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Bludgeon Murder : Jury Selection Begins in Trial of Slain Actress’ Son

Times Staff Writer

Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of a 25-year-old man accused of the brutal murder of his actress mother, who was bludgeoned to death with a barbell in their fashionable Encino home.

Timothy Scott Roman called police to the residence he shared with his mother, actress Susan Cabot, on the night of Dec. 10, 1986. Cabot, 59, who gained some fame as a sultry leading lady in “B” movies during the 1950s, lay dead on her bed, her lavender nightgown soaked in blood. She had been clubbed repeatedly on the head.

Roman blamed the killing on a Latino burglar wearing a Ninja warrior mask. He told authorities the burglar broke into the house, knocked him unconscious and killed his mother.

But police said they noted discrepancies that night in the young man’s story and arrested Roman, then an art student at Pierce College, on suspicion of first-degree murder.

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“The evidence at the scene . . . led us to believe that it didn’t happen the way he was telling it,” Los Angeles Police Detective Pat Conmay said at the time.

Mother, Son Feuding

For example, the barbell used to kill the actress had Roman’s fingerprints on one end and Cabot’s blood on the other, said Dep. District Atty. Bradford E. Stone, who is prosecuting the case. Stone contends Roman and his mother had been feuding for some time before the killing.

The baby-faced Roman, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, has been in custody since his arrest.

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In a time-consuming process, Roman’s attorney, Chester Leo Smith, tried to have the charges dropped by claiming his client was the victim of a failed medical experiment. He said last week that he will base much of his defense on medical evidence he will introduce during the trial.

Roman was born a dwarf. He might have reached an adult height of only four feet had he not been injected with steroids and an experimental hormone three times a week for 15 years, court documents say. The hormone, which is derived from the pituitary glands of cadavers, caused him to grow to 5 feet, 4 inches, his attorney said.

But the hormone experiment had side effects and bathed his client’s brain with deadly viruses, Smith said.

“Mr. Roman is probably, really, an experiment of the human race,” the attorney said in a 1987 interview. “When you force the size of an individual to increase, you also force brain cells to increase. What happens is that doctors are performing a balancing act.

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“I think Roman is just a statistic that went bad,” Smith said.

Smith said he is planning a defense focusing on Cabot’s fragile mental condition, her unkempt home and her tendency to overly protect her son. He said in court papers that the two lived in such “filth and chaos” that the conditions constituted child abuse.

Jail Transfer

In a bizarre twist to the case last week, Smith made a motion to have Roman transferred from his cell in the Hall of Justice to Van Nuys Jail for medical reasons and because he might be the son of King Hussein of Jordan. The monarch and Cabot were romantically linked for several years in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

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Judge Darlene S. Schempp ruled that the claim of royal lineage was irrelevant, but granted the motion on medical grounds.

Smith said it will take him several weeks to present his evidence. Stone said it will take him about a week to lay out his case.

Schempp told prospective jurors Tuesday that the trial is expected to last at least 10 weeks. Two pools of 75 jurors each were called in an attempt to find prospective panelists who could serve that long.

The questioning of prospective jurors is expected to take about two weeks and will begin Monday.

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Since the prosecution is not asking for the death penalty in the case, the judge will decide the sentence if Roman is found guilty and sane. A sanity hearing will be conducted after the trial if Roman is convicted.

Before prospective jurors were called into the courtroom Tuesday, Roman waived his right to dress in civilian clothes during the trial, electing instead to wear a dark blue jail uniform.


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