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Tried to Top Spielberg, Prosecutor Says of Landis

September 13, 1986|PAUL FELDMAN | Times Staff Writer

Director John Landis' motive for staging the climactic, special effects-laden "Twilight Zone" scene that resulted in the deaths of three actors was to outdo Steven Spielberg, who produced the film and directed another segment, the prosecutor in Landis' manslaughter trial said witnesses have told her.

In a closed court session, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lea Purwin D'Agostino asserted that at least a dozen witnesses have told authorities "that they believed he (Landis) was in direct competition with Steven Spielberg and he wanted to show Spielberg he could do bigger and better than Spielberg."

A transcript of the closed hearing held Thursday afternoon was made available Friday.

Inadmissible as Evidence

Such testimony, D'Agostino said, would be inadmissible as evidence in Landis' trial "because clearly, it's . . . opinion." But she said she wanted to disclose the statements--without the jury present--so defense attorneys could not claim later that she did not give them all information that she had on the case.

James F. Neal, Landis' attorney, called the accusations "baloney, just nonsense," and criticized D'Agostino for placing them on the court record.

"She gets up there and she makes those statements . . . when in this town, you can get anybody to say anything," he said. "It is very strange that she would be making these statements since she does not intend and would not be allowed to put on this kind of nonsense in court. . . . There are plenty of ways to (let the defense know). . . . She didn't have to do that in open record."

D'Agostino, who was ordered by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Roger W. Boren to submit a list of witnesses who made such remarks, refused to elaborate Friday.

According to the transcript, when Boren asked for the list, D'Agostino replied, "Oh, God." The judge then said, "As long as you are going to lay something like that out, I think you should."

"I don't think it would ever come in during the trial," D'Agostino rejoined.

Deaths of 3 Actors

Landis, who directed one of four segments in the 1982 film, is on trial along with four associates in the deaths of actors Vic Morrow, 53; Renee Chen, 6, and Myca Dinh Lee, 7, in a film set accident. Eleven witnesses have so far been heard in six days of testimony in the trial, which is expected to continue for four months.

The three actors were killed when a helicopter crashed into them as they acted out a Vietnam battle scene that involved several special effects explosions. The prosecution contends that Landis was warned several times--and should have realized through common sense--that it was dangerous to film a scene in which a helicopter, besieged by explosives, pursues actors.

Meanwhile, defense attorneys said Friday they plan next week to seek the removal of the district attorney's office from the case.

Harland Braun, who represents co-defendant George Folsey Jr., said the attorney general's office should step in to prosecute the case because of a highly unusual dispute between D'Agostino and the former prosecutor in the case, Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary P. Kesselman. The dispute, which was played out in court Thursday, centered on whether a key prosecution witness was telling the truth. After Kesselman debunked the testimony, D'Agostino took the stand to support the witness.

Braun said that since both attorneys are now themselves witnesses in the case and have given highly conflicting testimony, the case should be removed from the district attorney's office.

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