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Roman Polanski libel trial nears end

Article claimed director hit on a woman on his way to his wife’s funeral
/ Source: Reuters

Roman Polanski’s libel suit against the publishers of Vanity Fair magazine neared its conclusion on Thursday, with both sides in the case putting final arguments to the jury.

The Oscar-winning film director is suing Conde Nast for a July 2002 article that alleged he tried to seduce a woman in a New York restaurant on his way to his murdered wife’s funeral in 1969, using Sharon Tate’s name to help him succeed.

Vanity Fair now admits that the article was inaccurate, because Polanski has proved that he could not have been in Elaine’s restaurant until weeks after Tate’s burial.

But the magazine sticks by the gist of the story.

Summing up on Thursday, Vanity Fair’s lawyer Thomas Shields referred to “Roman’s law of morality.” He sought to show Polanski had no reputation to damage in the first place and was quite capable of acting as he was alleged to have done.

“Sadly, we would say, it (his reputation) is beyond repair.”

Polanski has admitted having sex within four weeks of Tate’s murder, and of being unfaithful to her before and during their marriage.

He is fighting the case in London via video link from Paris in order to avoid the risk of extradition to the United States, where he is wanted after pleading guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 when he was aged 43.

The 71-year-old cannot be extradited from France, where he was born.

Polanski’s lawyer, John Kelsey-Fry, said that far from showing “callous indifference” to his wife’s memory, at the time of the alleged incident he was “thousands of feet up in the air, under sedation, supported by his friends, in utter grief.”

He sought to undermine the accuracy of the article and asked why one of the central characters in the case, the woman Polanski allegedly romanced at the restaurant, had not been called to give testimony by Vanity Fair.

“The most obvious, potentially the most compelling witness in the defense's case, if the defense's case is true, is Beatte Telle,” Kelsey-Fry said.

Hollywood actress Mia Farrow and Sharon Tate’s sister Debra Tate were among the witnesses during the trial, and Polanski’s current wife Emmanuelle Seigner was in court on Thursday.

Judge David Eady began his summing up to the jury, and a verdict was expected later on Thursday or on Friday.