Cathy Evelyn Smith, who was John Belushi's companion in his final, drug-sodden days, was ordered today to stand trial on charges that she murdered the comedian in March 1982.
The decision set the stage for a trial that could expose widespread drug use in the entertainment industry.
Smith's attorney, Howard Weitzman, said after today's ruling, "I don't know why they don't let John Belushi lie in peace. We go through a trial, and it will drag out all of Belushi's background and conduct."
Smith, 38, wept quietly as Superior Court Judge James Nelson ordered that she be arraigned Dec. 10 on one count of second-degree murder and 13 counts of administering drugs. If convicted of all charges, she could face a prison sentence of 17 years to life, said Deputy District Attorney Michael J. Montagna, one of the two prosecutors in the case.
"Surely Mr. Belushi issued the invitation to this dance, but it is an inherently dangerous dance, and the legislature has provided that the price for the piper in these instances is high," Nelson told the court.
Pamela Jacklin, the sister of Belushi's widow, said after Nelson announced his decision, "I think the judge was short and eloquent and I do hope it will get resolved soon, one way or the other."
The judge's order came after a lengthy pretrial hearing during which Weitzman argued that Smith was no more than an errand girl who supplied the drugs to feed Belushi's needs.
Shortly after noon on March 5, 1982, John Belushi was found dead in his $200-a-day bungalow at the Chateau Marmont hotel. Later that day, Smith arrived at the hotel driving Belushi's rented Mercedes and was taken into custody. Police questioned her for four hours before releasing her.
The day after Belushi's death, Cmdr. William Booth of the Los Angeles Police Department said his department had "no reason to suspect foul play by another person." As to Smith, whose name was then withheld, Booth added, "Almost by the time she got to the station she was no longer a suspect, if she was ever seriously considered a suspect."
But the death of John Belushi was not just another Hollywood drug death. With him died a stunningly brief career and a host of memorable characters -- the samurai tailor died, and so did the samurai optometrist and the short-order cook and the big killer bee, and all his other characters from "Saturday Night Live," and so did the gross fraternity brother Bluto from "Animal House" and Joliet Jake, the Blues Brother.
At his death, Belushi was 33 years old, fat and famous and just about as far from fit as a human being could be. The Los Angeles coroner's office announced after an autopsy that he died from acute heroin and cocaine poisoning.
Smith returned to her native Canada, where she had once worked as a backup singer for such recording artists as Gordon Lightfoot.
Then, in June 1982, Smith gave an interview to the National Enquirer in which she labeled herself as Belushi's murderer: "I killed John Belushi," she was quoted as saying. "I didn't mean to, but I am responsible." Smith told the Enquirer and other reporters that she had injected Belushi with cocaine and heroin numerous times over a five-day period prior to his death. The tape from that interview with free-lance writer Christopher Van Ness was played in court last month.
Judith Jacklin Belushi, his widow, publicly criticized the Los Angeles Police Department's "apparent failure to investigate this matter vigorously and take action against those who furnished the drugs which led to John's death."
In September 1982, the Los Angeles county district attorney's office called for a grand jury investigation. And in September 1984, a Canadian judge ordered Smith extradited to Los Angeles to face drug and murder charges. Smith appealed the ruling.
Last January, Smith came to Los Angeles voluntarily and Deputy District Attorney Montagna disclosed a plea bargain agreement worked out with Brian Greenspan, Smith's Canadian attorney. Montagna announced in court that Smith had agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter.
But outside the courtroom, Smith's Los Angeles lawyer, Howard Weitzman, said "details" for the plea bargain had not been worked out and added, "I may have a different viewpoint . . . with respect to how I think the case should be resolved." Smith later entered a plea of not guilty and thus began the full-scale preliminary hearing that ended today.