Judge in Italy extends Haggis hotel detention

BRINDISI, Italy (AP) — A judge on Wednesday ordered Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis to remain in custody at his southern Italian hotel as Italian prosecutors continue to investigate a woman’s allegations that he allegedly had sex with her for two days without her consent, according to Italian media.

After conducting a hearing that lasted several hours at the Brindisi courthouse, judge Vilma Gilli issued the decision that extends his detention in the farmhouse in the countryside of Ostuni, a tourist town where he was to take part in an artistic festival this week, Corriere della Sera reported daily.

Calls Wednesday night to Gilli’s office went unanswered.

News agencies Ansa and LaPresse said Gilli had concluded that although Haggis, 69, who lives in the United States, did not pose a flight risk, there was the “danger” that the evidence could be compromised or that the alleged crime could be repeated.

Haggis’ lawyer, Michele Laforgia, said after the hearing that her client, in front of the judge, had reiterated his complete innocence and that he “hoped with hope” that he would eventually be exonerated.

“Paul Haggis answered all questions and explained what happened,” Laforgia told reporters outside the courthouse. “He declared himself, as he had already done just after the detention, totally innocent, in the sense that the relationship he had with this woman was totally consensual.”

While the woman’s allegations are under investigation, the 69-year-old Canadian-born director, producer and screenwriter was initially ordered on Sunday to remain detained at his guest residence on a farm in Ostuni, a popular tourist town in Puglia, the region forming the “heel” of the Italian peninsula.

Prosecutors said he was being investigated for aggravated sexual assault and aggravated bodily harm.

Prosecutors described the woman as young and foreign. State television and other Italian media said it was a 30-year-old Englishwoman who had known Haggis before he arrived in Ostuni.

Asked by a reporter what kind of relationship Haggis had with the woman, Laforgia said it was an “acquaintance relationship”.

The attorney said the defense is contesting a hospital report that said the woman suffered physical injuries.

“There are no signs of injury or signs of violence,” Laforgia said, adding, “I believe they (the investigators) misinterpreted the findings from the emergency room” at a hospital in Brindisi, where the woman was taken after telling authorities she had been sexually abused.

Haggis co-wrote, directed and produced “Crash,” which won the 2006 Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. He also wrote the screenplay for “Million Dollar Baby,” another Oscar winner.

He has had legal problems in recent years due to accusations of sexual misconduct by four women in the United States.

The lawyer also said Haggis told the judge that if his detention was revoked, he intended to stay in Italy anyway so he could clear himself completely.

Haggis “has every interest in being present” for the hearings and “in staying in Italy until his total innocence is definitively established, because, naturally, his life here and in the United States where he resides depends on it”, has said Laforgia.

Because Haggis does not speak Italian, he submitted written statements in English to the court throughout the hearing. Translations back and forth lengthened the length of the hearing, Laforgia said.

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Sandy A. Greer