Case Files – Times Publications, July 2009
More than four years after the headless, limbless torso of Jay Orbin was discovered in the desert outside of Phoenix, his ex-wife Marjorie Orbin stands trial for his murder. But in a bizarre twist, Marjorie’s defense is accusing her ex-lover of the crime.
A bizarre twist took place in the final phase of the capital-murder trial of Marjorie Orbin, the 47-year-old former Las Vegas showgirl accused of dismembering her ex-husband’s body and dumping his torso in the desert outside of Phoenix.
For the first time, the defense pointed the finger at Marjorie’s former lover, Larry Weisberg, claiming he is the one who really committed the gruesome murder.
“The evidence will show that Larry Wiesberg committed this crime,” defense attorney Robyn Varcoe said in her opening statement to the jury. “He did this by dismembering and dumping Jay Orbin’s body like trash, virtually on Marjorie’s doorstep.”
For months, Marjorie’s defense attorneys hinted this was the card they intended to play, cross examining Weisberg and other witnesses on the stand about his behavior, including several violent confrontations he had with police. Weisberg, who was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony, remained resolute that he had no involvement in the crime.
The defense’s accusation came in the wake of a mountain of physical and circumstantial evidence the prosecution had presented during the previous six months of the trial. Their case, which included testimony from jailhouse snitches, Marjorie’s former lovers and forensic experts, seemed to provide overwhelming evidence that Marjorie Orbin brutally murdered her ex-husband.
The defense, however, says Weisberg’s circumstantial connections to the crime are enough to provide reasonable doubt about Marjorie’s guilt.
Now, as the case is being turned over to the jury for deliberation, it will be up to twelve men and women to weigh the evidence and determine Marjorie Orbin’s fate.
Regardless, this eleventh-hour accusation is just the latest in a series of peculiar twists, turns and snags in one of the most convoluted murder trials in recent Valley history.
Dumped in the Desert
On Oct. 23, 2004, the headless, limbless torso of Jay Orbin, a 45-year-old wealthy arts dealer, was discovered in a large blue tub on the outskirts of Phoenix.
Six weeks later, police arrested Marjorie Orbin, Jay’s ex-wife and mother of his only son.
Marjorie claimed Jay never returned home from a business trip, but police quickly discovered evidence that contradicted her story.
Credit-card receipts and phone and computer records indicated he had returned home on Sept. 8, 2004, but then disappeared. Jay’s work truck was later found just a few miles from the couple’s north Phoenix home.
But even before Jay’s body was discovered, suspicions had turned to Marjorie. In the weeks following Jay’s disappearance, she had drained his accounts of more than $100,000 and had gone on shopping sprees to purchase new clothes and a piano.
In court, prosecutor Noel Levy told the jury that the motive for the murder was money.
“There was a whole lot of insurance and other property, and if he was dead, she would have it made for life,” Levy said in his opening statement.
Sitting at the defense table, more than four years after Jay’s murder, Marjorie now barely resembles the glamorous blonde she had been at the time of her arrest. For the trial her hair had been dyed a shade of brown, and she wore thick eyeglasses and a baggy business suit.
As she listened to Levy’s version of events, she occasionally shook her head or whispered to her attorneys.
“She talked about Jay Orbin, that he was fat and that he could hardly get around, there was no sex between them,” Levy told the jury. “She said she hated him. She wanted him dead.”
The beginning of the prosecution’s case focused as much on the crime as it did on Marjorie’s character.
In addition to Weisberg, another one of Marjorie’s former lovers – her son’s karate instructor with whom she had an affair while he was dating one of Marjorie’s good friends – also testified about their steamy fling.
Other friends of Marjorie testified that she talked about killing Jay by cutting his brakes or shooting him and dumping his body in the desert.
Then on September 8, 2004, Jay’s 45th birthday, prosecutors say Marjorie made good on her threats.
When he returned home that night, Marjorie shot her husband, froze his body and used a hand-held electric jigsaw to saw his corpse into pieces, prosecutors say.
Two days later Jay’s American Express card was used at a Lowe’s location in Scottsdale. Surveillance video from the store shows Marjorie using one of the cards to purchase two blue Rubbermaid containers and black plastic trash bags. One of the containers matched the one containing Jay’s body and the UPC code sticker on the tub corresponded to that on the receipt.
The remaining parts of Jay Orbin’s body have never been found.
A Jealous Lover?
Before meeting Jay in the spring of 1995, Marjorie had lived a wild and glamorous life. She was married seven times to a string of wealthy men and successfully managed, choreographed and performed in a traveling Vegas-style topless show called “Platinum Dolls” at clubs owned by multi-millionaire Michael J. Peter, a Florida businessman widely credited with having invented the upscale “gentleman’s club.”
