Colonel's Wife: Witness, Or Spy?

Can Preston Be Trusted?

In the first two trials, the colonel's son, Michael Marecek, testified that his dad hinted that he was the killer. But he later said police brainwashed him.

In the third trial, Michael Marecek testified for the defense. His sister, Susan Kirk, testified reluctantly for the prosecution.

Like Kirk, Russell Preston, a former Army buddy of Marececk's, could not at first believe his hero was a murderer. But he says Marecek had all but admitted the murder almost two years after the crime.

Days before her murder, Viparet Marecek had asked Preston's Czech-born wife to translate some documents she had found. They appeared to be letters from her husband to his Czech cousin Hana. "She was convinced they were between her husband and his mistress," said Preston. "She was going to get them translated to use in a divorce trial."

But instead of translating them, Preston called her husband, because of what he later termed, "Special Forces brotherhood."

George Marecek denies he was having an affair. But police say the letters suggest that the two had a plan to be together — a motive for murder.

The letter read: "The plan is ready. I only need time and you(r) help with it. Then it goes on. I am always thinking of you. I wish to be there for you. It will be soon. Trust me. I have to hurry. I am sending a kiss. I love you terribly."

The colonel says this wasn't a love letter, and says that he and his wife were planning a trip to the Czech Republic. He says the "plan" was for a celebration once they arrived there.

At first Preston had believed Marecek's story. But a few months later, Hana moved in with him; then she said they had married but he didn't want anyone to know just yet, Preston recalled.

Another piece of the puzzle: Col. Marecek had purchased a $300,000 life insurance policy for his wife, Viparet six months before her death.

In court, the defense claimed that Preston could not be trusted, claiming that he was a spy for the Czech secret police.

After the fall of communism, George Marecek had traveled back to his homeland in 1990 and began making political connections. "He wanted to be president of the Czech Republic," Preston claims.

The defense says that Preston invented the murder confession to dash these political hopes.

Preston also had a file in the Czech secret police archives showing he traveled behind the Iron Curtain in 1987 and 1988 meeting at a Prague hotel with an agent code name "Needle."

48 Hours traveled to Prague so that a former high-ranking Czech secret agent, Col. Jan Belicek, could evaluate the Preston file. "It is clear that he was worked on to be an agent," Belicek said.

"We're looking at the possibility that Preston was controlled in the past," he said. "Whoever it was could still be controlling him and might try to use him against Marecek."

Preston denies this. While he admits visiting Prague in the 1980s as a tourist, he says a Green Beret would draw the interest of the secret police. He denies knowingly being in contact with an agent of the Czech secret police. The file didn't indicate that Preston ever responded to attempts to recruit him.

And Col. Yaroslav Bridzic, who was in charge of recruiting Preston, says Preston never worked for the Czech secret police.

The defense also brought up allegations that Preston had assaulted women. In 1993, despite Preston's suspicions about the colonel, Preston had looked up two friends of Hana Marecek in Prague. A year later the two accused him of rape. Preston admitted to adultery but maintained it was not rape, but consensual sex.

Preston suspects that Col. Marecek had asked them or paid them to accuse him.

Marecek reported Preston to the U.S. military, and Czech officials investigated as well. Czech charges were dropped after the victims said exactly they had spoken up only after being pressured by Hana Marecek. The Army eventually dropped the rape charges, concluding that the alleged crimes were fabricated.

The judge refused to admit testimony about the dismissed rape charges against Preston. With no proof that Preston was a spy, the defense didn't even bring that up.

Nor would the judge give the defense more time to investigate a new claim by Marecek's supporters that a serial killer in Michigan had confessed to the murder.

Richard Tobin, a National Guardsman visiting Fort Fisher in June 1991, said he saw Viparet alone at about the time others said she was walking with Col. Marecek.

He said he told his superiors at that time and then let it drop until the defense found him nine years later.

Worried that his training in wartime killing might be used against him, Colonel Marecek did not take the stand.

After a six-day trial, the jury spent three hours coming up with its verdict: guilty of second degree murder. The sentence was 30 years in prison.

Marecek still says he is innocent: "I'd rather die in prison than confess to something I didn't do. "I'm going to be free until I find out who killed her."

"There's no good outcome," said the colonel's daughter, Susan Kirk. "He's my dad, and I love him. I wish I could go back and change everything, but I can't."

Jan. 2003 Update

In September 2002, the Court of Appeals ruled the judge made an error during Marecek's sentencing, and ordered a new sentencing hearing. This hearing is not scheduled yet, but Marecek's lawyers believe it will occur sometime in January of 2003. Marecek hopes that his sentence will be reduced from 30 years to 15 years. Marecek was denied parole last year. His next review is this month.

Go Back To Part I.