Thursday, December 11, 2008

Avary Pleads Not Guilty To Manslaughter

Oscar-winning writer appears in court

By Daryl Kelley
Oscar-winning screenwriter Roger Avary pleaded not guilty Friday to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, resulting from a late-night car crash near Ojai in January in which a man was killed and Avary's wife was injured.
Defense attorney Mark Werksman entered not guilty pleas to three main felony counts and five special circumstances, while a grim 43-year-old Avary, who won an Academy Award for 'Pulp Fiction' in 1994, stood before a Superior Court judge to answer charges that could result in 11 years in prison.
Judge Bruce Clark granted motions to split a blood sample taken from Avary so the defense can confirm – or rebut – prosecution findings that the defendant had a blood-alcohol level of .11 when the tragic accident occurred just near Boardman Road on Ojai Avenue. A blood-alcohol level of .08 or greater constitutes drunken driving in California.
Clark also allowed the defense to examine the 2000 Mercedes sedan Avary was driving when he failed to maneuver a turn shortly after midnight on Jan. 13 and crashed into a telephone pole in front of Ojai Lumber.
Later Friday, a judge left Avary's bail at $50,000, compared with a statutory recommendation of $80,000, because the defendant has appeared at every court date and prosecutors did not object to the lower bail. Avary also will be allowed to travel out of the country within North America while awaiting trial.
In an interview, Werksman declined to elaborate on the his client's defense, or the strength of the case against Avary.
But previously he had said Avary denies being under the influence of alcohol, was not speeding and thinks the crash was caused by a tire blowout.
And Werksman said Friday that Avary wants the case to be resolved promptly.
“We're going to resolve this as soon as we can,” Werksman said. “But we have a duty to do some investigation to resolve the cause of the accident and the validity of the chemical test that was done.”
In charges filed Wednesday, prosecutors maintained that Avary committed several crimes while driving under the influence of alcohol, when his car skidded and crashed, killing a visitor from Italy and seriously injuring the screenwriter's wife.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Lief said in an interview that the case against Avary is solid.
“This is not the kind of case where the deal is going to get better for him as time goes on,” Lief said.
“There were positive results for alcohol and for another controlled substance as well (in toxicological tests).”
Lief would not say what the other drug was that was purportedly detected.
The first felony count against Avary is gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, which carries a basic sentence of 10 years in prison, and one additional year considering the circumstances of this case, Lief said.
Avary is also charged with driving under the influence and causing injury, with a so-called special circumstance of causing “great bodily injury,” which could carry a penalty of three years in prison, plus another three years for the special circumstance.
Thirdly, Avary is charged with causing injury while driving with a blood alcohol level of at least .08 percent, with another great bodily injury special circumstance. This charge also carries a potential six-year sentence.
If convicted of all charges, Avary might serve them at the same time, although a judge could impose the penalties consecutively, lengthening the basic 11-year sentence.
“The bottom line is he's facing up to 10 years in prison,” said Bill Haney, supervising attorney for the felony unit of the District Attorney's Office.
But if Avary has no previous criminal record, a maximum sentence would be unlikely, authorities said.
It took nearly a year for prosecutors to file the charges, Haney said, because the investigation was so thorough, with a crime scene analysis and follow-up questioning of witnesses. An elaborate accident re-construction was part of the investigation, authorities have said.
“We've done extensive follow-up and investigation on this,” Haney said. “This has been very thoroughly researched. The Sheriff's Department has done extensive work and responded to every request we've given them.”
Haney said the thoroughness of the investigation was not determined by Avary's celebrity or the quality of his legal counsel. Werksman, a former federal prosecutor, is a prominent criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles.
“We are very thorough in every case of this nature,” Haney said. “We follow the facts and investigate the case.”
After arraignment, prosecutors must show at a preliminary hearing that they have enough evidence to warrant a trial. A court date was set for February 20 to determine whether the defense was ready to proceed to that evidentiary hearing.
Key evidence in the case, defense lawyer Werksman has said, will be the results of blood samples taken to determine the screenwriter's alcohol level after the crash, and the type of damage to Avary's automobile.
“There are things we can't learn without court orders once the case is filed,'' he said.
In rare cases, new tests of blood alcohol levels in DUI cases have yielded different results in Ventura County, but authorities have said that such historical problems were remedied long ago.
Werksman said in a previous interview that once charges were filed “we can begin to work toward resolution of this case. ... We can't determine the true cause of this accident until ... we have an opportunity to inspect the vehicle and examine the district attorney's evidence.”
Andreas Zini, 34, who was visiting Avary from Italy, died in the single-car crash, apparently from internal injuries, authorities said. His wife, Maria Julia Zini, has returned to Italy, and her representative, attorney Tom Donovan of Santa Monica, said he would have no immediate comment on behalf of the victim's family.
Avary's wife, Gretchen, also suffered serious injuries after being thrown from the car when it crashed in front of Ojai Lumber Co. on East Ojai Avenue. According to police, Avary failed to negotiate a turn in the highway and crashed into a power pole.
Avary was uninjured in the accident, but his 40-year-old wife was found lying in the road next to the couple's sedan. She was transported to Ojai Valley Community Hospital with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries. She was released about a week later as she recovered from a ruptured bladder.
Avary, a screenwriter, director and producer, remains free on a $50,000 bail bond.
“This is a tragic case, and Roger is devastated,” Werksman said. “He feels terrible for the Zini family, whose lose is incalculable.”

17 comments:

Albi said...

