After months of silence, the Hagel and Smith families were losing their patience with Royal Caribbean. By Thanksgiving it had been almost five months since George’s death. The cruise line had released no information about the circumstances surrounding George Smith’s disappearance.
As soon as Jennifer Hagel retained our firm to represent her, we retained forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee. I had met Dr. Lee for the first time in August 2005 before I was hired on this case, when the Larry King Live show invited me and others to discuss the cruise disappearance. Dr. Lee was also on the program and he mentioned the types of tests which would be appropriate to conduct in a case like this.
Once we were involved in the case, we immediately requested Royal Caribbean to permit us to board the cruise ship with Dr. Lee and his team of forensic scientists and detectives. We wanted to inspect the Smith’s cabin and balcony, and the awning below the balcony. We were interested in re-tracing George’s final hours on the ship, as well as the paths that the four passengers of interest (Greg Rozenberg, Zachery Rozenberg, Rusty Kofman, and Josh Askin) may have traversed between the Smith’s cabin and their respective cabins.
The cruise line finally agreed on an inspection when the Brilliance of the Seas was in port in January 2006. However, it insisted that we agree to limit our inspection to only two hours. It also insisted that we agree to a confidentiality agreement and never disclose to the press the results of Dr. Lee’s inspection.
Of course it was impossible to conduct a thorough inspection and analysis of the cabin, balcony and awning in just two hours. We also refused the "gag" agreement. The rushed initial investigation by the Turkish police and the cruise line’s secrecy were part of the problems in the first place.
We made arrangements for Dr. Lee and his team to arrive in Miami over the weekend before the Monday morning inspection. Royal Caribbean acquiesced to a ship inspection with no time limitation, but it insisted on the gag agreement. As of 6:00 PM Friday evening when I left the office, Royal Caribbean would not budge on this issue – if we did not agree, then we would not be permitted to board the cruise ship.
Over the weekend, however, Royal Caribbean sent us a facsimile stating that it was withdrawing the request for confidentiality. On Monday morning, we arrived at the port and began the inspection which lasted all day. Although I was paying for Dr. Lee and his team, I made certain to invite the maritime attorney for the Smith family, Brett Rivkind, to monitor the ship inspection so the Smith family could stay informed.
Dr. Lee and his team photographed, video-graphed, measured, and tested virtually every inch of the cabin, balcony and awning. He found biological materials on the balcony and on the awning, which he turned over to the FBI. We finally learned where Jennifer Hagel was found on the ship, and we learned the location of the cabins for the other passengers of interest.
The cruise line was actually very accommodating to Dr. Lee during the ship inspection. The only lack of cooperation from Royal Caribbean came when Dr. Lee wanted to conduct an experiment tossing a mannequin over the railing – which we will discuss next.
This article is part of a series of articles this week: Disappearance of George Smith IV – Six Years Later.
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Photo credits: CNN, MSNBC