Exhaustive Probe of ‘Twilight Zone’ Case Cited by D.A.’s Office : Movie Deaths--Spielberg ‘Not Involved’

Times Staff Writer

An exhaustive investigation failed to find “any evidence whatsoever” that producer Steven Spielberg or two associates were involved in a conspiracy to illegally hire two children who were killed in a 1982 accident on the “Twilight Zone” movie set, a prosecutor said Friday.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary P. Kesselman branded as “reckless” and “outrageous” a suggestion by defense lawyer Harland W. Braun that the district attorney’s office mishandled the “Twilight Zone” investigation or was attempting to protect Spielberg.

“In my judgment, it is the statement of a very desperate attorney,” said Kesselman, who until recently was the prosecutor in the case.


‘Set the Record Straight’

“Allegations that have been made by Mr. Braun reflect directly upon my investigation and prosecution of the case to this point,” said Kesselman, who asked to be taken off the case for personal reasons. “I want to set the record straight most emphatically that we stand behind the investigation.”

In a Sept. 23 meeting with Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner and Reiner’s top aides, Braun suggested that Spielberg and two associates--Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy--may have been involved in efforts to illegally hire the children for nighttime work. The district attorney’s office subsequently sent Braun a letter asking him to detail those allegations.

“There was never any evidence that these individuals who have been (named) by Mr. Braun participated in this conspiracy,” Kesselman said Friday.

Braun represents director John Landis, 35, who was directing one of the four segments in “Twilight Zone: The Movie” in the early morning hours of July 23, 1982, at the Indian Dunes Motorcycle Park near Saugus.

Crash Killed Three

During the filming of a Vietnam War scene, a helicopter, disabled by a special effects explosion, crashed and killed actor Vic Morrow, 53, and the two children--Renee Chen, 6, and Myca Dihn, 7.

Landis, associate producer George Folsey Jr., unit production manager Dan Allingham, helicopter pilot Dorcey A. Wingo and special-effects coordinator Paul Stewart were indicted by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury on multiple counts of involuntary manslaughter. They face trial in April.


In an interview published in Friday’s editions of The Times, Braun criticized the district attorney’s office for failing to interview Spielberg, who produced “Twilight Zone” and directed one of its segments, or Marshall, the film’s executive producer. Kennedy acted as associate producer of the segment that Spielberg directed.

Kesselman said Friday that interviews with “hundreds” of people involved with the film convinced investigators that Spielberg and the others were not involved in a conspiracy to hire the children.

Question of Liability

“If someone had knowledge that the children were being hired or even that the children were working without permits, from a criminal point of view that does not make that person liable to be charged with conspiracy,” Kesselman said.

“Active participation in the hiring of the children, the formulation of the plans, the payment of the children . . . the direction of the children on the set--this constitutes the conspiracy to hire and employ these children,” he added.

“We do not have any evidence whatsoever which would warrant charging any other persons, other than the three who were charged with the conspiracy to hire and employ these children,” Kesselman said.

Landis, Allingham and Folsey, who are accused of bringing the children onto the set after 6:30 p.m. in violation of child labor laws, were each charged with two counts of manslaughter under the legal theory of child endangerment. Landis, Stewart and Wingo each face three additional counts of manslaughter under a theory of general negligence.


Pair Not Interviewed

Kesselman said investigators attempted to interview Marshall and Spielberg but were unsuccessful because the men were either unavailable or out of the country when the grand jury was conducting its deliberations. In any case, Kesselman said, it is usual practice to develop evidence about the possible involvement of suspects in a conspiracy before conducting interviews. In this case, there was no such evidence, he said.

Braun said Friday that he remains convinced that the district attorney’s investigation was not handled properly. In the reply that he will prepare to the letter from the district attorney’s office, Braun said he will “set forth why it (the investigation) was inadequate and what should be done.

“I will tell the D.A.’s office what they didn’t do and who they should talk to,” Braun said. “You can’t know what somebody is going to say unless you talk to them.”