Daily Sports Editor
About five hours after University officials finished meeting with the NCAA Committee on Infractions Friday in Coral Gables, Fla., former Michigan basketball booster Ed Martin died in a Detroit hospital.
Martin, the centerpiece of the scandal that has rocked the University basketball program for the past seven years, died around 7 p.m., Henry Ford Hospital spokeswoman Elana Chrisman said. The expected cause of death is a pulmonary embolism – a blood clot in the lungs.
Martin’s death should have no bearing on the NCAA’s decision on whether or not to levy further sanctions against the basketball program.
“The expectation is that it is done,” said University General Counsel Marvin Krislov, referring to the chances of the NCAA investigation being opened again. “But you can never say never.”
But Martin’s passing will likely play a huge role in the trial of Sacramento Kings’ star Chris Webber, who is scheduled to go on trial after the conclusion of the NBA playoffs in July. Webber has been indicted twice for lying to a federal grand jury in August 2000. Federal prosecutors are accusing Webber, then a witness to the federal investigation of Martin, of trying to mislead the grand jury about cash and gifts he received from Martin before and during his playing days at the University.
Martin, 69, was the government’s main witness in its investigation of Webber. But according to a confrontation clause in the U.S. Constitution, Martin’s grand jury testimony about Webber can no longer be used in the proceedings.
The confrontation clause requires that the lawyer for the defendant has the opportunity to cross-examine the witness. Because Webber’s attorney, Steven Fishman of Detroit, has never questioned Martin in court, the evidence the prosecution received from Martin should be inadmissible, according to Supreme Court precedent.
In a previous hearing, Fishman suggested that a deposition be held with Martin so that he could properly question him, referring to Martin’s health problems as a reason for the meeting. But the government elected to turn down the request, counting on Martin’s health to hold up until the scheduled trial date in July.
Fishman would not comment on the situation out of respect for Martin and his family.
Martin pleaded guilty in late May to a federal money-laundering and conspiracy charge. The Detroit native was facing up to three years in prison after admitting that he gave four University basketball players – Chris Webber, Robert Traylor, Maurice Taylor and Louis Bullock – a total of $616,000 in an attempt to launder money he made from his illegal gambling ring in Detroit auto plants. Martin expected the players to pay him back once they made it into the pro ranks.
All four players were from Metro Detroit, Martin’s stomping grounds. He was known for being a “basketball junkie” and his unending generosity with the underprivileged youth of Detroit.
Martin helped hundreds of young basketball players, giving them free sneakers, food and groceries. “If there was a kid who didn’t have shoes, he’d give them shoes,” Martin’s attorney, William Mitchell, said after Martin’s hearing in May. “He’d sacrifice his own family for the kids.”
Martin began to help Webber in 1988 during his sophomore year of high school, and continued to support him fiscally until 1993 when Webber left the University for the NBA after his sophomore season. Martin confirmed in May that he gave Webber a total of $280,000, but in August 2000 in front of the grand jury, Webber said he could not remember whether Martin had given him any money while he was at the University.
Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin could not be reached for comment.