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1961 suicide ruling changed to homicide

AUSTIN, Texas -- A government official who died 24 years ago was a victim of murder, not suicide, a state judge has ruled in a case sparked by allegations former President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the killing.

Tuesday's ruling by District Judge Peter Lowry changed the official cause of death on the death certificate of Henry Marshall, a U.S. Agriculture Department worker found dead in 1961.

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Lowry issued the order after hearing two days of testimony, including that of a Texas Ranger who investigated Marshall's death.

When he died, Marshall was investigating the convoluted business dealings of Texas swindler Billie Sol Estes, who was later convicted and served a federal prison term for fraud.

Estes, 60, was arrested Tuesday in Abilene, Texas, on charges he sexually assaulted a woman he had hired as a maid. He posted a $10,000 bond and was released.

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Estes built a paper empire and associated in the 1960s with the politically powerful, including Johnson.

The Texas financier was convicted in 1963 of cheating Texas banks by using nonexistant fertilizer tanks as loan collateral and was sent to prison. After he was paroled, Estes was convicted in 1979 in another case of fraud and tax evasion and again sent to prison.

After his second parole in December 1983, Estes told a Robertson County grand jury that Johnson had ordered Marshall killed because he feared the investigator might turn up damaging links between himself and Estes.

Johnson was vice president at the time of Marshall's death.

Marshall's body was found June 3, 1961, on his family farm north of Bryan, Texas. He had been shot five times in the side with a .22-caliber rifle, had a deep cut in his head and a 15 percent concentration of carbon monoxide in his lungs.

A Robertson County justice of the peace ruled Marshall committed suicide, a finding upheld by a 1962 Robertson County grand jury, but another Robertson County grand jury reopened the case last year on Estes' testimony, and ruled the death a homicide.

But that grand jury issued no indictments, saying only that those responsible for the slaying were dead.

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Estes reportedly told the grand jury that he and Johnson discussed the need of stopping Marshall from disclosing Estes' fraudulent business dealings and his links with Johnson.

Johnson associates and family members have said Estes is lying.

Marshall's son, Don Marshall, and widow Sybil Marshall had asked that the cause listed on the death certificate be changed from 'gunshot wounds -- self inflicted' to 'gunshot wounds -- homicide.'

Court clerk Robert Phelps said Lowry's ruling will permit the Bureau of Vital Statistics to make the change on Marshall's death certificate.

'It (ruling) does not open up any other questions or anything,' Phelps said. 'That (death certificate change) is all he heard.'

U.S. Marshal Clint Peoples, who investigated Marshall's death as a Texas Ranger, said he was convinced Marshall was murdered.

Peoples said evidence showed Marshall had 'a terrific struggle' with someone and received several cuts on the head. He then inhaled carbon monoxide, possibly from the exhaust of his pickup truck.

'After that came the finishing off part with the rifle,' Peoples said.

When Estes was released from prison, he contacted Peoples and gave him new information about Marshall's death. Peoples said Estes told him he 'wanted to get right with the Lord.'

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