LOS ANGELES (CN) — In an unexpected reversal, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón has agreed that sealed testimony of the original prosecutor on film director Roman Polanski's sexual assault case in 1977 should be made public.
Gascón said Tuesday that his office will no longer object to the release of the conditional examination transcripts of former Deputy District Attorney Roger Gunson. Polanski's victim, who was 13 years old at the time, has asked for the transcript to be unsealed since 2014 and for an investigation into possible judicial misconduct while Polanski awaited sentencing for having unlawful sexual conduct with her.
“This case has been described by the courts as ‘one of the longest-running sagas in California criminal justice history,’” Gascón said in a statement. “For years, this office has fought the release of information that the victim and public have a right to know."
In August 1977, Polanski pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse as part of plea deal that spared him more serious charges including rape. The deal was arranged in part with input from the lawyer for the family of the girl. The director, however, fled the United States before his sentencing hearing the following year because he feared the judge was about to renege on an agreement whereby he was to receive time served and probation.
A 2008 documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," revealed some of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans at the time when Polanski faced sentencing in LA. The director had spent 42 days in a California prison for evaluation and was living under the impression that that would be the end of the case.
The judge, on the other hand, had been shown photos of Polanski enjoying himself at the Octoberfest in Germany after being allowed to go to Europe to shoot a movie before his sentencing date. Egged on by a prosecutor who wasn't involved in the case, the judge decided he was going to send Polanski to prison for as long as 50 years.
The release of the 2008 documentary started a new round of litigation, with Polanski trying to get the case dismissed on grounds of misconduct and the U.S. requesting his arrest in Switzerland as a fugitive. As part of the renewed legal battle, Polanski's attorneys in LA interviewed Gunson under oath to preserve his testimony should he no longer be available when a court was willing to take up Polanski's request. So far, the California courts have agreed with the prosecution that Polanski has to come to the U.S. in person if he wants to get a hearing on his request.
The new effort to get Gunson's testimony unsealed was brought by two veteran journalists, Sam Wasson and William Rempel, this year and had been opposed thus far by the DA's office. A trial court judge denied their request to unseal the transcript that could shed new light on the judicial and prosecutorial misconduct in the Polanski case.
"This proceeding is not about Roman Polanski‘s actions," John Washington, an attorney for the journalists said. "It is about the First Amendment right of the public and press to know about what judges and prosecutors do in our courts."
The DA vigorously fought Wasson and Rempel’s bid to unseal, according to Washington, but faced with a pending decision from an appeals court, Gascón has abandoned the same arguments his office repeatedly advanced.
"We appreciate its decision to do so now," Washington said. "The decision is a significant victory for the public and the press."
Samantha Geimer, Polanski's victim, has also publicly argued for release of Gunson's testimony and for an investigation.
"In the 45-year history of this case, Roger Gunson has been the only person from the DA’s office who has treated myself and my family with dignity and respect," she said in a June 20 letter to the DA's office. "That is until now. I have felt that this misconduct has been deliberately concealed and the only interest in my case has been to use it to garner PR value or personal advancement of those who sought involve themselves in it."
She added: "If these allegations cannot be investigated, if Mr. Polanski will never get the sentence he was promised of time served, the very least that can be done is for Mr. Gunson’s testimony to see the light of day. I believe it is in the public interest not to allow the misconduct of the court to remain hidden. I believe as the victim in this case I deserve to know the whole truth."Follow @edpettersson
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