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Casting assistant's past prompts calls for screening

Jason James Murphy, a convicted child molester, began cooperating with an LAPD investigation, as child protection advocates called for background checks for those with access to child actors.

November 19, 2011|Dawn C. Chmielewski, Los Angeles Times
  • Jason James Murphy spent five years in prison.
Jason James Murphy spent five years in prison. (Washington State Department…)

A convicted child molester working as a Hollywood casting director began cooperating with a Los Angeles Police Department investigation, while child protection advocates called for background checks for those with access to child actors.

Jason James Murphy, who served prison time for the 1996 kidnapping and molesting of an 8-year-old boy in suburban Seattle, has spent the last decade working as a casting assistant. He helped find young actors for movies including the science fiction hit "Super 8" and the forthcoming comedy "The Three Stooges."

The casting directors who hired Murphy — who obtained casting jobs under the name Jason James — said they were unaware of his criminal conviction. LAPD representatives said Friday that, although Murphy is under investigation, there is no evidence that he had committed new crimes.

Murphy's Hollywood career has caused anxiety among parents of child actors on the film and TV audition circuit.

"They're just freaking out," said Anne Henry, co-founder of BizParentz Foundation, a nonprofit support group for parents whose children work in the entertainment industry.

Henry said she spent the morning dealing with frantic parents worried that Murphy might have been alone with their children during casting sessions and could have obtained photos or videotapes of them.

"It's the one place in our industry when the kids are alone," Henry said. "In casting situations, the parents are never in the room for an audition. Some guy comes up. They take your kid down the hall and disappear for 20 minutes. You never know."

Murphy, 35, is cooperating with an investigation into whether he complied with requirements for registered sex offenders, said Det. Christopher Merlo of the department's West Bureau Registration Enforcement and Compliance Team.

"It's a complicated investigation because we have to do a lot of research on where he's been and what he's done," Merlo said, adding that detectives so far have no evidence of additional victims.

Murphy has declined repeated requests for interviews.

Henry and other advocates called for fingerprinting and background checks for anyone having contact with minors, as is customary for coaches, Boy Scout leaders and child-care providers.

"The industry has to recognize we have any number of predators who have insinuated themselves into the world of children. They are dance teachers, drama teachers, gymnastics teachers, coaches — as we have seen at Penn State," said Paul Petersen, a former child actor who founded A Minor Consideration, a nonprofit advocacy group for young performers. "And no one is doing any checking."

Others called on unions to do more thorough screening.

Acting coach and manager Betty Bridges has been vocal about pressing the unions to conduct thorough checks on casting agents and directors. Her son Todd, who starred on the NBC comedy "Diff'rent Strokes," was sexually abused as a child by his publicist.

"The unions need to do a background check," she said. "They need to make sure that every time they put in a casting director, they need to know what her or his background is."

Since 2008, under the name Jason James, Murphy has been a member of Teamsters Local 399, whose business agent, Ed Duffy, said, "We're very saddened by this situation, if in fact it's true."

Local 399 also represents location managers and studio drivers. But unlike drivers, Duffy said, casting directors do not have to be licensed and are not subject to drug and alcohol testing. "It's up to the employer to vet these people," he added.

dawn.chmielewski@latimes.com

Times staff writers Harriet Ryan and Richard Verrier contributed to this report.

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