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'Bumfights' Star Defends Those Who Shot Video

January 11, 2003|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

EL CAJON — Attorneys for four young men accused of exploiting homeless alcoholics to make their "Bumfights" video sought Friday to show that the alleged victims acted voluntarily and thought of the young filmmakers as their friends.

"They didn't make me do anything," testified "Bumfights" star Rufus Hannah at the second day of a hearing to determine whether the four will stand trial.

The judge scolded the four defendants for allegedly smirking and giggling during Hannah's testimony.

"Gentlemen," said Superior Court Judge Larrie Brainard, "this is a serious proceeding. I suggest you grow up."

The four -- Ryan McPherson, 19; Zachary Bubeck, 25; Daniel J. Tanner, 21; and Michael Slyman, 21 -- are charged with felonies that could bring prison sentences as long as six years. But their attorneys assert that they deserve the same 1st Amendment protection as famous-name filmmakers who hire people to perform dangerous stunts.

Taking the stand for a second day, Hannah appeared confused by questions posed by defense attorneys, was unable to recall events that occurred more than a year ago and gave contradictory answers.

Hannah, 47, said his memory is faulty because he was living in an "alcoholic haze" while helping the four underground filmmakers make their video.

The video later was sold for $20 a copy on the Internet.

There was so much happening, Hannah said, that "I can't remember day to day."

One incident that is key to the prosecution's case involves Hannah's slugging and choking his friend Donald Brennan, 53, allegedly at the behest of the filmmakers.

But defense attorneys played a portion of the "Bumfights" tape in which McPherson, the leader of the filmmaking venture, is heard to say, "Hey, dude, don't hit him."

Also, Hannah conceded that he told a Las Vegas television reporter he had hit his friend because the friend had started some trouble "and I punched him."

But under questioning by Deputy Dist. Atty. Curtis Ross, Hannah sought to differentiate between speaking the truth and speaking to a reporter. The TV quote "was strictly for an interview," he said.

Michael Pancer and Jan Ronis -- two of the city's top criminal defense attorneys -- guided the sometimes shaky Hannah through testimony in which he said he felt like a partner in the video project.

He said he willingly got the word "BUMFIGHT" tattooed on his knuckles when the filmmakers took him to Las Vegas to film scenes in which he rode a skateboard and wore a baseball uniform.

Hannah said he was paid for his work and allowed to stay, rent-free, in an apartment.

"They told me to act crazy," he said.

Judge Brainard also reviewed a video showing a confrontation between Hannah and McPherson and a woman who runs a doughnut and flower stand in the San Diego suburb of La Mesa.

When the woman objects on the tape to Hannah's shoving doughnuts into the face of another participant and threatens to call police, McPherson is heard screaming threats to burn the shop down. He ends the diatribe by saying, "I'm evil!"

The preliminary hearing is to continue on Monday.

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