St. Augustine captain key to reopening case of late Hollywood starlet Natalie Wood

Hollywood and the celebrity news organizations were abuzz last week when police reopened the death investigation 30 years after actress Natalie Wood was said to have drowned. And a St. Augustine boat captain is at the center of the case. Dennis Davern, who now lives in St. Augustine, was captain of the boat owned by Wood and her husband, film and television actor Robert Wagner, according to a report in the St. Augustine Record. Thirty years after Wood disappeared, Davern has co-authored a book that pins the actress’ mysterious death on Wagner.

Not surprisingly, it’s Davern that now finds himself on trial in the court of public opinion as media and others try to figure out if Davern’s story is legit. And, if it is, why did he not tell police at the time? Davern was grilled on the Today show and by polarizing pit bull Nancy Grace. Wagner has not been charged with any crime to date. Wood, Wagner and actor Christopher Walken had gone out on the boat over Thanksgiving weekend in 1981. Davern writes the three had been drinking much of the day, when an argument boiled over. In his book, Davern wrote that Wagner became so angry that he smashed a bottle of wine on the table in the yacht’s main salon, causing everybody to shield themselves from the broken glass. Walken became upset and retreated to his stateroom, while Wagner chased Wood into the master stateroom to continue the argument, Davern said.

Shortly after that, Wagner told him that Wood was missing, Davern said. Davern admits that he did not initially tell police the truth. That makes Davern’s credibility dicey at best, and could present problems for the state. The credibility of a witness is crucial to prosecutors and our St. Augustine criminal defense firm will thoroughly examine all aspects of the case and find out if there might be a reason a witness might say something other than what really happened. The longer a case drags out and the more dishonesty the witness has in his or her background, the more that could raise doubt in the minds of a jury. If a criminal case goes to trial in Florida, the background of a witness is pretty much unknown to a jury. The only background information a jury gets to hear on any witness is whether or not the witness is a convicted felon and how many felonies the witness has been convicted of. Also, the jury can hear if the witness has been convicted of a “crime of dishonesty”. Some examples of crimes of dishonesty in Florida are theft crimes (grand theft, petty theft, dealing in stolen property) or worthless check crimes.

If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call Mussallem and Associate, PA at 904-365-5200 for a free consultation.