Forty years ago, a 13-year-old girl clutched a heart charm her friend gave her as a prosecutor made her describe in explicit detail to a grand jury her alleged rape by director Roman Polanski.
On Friday, Samantha Geimer testified in the criminal case for the first time since that day, this time pleading with a judge to sentence Polanski, 83, to time served, so that her family can be released from the media spectacle that has haunted her life since that day.
Geimer, 54, said freeing the fugitive director of his international warrant would be “an act of mercy to myself and my family.”
She said she did not want her grandchildren exposed to what she and her sons have faced for decades now.
“I imagine that if Roman wins another Oscar or Roman eventually passes away, as we all must, I will not be able to go out my front door and my granddaughter will get an introduction to how horrible this can be,” she told a pack of reporters and camera crews outside court in a scene that underscored the continuing fascination with the case four decades later.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon, like previous judges in the case, had already ruled against sentencing Polanski until he turns himself in on U.S. soil, and he gave no sign that the legal odyssey was coming to an end.
Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful intercourse with a minor in 1977 and was sent to the state prison in Chino for a 90-day psychiatric study that he believed was his sentence. He was released after 42 days after the prison psychiatrist deemed his crime “playful mutual eroticism.” That finding was in stark contrast to Geimer’s uncontested claims that she was drugged and repeatedly tried to ward off Polanski’s advances before he forced her to have anal sex to avoid a pregnancy. Judge Laurence J. Rittenband called the report a whitewash.
Under intense public scrutiny, the judge reneged on his promise, telling the attorneys in chambers that he would send Polanski back to prison for the remaining 48 days, after which the director would have to voluntarily deport himself or face a much lengthier sentence.
Polanski fled, getting the last seat on the next British Airways flight to London.
Ever since, his lawyers have alleged numerous acts of misconduct by the court, arguing he would not get a fair hearing if he returned.
In 2008, a documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” explored the allegations and reignited interest in the case. The next year, he was arrested in Switzerland and spent nine months in prison and under house arrest before Swiss officials denied the United States’ extradition request.
On Friday, his attorney, Harland Braun, argued to unseal testimony from 2010 by the original prosecutor, Roger Gunson, who has said that Rittenband acted in bad faith. Braun said he hoped he can use the affidavit to get the Interpol warrant lifted so that Polanski can travel freely outside the United States.
“His concern is that if he’s traveling with his family, he gets arrested,” Braun told reporters.
Gordon said he would issue a written ruling on the motion.
Since the beginning, Geimer has said she did not want Polanski to serve time, but simply admit his wrongdoing.
At a news conference after the court hearing Friday, she said she was offended when she read his 1984 autobiography, in which he described their encounter as consensual.
In 1988, she sued him for sexual assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment. The trial judge in the case found “substantial evidence of oppressive conduct by Polanski and a strong likelihood that a jury would find despicable conduct on the part of Polanski.”
He settled with Geimer in 1993. Documents in the file are missing, but on a record of the day’s proceedings were circled notations of “250,000 + 500,000 + maybe 500,000” and the words “settled” and “confidential.” In 1995, her attorneys were back in court trying to collect $500,000.
She said on Friday that the settlement did not influence her decision to speak on Polanski’s behalf and that she was offended by the notion she “was bought and paid for.”
Geimer described the ordeal she faced from the moment the charges went public, when Polanski was the acclaimed director of “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby” whose wife and unborn child had been murdered by the Manson family. At the time, his attorney promised to dig into her sexual history and use of drugs.
“Judge Rittenband asked if my mother and I were a mother-daughter hooker team in court. . . .When this happened, my mother and I were lying gold diggers who were attacking poor unfortunate Roman. It was a much different story. I was [called] a drug-doing Lolita that had cornered him into this. And I was lying.
“Now he endures it. Now everyone calls him a pedophile and says terrible things about him, which aren’t true. The insults have switched, but I have empathy for the way he’s treated because I was treated the same way when this first happened.”
Asked why she didn’t consider Polanski a pedophile for the crime, Geimer said, “I was almost 14, I wasn’t 10. . . . I was a teenager.”
She said she has felt that the media have wanted her to play the role of victim for the last 40 years, even though she had long ago gotten over it.
“I just wasn’t as traumatized as everybody thinks I should have been.” To other sex crime victims, she said: “Do your best to recover. Don’t let people tell you can’t recover.”
3:20 p.m.: This post was updated throughout with more details about background.