Attorney Pressed on ‘Twilight Zone’ Allegations
A top Los Angeles County prosecutor has asked a defense attorney to substantiate his suggestion that producer Steven Spielberg and others may have known about plans to illegally hire two child actors who were killed in a 1982 accident on the “Twilight Zone” movie set.
In a letter mailed last week, Richard W. Hecht, director of the district attorney’s Bureau of Central Operations, asked lawyer Harland W. Braun to come forward with information on the possible involvement of Spielberg and associates Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall in hiring the children. Braun has not yet responded to the request.
Hecht’s letter was prompted, an official said, by comments Braun made during a Sept. 23 meeting with Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, during which Braun unsuccessfully sought a plea bargain for the five “Twilight Zone” defendants who are scheduled to go on trial next April on multiple charges of involuntary manslaughter.
Braun, who represents director John Landis, had suggested that the district attorney’s office drop all the manslaughter counts, allow three of the five defendants, including his client, to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to illegally employ the child actors and dismiss the cases against the other two defendants. Reiner rejected the proposal.
Landis, 35, was directing a segment of “Twilight Zone--the Movie,” during the early hours of July 23, 1982, when a helicopter, disabled by a special-effects explosion, plunged from the sky and killed actor Vic Morrow, 53, and the two children--Renee Chen, 6, and Myca Dihn Lee, 7.
Landis, unit production manager Dan Allingham and associate producer George Folsey Jr. are each charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter under the legal theory of child endangering--that by knowingly bringing the children onto a dangerous set, they are guilty of gross negligence.
Under another legal theory--that their negligent conduct on the set created hazards that caused the three deaths--three additional manslaughter counts were filed against Landis, helicopter pilot Dorcey A. Wingo and special-effects coordinator Paul Stewart.
During an interview Thursday, Braun refused to discuss the contents of the letter from Hecht or details of his September meeting with Reiner, Hecht, two other top Reiner aides and Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary P. Kesselman, who until recently was the prosecutor in the “Twilight Zone” case.
However, Braun told The Times that the district attorney’s office has never properly investigated suggestions that others were involved in hiring the children to work at night, in violation of state law.
“There is some evidence, there is obvious evidence that Kennedy and Marshall were involved,” Braun told The Times. “If those two people knew, the question would arise, did Spielberg know?”
Part of the evidence, Braun said, is testimony given during the lengthy preliminary hearing, in which a witness testified that she told Marshall that Landis and Folsey planned to hire children without the proper permits.
Marshall served as executive producer of the “Twilight Zone” film, which consists of four segments, each handled by a different director. Spielberg and Landis produced the film and directed individual segments. Kennedy, a longtime Spielberg associate, was the associate producer of his segment of the movie.
Robert G. Friedman, a vice president of Warner Bros., the studio that released “Twilight Zone,” said neither Spielberg, Marshall nor Kennedy would comment on suggestions that they were involved in hiring the children illegally.
Two years ago, the state Department of Industrial Relations fined Landis, Folsey, Allingham and Warner Bros. $5,000 each for violating child labor laws by allowing the children to work later than 6:30 p.m. and by exposing them to “an extremely hazardous situation.”
On Thursday, Braun argued that the three men who arranged to hire the children are no more guilty of manslaughter than others who had knowledge that the youngsters would be on the set illegally.
Although many people knew the children would be working in violation of the law, no one could have foreseen that the work would be dangerous and, therefore, no one should be charged with manslaughter, Braun said.
Braun said there are two possible explanations for what he described as the failure of the district attorney’s office to further investigate the case.
“One is that by bringing more people in, it becomes obvious that it wasn’t negligence. . . . Or someone is trying to cut off the pass so you don’t get to Steven Spielberg. It’s one or the other.”
Braun said he believes it is up to the district attorney’s investigators, not him, to answer those questions, although he said he has not yet decided how he will respond to Hecht’s letter. Neither Marshall nor Spielberg were ever interviewed by the district attorney’s office, Braun said.
‘Put Up or Shut Up’
Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Gilbert I. Garcetti, who was present during the September meeting, confirmed that Hecht had sent Braun a letter “basically telling him, you have made an allegation, now substantiate it. . . . Put up or shut up.” Another high-ranking official in the office said he is convinced the “Twilight Zone” case was properly investigated and that all of those responsible for the children’s deaths have been charged.
Reiner and Hecht refused comment.
“Many people knew that the children were hired,” said Joel Behr, Landis’ civil attorney. “As to who the people were, I think it will be interesting to note that there are some misstatements in the district attorney’s letter.” He refused to elaborate.
Although Braun has represented Landis since his indictment in 1983, the director will soon have a new attorney, James F. Neal of Nashville, Tenn. A former Watergate special prosecutor, Neal is currently defending Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards on federal racketeering charges. The change reportedly was made largely on the advice of Behr.
Braun will remain on the “Twilight Zone” case, however, representing Folsey.