I'm a close friend of Andrea Zini, the man that almost one year ago was killed in Roger Avary's car crash. Andrea was so happy the 22of December during his wedding. I saw him for the last time that night at 2:00 AM. He was going to leave the day after for his honey moon in the USA. After that, I heard that he met Roger Avary, a
friend of friends. Unfortunately.
We all miss him so much. Please help us by spreading this information.
We fear we may never see justice for our incredible and beloved friend Andrea, whom we miss every day.
We cannot forget. Andrea's absence is constantly reminded to us,
every day. He left a young wife and beloved mother, father and sister. He was a successful engineer too. I'm seeking justice for him.

Anonymous said...

The broader over riding issue is alcohol use and abuse, alcoholism,
and the fact that it knows no barriers or socio-economic bounderies. It was a sad and avoidable incident- if only the valley had prevention programs and successful diversion options for the continued and series effects of drinking.Maybe this is a good index point.

Anonymous said...

why does the valley need it's own prevention program when the county has so many resources available for alcoholics? plus there are AA meetings all over the valley. and several downtown establishments collaborate on the operation of a shuttle that dutch drives on the weekends. there's no excuse.

Anonymous said...

He should get the gas chamber

Anonymous said...

oh, jeeze, come on. he should be held responsible in some way, though.

Anonymous said...

This is extremely sad, especially to hear from a friend of Andreas and to know now a bit of who he was. I am so sorry for his family and friends. Ojai grieves with them and hopes that justice is correctily served.

Anonymous said...

I know the Avary's, and I can tell you that they are grief stricken from this awful accident. They are good and kind people and to write things like "he should get the gas chamber" is simply unthinking and cruel, especially during the holiday season, and does not represent the opinion of conscionable people in Ventura County. If you knew him, and how caring he is, you wouldn't write such things. The entire Ojai Valley has suffered over this tragedy. Do you really think it helps to be vengeful or callous? I'd like to think that the publicity this accident received would stop future accidents in our area, but since January there have been numerous other accidents on that very stretch of road, and at that same blind bend in the 150. Just take a look at the numerous overlapping skid marks between the bridge and Ojai Lumber. Sadly, Avary wasn't the first, and he wasn't the last. Think of this when you're driving home from your holiday parties, after having a few drinks, thinking that you're okay to make it home. So many people who aren't even alcoholics do it, and it has to stop, or else there will be more tragedy and suffering. Please remember that this can happen to anyone.

Anonymous said...

Did Avary go to Thatcher?

Anonymous said...

2 sets of laws
optional laws for the rich,
mandatory minimum sentences for the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

for the last time, it's THACHER!

Anonymous said...

The emotional pain the Avary's have suffered is forever. I know them - they are good people and good parents - Roger will have his day in court; why can't the people of this valley stop bludgeoning him, esp through what has to be a difficult and sad holiday period. My heart also goes out to the Zini family also. I lost a 33 yr old family member this year and the shock and sadness is immeasurable.

Anonymous said...

Who gives a rat's ass if Avery went to Thacher????? or is it Thatcher! There is a big world out there folks!

Anonymous said...

Reports vary, but what distresses me are the assumptions that Avary is an alcoholic and that he is guilty of the charges against him.
We have "presumption of innocence" in the United States as a basic tenet of jurisprudence.
Let the truth be known at trial, if it even gets to that point.
I don't give a damn if Mike Bradbury was a witness. His statement about smelling alcohol on Avary's breath does not equal a conviction, nor make his claims gospel. He's been wrong before; having been the DA does not make him infallible.

Emanuele said...

I'm very sorry to hear many people dismissing the past tragedy as a sort of trivial accident to which no one should pay any attention. The frequency of these deaths should by no means diminish the fact that these events devastate the life of several people.

In Italy, there is now a family (two parents and a sister) that are dealing with a void which will never be filled. Andrea's wife is now a very young widow whose life projects have vanished. Further, many many (let me repeat this: many) friends and colleagues keep on grieving Andrea.

To give you an extent of the love that surrounded, and still surrounds, Andrea - indeed an extraordinary, enthusiastic person - let me tell you that Andrea's family has set up a charity foundation that donates money to the Red Cross (Andrea was a Red Cross volunteer). His friends have also organized, for the upcoming 13th of January, a concert in his honor; the money raised will also be donated to the Red Cross (the idea is to buy a brand new ambulance).

This is just a glimpse of the love that surrounded Andrea and the extraordinary environment from whom he comes.

And I hope this message may stop many readers to post unsensitive comments and remind most of them of the loss that we have been left dealing with.

Anonymous said...

Yes it was a terrible accident. But please Mr. Avary take responsibility for it. You may be a kind person but you have killed someone. Serve your time and come out of prison and try to make amends to the family of Mr. Zini.

carlos said...

i don't know avery other than what i've read in the papers, and frankly i don't care what happens to him, but there's a point that keeps coming up with regards to people of celebrity, like him, that really sticks in my craw because it comments poorly on our legal system. this statement that the wealthy get special treatment is simply untrue. there's not two sets of laws in the united states, just one. what is true is that most people can't afford the quality legal defense necessary to navigate our impressively strict judicial system, which imprisons more people than either russia or china.

Anonymous said...

I see your point
drugs=war on drugs.
(over 1+mill casualties easy)
Terrorists=war on terror.
(unknown and untold casualties)
Low IQ=war on illiteracy.
(lower standards to mask ineffectiveness)
You said it your self
money=freedom
no money=jail
If you commit a crime and are caught.
Same laws different consequences.