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Authorities Rule Suicide in Death of ‘Fatal Vision’ Lawyer

April 24, 1991 GMT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Authorities on Wednesday ruled that a lawyer who assisted in the defense in the ″Fatal Vision″ murder case committed suicide amid reports that he was about to be indicted.

Dennis H. Eisman shot himself once in the chest while sitting in his parked car, said William Gilbert, chief investigator at the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office.

The body of the 50-year-old lawyer from suburban Rydal was found in his Porsche in a downtown parking garage Tuesday.

Gilbert said he based his ruling on the results of his own investigation and that of police.

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Eisman was a high-profile lawyer whose clients included drug dealers and organized crime figures. His chauffeured limousine carried vanity plates reading ″ACQUIT-U.″

An associate and friend said allegations that Eisman was involved in handling funds generated through sales of cocaine and marijuana were ″absolute nonsense.″

″There’s no way that Dennis ever did anything illegal or improper in his life,″ Elliott Tolan, a lawyer who shared Eisman’s office, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

But sources said federal prosecutors were ready to bring Eisman into court this week and were seeking his cooperation in surrendering for arraignment.

According to one source, an indictment naming Eisman was scheduled to be returned Wednesday.

Tolan said Eisman was ″concerned, but not despondent″ after learning he was about to be indicted on federal money-laundering charges.

″I can’t believe he would take his own life, it just wasn’t his style not to fight back,″ said fellow defense attorney Charles Peruto Sr.

Assistant U.S. attorney Paul Sarmousakis declined to comment, but said that six of 10 people already charged have pleaded guilty and that the investigation, which began in 1985, is continuing.

Others close to the case said some of those who admitted guilt had implicated Eisman.

Eisman and his former law partner, Bernard L. Segal, represented an Army Green Beret surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey McDonald, who was accused in 1970 of murdering his pregnant wife and two young daughters at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The case led to the book ″Fatal Vision″ by Joe McGinnis, which was the basis of a television movie.

Eisman and Segal represented McDonald during Army hearings that resulted in the dismissal of military charges, Segal said.

McDonald was convicted of the murders in federal court in 1980 and is serving three life prison terms. He has appealed his case three times to the U.S. Supreme Court and has recently requested a new trial.

Eisman helped Segal prepare one of the three Supreme Court appeals and worked with a team of lawyers to reopen the case a few years ago, according to Segal.