A Beverly Hills private investigator, testifying Thursday in the "Cotton Club" murder hearing, implicated key prosecution witness William Rider in two murders and claimed that he was offered $15,000 by Rider to commit a third killing.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyers, investigator Arthur Michael Pascal chipped away at Rider's credibility. Last week, Rider linked Hollywood mogul Robert Evans and "Cotton Club" defendant Elayne (Lanie) Greenberger to the 1983 slaying of theatrical producer Roy Radin. Evans has not been charged in the killing, but has not been ruled out as a suspect, prosecutors say.
Rider, who has been under the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's witness protection program, was unavailable for comment. But Deputy Dist. Atty. David Conn, prosecutor of the "Cotton Club" case, discounted Pascal's allegations outside the courtroom. Conn said he did not believe that Pascal had damaged Rider's testimony.
Pascal, 52, testified Thursday that Rider told him of poisoning soldier of fortune Mitchell WerBell III in 1983 in order to take over WerBell's counterterrorist school based in Atlanta.
Pascal said that Rider and his former brother-in-law, "Hustler" magazine publisher Larry Flynt, poured four to six ounces of a digoxin, a powerful heart relaxant, into WerBell's drink during a cocktail party at Flynt's Los Angeles mansion. WerBell, 65, a security consultant for Flynt and a former World War II intelligence agent, died of a heart attack at UCLA Medical Center a few days later.
Flynt and his attorney, Alan Isaacman, are in Bangkok until next week and unavailable for comment, according to a Hustler magazine spokeswoman. But Isaacman characterized an earlier Rider claim of a Flynt-paid murder contract as "fantasy."
According to courtroom testimony, Rider passed a polygraph test in which he was questioned about his possible involvement in homicides. Rider has a concealed-weapons permit and is being paid $3,000 a month by the Sheriff's Department as a protected witness.
Talk of Poisoning
In addition to Rider's talk of poisoning WerBell, Pascal testified that Rider also boasted four years ago of murdering a bar patron in the men's room of the Hustler Club in Columbus, Ohio. "He told me, 'When you put two shots into someone's head, they blow up like a pineapple,' " Pascal said.
A Columbus police homicide spokesman told The Times that there is no record of a murder at the now-defunct Hustler Club.
Pascal also testified that Rider tried to hire him to push Ed Lighthall, an FBI informant, out of the 16th-floor window of a Washington hotel in 1985. Pascal said he went to Lighthall's hotel room and left warning "signs," but then did not carry through with the murder contract. Los Angeles FBI spokesman Fred Reagan would not comment on the Lighthall allegations.
As a key witness for the prosecution, Rider testified last week that he used a concealed tape device to record discussions of the Radin murder last summer with two of those charged in the murder, William Mentzer and Robert Lowe. Along with Alex Marti, the two men are accused of driving Radin to a remote Los Angeles County canyon and shooting him because he would not cut Greenberger in on a deal to finance Evans' 1984 movie, "The Cotton Club."
After waiving extradition from Maryland, where he was arrested several months ago, Lowe was arraigned Thursday in Municipal Court. Lowe pleaded innocent to charges that he participated in both the Radin murder and the 1984 shooting of June Mincher, a 245-pound prostitute.
Lowe will be held without bail in a protected area of the County Jail because of unspecified threats made against him, said Municipal Judge David S. Milton. Lowe's preliminary hearing, which will be held separately from the ongoing hearing for the other three defendants in the "Cotton Club" case, is scheduled to begin July 28, prosecutor Conn said.