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Subject: Vasilios Choulos, 75, Who Defended 60's Figures

March 17
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Date Posted: March 24, 2003 2:43:01 EDT

Vasilios Choulos, a San Francisco trial lawyer who rose to national prominence defending counterculture figures of the 1960's, died in a Marin County hospital. He was 75 and lived in Mill Valley.

The cause was emphysema.

A former partner of the flamboyant Melvin Belli, Mr. Choulos was a member of the defense team for Jack Ruby, the Texas nightclub owner who shot and killed the accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, in 1963. He also represented Lenny Bruce, Abby Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Timothy Leary.

Mr. Choulos was perhaps best known for organizing the escape of an accused drug dealer, Joel David Kaplan, from a Mexican prison in 1971. Convinced by Mr. Kaplan's sister that her brother had been framed, Mr. Choulos and three associates flew a helicopter into the prison yard, scooped up Mr. Kaplan and carried him away.

The jailbreak became the basis for the 1975 Charles Bronson film "Breakout."

The 18-year partnership between Mr. Choulos and Mr. Belli dissolved in 1980 amid accusations of disloyalty and betrayal. Mr. Choulos eventually opened his own firm, and practiced law until his death, specializing in product-liability cases.

Mr. Choulos is survived by his wife, Laura, five children, and 10 grandchildren.

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