Victim or Perpetrator? The Tragic Case of Roman Polanski

By SPIEGEL Staff

Part 3: No Trace of Remorse


Polanski devotes an entire chapter of his autobiography to Samantha Gailey, and yet there is no trace of remorse in his writing. He describes the sex he had with a 13-year-old the way one might describe sex with a normal, adult woman, and he even claims that she enjoyed it. But he says nothing about the girl resisting his advances, or about the anal sex. There is no sense of reflection in his account of the incident. "How was I supposed to hit upon the crazy idea of seeing what happened as rape?" he writes.

Over the years, he was asked about the incident again and again in interviews. The more time passed, the surlier his reaction became. He felt persecuted, both by the American justice system and by the press, but tried to clear away the wreckage of his past. He remarried, this time to actress Emmanuelle Seigner, born in 1966, and the couple now has two children.

Photo Gallery

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Photo Gallery: Past Catches up with Polanski

Polanski paid a settlement to Samantha Gailey. Today her last name is Geimer and she lives on the Hawaiian island of Kauai with her family. Six years ago, when Polanski was nominated for an Oscar for his film "The Pianist," she wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times. "If he could resolve his problems, I'd be happy," she wrote. "I hope that would mean I'd never have to talk about this again. Sometimes I feel like we both got a life sentence." Earlier this year, she even petitioned a California court to have the charges against Polanski dismissed. She wants to finally be able to live in peace, instead of constantly being confronted with the details of what happened to her as a child.

Warrant for His Arrest

Polanski almost returned to the United States once. At the instigation of the district attorney and Polanski's attorney at the time, shortly after the proceedings were terminated in 1978, the judge who had initially heard the case was replaced for reasons of alleged conflict of interest. Polanski was to return to the United States, where he would receive a suspended sentence. But the deal fell through when the new judge allegedly demanded that the sentencing portion of the trial be broadcast on television. The judge later denied this.

Since then, there has been an international warrant for Polanski's arrest -- for more than 31 years now. According to the district attorney's office, seven attempts were made to execute the warrant in various countries -- seven in 31 years. It isn't that many.

In Germany there was only one attempt to arrest Polanski, in 2005. Interpol submitted a request to German authorities for the "determination of (Polanski's) whereabouts." It wanted the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) to find out where Polanski was living and to arrest him if necessary. BKA officials, coordinating their response with the German Justice Ministry and Foreign Ministry, responded by saying they would not search for Polanski in their computer systems, because anyone who read a newspaper knew that he lived in Paris.

Polanski could have continued living as a fugitive more or less indefinitely. Although he lacked the freedom to travel to Britain or Canada, let alone the United States, he was otherwise left alone.

In Custody

The fact that Roman Polanski is now in Swiss custody awaiting extradition, after 31 years has to do with a documentary film that revisited the case last year. The film, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," by director Marina Zenovich, does not gloss over Polanski's crime but it does reveal the problems with the case against him at the time and it also makes it clear that the judge felt that his reputation was more important than the case itself.

After the film was released Polanski's attorneys filed a petition in late 2008 to have the case dismissed and in July they accused the district attorney's office of having never seriously attempted to have Polanski arrested abroad because such an arrest would only have led to an investigation of the original proceedings. The attorneys' accusations may have been a mistake.

On Sept. 23, three days before Polanski's arrival in Switzerland, the US Justice Department sent a formal request to the Swiss Federal Office of Justice in Bern to have the director arrested.

Legal experts are now looking into whether Polanski can even be extradited. It partly depends on the countries' respective statutes of limitations, which are not the same in the United States as they are in Switzerland.

European-American Culture War

If he is extradited he is likely to receive a relatively minor sentence, according to the district attorney's office in Los Angeles. A 16-month prison term is currently being discussed in the US media, unless Polanski's lawyers push to have the case dismissed, which would be complicated but not impossible. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has already ruled out a pardon.

The Polanski case has turned into something of a European-American culture war, revolving around the question of whether Polanski is in fact a perpetrator or a victim. And whether it is possible that time can turn a perpetrator into a victim.

The legal proceedings in Switzerland could drag on for several more weeks. Bail negotiations failed when the court argued that there was a high risk that Polanski could flee if released from custody. The director's new film, "The Ghost," is currently scheduled to be shown at the Berlin Film Festival next February.

It would be interesting to know what Polanski is thinking -- and to hear his answer to the question posed by the employee of the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office.

LARS-OLAV BEIER, JOHN GOETZ, LOTHAR GORRIS, MARC HUJER, BRITTA SANDBERG, MARTIN WOLF

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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