Vasilios Choulos, 75; S.F. Lawyer

From Associated Press

Vasilios Choulos, a San Francisco-based trial lawyer who rose to national prominence defending counterculture heroes and orchestrating a daring rescue from a Mexico prison, has died. He was 75.

Choulos died Monday of emphysema at a Marin County hospital.

With his partner of 18 years, the flamboyant "King of Torts" Melvin Belli, Choulos took part in several high-profile cases during the turbulent 1960s.

He was a member of the defense team for Jack Ruby, the Texas nightclub owner who shot and killed President Kennedy's accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, in 1963. He also represented several controversial icons of the era: Lenny Bruce, Abby Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Timothy Leary.

Choulos was perhaps best known for organizing a brazen scheme to rescue a man accused of drug dealing, Joel David Kaplan, from a Mexican prison in 1971. Convinced by Kaplan's sister that Kaplan had been framed, Choulos and three others piloted a helicopter into the prison yard, scooped up Kaplan and carried him away. The so-called "10-Second Jailbreak" was the basis for the 1975 Charles Bronson film "Breakout."

The partnership of Choulos and Belli dissolved in 1980 amid bitter accusations of disloyalty and betrayal. Choulos' son, George, said that, after the split, his father never spoke of Belli again.

Choulos eventually opened his own firm and continued to practice law until his death. He specialized in product liability.

Choulos is survived by his wife, Laura; five children; and 10 grandchildren.

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