the brains behind it. The county detectives in this case did a hell of a job.”
The Goodman case, Stewart said, is an important piece of Lebanon County history.
“I think it shined a light on the really good work of the county detectives,” he said. “The person from the D.A.’s office who tried it was Brad Charles,” now a judge.
Stewart was laid off from the Lebanon Daily News in May of 2017. He currently works part-time in the Lebanon County Clerk of Courts office.
Sometimes, he said, he misses his reporting days.
“Last week I was sitting here watching TV and a bunch of fire trucks went past on Walnut Street,” he added. “I thought to myself, ‘What do I do?’ I put my coat on and went to see what was going on. I needed to go on my nightly walk anyway.”
Watching the paper change over the last couple of years has been tough for Stewart. Getting laid off came as a “complete surprise,” he said.
“I think back to elections, when we really kicked butt and how we got all the results for the next day’s paper. It was a lot of work and we lost a lot of sleep,” he said. “But when you picked up the paper the next day, the results were there. It was a real local newspaper. The fact that it isn’t anymore really makes me sad. We did good.”
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