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'Cotton Club' Jury Convicts 4 of Murder

July 23, 1991|ASHLEY DUNN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eight years after the bullet-riddled body of New York impresario Roy Radin was found in a dry creek bed near Gorman, a jury Monday found onetime drug dealer and would-be Hollywood deal-maker Karen Greenberger and three bodyguards guilty of murder and kidnaping in what became known as the "Cotton Club" murder.

Greenberger, 43, and Robert Lowe, 44, were convicted of second-degree murder and kidnaping, requiring an automatic life sentence without possibility of parole.

William Mentzer, 42, and Alex Marti, 30, were convicted of first-degree murder. The jury also found that Mentzer and Marti killed Radin for "financial gain" during a kidnaping--special circumstances that open the possibility of death in the gas chamber for both men. The jury, which had been deliberating since July 10, reached their decisions Friday. The verdicts were sealed until Monday.

Greenberger had been accused of hiring Mentzer, Marti and Lowe to kill Radin because she feared she was being cut out of a producer's role--and profits--in the movie "The Cotton Club," a film about a Harlem speak-easy that was a critical and financial flop. The "Cotton Club" project began after Greenberger introduced Radin to Hollywood filmmaker Robert Evans, who was then her boyfriend.

Her attorney argued during the trial that Greenberger had been framed for the murder by Milan Bellechesses, a Miami drug dealer and another Greenberger paramour who suspected Radin of stealing drugs.

No date was set for the trial's penalty phase, in which jurors will decide whether to sentence Mentzer and Marti to death or life in prison without parole. The jurors were ordered not to speak about the case until the penalty phase is concluded.

As the courtroom clerk began reading the verdicts at 9:40 a.m., each of the defendants sat impassively, sometimes leaning to talk with their attorneys or sullenly gazing around the courtroom.

Greenberger showed little emotion and was escorted by deputies from the courtroom soon after the verdicts were read.

"I hoped and expected for acquittal," said Edward Shohat, Greenberger's attorney. "We're disappointed, but I'm very thankful the jury didn't convict her of first-degree murder."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Sally Lipscomb said she was satisfied with the verdicts even though Greenberger and Lowe had escaped a possible death sentence.

Lipscomb said that because a death occurred during the kidnaping, Greenberger and Lowe will be in prison for the rest of their lives.

Radin's sister, Kate, sat quietly in the courtroom as the verdicts were read. She said she was pleased that her brother's killers had finally been brought to justice.

"I think it's terrific that the justice system is working here," she said. "It's been so many years and of course, you lose hope. . . . They can't take away the pain and no one can bring him back."

Greenberger, Mentzer, Marti and Lowe were arrested in 1988--five years after Radin's body was found by a beekeeper in a desolate canyon 65 miles north of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators had all but ended their investigation of Radin's murder, but a break came in 1987 when they met William Rider, the brother-in-law and onetime security chief for Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine. Rider told them that Mentzer and Marti had admitted during a poker game that they killed Radin.

Mentzer, Marti and Lowe were bodyguards for Flynt at the time they met Greenberger.

The arrests came after a secret taping by Rider of a conversation in which Lowe said the Radin killing had been paid for by Greenberger and film producer Evans.

Evans, the former chief of Paramount Pictures and the producer of such hits as "Chinatown" and "The Godfather," was not charged in the crime. He was called as a witness during the preliminary hearing but refused to testify, claiming 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination. In her testimony, Greenberger said Evans had nothing to do with Radin's death.

Eventually, investigators presented a tale of cocaine, sex and greed that they say involved the making of "The Cotton Club," named after the famed Prohibition-era jazz club.

At the center of the real-life drama was Radin, a 275-pound, cocaine-sniffing high school dropout from Long Island, N.Y., who had come to California in the early 1980s with dreams of breaking into the movie business.

The brash and ambitious Radin had made his name in New York by producing a series of successful vaudeville revivals and police union benefits. He was a millionaire by 20 and lived lavishly in a mansion on Long Island.

Despite his success on the East Coast, Radin's real ambition was in Hollywood. He was obsessed with the thought of making movies.

It was on a visit to the West Coast in 1982 that he met Greenberger, an alluring drug dealer with links to the Latin American drug underworld who also had ambitions of breaking into the movie business.

Greenberger introduced Radin to Evans and together they struck a deal to finance "The Cotton Club."

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