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Trial Ends, But Not Tragedy, For Actor Carroll O’Connor

February 17, 1996 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ What Carroll O’Connor wanted, in lieu of his son’s life, was justice. The actor campaigned for it, with police, and through the media, in tones angry and unrelenting.

Nearly a year after Hugh O’Connor’s drug-related suicide, the father saw his son’s pusher ordered to jail. O’Connor’s tears still flow, but he says he has found satisfaction that Harry Perzigian, ``that little rat,″ got what he deserved.

Satisfaction, but no comfort.

``Nothing will help,″ O’Connor said Friday, the day after Perzigian was sentenced to a year in jail. ``Our lives have changed. My wife’s and mine, and his widow. She will never get over this. She loved him terribly.″

So did O’Connor. He fought for his son while he was alive, trying to help him break cocaine’s hold and to snap the drug pipeline.

Warnings were left on Perzigian’s answering machine: ``My message to you is stop selling my son Hugh drugs, or I’m coming after you.″ Carroll O’Connor hired a private detective to investigate him.

Then O’Connor went to police. It was a week before Hugh, 32, fatally shot himself at his Los Angeles area home.

``I came forward and said `Here’s this guy, I got his name from my son’s wife, and this is his telephone number,″ O’Connor recounted. He shared the private eye’s report: that Perzigian, 40, had property, money, no apparent job and was known on the street as a pusher.

Police began looking into the case immediately _ a result, perhaps, of his tremendous ``All in the Family″ TV fame and his role as a sympathetic lawman on the series ``In the Heat of the Night.″

Then, on March 28, O’Connor received a suicidal phone call from Hugh. He urged him to seek help again for his 16-year addiction. His son’s reply: ``No, I think I’m going to cap myself today.″

Carroll O’Connor called police; they arrived too late. (Hugh’s survivors are his wife Angela Clayton and their 2-year-old son Sean Carroll O’Connor.)

That same night, the 71-year-old actor’s crusade became fiercer and became public. The child he and wife Nancy adopted as a baby in Rome, where O’Connor was filming ``Cleopatra,″ was gone.

``These dealers, they kill people,″ he told reporters outside his son’s home, holding back tears. ``They make a living giving people the means to kill themselves. Harry, I want to see you someday.″

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O’Connor saw him in court. He was a fixture during Perzigian’s trial that ended with a conviction last month for possessing cocaine for sale and furnishing cocaine to Hugh O’Connor.

Besides the jail time, which could be whittled to 90 days, Perzigian was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, perform community service and serve three years’ probation.

Carroll O’Connor said he’s satisfied the judge handed down the maximum sentence allowed, honoring the law: ``I’m not a believer in lengthy or harsh or cruel punishments.″

But that doesn’t mean the actor, who recently joined the Fox TV series ``Party of Five,″ will abandon the fight against Perzigian and other drug suppliers.

O’Connor plans to work on implementing state law that would make it easier to pursue wrongful death civil suits against pushers and would improve the chances of uncovering tax law violations for unreported income.

``I think Carroll did exactly what a father should do,″ said writer Dominick Dunne, whose own daughter was slain. ``There’s some sense of justice in having him (Perzigian) be sent away, there’s some sense of honoring your child whom you have lost.″