Career criminal faces murder charge today

Charlotte's most notorious habitual criminal is due in District Court this morning, for a bond hearing on his latest and most serious charge to date: murder.

Marion Gales, who has been in and out of state prison four times since 1979, is accused of killing Lacoya Monique Martin, 27, a pregnant homeless woman whose body was found April 6 in the 1900 block of Oaklawn Avenue, five miles north of uptown.

It's the second time Gales, 46, has been linked the murder of a Charlotte woman. The first was the brutal 1990 slaying of community activist Kim Thomas, a case that remains the city's most mysterious unsolved homicide. Gales was never arrested or charged in that case, but a civil jury later concluded he was likely the killer and awarded Thomas' husband, Dr. Ed Friedland, $8.6 million in damages.

Investigators have said little about the Lacoya Martin case, other than to note Gales has been linked to the crime through forensic evidence. He was arrested July 21.

A coroner's report obtained by the Observer suggests the possibility that Martin, who was found clad only in a pair of pants, was beaten, then possibly strangled or suffocated. She was 16 weeks pregnant and had both cocaine and alcohol in her system, according to a toxicology report.

Martin, who was last seen alive on April 4, was among the city's chronic homeless and had a police record that included a recent arrest for resisting a public officer and possession of drug paraphernalia. Her last known address was at the Double Oaks Apartments, from which she was evicted in 2005.

Terry Sherrill, Gales' state appointed lawyer, said that it's unlikely his client will be able to afford any bond set by the court today. Like Lacoya Martin, Gales is homeless and indigent.

Family members who have visited Gales in the Mecklenburg County jail say he vows innocence in the murder, but admits knowing the victim.

Police records show this case marks the ninth arrest for Gales since he was last paroled from state prison in 2004. His lengthy criminal record starts in 1979, when a then 16-year-old Gales was convicted of shooting and wounding a Charlotte woman during a break-in at her home on Churchill Road, which is the same street Kim Thomas lived on.

Since then, Gales has served three other prison sentences, for crimes ranging from assault on a female to burglary and larceny.

It was during one his brief stretches of freedom in 1990 that women's rights activist Kim Thomas was handcuffed and slashed to death in her home. Gales had done yard work for her, and was spotted by a witness in the neighborhood the morning of the murder. He was also known to own handcuffs, carried a knife and wore shoes similar to those linked to the crime scene, according evidence presented in the civil trial.

However, police investigators built a case against Thomas' husband, surgeon Dr. Ed Friedland, who had engaged in an affair. It was believed that he wanted out of the marriage, but didn't want a costly divorce settlement. Police eventually arrested and charged Friedland with the murder, but dropped the charge later due to insufficient evidence.

In 1996, Friedland filed a wrongful death suit against Gales, and produced witnesses at the trial who claimed Gales was seen wearing bloody clothes the morning of the murder, and had bragged in prison about killing Thomas.

A jury ruled in Friedland's favor and awarded him a largely symbolic $8.6 million judgment against Gales, who was a penniless inmate.