September 30, 2009
Q: Did you resist at that time?
A: A little bit, but not really because . . .
Q: Because what?
A: Because I was afraid of him.
That's Roman Polanski's 13-year-old victim testifying before a grand jury about how the famous director forced himself on her at Jack Nicholson's Mulholland Drive home in March of 1977.
I'm reading this in the district attorney's office at the Los Angeles County Criminal Courts Building, digging through the Polanski file to refresh my memory of the infamous case, and my blood pressure is rising.
Is it because I'm the parent of a girl?
Maybe that's part of it.
But I wish the renowned legal scholars Harvey Weinstein and Debra Winger, to name just two of Polanski's defenders, were here with me now. I'd like to invite Martin Scorsese, as well, along with David Lynch, who have put their names on a petition calling for Polanski to be freed immediately.
What, because he won an Oscar? Would they speak up for a sex offender who hadn't?
To hear these people tell it, you'd think Polanski was the victim rather than the teenager.
And then there's Woody Allen, who has signed the petition too.
You'd think that after marrying his longtime girlfriend's adopted daughter, he'd have the good sense to remain silent. But at least Soon-Yi Previn was a consenting adult.
I'd like to show all these great luminaries the testimony from Polanski's underage victim, as well as Polanski's admission of guilt. Then I'd like to ask whether, if the victim were their daughter, they'd be so cavalier about a crime that was originally charged as sodomy and rape before Polanski agreed to a plea bargain. Would they still support Polanski's wish to remain on the lam living the life of a king, despite the fact that he skipped the U.S. in 1977 before he was sentenced?
The Zurich Film Festival has been "unfairly exploited" by Polanski's arrest, Winger said. Thanks, Deb. And so sorry the film festival was inconvenienced by the arrest of a man who left the United States to avoid sentencing for forcing himself on a child.
Weinstein, meanwhile, issued an open letter urging "every U.S. filmmaker to lobby against any move to bring Polanski back to the U.S.," arguing that "whatever you think of the so-called crime, Polanski has served his time."
Let's get back to the grand jury testimony.
Polanski has taken the girl to Nicholson's house to photograph her, ostensibly for a French magazine. The girl's mother, it's clear to me, should have had her head examined for allowing this to happen, but that's another matter.
The girl says Polanski, who was in his 40s at the time, opened a bottle of champagne and shared it with her and with an adult woman who later left for work. That's when Polanski allegedly began taking pictures of the 13-year-old and suggested that she remove her blouse.
Quoting again from the grand jury transcript, with the girl being questioned by a prosecutor:
Q: Did you take your shirt off or did Mr. Polanski?
A: No, I did.
Q: Was that at his request or did you volunteer to do that?
A: That was at his request.
She said Polanski later went into the bathroom and took part of a Quaalude pill and offered her some, as well, and she accepted.
Q: Why did you take it?
A: I don't know. I think I must have been pretty drunk or else I wouldn't have.
So here she is, at 13, washing down a Quaalude with champagne, and then Polanski suggested they move out to the Jacuzzi.
Q: When you got in the Jacuzzi, what were you wearing?
A: I was going to wear my underwear, but he said for me to take them off.
She says Polanski went back in the house and returned in the nude and got into the Jacuzzi with her. When he told her to move closer to him, she resisted, saying, "No. No, I got to get out."
He insisted, she testified, and so she moved closer and he put his hands around her waist. She told him she had asthma and wanted to get out, and she did. She said he followed her into the bathroom, where she told him, "I have to go home now."
Q: What did Mr. Polanski say?
A: He told me to go in the other room and lie down.
She testified that she was afraid and sat on the couch in the bedroom.
Q: What were you afraid of?
She testified that Polanski sat down next to her and said she'd feel better. She repeated that she had to go home.
Q: What happened then?
A: He reached over and he kissed me. And I was telling him, "No," you know, "Keep away." But I was kind of afraid of him because there was no one else there.
She testified that he put his mouth on her vagina.
"I was ready to cry," she said. "I was kind of -- I was going, 'No. Come on. Stop it.' But I was afraid."
She said he then pulled off her panties.
Q: What happened after that?
A: He started to have intercourse with me.
At this point, she testified, Polanski became concerned about the consequences and asked if she was on the pill.
No, she told him.
Polanski had a solution, according to her.
"He goes, 'Would you want me to go in through your back?' And I went, 'No.' "
According to her, that didn't stop Polanski, who began having anal sex with her.
This was when the victim was asked by the prosecutor if she resisted and she said, "Not really," because "I was afraid of him." She testified that when the ordeal had ended, Polanski told her, "Oh, don't tell your mother about this."
He added: "This is our secret."
But it wasn't a secret for long. When the victim got home and told her story, her mother called the police.
Now granted, we only have the girl's side of things. But an LAPD criminalist testified before the grand jury that tests of the girl's panties "strongly indicate semen." And a police officer who searched Polanski's hotel room found a Quaalude and photos of the girl.
Two weeks after the encounter on Mulholland Drive, Polanski was indicted for furnishing a controlled substance to a minor, committing a lewd or lascivious act upon a child under 14, unlawful sexual intercourse, rape by use of drugs, perversion (oral copulation) and sodomy.
Three months later, a plea bargain was worked out. Court records indicate that the victim and her family had asked the district attorney's office to spare the victim the trauma of testifying at a criminal trial.
"A stigma would attach to her for a lifetime," the family's attorney argued.
So Polanski pleaded guilty to just one count -- unlawful sexual intercourse. The other charges were dropped.
Polanski spent 42 days in prison for pre-sentencing diagnostic tests. After his release, but before his sentencing in 1978, he skipped, boarding a plane for Europe because he feared he would be ordered to serve more time in prison. A warrant for his arrest has been in effect ever since, and Polanski was arrested this week in Switzerland.
He is fighting extradition, but I hope he loses that fight, gets hustled back to California and finally gets a sentence that fits his crime.
There's little question that this case was mishandled in many ways. According to a recent documentary, the now-deceased judge inappropriately discussed sentencing with a prosecutor who wasn't working the case. And Polanski's lawyers allege that the director fled only because he believed the judge would cave under public pressure and renege on a promise that he would serve no more time.
Regardless of whether there was such a deal, Polanski had not yet been sentenced, and under state law at the time, he could have been sent away for many years. Does anyone really believe 42 days was an appropriate penalty given the nature of the case?
Yes, Polanski has known great tragedy, having survived the Holocaust and having lost his wife, Sharon Tate and their unborn son, to the insanity of the Charles Manson cult.
But that has no bearing on the crime in question.
His victim, who settled a civil case against Polanski for an unspecified amount, said she does not want the man who forced himself on her to serve additional time.
That's big-hearted of her but also irrelevant, and so is the fact that the victim had admitted to having sex with a boyfriend before meeting Polanski.
Polanski stood in a Santa Monica courtroom on Aug. 8, 1977, admitted to having his way with a girl three decades his junior and told a judge that indeed, he knew she was only 13.
There may well have been judicial misconduct.
But no misconduct was greater than allowing Polanski to cop a plea to the least of his charges. His crime was graphic, manipulative and heinous, and he got a pass. It's unbelievable, really, that his soft-headed apologists are rooting for him to get another one.
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