Cathy Smith Drops Plea Bargain Agreement
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Cathy Evelyn Smith will take her chances with a murder charge rather than plead guilty to manslaughter in the drug overdose death of comedian John Belushi because grand jury testimony shows she’s innocent, her lawyer says.
Ms. Smith, a onetime backup singer with rock music groups, asked Monday for a preliminary hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to try her.
Superior Court Judge Robert Devich ordered her and her attorney, Howard Weitzman, to appear in Municipal Court again Wednesday, when the district attorney will file a formal complaint and a preliminary hearing date will be set.
″We’re back on a case of murder,″ said Deputy District Attorney Michael Montagna.
Belushi, 33, a comedian who first gained fame on TV’s ″Saturday Night Live,″ died March 5, 1982, in a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont Hotel on the Sunset Strip. The coroner said he died of acute heroin and cocaine poisoning.
A year later, a grand jury indicted Ms. Smith, who was with Belushi before his death, on one count of murder and 13 counts of furnishing and administering narcotics.
Montagna said the decision to go for a preliminary hearing negates a plea bargain the Canadian woman struck with prosecutors before waiving extradition and returning to the United States last month.
She had tentatively agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter and three counts of furnishing and administering narcotics, Montagna said.
″At this point we feel completely relieved of any obligation to keep that offer to plead guilty to manslaughter. That offer is withdrawn,″ Montagna told the judge Monday.
He added: ″It’s clear ... that there is evidence, ample evidence to convict her of second-degree murder.″
But Weitzman told the court, ″I can’t in good conscience, based on conversations with Ms. Smith (and review of the court documents) make a recommendation that she enter a plea of guilty to any homicide.″
Weitzman, who won former automaker John Z. De Lorean’s acquittal on cocaine-trafficking charges last year, said Ms. Smith’s Canadian lawyer worked out the plea bargain without seeing grand jury transcripts regarding Belushi’s cause of death.
″Expert testimony appears to exclude the alleged 3:30 a.m. injection as the cause of death,″ Weitzman said.
Ms. Smith could have entered a plea Monday, but state law allows her to seek a preliminary hearing before entering a plea.
A somber-faced Ms. Smith, dressed in black pants and black jacket, was silent throughout Monday’s proceedings and ignored reporters’ questions afterward.
On Wednesday, the prosecution will file its complaint against Ms. Smith containing the charges listed in the grand jury indictment.
Weitzman tried to keep the grand jury transcripts sealed, saying their release would sensationalize the case, but Devich said he will allow them released after the preliminary hearing.
″I don’t want the public to be prejudiced one way or the other,″ Devich told Weitzman. ″So far, we’ve only heard your side.″
Ms. Smith is free on $50,000 bail which she posted last week. Devich refused Montagna’s request to increase it to more than $100,000.