February 02, 2018

Robert Wagner, the actor and husband of the late actress Natalie Wood, has been dubbed a "person of interest" in her death. An investigator for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department made this claim in an interview scheduled to air on CBS's "48 Hours" on Saturday, February 3, as part of a special titled "Natalie Wood: Death and Dark Water."
The show will examine her death and the surrounding circumstances. While the show may very well make for good TV, viewers should be careful not to equate convincing television theories and speculation, with the evidence necessary for a successful prosecution.
It should be noted that a "person of interest" designation is merely the tag ascribed to an individual who is under investigation by police, and is being looked at very closely. It falls short of officially being named a "suspect" or an actual "defendant", who is the person being directly accused of committing the crime.
Was it a shocking, unfortunate, and tragic accident? Or was it something more sinister -- like murder? That's what investigators are endeavoring to determine some 37 years after the fact.
It was November 29, 1981, when the beautiful and talented actress, then 43, went missing from her family yacht, The Splendour, off California's Santa Catalina Island. Her body was found a short time later floating only a mile away in the Pacific. A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department issued a statement Thursday night that Wagner is now a " person of interest" because new witnesses have provided statements that "portray a new sequence of events on the boat that night."
Rumors swirled at the time about how it happened, why it happened, and whether someone — other than Wood -- might be responsible for her demise. The focus immediately turned to her husband, then-51-year-old actor Robert Wagner, with whom she was married twice. The first marriage, in 1957, lasted only five years — while their second marriage, which began in 1972, appeared solid and loving, at least until her untimely death.
An investigation ensued but was closed only two weeks later, when the coroner, Thomas T. Noguchi, found that Wood slipped and subsequently drowned.
At the time she went missing, there were only three other people on the yacht -- her husband, Wagner; fellow actor Christopher Walken; and yacht captain Dennis Davern. All three were interviewed and told investigators what they knew. Though suspicion and speculation continued, there was no basis to conclude that Wood's death was anything other than an accident.
Wagner initially gave his rendition of events to investigators when the incident occurred. He has denied any involvement in Wood's death.
Fast forward 30 years to 2011. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department reopened the investigation citing "substantial new evidence." While investigators have not said what specific "new evidence" exists, it appears from the information publicly available that they are likely troubled by at least three factors: 1) the ever-evolving stories of the only witnesses; 2) fresh bruises identified on the autopsy report on Wood's body, arms, and left cheek, which could be consistent with an assault; and 3) the silence of her former husband, Wagner -- who has refused to talk to investigators, and was the last person to see her alive. It's hard to imagine, however, how any of these factors would substantially advance the case, or how any of this could be viewed as "new evidence."
When the case was reopened in 2011, Wagner's publicist issued a statement saying that Wagner's family trusted that the LA Sheriff's Department would "evaluate whether any new information relating to the death of Natalie Wood Wagner is valid, and that it comes from a credible source or sources other than those simply trying to profit from the 30-year anniversary of her tragic death."
To date, they have not arrested Wagner -- though Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Lt. John Corina told "48 Hours" that "I think he's constantly changed his story a little bit. And his version of events just don't add up." Investigators are also placing reliance on Davern, who admitted in 2011 in an interview on NBC's "Today Show" that he lied during the initial investigation. His new story has been that there was a fight on the boat that somehow resulted in Wood's death. When asked why he was coming forward after, at the time, 30 years, he said "I've been trying to tell information about this for many, many years, but there wasn't really anyone listening until now."
For those wondering how this case could potentially be prosecuted now, remember, there is no statute of limitations on murder -- the state can pursue a case at any time. But no matter how many years later such a case may be presented, the evidentiary rules remain the same: First, it would be necessary to prove the case "beyond a reasonable doubt." That is, speculation, innuendo, and shifting hypotheses just won't do. Second, although the state never would have to prove motive, inquiring minds always want to know. A jury would wonder why a man who married a woman twice would want her dead. And if authorities haven't been able to answer that question for nearly 40 years, it's unlikely a compelling reason will magically surface now.
Third, juries like to hear credible evidence. And while Davern changed his story 30 years later, during the 2011 investigation to point to nefarious conduct, he would open himself up to a bevy of questions by skilled defense attorneys: "Were you lying then, or are you lying now?" "And by the way, how many times have you been interviewed in the last 30-plus years? Do any of those stories match the one you're deciding to reveal now?"
I can't imagine that the former captain's answers to these questions would be too persuasive.
And as to Wagner, he's simply not talking. There's something called the Fifth Amendment that gives him the absolute right to remain silent -- lest he incriminate himself. While investigators might not like it, and even deem it suspicious, no jury will ever be permitted to infer that his silence equates with guilt. In fact, a judge will specially instruct the jury not to do so. So while investigators may be upset, and the public may look at Wagner cross-eyed, his silence is the most appropriate legal course of action to take and can't be used against him.
