W.Va. Senate campaign turns ugly
CHARLESTON, W.Va. A decade ago, a series of explicit messages were posted under the name of a former professional wrestler who's now running in West Virginia's 8th District Senate race.
The comments -- posted on the pro wrestling website crowza.com -- degraded teenage girls, the mentally handicapped and women with breast cancer.
The candidate, Joshua Martin, 35, acknowledged Wednesday that he posted comments -- some risqué -- on the message board, while playing the role of a fictitious wrestling character. But he said his posts had nothing offensive or degrading to women.
Martin said the wrestling promoters had six writers that posted under his wrestling alias, "Silver Bullet Chris Sterling," and one of those employees wrote the sexually explicit comments.
"I know there's explicit stuff on there, and I'm ashamed to be associated with stuff like that," Martin said. "I can't tell you who did it, but I can tell you that's not something I would do."
For the past six weeks, Martin said, people have threatened to expose the decade-old website postings unless he dropped out of the Senate race. He's running as a Democrat against Republican Chris Walters.
Last week, several Charleston media outlets received packages with documents about Martin's former pro wrestling career, along with copies of the sexually explicit and vulgar messages. Someone highlighted the most offensive messages with a yellow pen.
The same people, Martin said, have tried to get him fired from his job at a Charleston law firm, and contacted state Democratic Party officials, asking them to persuade Martin to end his campaign.
Martin blames Walters, his opponent in the race, for orchestrating a campaign to "make me into a demon."
"For someone to try to destroy my life. It's extortion. It's blackmail. It's everything people hate about politics," Martin said. "I'm not an angel. I'm not a saint. But I'm not a pig either."
Walters, 26, said he knew that people had tried to persuade Martin to quit the race. But Walters said they were not affiliated with his campaign.
"This information was brought to me as it was brought to other people, but at the end of the day, I wasn't the one who wrote this," Walters said. "We all must take responsibility for our actions."
Martin, who's the son of Delegate Helen Martin, D-Putnam, and the late Delegate Dale Martin, wrestled for a few years for Xtreme Maximum Championship Wrestling, which held shows in Nitro, Rand, Charleston and St. Albans. XMCW closed last year.
Martin said one of the XMCW writers at the time was Sherwood Spencer, who's now Chris Walters' brother-in-law. Martin alleges that Spencer brought the messages to the attention of Walters' campaign -- and could have written some of the offensive posts under the "Chris Sterling" account.
"Everyone knew I was Chris Sterling," Martin said. "Everyone knew my password was 'Megadeth.' At least six people, including [Spencer], had access to that account."
Spencer said he did not notify Walters' campaign about the sexually explicit posts and never wrote messages as "Chris Sterling" or "Silver Bullet." He also said XMCW did not have a stable of writers who wrote comments for wrestlers.
"That's absolutely false," said Spencer, who is a former wrestling manager. "People would post messages as their characters, but no one posted under anyone else's name."
Martin's response: "He's a liar. I feel completely and totally betrayed by everyone I thought were my brothers."
Spencer, the son of former Kanawha County Delegate Sharon Spencer, also posted comments on the message board -- some sexually explicit -- under his "Woody Numbers" wrestling alias.
Of the message board comments posted under the names of "Chris Sterling" and "Silver Bullet," several were signed "Josh Martin," "Joshua," and "Josh." Those messages weren't sexually explicit.
Martin said he was playing a character -- one that wrestling fans were supposed to hate. His slogan: "Ladies, it's amazing. The Silver Bullet always fills you up and never lets you down."
"My character was supposed to be this womanizing, Sin City, strip-bar-going guy," Martin said. "This is a fake character -- 12 years ago.
"My character died 10 years ago. Chris Sterling broke his neck. I got carried out on a gurney."
The Gazette showed Martin copies of the messages Wednesday. He said he didn't write the sexually explicit comments about teen girls, but he couldn't recall which of the other messages he wrote, and which were authored by XMCW writers.
"I can't tell you who did it, but I didn't do it," Martin said of the most sexually explicit posts. "Fifty percent of the people will believe me, and 50 percent won't believe me."
Martin said he recently asked the crowza.com website administrator to remove all postings under the name of "Chris Sterling." The posts were still online Wednesday.
In addition to the sexually explicit comments, a "Chris Sterling" post lists favorite female and male pornographic film stars. Another lists favorite porn websites. One of those websites lists "Chris Sterling" as a registered user under the username "XMCWSterling." Martin used the same username on other websites, including a fly-fishing and poker site.
Six weeks ago, Martin said, he received an anonymous call from a man who wouldn't identify himself. The caller notified him that a packet with the sexually explicit messages would be sent to the media unless he dropped out of the race, Martin recalled.
"I told him he could kiss my ass," Martin said Wednesday. "I'm not dropping out of anything.
"He said, 'So, you're not dropping out?' I said, 'No, I'm not dropping out.'"
A short time later, Martin said, someone sent a packet of message posts to his law firm. "They're dropping packets off at my law firm, trying to get me fired," he said.
Martin said he also received a phone call from state Democratic Party executive director Derek Scarbro that someone had contacted state Democratic chairman Larry Puccio about the offensive comments posted on the wrestling production's message board.
Scarbro referred questions to Puccio Wednesday. Puccio said someone -- "who I don't want to name" -- called him and told him to call Delegate Ron Walters, R-Kanawha, who's Chris Walters' father.
"He said they've got some important information, and they don't want to embarrass you, and it would be wise for me to call Ron," Puccio recalled.
"I never made the call," Puccio said. "I'm not getting into that kind of stuff. They wanted me to call the candidate's father to hear what they had, that they had the goods on Josh Martin."
Ron Walters could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
Martin's wrestling past and comments posted under his former wrestling name did not become an issue in last May's Democratic primary, when he beat challenger Jennifer Scragg Karr.
Martin and Walters are running for the open 8th District seat held by Dr. Dan Foster, who's not running for re-election. The district was formerly made up entirely of Kanawha County, but now includes parts of Kanawha and Putnam County.
Martin said he's tired of being threatened. He refuses to drop out of the race.
"This kid [Chris Walters] has tried to ruin my life in six weeks over a [expletive] Senate seat, excuse my language. They're trying to get me fired from my job, trying to get me discredited in the legal community, trying to ruin my family.
"Chris Sterling is dead. He's been dead 10 years," Martin said. "I'm a father. I'm a husband. That's who I am. They're trying to blackmail me because they can't win any other way."
Reach Eric Eyre at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4869.