The Twilight Zone Tragedy
The jury elected housewife Lois Rogers, who had taken copious notes throughout the trial, as their foreperson. She helped systemize their deliberations by handing out computer sheets that listed the counts against each defendant and the judge's instructions of the legal requirements for guilt. One juror wanted to take a poll immediately but the others insisted on going through the evidence first.
After discussing the dispute between Schuman and Kesselman, most jurors believed it was not actually germane to the issues. The jurors tended to think Camomile bore a great responsibility for the wreck and could not understand why he had been granted immunity.
According to Ron LaBrecque, the jury misunderstood the judge's instructions as saying that the defendants had to believe they were putting people in danger rather than that they should have known it. Rogers would later state, "I don't believe that I ever thought that they believed there was any danger."
On Friday, May 29, 1987, the jury returned its verdict. Foreperson Rogers handed the verdict forms to Judge Boren. He looked them over, then gave them to the court clerk, Sylvia Felien to read aloud.
"We the jury in the above-entitled action," Felien began, "find the defendant John Landis not guilty of involuntary manslaughter . . ." The clerk read each count, followed by a verdict of not guilty.
Lea D'Agostino appeared stunned. As Farber and Green wrote, she looked "bitter, betrayed, and abandoned."
Deborah Landis, weeping with joy, went to the jurors to hug, kiss, and shake hands.
Shaking her head, D'Agostino made no attempt to hide her disgust at what she called "this lovefest."
The Monday after the acquittals, a jubilant John Landis appeared on Good Morning America. He said he had been the victim of a "thoroughly dishonest and political prosecution." In another interview, with Paul Feldman of the Los Angeles Times, he called Lea D'Agostino "Grotesque, an aberration. She is very unimportant. What is important is the Los Angeles district attorney's office spending this kind of money pursuing something that they know damn well is bogus."
On the very day of the verdict, D'Agostino went on CNN's Crossfire. Her message to Landis was "there is a higher justice . . . Three people are dead because of his vision." Robert Dornan, the fiery right-winger who co-hosted the show, thundered, "I hope they learned their lesson because they beat justice."
Later the prosecutor went on a Los Angeles radio talk show. Michael Jackson — not the famous singer Landis directed in Thriller — but a liberal white commentator, hosted the program. D'Agostino said she believed the jury let the defendants walk because of Landis' celebrity.
The jury's foreperson, Lois Rogers, called in to dispute that view. "As far as the jury was concerned," she asserted, "we were none of us awed by the fact that these were Hollywood people. In fact, I think the majority of us had never even heard of John Landis before we went into the trial."
"I have to tell you," the prosecutor commented in exasperation, "based on the mail I have received throughout the trial from all over the world — England, Australia, all over the United States — it appears as though everyone in the country, if not the world, totally agrees that these people are guilty except the twelve jurors. That's what I find so amazing!"
"And isn't that what the system is for?" Rogers asked in a pertinent rejoinder.
On March 1, 1988, D'Agostino announced herself as a candidate for Los Angeles County district attorney. She ran against her boss, Ira Reiner. Hearing about her candidacy, Leonard Levine wryly commented, "I've never heard of a prosecutor riding the coattails of defeat." Harland Braun donated $250 to her campaign. She lost badly. However, she has continued her career as a prosecutor.
Since his acquittal, John Landis has directed several popular movies. Coming to America, starring Eddie Murphy, was released1988 and became one of Landis' biggest hits. He directed Murphy again in Beverly Hills Cop III (1994). Landis continues to write scripts, produce, and act. His work is not highly regarded from an artistic viewpoint but is sought after and lucrative.
George Folsey, Jr. continued working with Landis.
Dan Allingham left the Landis and Folsey production team to produce the film Communion, based on Whitney Streiber's book of the same title about the author's supposedly true encounters with extraterrestrials.
Paul Stewart got a job working in special effects on the TV series Moonlighting. He claimed to have trouble finding jobs with movie studios. "Warner Bros. and Columbia will not hire me," he complained.
Dorcey Wingo continued working for Western Helicopters. He did commercial flying.