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Witness in Film Deaths Eludes D.A.

July 10, 1986|PAUL FELDMAN and BILL FARR | Times Staff Writers

On the eve of the "Twilight Zone" manslaughter trial, prosecutors say the film's executive producer is evading efforts to subpoena him as a witness against five defendants in the case that stems from a fatal helicopter crash on the set of the 1982 movie.

In late June, the district attorney's office said, executive producer Frank Marshall checked out of a London residence hotel within an hour after a U.S. Embassy official sought to serve him with legal documents accompanied by an order signed by Los Angeles federal Magistrate Volney V. Brown Jr.

Marshall, who has produced several major motion pictures including "Twilight Zone" in association with Steven Spielberg, is believed to have left for mainland Europe on a private jet operated by the pair's Los Angeles firm, Amblin Entertainment, authorities said.

"We know Mr. Marshall has access to that jet," said Sheriff's Sgt. Thomas Budds, who spent six days in England helping track down Marshall. "We believe that's how he left London. We also believe that he was en route to meet Steven Spielberg . . . in the promotion of a movie."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Lea Purwin D'Agostino, prosecuting the case now scheduled to go to trial on July 17, said Marshall, who was on the "Twilight Zone" film set, would be asked on the witness stand: "What did you see? What did you hear? The same as any other witness on the scene."

Marshall, D'Agostino added, has not been considered a criminal suspect and could not be termed the key witness against the defendants, who include director John Landis, associate producer George Folsey Jr., unit production manager Dan Allingham, helicopter pilot Dorcey A. Wingo and special-effects coordinator Paul Stewart.

The highly unusual international subpoena is the latest in a series of spurned efforts to interview Marshall, she said, concerning the July 23, 1982, crash during the filming of a Vietnam War scene near Saugus that killed actor Vic Morrow, 53, and two children--Renee Chen, 6, and Myca Dihn, 7.

"Since the statute of limitations has expired, he's certainly not a (potential) defendant, so you have to come to the conclusion he's evading us and avoiding us because what he's saying is potentially damaging to the defendants," D'Agostino said.

Rick Rosen, an attorney for Marshall, said: "Nobody has made any allegation Mr. Marshall has knowledge not available to both sides without his testimony." As for the evasion allegations, he said: "I don't even want to dignify it with a comment."

Landis' attorney, James Neal, termed D'Agostino's remarks, "outrageous, improper and disgusting."

Folsey's attorney, Harland Braun, who previously represented Landis, said he would be pleased if Marshall was forced to testify because "there's no way his testimony could hurt us as long as he's telling the truth."

But Braun, who in the past has criticized the district attorney's office for failing to pursue suggestions that Marshall, Spielberg and associate producer Kathleen Kennedy were involved in illegally hiring the children for night work, questioned the extent of the prosecution's efforts.

D.A.'s Office Criticized

"This guy (Marshall) has made some of the biggest movies in Hollywood," Braun said. "How could the D.A.'s office not find him? The fact is, they haven't done anything for four years and now they're embarrassed on the eve of the trial that their negligence is coming out."

Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Gilbert I. Garcetti disagreed, saying, "We made real efforts early on and he managed to avoid us." With adequate funds and transportation, Garcetti added, "it's not hard to avoid us."

Authorities say Budds flew to England in late June with the subpoena and federal order after it was determined that Marshall, who apparently is still in Europe, was temporarily residing in London.

Marshall was finally tracked to the St. James Club, where Karen L. Christensen, vice consul of the U.S. Embassy, went to deliver the subpoena June 26. But Marshall, through a receptionist, said he was not receiving visitors that morning.

When Christensen asked if she could return later in the day, Marshall responded through the receptionist that he would be in all afternoon, authorities say.

"Scotland Yard has been able to determine that (within an hour)," said Budds, "Marshall called for a chauffeur-driven Mercedes limo, packed, paid his bill, and checked out (departing for mainland Europe)."

Marshall is among 120 witnesses who have been subpoenaed in the highly publicized case.

Landis, Allingham and Folsey are accused of bringing the children onto the set after 6:30 p.m. in violation of child labor laws, and of two counts of manslaughter for child endangerment. Landis, Stewart and Wingo each face three additional counts of manslaughter for general negligence in the crash.

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