"Cotton Club" producer Robert Evans, the first witness in a preliminary hearing into the 6-year-old murder of Broadway entrepreneur Roy Radin, took the witness stand Friday just long enough to invoke his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
"Do you know a man by the name of Roy Radin?" asked Deputy Dist. Atty. David Conn.
"Based on the advice of counsel, I refuse to answer the question," answered the tanned, dapper producer of such film classics as "Chinatown" and the "Godfather" movies.
The 30-minute debate that followed, in and outside of Municipal Judge Patti Jo McKay's chambers, set the stage for a Monday morning showdown between Conn and Evans' attorney, Robert Shapiro, over the question that has hung over Evans since last October:
Is the 58-year-old former head of Paramount Pictures a suspect in the cocaine-related shooting death of Radin on March 13, 1983, in a remote canyon in the northeast corner of Los Angeles County?
Judge McKay warned Shapiro that Evans might be jailed for contempt if she finds him to be improperly invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Three men and a woman, alleged cocaine dealer Karen Jacobs Greenberger, have been formally charged in the execution-style killing of Radin. One defendant, Robert Lowe, 42, remains in custody in Maryland where he is fighting extradition. The other defendants are ex-security guards William Mentzer and Alex Marti.
In a public statement last October, shortly after the arrests of Marti, Mentzer and Greenberger, Conn refused to rule Evans out as a suspect in the murder. Since then, news articles, television programs and magazine studies have explored virtually every aspect of what has come to be called the "Cotton Club case."
"This audience is filled with writers and reporters for one reason and one reason only," Shapiro told Judge McKay, motioning toward the packed spectator benches of her courtroom. "Mr. Evans is here . . . ."
Evans himself has remained silent about the case.
Police reports filed in support of search warrants in the case indicate that at least two potential witnesses implicated Evans in the murder. According to the reports, Evans was believed to have entered into a pact with Greenberger to hire Mentzer, Marti and Lowe to kill Radin.
Radin, a corpulent theatrical promoter from Long Island, had struck a deal with Evans to raise $2 million for production of feature films, including "Cotton Club," according to court records. According to the prosecution, Greenberger sought to become a partner in the deal. After being squeezed out, she allegedly plotted Radin's murder.
In a letter attorney Shapiro had hand-delivered to Conn on Tuesday, the lawyer detailed Evans' cooperation with the Radin murder inquiry from its inception in 1983. He warned that Evans would not testify as a witness for the prosecution until Conn rules Evans out as a suspect.
"This is like something you'd see in a movie," Shapiro said outside the courtroom.
Conn refused comment on Evans' status as a suspect. He said he did not have "sufficient evidence" to file charges against Evans, but also declined to offer him immunity from prosecution. He told McKay he believes Evans does not want to testify because "it involves an episode in his life that he may look back upon with regret."
At the time of the murder, Evans was deeply in debt from his involvement in the $42-million "Cotton Club" movie. He also had an admitted history of cocaine abuse.
Evans recently began a comeback in film production after a five-year hiatus following the disappointing release of "Cotton Club." In addition to an executive producer credit on "The Two Jakes" sequel to "Chinatown," which stars Jack Nicholson and is now filming in Valencia, Evans is also distributing a home video documentary on the life and times of Pope John Paul II entitled "The Planet Is Alive."