A US judge privately told lawyers he would renege on a plea deal and imprison film director Roman Polanski for sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977, according to a court transcript which has been revealed for the first time.
Polanski pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor – statutory rape – in August 1977 but fled to France from the United States before sentencing the following year, and has been a fugitive ever since.
The transcript, which covers testimony given by a former prosecutor in 2010, has only now been unsealed following a decision by the current LA district attorney to reverse the office’s previous position to keep the documents private, so that the case might be re-examined after 45 years.
It supports Polanski’s claim that he fled because he did not think he was getting a fair deal, according to the Associated Press news agency, which obtained the transcript on Sunday.
In his now unsealed testimony, retired deputy district attorney Roger Gunson said he was not surprised Polanski, now 88, fled after the judge broke promises made to his defence lawyer.
“The judge had promised him on two occasions… something that he reneged on,” Mr Gunson said. “So it wasn’t surprising to me that, when he was told he was going to be sent off to state prison… that he could not or would not trust the judge.”
Following the decision to unseal the transcript, Harland Braun, Polanski’s defence lawyer, said he would renew his effort to have the filmmaker sentenced in absentia, which would end his status as a fugitive from justice.
Prosecutors and judges have previously said that to resolve the case, Polanski has to appear in court in Los Angeles. France, Switzerland and Poland have rejected bids to extradite him back to the US.
In 2003, Polanski was named best director at the Oscars, for The Pianist, but did not accept the award as he faces arrest should he return to the US.
He was expelled by the Academy, which organises the Oscars, in 2018 after the MeToo movement spurred a reckoning about sexual misconduct.
What happened with the plea deal?
Judge Laurence Rittenband, now deceased, was the judge who presided over the case in the 1970s.
Mr Braun said the judge changed his mind several times about the punishment that should be dealt to Polanski.
After a report by probation officials that the filmmaker should serve no time behind bars, the judge sent the director for a further 90-day evaluation in state prison.
He was released with a recommendation he only serve probation after 42 days, Mr Braun said.
But according to the transcript, the judge privately told lawyers he had to be tougher because of criticism in the media.
He said he planned to send Polanski to prison for a longer term but would get him released within 120 days, which was possible under sentencing rules.
“Roman says, ‘How can I trust the judge that’s lied twice?’ So he takes off to Europe,” Mr Braun said.
‘A sentence on the victim as well as perpetrator’
Samantha Geimer, the victim in the case, has long advocated that the case be dismissed or that Polanski be sentenced in absentia.
In 2017, she appeared in court in LA to urge a judge to end “a 40-year sentence which has been imposed on the victim of a crime as well as the perpetrator”.
Geimer went public about what happened to her several years ago, writing a memoir titled The Girl: A Life In The Shadow of Roman Polanski.
She has also pressed for an investigation of judicial misconduct and it was a letter she sent to the LA district attorney’s office earlier this year that has led to the 2010 transcript being unsealed.