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Natalie Wood case reopened: Could investigation lead to new charges?

L.A. police reopened the case concerning the death of Natalie Wood in 1981, but experts say convincing evidence is needed to bring new charges – and new allegations aren't enough.  

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"Was the fight between Natalie Wood and her husband Robert Wagner what ultimately led to her death?" NBC host Mr. Gregory asked during the interview on Friday.

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"Yes," Davern replied.

Some observers say it’s possible that Davern might indeed want to clear his conscience after so many years of carrying guilt.

“Often, many years after an incident, people are in different situations – find religion, are no longer frightened – and come ahead with new information,” says Tony Celano, CEO of Full Security Inc. and former a New York Police Department detective squad commander. “Time can make people more cooperative.”

But many legal analysts speculate that Davern’s motive in contradicting his own testimony could be that he was recently interviewed for a collaboration between Vanity Fair magazine and the television series “48 Hours Mystery,” which will run Saturday and commemorate the 30th anniversary of Wood's death. He might be seeking publicity for himself or for the book he co-authored, called “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour,” which was published in September 2009.

"There's essentially zero chance of a prosecution arising out of this, unless something very, very sensational arises, and I think there's essentially zero chance of that,” says Joel Jacobsen, assistant attorney general, criminal appeals division for New Mexico.

He posits that that the sheriff's department might be proceeding cautiously to avoid being accused of a coverup in a high-profile case.

“Cops are used to tracking down bum information and leads that go nowhere, so it's really not a big deal for them, and it seems reasonable to process the information on the 'Why not?' principle,” says Mr. Jacobsen.

Such old cases usually are pursued by police and taken to court by prosecutors only after the painstaking, long-term efforts of a cold case squad – “not under this type of circumstance,” adds Elisabeth Cawthon, a historian at the University of Texas, Arlington, in an e-mail. “Is there a possibility that the case could be genuinely (as opposed to technically) re-opened and an indictment handed down? I would say only a minuscule chance, particularly given the strong opinions from Natalie Wood's family that her death was a genuine accident.”

At the news conference today, Lt. John Corina said that Wagner is not a suspect, without revealing why. Wagner spokesman Alan Nierob released a statement:

"Although no one in the Wagner family has heard from the L.A. County Sheriff's department about this matter, they fully support the efforts of the L.A. County Sheriff's Dept. and trust they will evaluate whether any new information relating to the death of Natalie Wood Wagner is valid, and that it comes from a credible source or sources other than those simply trying to profit from the 30-year anniversary of her tragic death."

IN PICTURES: Photos of the day

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