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Sale of surveillance video could help Lohan defense

A Venice jewelry store that reported the alleged theft of a necklace has now sold tapes of the actress with the necklace. Legal experts say the sale could prove the store had a financial incentive to accuse Lohan of theft.

March 08, 2011|By Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • This store has sold video that shows Lindsay Lohan with the necklace she allegedly stole.
This store has sold video that shows Lindsay Lohan with the necklace she… (Damian Dovarganes, Associated…)

The tabloid frenzy over Lindsay Lohan may have given the actress a new and potent defense as she fights charges that she stole a necklace from a Venice jewelry store.

The jewelry store that reported the alleged theft to the Los Angeles Police Department has now sold surveillance video that shows Lohan with the necklace to the media. Still photos from the video appeared on "Entertainment Tonight's" website, and the video is scheduled to be available at some point on a website run by a firm distributing the tape.

"Many individuals want to be able to see the video streams from the jewelry store's surveillance cameras, and we have obtained the exclusive license for them," said a message placed on the website that plans to stream the video. "The tapes speak for themselves."

The sale of the tape underscores the sometimes uncomfortable nexus of Hollywood's celebrity culture and L.A.'s criminal justice system.

It's unclear exactly what the video shows — and what effect its sale and broadcast will have. Lohan faced felony charges for allegedly stealing the $2,500 necklace — the most serious in a string of recent run-ins she's had with the law.

Sources told The Times that the tape is a key piece of evidence — but not the only one. Paparazzi photos taken days later also show the actress wearing the necklace. The case file includes statements from people who were inside the store at the same time as Lohan, said the sources, who spoke on condition that they not be named because the case is ongoing.

Some legal experts said it could give ammunition to Lohan's defense team, which can now argue the jewelry store had a financial incentive to accuse Lohan of theft.

"I don't care who it is [shown on the video], it's a negative for the prosecution," said James Blatt, a veteran defense lawyer whose clients have included former San Fernando Valley drug dealer and convicted killer Jesse James Hollywood. "Somebody is getting paid and that should not occur."

Blatt and others said the details of what is captured on tape also matter, particularly if she appears to hide the necklace as she leaves the store. "People have to stop and think about it; is this woman [Lindsay Lohan] going to risk everything for a $2,500 necklace?" he said.

Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman said that if the case does go to trial, Lohan's defense could try to use the payment to attack the credibility of the jewelry store. "If you're the prosecution, you would have rather that this did not happen," he said.

But Glen T. Jonas, also a longtime defense attorney, said the sale of the video doesn't change the images captured on the video and ultimately, shouldn't present big problems for the prosecution's case.

"The video is newsworthy and the public has a right to see it," Jonas said. "It only becomes a problem if a specific employee's testimony is necessary to establish the elements of the charges, and that employee profited from the sale of the video."

He noted that although every case has issues, "if I had to choose between an erratic client who picks up cases monthly, or neutralizing the damage to the credibility of video that speaks for itself, I think I would choose the latter."

Neither L.A. prosecutors nor Lohan's attorney returned calls seeking comment.

Lohan will be back in court Thursday. Her attorney has suggested that she would agree to a plea deal if she would be spared jail time, but the judge has repeatedly said that any deal would involve some incarceration.

"This case does involve jail time — period," Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Keith Schwartz said. "If you plead in front of me — if this case resolves in front of me — you are going to jail. Period. It may be an issue as to amount of time."

Lohan has been in and out of court and rehab over the last two years. She spent three months at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage under orders from Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elden S. Fox, who spared the actress jail time in October after Lohan had tested positive for drugs while on probation in a DUI case. If she is convicted in the necklace theft, she could serve jail time for that crime and also be eligible for additional detention for violating her probation.

Riverside County prosecutors said they were still considering whether to file charges against Lohan for allegedly shoving an employee at the Ford center last year. The rehab center employee reported that Lohan had assaulted her but has since said she does not want to press charges.

Andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

Richard.winton@latimes.com

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