And finally, on the topic of evidence: How many other witnesses can the state produce, and what can they remember? Evidence gets pretty stale after almost four decades. Besides, will any witness produced by the State in a potential prosecution be able to say they told that story before? If not, why not and why now?
All that said, I'll be watching CBS on Saturday night, and taking note of the compelling theories pointing to Wagner's alleged guilt. But I'll also be mindful of the most pertinent fact that I can direct an audience to remember: Hollywood theories and courtroom convictions are about as far apart as the conflicting stories Davern told investigators in 1981 and in 2011.
And so while this, and any murder, may be prosecuted at any time, I doubt this one will see a courtroom anytime soon. And in the unlikely event that it does, reasonable doubt will rule the day.
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Star Wars Director Says It's About Time A Woman Makes A Star Wars Movie
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Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Sharmeed Obaid-Chinoy is directing an upcoming Star Wars movie that brings back Daisy Ridley in the role of Rey. Obaid-Chinoy will become the first woman to direct a Star Wars film, dating back to the franchise's origins in the 1970s. Speaking about this, Obaid-Chinoy told CNN that she is "very thrilled" to make the movie and create something that is "very special.""We're in 2024 now, and I think it's about time we had a woman come forward to shape the story in a galaxy far, far away," she said.Obaid-Chinoy won Best Documentary, Short Subjects Academy Awards for Saving Face (2012) and A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (2015).In 2020, Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy told the BBC that a woman would eventually direct a Star Wars movie, saying that would "absolutely" happen, "without question." Victoria Mahoney was a second unit director on The Rise of Skywalker, but a woman has never claimed a top directing credit on a Star Wars movie.On the TV side of things, The Mandalorian has featured a number of female directors, including Deborah Chow and Bryce Dallas Howard. Chow went on to direct the Obi-Wan TV series, too.Another high-profile franchise that has never had a female director is James Bond. Producer Barbara Broccoli and Skyfall director Sam Mendes have both said they want to see a woman direct a future 007 film.As for Obaid-Chinoy's Star Wars movie, little is known about it apart from the fact that Ridley will come back to play Rey. It is expected that this film will be the first of the three new Star Wars films to come to theaters, possibly releasing in December 2025.According to a report, Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight is writing the Rey movie, taking over for Damon Lindelof and Justin Britt-Gibson.
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NBA Names Clare Akamanzi CEO Of NBA Africa
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The NBA named Clare Akamanzi – an accomplished business executive and international trade and investment lawyer – as CEO of NBA Africa. Akamanzi will start her position on Jan. 23, 2024, and report to NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum. In this role, Akamanzi will oversee the NBA’s business and basketball development efforts in Africa and will be responsible for continuing to grow the popularity of basketball, the NBA and the Basketball Africa League (BAL) across the continent, including through grassroots basketball development, media distribution, corporate partnerships, and social responsibility initiatives that improve the livelihoods of African youth and families. For the last six and a half years, Akamanzi was CEO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), where she spearheaded Rwanda’s economic development by enabling private sector growth. Under Akamanzi’s leadership, RDB implemented several business policy reforms and initiatives that led to significant investment and development for the country, including through partnerships with the BAL, Arsenal FC, Paris Saint-Germain FC, FC Bayern Munich and TIME Magazine, among others. “Clare’s business acumen, international experience and familiarity with basketball and the NBA make her the ideal executive to lead our business in Africa,” says Tatum. “NBA Africa and the Basketball Africa League are well-positioned for continued growth, and under Clare’s leadership we believe these initiatives will transform economies, communities and lives across the continent.” “I’ve seen firsthand how sports can positively impact businesses, families and communities in Africa, and the NBA and the BAL are a perfect example of that,” says Akamanzi. “The NBA has done an incredible job growing basketball and the economy around it across the continent, and I’m excited about the enormous opportunities ahead to build on that momentum.” Previously, Akamanzi was Chief Operating Officer of RDB and Head of Strategy and Policy Unit, Office of the President of the Republic of Rwanda. She has extensive international trade, business and diplomatic experience, having previously worked for the Rwandan Government at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland and at the Rwandan Embassy in London, England. Akamanzi has worked or studied in seven different countries and holds an honorary LLD from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, in recognition of her work in Rwanda. She earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was the recipient of three prestigious awards for academic excellence and distinguished contribution to the community: the Lucius N. Littauer Fellows Award, the Raymond & Josephine Vernon Award and the Robert Kennedy Public Service Award. In addition, Akamanzi holds a Master of Laws degree in international trade and investments from the University of Pretoria in South Africa, and a Bachelor of Laws degree from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Akamanzi has served on several company boards, including the World Health Organization (WHO) Foundation, ECOBANK and Aviation, Travel and Logistics (ATL) company. She was recognized by Forbes as one of Africa’s Top 50 Powerful Women in 2020.
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