In the early ‘90s Marjorie and Peter dated and were briefly engaged. At the time, Peter owned more than 100 restaurants, bars, nightclubs and topless clubs, and his net worth was estimated at more than $100 million.
While they were dating, Marjorie lived the high life – traveling the world on Peter’s private jets, taking vacations on yachts and staying at his homes in Orlando, New York and France. The couple was once even featured together on the television show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
In court, Peter described Marjorie as the one who got away and admitted to paying more than $400,000 for Marjorie’s legal defense.
Back in 1993, Peter broke off their engagement, although Marjorie continued to work for him for several years.
In 1995, Marjorie met Jay, who was traveling on a business trip, and she left Peter and Vegas for good.
“I tried to talk her out of it, but she decided to leave anyway,” Peter testified in court. “Marjorie wanted to settle down, stay in one place, have children. That was always her main goal – to have a family.”
That was the life Jay promised her.
Jay and Marjorie eloped, and she moved with him to Arizona to begin a life as a quiet suburban housewife.
A year later, after undergoing more than $100,000 in invitro-fertilization treatments, Marjorie gave birth to their only son, Noah.
The couple divorced soon after for financial reasons when it was discovered that Marjorie had a $50,000 tax lien in her name, but they continued to live together as husband and wife.
However, the defense says, eventually their relationship became platonic and more like a “close friendship.”
Jay was busy with his business, traveling nearly half the year selling Indian art and jewelry.
Feeling alone and abandoned, Marjorie began an affair with a 60-year-old computer technician named Larry Weisberg, defense attorney Robyn Varcoe said.
“She was a lonely woman,” Varcoe told the jury. “She saw something in Larry Weisberg.”
In court, witnesses read aloud love letters Marjorie had written to Weisberg.
“I have been alone for so long, I have created my own little isolated environment,” the letter read. “When you spoke to me with such tenderness and emotion…it melted me…I love you in a way I have only dreamed about.”
According to computer records, that letter was written ten days before Jay left on his last business trip on Aug. 29, 2004.
Six days later, when Jay reportedly returned home, the defense says, he was confronted by Weisberg.
“Two big guys,” Varcoe said. “Two guys who by all accounts don’t back down, and one of them carried a loaded gun.”
The defense theorized Weisberg shot Jay, dismembered his body and stuffed his torso in a Rubbermaid tub that Marjorie kept in her garage.
Trial and Errors
In August, the jury will have a chance to weigh both sides of this complex case.
The trial, which is on hiatus through the month of July, is expected to wrap up in early August when it will go to the jury for deliberation.
The six-month trial has been plagued with numerous delays, accidents and allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.
Just one month into the prosecution’s case, the testimony of a jailhouse snitch threatened to derail the entire case.
In 2005, Charity Hill, a 24-year-old inmate who is behind bars on an unrelated murder charge, told police Marjorie had confessed to killing Jay and disposing of his body.
However, in February 2009, on cross-examination from the defense she recanted her testimony.
While Hill was still on the stand, prosecutor Levy made a remark within earshot of Hill about the maximum penalty for a person convicted of lying under oath. His comment was reported to the judge, and the defense called for a mistrial on charges of prosecutorial misconduct, which was overruled by the presiding judge.
Then on March 8, the trial came to an abrupt halt for two weeks when prosecutor Levy broke his leg while hiking. He was ordered by the judge to continue trying the case in a wheelchair, but a month later, after being hospitalized again for an unrelated reason, Levy was removed from the case, and Deputy County Attorney Treena Kay was named the new prosecutor.
Finally, the one person who knows more about the case than anyone else—lead homicide detective David Barnes—has declined to testify at trial.
In March, Barnes’ home was served with a search warrant and he was placed on administrative leave by the Phoenix Police Department for undisclosed reasons. On the stand, under the advice of his attorney, Barnes invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions about the case. The judge eventually ordered him to testify about one aspect of the investigation.
Barnes’ attorney, Craig Mehrens, said Barnes is being persecuted by the Phoenix police for speaking about problems in the department’s crime lab, and says he advised his client not to testify until the scope of the search warrant is revealed.
Meanwhile, Marjorie’s son is being raised by Jay’s brother, Jake Orbin Jr. According to several sources, the boy has had no contact with his mom since her arrest, and he will not be testifying at trial.
Since Marjorie’s arrest in December 2004, she has been held without bond at the Estrella Jail as inmate number P031041.
If she is found innocent, she would likely regain custody of her son. However, if Marjorie is found guilty, she could spend the rest of her life behind bars or be sentenced to death.