On the 71st day, the prosecutor rested her case in the "Twilight Zone" involuntary manslaughter trial Wednesday--and later broke down outside the courtroom while discussing with reporters the gruesome deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two child actors, who were struck by a helicopter in the 1982 film set accident.
Defense lawyers characterized the teary declarations of Deputy Dist. Atty. Lea Purwin D'Agostino as a second-rate Hollywood performance. They also filed dismissal motions contending that D'Agostino, despite calling 71 witnesses since September, failed to prove that film director John Landis and four of his associates acted with criminal negligence in the deaths of the actors.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Roger W. Boren set a hearing for Tuesday on the motions, in which the defense lays the blame on film crew member James Camomile, who detonated the special-effects explosive that engulfed the helicopter's tail in flames, causing it to spin out of control and strike the actors.
Camomile, who was granted immunity and testified for the prosecution, has acknowledged before the jury that he set off the explosives before the helicopter was safely out of the way.
The jury will go today to a Hollywood theater for a screening of the 28 minutes of footage of the fatal accident that was shot by six motion picture cameras. The jury saw the film twice last October, but Boren, agreeing with D'Agostino, ruled that another screening is justified in order to give the jurors, who visited the accident site at Indian Dunes Park near Saugus on Tuesday, a better perspective of the accident.
Boren, meanwhile, rejected a mistrial motion by four defense lawyers, who cited an accidental flight by a Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopter at high-altitude above the Indian Dunes site during the jury's 35-minute inspection.
Defense attorney Harland Braun called the fly-by "a screw-up . . . (that) was somewhat eerie, because it reflected the same kind of engine noise" as the helicopter in the filming accident.
Boren, who ruled against a prosecution request to fly a helicopter 24 feet over the accident site for the jurors after a test demonstration Tuesday, denied the mistrial motion.
"I don't control the air space," the judge said, "(and) I would be on very safe grounds to assume the jurors have seen a helicopter pass by the jury room (too)."
D'Agostino became teary-eyed in the courthouse hallway moments after she told the jury that she was resting her case.
Saying she felt "almost numb" after having finished presenting witnesses, the prosecutor noted that her feelings "really crystallized" after seeing the helicopter demonstration on Tuesday.
"It was very somber . . . just being there and especially when the helicopter came by, seeing how low it was. . . . I was really very struck by what it must have been like," D'Agostino said, repeatedly dabbing her eyes with a tissue before excusing herself.
"It's a fraud. . . . It's all an act, it's just good theater," said Braun, who represents associate producer George Folsey Jr. "This is part of Hollywood, and she regards it as part of her aborted starlet career."
Attorney Leonard Levine, who represents unit production manager Dan Allingham, added, "For her to imply somehow that she has a monopoly on grief and that these defendants haven't suffered greatly as a result of that tragedy is very unfortunate."