Witness jailed for refusing to testify before panel investigating Simpson pal

September 08, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- A man who says he gave prosecutors a tip in the O. J. Simpson double-murder case and now fears for his life was jailed yesterday for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating Mr. Simpson's friend, Al Cowlings.

John Michael Dunton was arrested in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Stephen Czuleger, who found him in contempt last week after Mr. Dunton responded to a grand jury subpoena but refused to answer questions.

Mr. Dunton's lawyer, Robert D. Rentzer, said afterward that Mr. Dunton is willing to stay jailed for the 10 months that remain in the grand jury term rather than divulge information that he was assured would be kept secret.

Mr. Rentzer would not divulge that information or how it could endanger his client, but he emphasized that Mr. Dunton is not fearful of Mr. Simpson or anyone close to the former athlete.

In an interview with a Los Angeles television station weeks ago, but not broadcast until Sept. 1, Mr. Dunton said he learned secondhand that two people were involved in the June 12 slayings of Mr. Simpson's former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman, and that a third person might have witnessed the crime.

Mr. Simpson's lawyers have contended that the murders could not have been carried out by one person, as the prosecution contends.

A police source said yesterday that although authorities have received several tips suggesting more than one suspect in the Simpson case, none has panned out.

Since Mr. Dunton's interview, another television station has reported that he had past brushes with the law. Mr. Rentzer would not comment yesterday on that report, but he referred to it in the appearance before Judge Czuleger, telling the judge that his client "paid for what he had done 10 years ago."

When pressed by reporters to divulge what Mr. Dunton knows, Mr. Rentzer would only say that what Mr. Dunton gave to prosecutors was nonspecific and was meant to "point the district attorney in the direction."

Mr. Dunton considers it a breach of the confidentiality he was promised by the district attorney's office that he was subpoenaed before the grand jury, his lawyer said.

The panel is investigating whether Mr. Cowlings or anyone else helped Mr. Simpson try to flee police the day Mr. Simpson was to surrender as a suspect in the slayings. Mr. Dunton has no information on that matter, Mr. Rentzer said.

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