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'Embellishing a story sounded like a good idea,' prosecutor says of Roman Polanski case

October 1, 2009 |  7:29 am

A retired Los Angeles County prosecutor, who now says he lied on an HBO documentary when he said he advised a judge to sentence Roman Polanski to prison for having sex with a minor, tried to explain his actions this way: “Embellishing a story sounded like a good idea."

“I’m known to the world as a liar. It’s mortifying,” David Wells told The Times. “But it’s my duty [now] to tell the truth.”

The on-camera statements by Wells in “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” were seized upon by Polanski’s defense attorneys, who say in court documents that Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband and Wells engaged in misconduct by improperly discussing the 1977 case behind closed doors.

Wells, who at the time of the alleged misconduct was not the assigned prosecutor on the case, claimed in the film that he spoke to Rittenband before sentencing and told the judge that Polanski deserved prison time.

He claimed that he suggested a way that the judge could sentence the director to prison by sending him to Chino State Prison for a 90-day “diagnostic testing,” despite a probation officer’s recommendation that Polanski serve no time behind bars. 

“That was not true,” Wells said. “I like to speak of it as an inept statement, but the reality is that it was a lie.”

Wells also said that he was only partly telling the truth when told the documentary maker that he showed the judge a photograph of Polanski with women in Germany at an Oktoberfest event. Rittenband had authorized Polanski to leave the country before his sentencing so that he could work on a movie.

In the documentary, Wells made it appear that he took the photograph into the judge’s chambers and told him that Polanski was “giving you the finger. He’s flipping you off.” But the former prosecutor said Wednesday that he was working in the judge’s courtroom when a local reporter handed him the photograph and asked him to pass it to the judge.

He said he handed the photo to one of the judge’s staff, who gave it in turn to Rittenband, who reacted angrily.

“He said, ‘This guy is going to state prison!’ And I said, ‘He’s thumbing his nose at you, your honor.’

"And that’s the only thing I said to him,” Wells said. “I never discussed this case with Judge Rittenband either on the record or off the record or in any other way.” Wells said he deeply regretted lying on the film.

Wells, 71, said that he made up the story, believing that the documentary would never been shown in the United States. The film was broadcast on HBO.

He said he decided to make the announcement public after the weekend arrest of Polanski, who fled the U.S. on the eve of sentencing after pleading guilty to sexual intercourse with a minor.

“Why am I owning up to it now? If Polanski does come back, that’s going to be an issue as to whether he can withdraw the plea,” Wells said.

Wells' statements in the HBO documentary make up a portion but far from all of the misconduct allegations Polanski's attorneys leveled at Rittenband for his handling of the original case. His attorneys cited interviews in the documentary in their unsuccessful effort to dismiss the case.

--Jack Leonard

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