Who Is Spying On Whom?

Old Friend Turns Prosecution Witness

As retired Colonel George Marecek's third murder trial approached, lawyer Cliff Barnard scoured for new witnesses. Impressed with the colonel, he had taken his case for free three months earlier.

One new defense witness did surface: Though the colonel's son Michael Marecek had testified twice that his dad hinted that he was the killer, he later said police brainwashed him.

While Michael Marecek was set to testify for the defense this time, his sister, Susan Kirk, was on the prosecution's list as a reluctant witness, for whom loyalty had lost out to what she feared was the truth. "If Dad has done something he shouldn't have done,...he needs to be in prison," Kirk said.

Like Kirk, Russell Preston, a former Army buddy of Marececk's, could not at first believe his hero was a murderer. But eventually there was "no doubt in my military mind," he said; Marecek had all but told him so almost two years after the crime.

"We were sitting side by side, and I squared around to him, and I said, 'George, listen; this has gone on long enough. It's starting to stink,'" Preston recalled.

"He reached over and grabbed my arm, 'They'll never catch me. I'm too smart for them,'...with a real firm grip...cold as ice,...mean as a snake," Preston added.

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."

While George Marecek denied he was having an affair, Hicks pointed out some language that indicated that they had some sort of 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 refuted the notion this was a love letter; it was just friendly. Lost in the translation is that he and Viparet Marecek were planning a trip to the Czech Republic, he claimed.

And he maintained "the plan" was to have a big celebration when his wife arrived.

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

"Is it law in America to inform everybody after you got married?" she asked.

But Preston was concerned: Marecek had substantially remodeled his house and black-topped his driveway in an exorbitant show of wealth, Preston said.

Prosecutor Hicks' theory about whre the money came from: a life insurance policy that paid out $300,000. George Marecek had purchased it for his wife, Viparet, only six months before her death.

Buying insurance was just prudent, George Marecek maintained, resenting any implication that he was lying. "It's a good management thing."

As the evidence mounted, Preston, Marecek's onetime admirer, turned into an important witness against him.

But the colonel insisted it was actually Preston who was living a lie and hoped to discredit him in court. The colonel's supporters set out to prove Preston was a spy - for the Czech secret police.

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

But the colonel's supporters charge that Preston himself set out to make sure that never happened — by spying for the Czech secret police. Or so said Maracek's friend Jan Benes, a former dissident who thinks Marecek was a threat to the communist old guard. "Anyone who lives free and who thinks free is a threat to the system," Benes said.

So according to this theory, Preston invented the murder confession to frame the colonel and to dash his political hopes. Maracek claimed that Preston was definitely on the secret police books.

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 is hardly under cover these days, though. Relaxing with musician friends at home in Germany, Preston emphatically declared he's no spy out to get the colonel.

While Preston freely admitted visiting Prague in the 1980s as a tourist, he said a Green Beret would draw the interest of the secret police. And he denied knowingly being in contact with an agent of the Czech secret police. Indeed the file didn't indicate that Preston ever responded to attempts to recruit him. Preston also refuted the charge of supplying intelligence to a foreign government.

48 Hours finally located a shadowy figure who should know if Preston worked for the secret police: Col. Yaroslav Bridzic, once in charge of recruiting him. An intense two-hour meeting took place at a hotel coffee shop in Prague with simple ground rules: no cameras, no recording, no notes.

But there was no doubt about what this former agent said: He insisted that Preston never worked fo the Czech secret police.

A high-level U.S. military source indicated the same thing; it was clear the spy charges would be hard to bring into court.

But determined to discredit Preston, the defense had another card up its sleeve: allegations that Preston had assaulted some 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 suspected that Col. Marecek had asked them or paid them to accuse him.

Marecek did report Preston to the military and Czech officials investigated as well.

Prague detective Pavel Oswald said charges were dropped after the victims told him exactly why they'd spoken up. "They would never report it on their own. They reported it after being pressured by Mrs. Marecek," Oswald said.

The Army also eventually dropped the rape charges. It concluded that the alleged crimes were fabricated.

Still Marecek's struggling defense team wanted to try to present this evidence at the trial. And it had a new, secret weapon: a witness who had never spoken out before.

Find out what the new witness said.