Cathy Evelyn Smith, the Canadian woman indicted for murder in the death of comedian John Belushi, rejected a deal Monday that would have allowed her to plead guilty to the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Unless another plea bargain is worked out later, a possibility that now appears remote, Smith will almost certainly face trial on a charge of second-degree murder in connection with the death of Belushi, 33, who was found dead of a drug overdose in a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont hotel in West Hollywood on March 5, 1982.
Instead of accepting the deal, Smith's attorney told a Los Angeles Superior Court judge Monday that the one-time back-up vocalist wants a magistrate to review the prosecution's evidence against her at a preliminary hearing.
Date to Be Set
The date for that hearing is to be set Wednesday when Smith, 38, appears in Los Angeles Municipal Court to formally plead innocent to the charges against her. She remains free on $50,000 bail.
If convicted of the murder charge, Smith could face a sentence of up to 15 years to life in state prison. Under the plea bargain that prosecutors had negotiated with Smith's Canadian attorney, Smith could have received a prison sentence of no more than eight years and eight months.
In turning down that deal, Smith's Los Angeles lawyer, Howard L. Weitzman, told Judge Robert R. Devich, "I can't in good conscience, based on my interviews with Catherine Smith, my review of the evidence presented to the grand jury and the police reports, make a recommendation that she enter a plea of guilty to any homicide, and I'm not going to do that."
As a result, Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael J. Montagna said his office is withdrawing its offer to allow Smith to plead guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and three of the 13 counts of furnishing drugs to Belushi for which Smith was indicted by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury nearly two years ago.
"We feel completely relieved of our obligation to extend that offer," Montagna told the judge.
Smith, who had been fighting extradition in Toronto, voluntarily returned to Los Angeles last month after Montagna worked out the tentative plea bargain with Brian Greenspan, Smith's Canadian lawyer.
When Greenspan made the deal, Weitzman said, the Canadian attorney did not have access to grand jury testimony, which Weitzman has since reviewed and which, Weitzman said, helps Smith's case.
Montagna, however, said he believes his office has enough evidence to convict Smith of all 14 charges, including the murder count, outlined in the grand jury indictment.
The prosecutor cited a 1970 California Court of Appeal decision in the case of People vs. Taylor that holds that someone who furnishes drugs that cause the death of another is guilty of second degree murder.
In an interview published in the National Enquirer several months after Belushi's death, Smith was quoted as saying that she repeatedly injected the comedian with "speed balls"--mixtures of heroin and cocaine--in the days before his death.
The Los Angeles County coroner's office concluded that the star of the original "Saturday Night Live" television program and of such films as "Animal House," "The Blues Brothers," and "Neighbors" died of acute heroin and cocaine intoxication.
According to the Enquirer, Smith said she gave Belushi the last injection at about 3:30 a.m. on the day that he died.
In court Monday, Weitzman for the first time referred to specific testimony contained in the still-sealed grand jury transcript that Weitzman said tends to lift the blame for Belushi's death from Smith.
"Expert testimony appears to preclude the alleged 3:30 a.m. injection as a cause of death," Weitzman told the judge.
Later, Montagna told reporters that medical experts who testified before the grand jury said that the fatal injection probably occurred later than 3:30 a.m. But that fact, Montagna said, does not damage the case against Smith.
There were two other theories under which Smith was indicted for murder, the prosecutor said.
"One was that she furnished the heroin which caused his death, whether or not she injected him. The other argument basically . . . was if a certain pattern was established that she was doing all the other injecting that week and he died from an injection of narcotics, then she also did that (fatal) one, even at a later time than 3:30 a.m. Or perhaps she may have been off when she gave the time."