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Trial of 'train deaths' film producer under way
Posted By Sarah Foster On 08/03/1999 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled
For documentary producer Pat Matrisciana, exposing political corruption and lawlessness on the part of government officials is a responsibility, part of the job description of a video-journalist, not something to shy away from — not even if the president of the United States might be involved.
So when offered the opportunity to make a film dealing with the still-unsolved, 1987 double-homicide of teenage boys Kevin Ives and Don Henry, whose mutilated bodies were found on railroad tracks near their home west of Little Rock, Ark., and the subsequent cover-up by state and local officials, Matrisciana agreed wholeheartedly. He was familiar with the case having detailed it briefly in his earlier film, “The Clinton Chronicles,” which he began in the early ’90s.
The result was “Obstruction of Justice: the Mena Connection,” a hard-hitting documentary, released in April 1996, which pulled few punches and named names as it showed the alleged connection between the murders and cover-up by corrupt law enforcement officers, drug traffickers and President Bill Clinton. The film catapulted the “Train Deaths” case into national prominence.
“I’m a cause-oriented guy who looked at what had happened and decided to become involved,” Matrisciana, president of Jeremiah Films, the California-based company which produced the film, told WorldNetDaily.
But the 60-year-old film producer is being asked to pay dearly for his dedication in exposing the seamy-side of government.
Yesterday he took the stand in a Little Rock courtroom to defend himself in a multi-million dollar lawsuit.
Jay Campbell and Kirk Lane, two deputy sheriffs mentioned in “Obstruction of Justice,” are suing Matrisciana for $16 million alleging he intentionally defamed their reputations by naming them as suspects in the case.
Specifically, the script says, “Eyewitnesses have implicated Jay Campbell and Kirk Lane in the murders and subsequent cover-up.” They are also named in another section.
“This is a frivolous lawsuit with no legal merit and no basis in fact,” said Little Rock attorney John Wesley Hall, who represents the defendants. “We don’t have to prove that they killed the boys. They have to prove that they didn’t.”
The two teenagers were killed the night of Aug. 22-23, 1987, their bodies found on the Union Pacific railroad tracks having been run over by a northbound Union Pacific train near Little Rock. The area was reputed to be a drop point in the drug smuggling operation centered at Mena, though Mena is over 100 miles west.
Then-Governor Bill Clinton’s state medical examiner, Fahmy Malek, ruled the deaths accidental, claiming that the boys had fallen asleep on the tracks in a marijuana-induced stupor. But a second autopsy, performed by an out-of-state pathologist upon the demand of Kevin’s mother, Linda,
concluded that the boys had been murdered and their bodies placed on the tracks. The autopsy also showed that Kevin’s head had been crushed prior to his body being laid on the tracks and that Don Henry had been stabbed repeatedly.
In 1988 a county grand jury headed by Dan Harmon ruled the deaths a homicide. No one was ever brought to justice. Not then, not now. Nor has anyone been brought to justice for the half-dozen or so violent deaths of potential witnesses to the crimes — some of them ruled “accidental” — as were Kevin’s and Don’s.
For years Linda Ives — who has become a full-time crusader for justice — tried to rally public support and to urge an investigation into allegations that were being made by various people implicating Lane and Campbell as central figures in the murders.
According to Ives, witnesses saw two men answering descriptions of Lane and Campbell beating the boys in the parking lot of a market, then forcing them into an unmarked patrol car. Ives believes Kevin and Don had witnessed a drug drop that night in the countryside outside the town of Alexander, were seen, then kidnapped at the parking lot where they had run to — and taken up on the mountain for the killing. Their bodies were laid on the tracks where they were certain to be run over by the train, thus making the deaths appear accidental.
“I’ve known about them (Lane and Campbell) since 1988,” Linda Ives told WorldNetDaily, adding that the information came from “a number of different sources.”
“For years I’ve begged investigative agencies — whoever was doing an investigation at the time — to look at these guys,” Ives recalled. “I begged the State Police, to look at them, the U.S. Attorney to look at them, the FBI to look at them — and in Lane and Campbell’s own words, they have never been interviewed or interrogated by anybody in spite of the fact that they had numerous sources and witnesses who implicated them.”
