'Cotton Club' Jury Convicts 4 of Murder

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eight years after the bullet-riddled body of New York impresario Roy Radin was found in a dry creek bed near Gorman, a jury Monday found onetime drug dealer and would-be Hollywood deal-maker Karen Greenberger and three bodyguards guilty of murder and kidnaping in what became known as the "Cotton Club" murder.

Greenberger, 43, and Robert Lowe, 44, were convicted of second-degree murder and kidnaping, requiring an automatic life sentence without possibility of parole.

William Mentzer, 42, and Alex Marti, 30, were convicted of first-degree murder. The jury also found that Mentzer and Marti killed Radin for "financial gain" during a kidnaping--special circumstances that open the possibility of death in the gas chamber for both men. The jury, which had been deliberating since July 10, reached their decisions Friday. The verdicts were sealed until Monday.

Greenberger had been accused of hiring Mentzer, Marti and Lowe to kill Radin because she feared she was being cut out of a producer's role--and profits--in the movie "The Cotton Club," a film about a Harlem speak-easy that was a critical and financial flop. The "Cotton Club" project began after Greenberger introduced Radin to Hollywood filmmaker Robert Evans, who was then her boyfriend.

Her attorney argued during the trial that Greenberger had been framed for the murder by Milan Bellechesses, a Miami drug dealer and another Greenberger paramour who suspected Radin of stealing drugs.

No date was set for the trial's penalty phase, in which jurors will decide whether to sentence Mentzer and Marti to death or life in prison without parole. The jurors were ordered not to speak about the case until the penalty phase is concluded.

As the courtroom clerk began reading the verdicts at 9:40 a.m., each of the defendants sat impassively, sometimes leaning to talk with their attorneys or sullenly gazing around the courtroom.

Greenberger showed little emotion and was escorted by deputies from the courtroom soon after the verdicts were read.

"I hoped and expected for acquittal," said Edward Shohat, Greenberger's attorney. "We're disappointed, but I'm very thankful the jury didn't convict her of first-degree murder."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Sally Lipscomb said she was satisfied with the verdicts even though Greenberger and Lowe had escaped a possible death sentence.

Lipscomb said that because a death occurred during the kidnaping, Greenberger and Lowe will be in prison for the rest of their lives.

Radin's sister, Kate, sat quietly in the courtroom as the verdicts were read. She said she was pleased that her brother's killers had finally been brought to justice.

"I think it's terrific that the justice system is working here," she said. "It's been so many years and of course, you lose hope. . . . They can't take away the pain and no one can bring him back."

Greenberger, Mentzer, Marti and Lowe were arrested in 1988--five years after Radin's body was found by a beekeeper in a desolate canyon 65 miles north of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators had all but ended their investigation of Radin's murder, but a break came in 1987 when they met William Rider, the brother-in-law and onetime security chief for Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine. Rider told them that Mentzer and Marti had admitted during a poker game that they killed Radin.

Mentzer, Marti and Lowe were bodyguards for Flynt at the time they met Greenberger.

The arrests came after a secret taping by Rider of a conversation in which Lowe said the Radin killing had been paid for by Greenberger and film producer Evans.

Evans, the former chief of Paramount Pictures and the producer of such hits as "Chinatown" and "The Godfather," was not charged in the crime. He was called as a witness during the preliminary hearing but refused to testify, claiming 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination. In her testimony, Greenberger said Evans had nothing to do with Radin's death.

Eventually, investigators presented a tale of cocaine, sex and greed that they say involved the making of "The Cotton Club," named after the famed Prohibition-era jazz club.

At the center of the real-life drama was Radin, a 275-pound, cocaine-sniffing high school dropout from Long Island, N.Y., who had come to California in the early 1980s with dreams of breaking into the movie business.

The brash and ambitious Radin had made his name in New York by producing a series of successful vaudeville revivals and police union benefits. He was a millionaire by 20 and lived lavishly in a mansion on Long Island.

Despite his success on the East Coast, Radin's real ambition was in Hollywood. He was obsessed with the thought of making movies.

