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Judge Rejects Dismissal Motions, Name-Calling

September 23, 1986

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The judge in the ″Twilight Zone″ movie manslaughter trial denied a dismissal motion Monday, rejecting defense denunciations of the prosecutor as a liar and refusing to investigate claims of misconduct.

″I feel going into any of these areas is a waste of the court’s resources and the case ought to go forward now,″ said Superior Court Judge Roger Boren.

He ruled at the end of the most rancorous hearing yet in an escalating battle over a key witness’ credibility in the trial of movie director John Landis and four other filmmakers.

Defense attorney Harland Braun at one point threatened to seek the prosecution of Deputy District Attorney Lea Purwin D’Agostino for perjury.

″We will argue to jurors that the prosecutor is a liar and suborned perjury. That’s incredible,″ he said.

He said he believed Mrs. D’Agostino backed up critical testimony by the first trial witness, Donna Schuman, even though ″Mrs. Schuman made up the story on the witness stand.″

Later in the day, Dr. Harold Schuman, the witness’ husband, took the stand and corroborated her testimony.

Schuman, a psychiatrist who helped recruit two small children ultimately killed during filming of ″Twilight Zone: The Movie,″ said he was certain his wife had told the complete truth.

″My wife has never told me at any time since I’ve known her that she was holding anything back and certainly not under oath in court,″ Schuman said.

He recalled his wife discussing before the accident the disputed knowledge that explosives would be used in the movie ″but they would not be near the children and there would be no danger.″

He also remembered her accounts of the filmmakers discussing the chance they might go to jail for their use of the children in the movie.

Schuman supported his wife’s claim that a former prosecutor in the case told her he would withhold portions of her testimony until the case reached trial.

Mrs. D’Agostino declined to address the defense accusations in court, saying, ″I don’t think it merits discussion.″

Outside court, she said the defense comments concerning her truthfulness would be worthy of a slander suit if they had not been made in the privileged domain of the courtroom.

She called the defense effort ″another attempt to get rid of this case.″

Landis, associate producer George Folsey, production manager Dan Allingham, special effects coordinator Paul Stewart and pilot Dorcey Wingo are charged with involuntary manslaughter in the movie accident that killed actor Vic Morrow, 53, and two children, Myca Le, 6 and Renee Chen, 7.

They died July 23, 1982, when a helicopter, flying above special effects explosions, crashed on top of them while filming ″Twilight Zone - The Movie.″

Mrs. Schuman, a production secretary, testified that Landis and Folsey spoke of the chance they could go to jail for using children around explosives. No such claim had been made in four years of earlier proceedings in the case.

She complicated matters by saying she had told the former case prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Gary Kesselman, about the statements but that he decided to withhold them until trial in an effort to get an advantage over the defense.

Kesselman denied he ever heard the statements or withheld anything. Mrs. D’Agostino said she believed Mrs. Schuman, not Kesselman.

″What we have, your honor, is something very strange going on,″ said defense attorney James Neal, a former Watergate prosecutor. ″I think the court should really get to the bottom of this. There’s something terribly wrong here.″

″I’m not accusing her (Mrs. D’Agostino) of perjury or suborning perjury. But there are some suspicious circumstances here, and I want to get to the bottom of it,″ he said.

″What’s at stake is the basic integrity of the prosecution in this case,″ Braun said. ″We are impugning (Mrs. D’Agostino), not the district attorney’s office. We believe she wants to convict these people so much because it is a publicity case that she has crossed over the ethical line.″

The judge reiterated his belief that only a grand jury should investigate such charges.

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