US judge reneged on promise in Polanski case

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles judge has privately told attorneys he would renege on a promise and jail Roman Polanski for having sex with a teenage girl in 1977, a former prosecutor testified, setting the stage for the famous director to flee the United States as a fugitive.

A previously sealed transcript obtained by The Associated Press on Sunday evening of testimony from retired Assistant District Attorney Roger Gunson supports Polanski’s claim that he fled on the eve of sentencing in 1978 because he didn’t didn’t think he was getting fair treatment.

Gunson said in closed testimony in 2010 that the judge broke his promise to let Polanski go free after state prison officials determined he should not serve time.

“The judge had promised him twice…something he reneged on,” Gunson said. “So it didn’t surprise me that when he was told he was going to be sent to state prison…he couldn’t or wouldn’t trust the judge.”

Defense attorney Harland Braun said on Friday — pending the release of the transcript — the development would renew its efforts to convict Polanski in absentia, which would end his status as a fugitive from justice.

Braun has tried that before without success, with prosecutors saying and judges agreeing that Polanski should appear in Los Angeles Superior Court to resolve the case.

The release of the transcript, which was ordered by a California appeals court on Wednesday after Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón dropped longstanding objections his predecessors had made to its release, could buttress Polanski’s claims that he was going to get framed by a corrupt judge.

The legal saga has played out on both sides of the Atlantic as a recurring scene over four decades of a life marked by tragedy and also triumph.

As a child, Polanski escaped from the Krakow ghetto during the Holocaust. His wife, Sharon Tate, was among seven people murdered in 1969 by supporters of Charles Manson.

Polanski, 88, who was nominated for an Oscar for 1974’s ‘Chinatown’ and 1979’s ‘Tess’, won the best director statuette for ‘The Pianist’ in 2003. But he couldn’t accept it because he risks being arrested in the United States

France, Switzerland and Poland have rejected extradition offers to the United States and he continues to be celebrated in Europe, earning praise and working with major players. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, however, kicked him out of its membership in 2018 after the “MeToo” movement prompted judgment on sexual misconduct.

Polanski’s 13-year-old victim testified before a grand jury that during a photo shoot at Jack Nicholson’s home in March 1977, when the actor was not home, Polanski gave him champagne and part of a sedative and then forced her to have sex. The girl said she didn’t fight him because she was afraid of him, but her mother then called the police.

When the girl refused to testify in court, Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor in exchange for prosecutors dropping drug, rape and sodomy charges.

Polanski argued that there was judicial misconduct in his case. In 2010, a Los Angeles court took sealed testimony from Gunson about his recollections of promises made to the director by the judge in 1977.

Polanski’s attorneys, who were in the room during Gunson’s testimony but were unable to use it in court, have long sought to unseal that transcript to help their case.

Judge Laurence Rittenband, now deceased, had been swayed by the publicity in the case and repeatedly changed her mind about what sentence Polanski should face, Braun said.

After a report from probation officials that Polanski should not be serving time behind bars, Rittenband sent the warden to state prison for a 90-day diagnostic evaluation to help determine his sentence. should face.

The judge said that as long as Polanski received a favorable report from prison, he would not serve any additional time, Gunson said.

After six weeks of evaluation in prison, Polanski was released with the recommendation to do probation only, Braun said.

But Rittenband thought the probation and prison reports were superficial and a “whitewash,” said Gunson, who agreed they downplayed or misrepresented Polanski’s crimes.

The judge privately told Gunson and Polanski’s attorney that he had to be tougher because of the criticism in the media.

He said he would send Polanski to jail for a longer term, but then have him released within 120 days, which was possible under sentencing rules at the time.

“Roman says, ‘How can I trust the judge who lied twice?’ So he flies to Europe,” Braun said.

Gunson acknowledged during his testimony that the judge had the discretion to sentence Polanski up to 50 years because there was no agreed sentence. But Gunson objected to the “fictitious” procedure the judge was orchestrating and felt he had broken promises made to Polanski.

The victim, Samantha Geimer, has long pleaded for the case to be dismissed or for Polanski to be convicted in absentia. She went so far as to travel from her home in Hawaii to Los Angeles five years ago to urge a judge to end “a 40-year sentence that was handed down to the victim of a crime as well as the ‘author”.

“I implore you to consider taking steps to finally end this matter as an act of mercy to myself and my family,” Geimer said.

The Associated Press doesn’t usually name victims of sexual abuse, but Geimer went public years ago and penned a memoir called “The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski.” The cover features a photo taken by Polanski.

Polanski agreed to pay Geimer more than $600,000 to settle a lawsuit in 1993.

Geimer, who has been pushing for a judicial misconduct investigation, called for the transcript to be unsealed and in a letter last month and urged the prosecutor’s office to take a fresh look at the case.

Prosecutors have consistently opposed releasing the material, but relented earlier this week to honor Geimer’s wishes and be transparent with the public.

“This case has been described by the courts as ‘one of the longest sagas in California criminal justice history,'” Gascón said in a statement. “For years, this office has fought against the disclosure of information that the victim and the public have a right to know.”

However, the DA did not indicate that Polanski would be able to avoid a court appearance. The press release says Polanski remains a fugitive and is expected to go to court to be sentenced.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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