It was on a visit to the West Coast in 1982 that he met Greenberger, an alluring drug dealer with links to the Latin American drug underworld who also had ambitions of breaking into the movie business.

Greenberger introduced Radin to Evans and together they struck a deal to finance "The Cotton Club."

According to the prosecution, the deal began to come apart when Greenberger felt she was being cut out of the profits.

On May 13, 1983, Radin and Greenberger were on their way to dinner to work out their problems. It was the last time Radin was seen alive. He was 33 years old.

In her testimony in April, Greenberger denied that she was involved in the murder, saying that her ex-lover, Mentzer, killed Radin on the orders of Bellechesses.

Although Greenberger conceded she left with Radin for dinner in the same limousine, she said Mentzer told her to get out of the car.

Radin's decomposed body was found a month after his disappearance. His head was peppered with gunshot wounds.

Shohat, Greenberger's attorney, said the verdict of second-degree murder showed that the jury did not believe Greenberger was the driving force behind Radin's killing.

Lowe's attorney, Mark Kaiserman, said he also was disappointed in the verdicts and vowed to appeal.

Kaiserman said he thought the jury's decision showed that they believed Greenberger had not intended to murder Radin, but rather to kidnap him to find out who was behind a large theft of cocaine from Greenberger's residence.

He said Lowe and Greenberger did not know that Mentzer and Marti intended to kill Radin.

The defense attorneys expressed dissatisfaction with some of Superior Court Judge Curtis Rappe's bench rulings, and indicated that appeals are likely.

Kaiserman said he will file an appeal after Lowe's sentencing Aug. 16, basing the appeal in part on Rappe's decision to allow prosecutors to use secretly taped conversations among several defendants as evidence.

"The judge went way out on a limb and he's going to be in for a big fall if he's wrong," Kaiserman said.

Key Figures in Cotton Club Case

Karen Greenberger

* Age 43, formerly of Sherman Oaks

* Ex-girlfriend of movie producer Robert Evans. Acted as liaison for Evans and New York producer Roy Radin during "Cotton Club" movie negotiations. Prosecution claimed she was mastermind behind Radin's murder but could not prove it. * Convicted of second-degree murder and kidnaping.

Robert Lowe

* Age 44, Rockville, Md.

* Former bodyguard for Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. Lowe claimed that Greenberger and Evans paid for a "contract hit" against Radin.

* Convicted of second-degree murder and kidnaping.

William Mentzer

* Age 42, Canoga Park

* Also ex-bodyguard for Flynt. A key witness claimed to have overheard Mentzer and Marti discuss the slaying at Flynt's Bel-Air mansion. Greenberger called Mentzer the murderer.

* Convicted of first-degree murder with special circumstances, subject to the death penalty.

Alex Marti

* Age 30, Sherman Oaks

* Another ex-Flynt bodyguard. Along with Mentzer, accused of carrying out the murder.

* Convicted of first-degree murder with special circumstances, subject to the death penalty.

Compiled by Times researcher Michael Meyers

Cotton Club Case: The Chronology

* June 10, 1983: New York theatrical producer Roy Radin's decomposed body is found near Hungry Valley Road in northeast Los Angeles County nearly a month after he was last seen getting into a limousine with Karen Greenberger on May 13.

* 1987: About 4 1/2 years after the murder, sheriff's investigators receive first major break in the case when they are introduced to William Rider, former brother-in-law and security supervisor for Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt.

* October, 1988: Greenberger, Robert Lowe, William Mentzer and Alex Marti are arrested by sheriff's deputies and held in connection with the slaying of Radin.

* June 2, 1989: Rider testifies during the preliminary hearing that murder suspects Mentzer and Marti, both former Flynt bodyguards whom he had supervised, had bragged about killing Radin.

* November, 1990: Trial begins for the four defendants.

* July 22, 1991: Jury, which began deliberations July 10, convicts Greenberger and Lowe of second-degree murder and kidnaping and convicts Mentzer and Marti of first-degree murder and kidnaping.

Compiled by Times researcher Michael Meyers

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