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Cosby Investigation Suffers Setback

Crime: Two men questioned as potential witnesses offer nothing usable, police say. Meanwhile in New York, two people appear in court on extortion charges.

January 22, 1997|JIM NEWTON and JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The search for Ennis Cosby's killer suffered a serious setback Tuesday when Los Angeles homicide detectives concluded that two men detained as possible witnesses were drifters who had nothing to contribute to the investigation.

Authorities said they were convinced that one of the two men interviewed Monday evening was the "possible witness" seen by a security guard near the scene of the murder early Thursday on a darkened road above Bel-Air.

But that man, who one officer described as a "dead ringer" for the composite drawing of the witness, persuaded detectives that he had only been enjoying the view of Los Angeles' lights from a vantage point high above the city. He had no useful information about the shooting that took place nearby as Cosby changed a flat tire, police said.

The man's companion also had no knowledge of the killing of entertainment icon Bill Cosby's son, police said.

The findings left police with just one known person who is believed to have seen the killer and without another witness they badly hoped could help them. The remaining witness is a 47-year-old woman who told police she had come to the scene to aid Cosby and provided a description of the apparent killer.

"For now," one senior officer said Tuesday, "we're just waiting for a break."

As police in Los Angeles were left scrambling for a breakthrough, a Los Angeles area woman and her alleged accomplice were in custody in New York, facing charges that they tried to extort up to $40 million from Bill Cosby.

Although the alleged extortion plot extended until two days after the slaying, authorities said there is no apparent connection between Ennis Cosby's shooting and the attempted blackmail of Bill Cosby.

The federal government charged that Autumn Jackson, 22, of Canyon Country and Jose Medina, 54, threatened to go to the tabloid media with Jackson's allegation that she is Cosby's illegitimate daughter unless he paid them millions of dollars.

The pair were being held without bail pending another hearing Friday.

Jackson and Medina made a brief appearance before a federal magistrate Tuesday on the extortion charge. Both were arrested by FBI agents in the Manhattan offices of Cosby's lawyer Saturday and were ordered to remain in custody without bail by U.S. Magistrate Arthur J. Peck.

The government's complaint contends that Jackson threatened to sell her story, which Medina would write, to a tabloid newspaper. The woman and her representatives allegedly asked for $40 million and then agreed to accept $24 million in a conversation with Cosby's lawyer's office that was recorded by the FBI.

Jackson, a thin woman with short, dark hair who wore dungarees and a long wrinkled beige sweater, and Medina, dressed in a dungaree jacket and matching blue jeans, had little to say during their 10-minute appearance in federal court in Manhattan.

Medina's attorney, Neil B. Checkman, said his client sells medical equipment to people with disabilities. Medina suffered a head injury several years ago that makes it hard for him to understand complicated matters, Checkman said.

"He is terrified by this whole thing," Checkman said. "The whole thing sounds a little too sophisticated for my client to be the guiding light behind it."

Checkman said that his client met Jackson last summer at a Holiday Inn in Burbank where Medina was living while working on a movie script. At the time, he said, Jackson was working as a desk clerk at the hotel.

Jackson's lawyer, Robert Baum, said that the woman--who met with a Globe reporter to negotiate the sale of her story only hours before Ennis Cosby's murder--has been upset about the death. "She learned about it, and she is heartbroken about it," Baum said.

The complaint does not specify when the woman first made the paternity claim. Representatives of Cosby have denied that he is Jackson's father but acknowledged that the entertainer had previously met the woman and her mother.

The extortion scheme allegedly began in November or December. In early January, court papers allege, Jackson initiated escalating demands for money and threatened to go to the news media unless she was paid. Cosby's lawyer called authorities, who monitored subsequent conversations.

The editor of the supermarket tabloid the Globe said in an interview that his newspaper was already in contact with Jackson at the time that Ennis Cosby was murdered.

Editor Tony Frost said the young woman asked for $25,000 for her story and a Globe reporter arranged to meet her at a "cheap" Los Angeles hotel. Arriving at the hotel, the tabloid reporter found not Jackson but a man in his 30s who said that he represented her and that the price tag on her story had jumped to $50,000. The meeting took place Wednesday evening, just hours before the younger Cosby was shot to death.

After the murder, the tabloid was asked by federal agents for assistance and agreed to comply.

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