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Woody Harrelson Dad Seeks New Trial

August 3, 1998 GMT

DENVER (AP) _ A law enforcement officer testified today he pursued leads involving suspects other than Charles Harrelson in the murder of a federal judge in Texas nearly 20 years ago.

Jack Compton, now the Alice, Texas, police chief, said the leads were based on information from convicted murdered Roberto Riojas.

``He never did say the discussions involved (U.S. District Judge John H. Wood Jr.),″ Compton said. ``He did say they discussed putting a hit on a top-level official.″

Defense attorneys have said in court filings that FBI agents failed to follow up on those leads.

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Harrelson, the father of actor Woody Harrelson, is seeking a new trial in the Wood murder based on prosecutorial misconduct and incompetent defense work.

Woody Harrelson entered the courtroom a few minutes before the hearing began today and hugged his father’s attorney, David Michael. The younger Harrelson walked into the second row of benches but then decided he wanted to sit in the front row, so he climbed over the top.

Compton was the first witness to testify in a federal court hearing that is expected to last two or three days.

Defense attorneys argue statements Riojas gave to authorities implicated others in a plot to kill Wood. Charles Harrelson received two life sentences for the 1979 contract slaying in San Antonio, Texas.

The 59-year-old Harrelson has been held at a federal maximum security prison in Florence since trying to break out of an Atlanta federal prison in 1995. The prison holds Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, another other notorious criminals.

Now, the senior Harrelson’s legal dream team, including one of the lawyers who represented O.J. Simpson, will ask U.S. District Court Judge Fred Biery to throw out his convictions.

Justice Department spokesman John Russell called the Harrelson matter ``our most significant case.″

``It’s one of the most notorious murders in recent times when you have a federal judge shot down in cold blood,″ Russell said. ``(Former Attorney General Griffin Bell and former FBI Director William Webster) placed this case and its prosecution as one of the most serious in the history of the department.″

Harrelson is represented by Corpus Christi, Texas, lawyer Bill May, along with Michael of San Francisco and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who represented Simpson.

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``He did not get a fair trial,″ Michael told the San Antonio Express-News in Sunday’s editions. ``Absolutely. Without a doubt.

``It’s like George Orwell said, `It’s the obvious that has to be continually restated.′ ″

Based on his pre-hearing affidavit, Harrelson will argue _ as he has all along _ that he was 270 miles away in Dallas when Wood received a fatal rifle shot to the back.

Another part of Harrelson’s strategy apparently is to discredit a key witness who testified against him 16 years ago.

Drug dealers hired Charles Harrelson to assassinate Wood the morning of May 29, 1979, as the jurist left his Alamo Heights townhouse.

An investigation into Wood’s death was bigger and more expensive than the investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.