Asked where she first heard the allegations, Ives recalled it was Dan Harmon who first told her Lane and Campbell were suspects.
Harmon — a friend of Bill Clinton — is currently serving time in federal prison on charges of drug trafficking. He is expected to be called as a witness for the plaintiffs.
M. Darren O’Quinn, an attorney with the Little Rock law firm of Dover & Dixon, is representing Campbell and Land in the lawsuit. According to O’Quinn, “Obstruction of Justice” made inaccurate claims that Matrisciana had eyewitnesses who implicated Campbell and Lane in the murders.
“When we went to discovery,” said O’Quinn, “we found out they didn’t have any eyewitnesses. They had double hearsay, but they didn’t have any witnesses who made those statements. We’re saying it was reckless to say so in the video.”
Not so, said Jean Duffey, a former county prosecuting attorney and the former head of a 1990 drug task force investigating official corruption in Saline County, Ark., where the murders took place.
“The statement would be libelous if it weren’t true, but the fact is — it’s true,” said Duffey, who worked with Ives and Matrisciana on the video. “Suspects from the early police investigation have named them. They have been implicated in the murders. Not only that, I think we can prove they are the murderers.”
Proving the allegations would be much simpler if potential eyewitnesses were not fearful of coming forward to testify.
Matrisciana would be the first to admit the risk.
“We made a film dealing with drug dealers, law enforcement and politicians. That’s a dangerous mix,” he said. “There had been several murders, and ‘Obstruction of Justice’ goes through the names of people that were right there.”
Matrisciana recalled that his cameraman, John Hillyer, who worked with him on the “Clinton Chronicles” and “Obstruction of Justice” died under very strange circumstances in 1996, and was “fearful” for his safety.
“John thought his life was in danger — and we had experienced a lot of harassment when we were doing the films,” recalled Matrisciana. “We were followed; we were harassed. So he was very concerned. He called me from Atlanta (where he was living) and told me he had heard there was a drug that could be given to someone, and it would look like he died of a heart attack.
“I started laughing and said, ‘John, you’re so healthy, it would never come off like a heart attack.’ He said he knew, but figured that’s what they’d do.
“A couple of months later he phoned and said he had some vital information. We figured our phones were tapped and that we couldn’t discuss it over the phone, but planned to make arrangements to meet. Three days later, John died of a heart attack in the dentist’s office. About a year ago his widow sent us some videos he had made of himself, saying he was afraid he was going to be killed,” Matrisciana said.
“I don’t know if he was murdered,” Matrisciana admitted, “But it was strange.”
Strange, too, was the plane crash, June 14, which took the life of Matrisciana’s friend David Drye, a Concord, N.C., builder and well-known businessman, his wife Ann, his vice president of construction and the pilot. The plane — a two-engine prop — crashed as it was taking off from Concord Regional Airport. According to the Charlotte Observer, the pilot — Kelly Ward — told air traffic controllers that his right engine was losing power just before the accident.
“He was a dear friend of mine,” said Matrisciana, “but the strange thing is that I was scheduled to fly with him to Washington and had to cancel out two hours before I was supposed to meet him in North Carolina. He made other plans and went on the plane. The plane crash was very suspicious — and it’s under investigation.”
“I can’t help but wonder if that crash weren’t really for me,” said Matrisciana. “There have been so many accidents and unexplained deaths.”
Regarding the libel suit, Matrisciana said he plans to defend his rights as a journalist under the First Amendment. “I haven’t defamed anyone,” he said, “I simply presented the facts and stated the evidence. There was no malice, no reckless disregard for the truth. In fact, if it weren’t for my video the truth might never be told and justice might never be done in this case.”
Since the lawsuit involves crucial First Amendment issues, WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah will be giving testimony as an expert witness for the defense.
A jury of seven women and five men was impaneled Monday and opening arguments presented at 1:00 p.m. The case is expected to last all week.
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