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Aissa Wayne Opens Testimony in New Gionis Assault Trial : Courts: Daughter of late actor again recounts brutal 1988 beating of her and former boyfriend by two men allegedly hired by her ex-husband.

April 23, 1992|MARK I. PINSKY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Members of John Wayne's family gathered in Orange County Superior Court on Wednesday as the late actor's daughter, Aissa, began testifying about an assault against her and a former boyfriend.

With Wayne's widow, Pilar, and another daughter, Marisa, in the spectator section, Aissa Wayne began her account of the stormy divorce and custody battle with her ex-husband, Dr. Thomas Gionis, who is accused of masterminding the Oct. 3, 1988, attack. In an earlier trial, a jury deadlocked 9 to 3 in favor of convicting Gionis.

Gionis' attorneys deny he had any role in the assault.

Wayne, 35, and developer Roger Luby, with whom she said she had a romantic relationship after her divorce, were attacked by two men in the garage of Luby's gated, Newport Beach estate. Both victims were threatened at gunpoint, and Wayne had her face smashed against the concrete floor. Luby's Achilles' tendon was slashed.

Before dealing with the specifics of the charges, Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoffrey L. Robinson attempted to respond to defense attacks on Wayne's Newport Beach lifestyle, acknowledging that as the daughter of a Hollywood star, she "had a different upbringing from most of us."

Wayne said that was true, but testified that she had her first job at age 15, and that during her marriage to Gionis she worked at his medical office.

At first, Wayne said, her marriage to Gionis was a happy one. Later, she said, she found that "when things didn't go his way he became like a different person."

Wayne said that Gionis gave birthday parties for their daughter and sought to place accounts in the National Enquirer, trying to "expose himself (to the limelight) through my daughter."

Wayne described her divorce from Gionis as "bad, messy, ugly." She said there was "a very awful custody fight."

Before she left the 38-year-old Pomona surgeon, Wayne said, Gionis threatened her at least three times. Twice, she said, he threatened to kill her and once he vowed to take their infant daughter with him to Greece.

"I took Tom's threats very seriously," she said.

Wayne admitted that, in retrospect, she had not been a perfect mother to her daughter in the year after the breakup of her marriage. But she denied that the period preceding the attack was a "12-month frolic," as implied by the defense, so filled with tennis, aerobics, social engagements and vacations that she "warehoused" her daughter.

"I could have spent more time with her," Wayne acknowledged, but insisted that "my daughter never suffered."

In telephone conversations, Wayne said, Gionis made "sarcastic" and "derogatory" remarks about her relationship with Luby.

"He disapproved of me being with Roger Luby," she said.

At one point during Wayne's testimony, defense attorney Bruce Cutler objected, saying "this is not a saga of Peyton Place."

Between numerous other objections, Cutler took a copy of Wayne's recent memoir, "John Wayne, My Father," from his briefcase. Cutler, who is known for savage cross-examinations in which he is said to "Brucify" witnesses, leafed through the book's well-marked pages as Wayne testified.

In an unusual move, before Robinson began his direct examination of Wayne, Judge Theodore E. Millard instructed the jury to disregard a point Cutler raised Tuesday in his opening remarks.

Cutler suggested that it was significant that the prosecution did not intend to call as a witness Oded Daniel Gal, Gionis' private detective. The prosecution contends that Gal was the link between Gionis and the two men charged with carrying out the assault.

Millard told jurors that Gal has been charged in the assault and that the reason he would not be testifying was that he intended to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

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