Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Roman Polanski

The Plea

The three-ring circus started in earnest on April 15, when court was convened for the preliminary hearing in Santa Monica. As expected, the media presence was overwhelming, as the international foreign press had descended on the beachside town. Protestors and hucksters lined the street: one man sold both "Free Polanski" and "Jail Polanski" t-shirts. The prosecutor, Roger Gunson, was described as resembling Robert Redford. Roger Gunson was a respected lawyer with reddish blonde hair and good looks. He was a straight-talking Mormon, who was a perfect match for Polanski's own lawyer, Douglas Dalton, who was measured and low-key.

They quickly reached a plea deal for the director, in part to spare the girl and her family unwanted scrutiny. The prosecution knew that victims are often reluctant to testify in open court. And Samantha's semen-stained panties provided damning physical evidence providing strong motivation for the defense to plead out.

On August 8, Polanski entered a plea of guilty to one count: "unlawful intercourse" or statutory rape. Though the more salacious charges involving sodomy, drugs and alcohol were dropped, it was still possible — though unlikely — that Polanski could be sentenced to 50 years in prison.

The rest might have been cut and dry, but there remained sentencing and the judge, Laurence J. Rittenband.

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