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Landis Was Only Joking About Jail, Controversial Witness Says

September 09, 1986|LINDA DEUTSCH | Associated Press

A witness whose testimony prompted mistrial motions in the "Twilight Zone" manslaughter trial returned to the stand Monday and said director John Landis was only joking when he predicted that he might go to jail as a result of the movie.

Donna Schuman, asking to clarify her statements about Landis and co-defendant George Folsey, said she didn't take the men seriously when they spoke of possible penalties for using children in a movie scene featuring explosions.

"Maybe I'd better clarify this," said Schuman, production secretary during the making of the "Twilight Zone" movie. "When they were talking about getting their butts thrown in jail, they were quite obviously joking. They didn't throw me in a dark, smoke-filled room and tell me this. It was quite obviously a joke."

Landis' attorney, James Sanders, asked why Schuman had not volunteered this interpretation last Thursday, when she first testified that Landis and Folsey had worried about "going to jail" for using child actors around explosives.

"You didn't ask me the question," she said.

The defense had pounced on the potentially damaging statements because Schuman had not mentioned them in grand jury hearings or at a preliminary hearing for the five defendants.

On Monday, Schuman insisted once again that she had told the first prosecutor in the case about Landis' and Folsey's comments four years ago. The prosecutor, in a separate hearing, contradicted her.

Schuman said their comments occurred before the helicopter crash in July, 1982, that killed actor Vic Morrow and two children.

When Sanders pressed her on the issue, Schuman became agitated and declared: "I'm very sorry there was this terrible tragedy. But they were joking. They did not set out to be in this situation. It was a joke, and I took it as a joke."

Schuman spoke after attorneys, in a hearing outside the presence of her and the jury, made motions for a mistrial which were denied. They also challenged the truth of Schuman's account.

After she resumed her testimony, Sanders demanded, "Isn't it true the reason you haven't testified about these statements before is that they're not true?"

"No, sir," she said.

"Isn't it true you added these things to improve your testimony and help the prosecution in this case?" Sanders asked.

"No, sir," she said. "I do not need to improve my testimony and I'm not interested in helping the prosecution with their case, or your case."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary P. Kesselman, who prosecuted the case for three years but bowed out before the trial, testified that he could not remember Schuman's ever relating to him the comments she attributed to Landis.

'We're All Going to Jail'

Schuman insisted Thursday that she had told Kesselman as early as 1982 that Landis and Folsey worried aloud about going to jail for using two small children in a Vietnam War scene featuring explosives in "Twilight Zone: The Movie."

She quoted Landis as saying: "We're all going to jail. We're all going to jail."

Morrow, 53; Myca Dinh Le, 6, and Renee Chen, 7, were killed during filming when special effects explosions near a helicopter caused the helicopter to crash into them.

Landis, Folsey and unit production manager Dan Allingham are each charged with two counts of manslaughter based on a prosecution theory that they violated state labor codes by hiring the children to work at night.

Landis, pilot Dorcey Wingo and special effects crew chief Paul Stewart are each charged with three other counts of manslaughter based on a prosecution theory that they were negligent on the set.

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