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Prosecution Put on Trial in Bizarre ‘Twilight Zone’ Session

September 11, 1986

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The former ″Twilight Zone″ prosecutor said on the witness stand Thursday that the chief prosecution witness at the manslaughter trial lied under oath.

The current prosecutor then took the stand and suggested her predecessor was lying.

In a stormy hearing with jurors absent, both the current and former prosecutors wound up testifying about defense claims that ″a fraud has been perpetrated on this court.″

Long-buried issues in the 4-year-old case were raised anew, including a probe of claims that cocaine was used on the ″Twilight Zone″ movie set, where actor Vic Morrow and two children were killed during filming when a helicopter crashed amid special-effects explosions.

The current prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Lea Purwin D’Agostino, implied that someone within the district attorney’s office tried to sabotage her case.

″I felt someone was trying to withhold information from me so I wouldn’t be prepared,″ she said.

She refused to name her predecessor, Gary Kesselman, as the culprit but indicated clearly that in the contest of credibility between her witness and Kesselman, she believed the witness.

The issue was whether witness Donna Schuman, a production secretary, told the truth about the days preceding the accident that killed Morrow, 53, Myca Le, 6, and Renee Chen, 7. The helicopter crashed in the predawn darkness July 23, 1982, at Indian Dunes, about 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Director John Landis and associate producer George Folsey are charged with involuntary manslaughter in the case along with production manager Dan Allingham, special effects coordinator Paul Stewart and pilot Dorcey Wingo.

Following the prosecutor’s testimony, Landis told reporters outside the courtroom: ″I think it’s astonishing to have one D.A. accusing another D.A. of perjury.″

The trial was recessed until Sept. 22 because the judge was scheduled to attend a conference in Monterey.

Mrs. Schuman left the stand this week. She caused a furor when she claimed that Kesselman, who handled grand jury hearings and a preliminary hearing in the case, told her he was purposely withholding from the defense her statement that both Landis and co-defendant George Folsey talked of going to jail for hiring two small children on the movie.

″I never said that, or anything like that,″ Kesselman said of Mrs. Schuman’s testimony. ″That is absolutely not true.″

Kesselman said he he learned about the conflict between Mrs. Schuman and him from a reporter who telephoned him. He said Mrs. D’Agostino did not contact him about it.

Mrs. D’Agostino then raised the issue of the cocaine probe, which she insisted was dropped because ″Donna Schuman told Gary Kesselman that John Landis doesn’t do cocaine, and he believed her.″

This, she said, proved the witness was truthful.

Kesselman acknowledged that he decided not to pursue allegations that there were drugs and alcohol on the ″Twilight Zone″ movie set because numerous witnesses said it was untrue.

″I ... abandoned the theory of drugs or alcohol by talking to witnesses, which lead us nowhere. There was no evidence of that fact,″ Kesselman said.

Outside court, defense attorney Harland Braun accused Mrs. D’Agostino of ″trying to grab headlines″ by mentioning cocaine and said it was well known in the movie industry that Landis shuns drink and drugs and opposes drug use.

Mrs. D’Agostino suggested Kesselman dropped the matter on the word of one witness alone - Mrs. Schuman.

Kesselman denied that. ″I would not have abandoned a course of inquiry because one witnesss told me this,″ he said.

Mrs. D’Agostino declared angrily: ″Gary Kesselman told me he considered Donna Schuman the most honest, credible witness he had in this case, and it was because of her he did not pursue allegations of Mr. Landis being on cocaine.″

Braun claimed the unprecedented feud between the two prosecutors has split the District Attorney’s Office.

″In order to save this case, they’re going to try to fire Mr. Kesselman, or indict him, for something he didn’t do,″ Braun said.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Gilbert Garcetti would say only that he will fully review the matter and ″take appropriate action to ensure the integrity of the prosecution.″

Superior Court Judge Roger Boren, who reluctantly allowed the two prosecutors to testify, said he planned no further action.

″This court is not a grand jury,″ he said. ″There is no charge before me.″

But defense attorneys said they would spend next week’s recess in the case drawing up briefs on the issue. They claimed Mrs. D’Agostino had purposely put on testimony she knew was untrue.