US judge failed to honor Polanski plea deal, says former prosecutor

A Los Angeles judge privately told attorneys he would back out of a plea deal and jail Roman Polanski for having sex with a teenage girl in 1977, a former prosecutor has testified, setting the stage for the acclaimed director to flee as a fugitive to flee the United States.

The previously sealed transcript — obtained late Sunday by The Associated Press — of retired assistant district attorney Roger Gunson’s testimony supports Polanski’s claim that he fled on the eve of sentencing in 1978 because he didn’t think he was getting a fair deal.

Mr Gunson said during testimony behind closed doors in 2010 that the judge broke a promise to release Polanski after state prison officials ruled he should not serve a prison sentence.


Roman Polanski fled the US in 1978 (Joel Ryan/PA)

“The judge had promised him something on two occasions … something he has not kept,” Mr Gunson said.

“So it wasn’t surprising to me that he couldn’t or wouldn’t trust the judge when he was told he was going to be sent to state prison.”

Defense attorney Harland Braun said Friday – pending the release of the transcript – that the development would renew his efforts to try Polanski in his absence, which would end his status as a fugitive from justice.

Mr. Braun has previously unsuccessfully attempted to do so, with prosecutors claiming and judges agreeing that Polanski must appear in Los Angeles Superior Court to resolve the matter.

The release of the transcript, ordered Wednesday by a California appeals court after Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon dropped longstanding objections by his predecessors to its release, may bolster Polanski’s claims that he is being prosecuted 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 marred by tragedy as well as triumph.

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Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate were among the seven people murdered by supporters of Charles Manson (PA) in 1969.

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

Polanski, 88, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Chinatown in 1974 and Tess in 1979, won the 2003 statuette for best director for The Pianist. But he couldn’t accept it because he was threatened with arrest in the United States.

France, Switzerland and Poland all turned down offers to extradite him to the United States and he continues to be celebrated in Europe, receiving praise and collaborating with great actors.

But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expelled him from its membership in 2018 after the MeToo movement sparked a backlash over sexual misconduct.

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

Roman says, “How can I trust the judge who lied twice?” So he flies to EuropeDefense attorney Harland Braun

Polanski has argued that there was judicial misconduct in his case. In 2010, a Los Angeles court received a sealed statement from Mr. Gunson about his memories of promises the judge made to the director in 1977.

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

The late Judge Laurence Rittenband was influenced by the public in the case and changed his mind several times about the sentence Polanski should face, Mr Braun said.

After a report from parole officers that Polanski should not be serving time behind bars, Judge Rittenband sent the warden to the state prison for a 90-day diagnostic exam to determine what sentence he should face.

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

After a six-week investigation in prison, Polanski was released with a recommendation that he serve only on parole, Mr. Braun said.

But Judge Rittenband considered the parole and jail reports perfunctory and an “euphemism,” said Mr Gunson, who agreed they downplayed or misrepresented Polanski’s crimes.

The judge told Mr Gunson and Polanski’s attorney privately that he needed to take tougher action because of the criticism in the news media.

He said he would send Polanski to prison longer but then release him within 120 days, which was possible under the penal code of the time.

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

Mr Gunson conceded during his testimony that the judge could, at his discretion, sentence Polanski to up to 50 years in prison because there was no agreed sentence. But Mr Gunson objected to the “sham trial” the judge staged and felt he had broken promises to Polanski. US judge failed to honor Polanski plea deal, says former prosecutor

Fry Electronics Team

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