2 Belushi Case Writers Sentenced for Contempt
Two writers were held in contempt of court and sentenced to jail Tuesday by a judge in the John Belushi murder case for refusing to provide testimony concerning their interviews with defendant Cathy Evelyn Smith.
However, Los Angeles Municipal Judge Brian D. Crahan allowed Los Angeles free-lancer Christopher Van Ness and National Enquirer reporter Anthony Brenna to remain free pending appeals.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael J. Montagna has argued that the writers’ testimony is essential to the case. The prosecutor called an Enquirer story “the catalyst” that led to the filing of murder charges against Smith.
In the article, Smith, 38, is quoted as saying she repeatedly injected Belushi with “speed balls"--a mixture of heroin and cocaine--in the hours before the comedian died of a drug overdose in March, 1982.
Talked With Smith
Van Ness also interviewed Smith before the Enquirer article was published and apparently had attempted to sell his story to the Florida-based tabloid.
Smith is being prosecuted for second-degree murder in the death of the comic, whose body was found in a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in West Hollywood.
In hearings before Crahan, Van Ness and Brenna cited First Amendment and state press shield law privileges for protecting confidential sources in declining to provide details of their interviews with Smith.
But Crahan ruled that although privileges do exist for journalists, the two writers could not refuse to testify because they have revealed that their source was Smith--and an article based on the interviews was published.
Jail Term, Fine
The judge sentenced Van Ness to 30 days in jail and fined him $1,000; Brenna was given a 20-day sentence and a $1,000 fine.
Montagna, who said Smith’s pending preliminary hearing will be delayed while an appeal proceeds, noted that he is not interested in seeing the writers serve jail time. Rather, he said, “We want their testimony.
“They’ve been willing to talk pretty freely to everybody, but they just won’t testify in court.”
Van Ness’ attorney, Clinton T. Bailey, said the free-lancer will go to jail if necessary.
“It’s surprising a murder case has been filed in this county that is dependent on a couple of journalists,” he said. “If that’s all they have, then I don’t think that’s a very strong case.”