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Prosecutors Accused of Curbing ‘Twilight’ Probe : Movie Crash Lawyer Charges Action Was Taken to Avoid Hurting Case

Times Staff Writer

Prosecutors limited their investigation of a fatal helicopter crash on the “Twilight Zone” movie set because a more exhaustive probe would have hurt their case against director John Landis and four other defendants, Landis’ attorney charged Wednesday.

In a letter to a top official of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, attorney Harland W. Braun characterized as “consciously truncated” and “aborted” the office’s investigation of the July 23, 1982, crash on the movie set at Indian Dunes Motorcycle Park near Saugus.

Vic Morrow, star of one of the film’s four segments, and two child actors were killed when a helicopter, disabled by a special-effects explosion, plunged down on them during the filming of a nighttime Vietnam War scene.

Landis, who directed the segment, and four others associated with the film were subsequently indicted on multiple charges of involuntary manslaughter and face trial this spring. The charges were brought under two legal theories--child-endangering and general negligence.

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Braun’s letter, mailed to Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Gilbert I. Garcetti, reiterated the defense lawyer’s contention that the district attorney’s office failed to pursue suggestions that producer Steven Spielberg, executive producer Frank Marshall and associate producer Kathleen Kennedy also were involved in hiring the children for night work, in violation of child labor laws.

Even though the statute of limitations has expired on crimes involving the hiring of the children, Braun wrote, “The relevance is that many knowledgeable people participated in this employment and none of these people thought that the planned scene posed a danger. . . . “

He added, “I am charging that the decision not to investigate further stems from an advocate’s recognition that the more people who were involved, the more ridiculous the (district attorney’s) claim of foreseeable danger becomes,” the lawyer said.

In order to prove Landis and the other defendants guilty of involuntary manslaughter, the district attorney must show that they could have foreseen that the scene they were filming was so dangerous that it could lead to serious injury or death.

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A district attorney’s spokesman said Wednesday that Garcetti has received Braun’s letter, but that neither Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner nor his chief deputy have had a chance to review it thoroughly. Both men, therefore, reserved comment.

Earlier this month, Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary P. Kesselman, the prosecutor who until recently had handled the “Twilight Zone” case, branded as “reckless” and “outrageous” Braun’s suggestion that the district attorney’s office had not properly investigated the accident. Kesselman said that an exhaustive investigation failed to find “any evidence whatsoever” that Spielberg, Marshall or Kennedy were involved in a conspiracy to illegally hire the children.

A spokesman for Spielberg, Marshall and Kennedy was unavailable Wednesday, but he had said previously that the three would not comment on Braun’s allegations.

Braun’s letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, was in reply to a written request from the district attorney’s office. Richard W. Hecht, director of the office’s Bureau of Central Operations, had asked Braun last month to substantiate remarks he had made about Spielberg, Marshall and Kennedy during a private meeting on Sept. 23 with Reiner.

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In his letter, Braun said that at least three witnesses testified during the “Twilight Zone” preliminary hearing that Marshall was on the film set the night of the accident and that he saw the children working.

Kennedy, Braun said, had made an initial call to the state Department of Labor asking for a permit to hire the children for night work.

When Kennedy’s request was denied, “the decision was made to employ the children without permits,” Braun wrote. He said Kennedy was on the set the night before the accident, when the children were also present.

Although Spielberg, who directed another segment of “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” was not on the set when the accident occurred, Braun said, “His full and complete knowledge and approval of what was to take place must be assumed. . . . “

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Two Producers

Spielberg and Landis together acted as producers of the entire film. Kennedy is credited as the associate producer of Spielberg’s segment.

Accused of involuntary manslaughter along with Landis are associate producer George Folsey Jr., unit production manager Dan Allingam, helicopter pilot Dorcey A. Wingo and special effects coordinator Paul A. Stewart.

Their Los Angeles Superior Court trial is to begin in April.

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