Pubdate: Sun, 17 Sep 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Valerie Hauch
Page: A15


After getting arrested at Pearson for drug possession, trial was like
a 'nightmare' for legendary star

In 1969, legendary rock musician Jimi Hendrix declared Canada had
given him "the best Christmas present" when a Toronto jury acquitted
him of drug possession charges.

He had been arrested when he arrived at Toronto airport for a
performance seven months earlier. Sadly for local Hendrix fans, it
would be his last visit to this country and indeed, his last
Christmas. The "Purple Haze" songwriter died 10 months later.

"Canada has given me the best Christmas present I ever had," the
relieved 27-year-old rock star declared on leaving a Toronto courtroom
in early December 1969. His comments followed a three-day trial on
charges of illegal possession of narcotics, specifically heroin and
hashish residue.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience was scheduled to give an evening
performance at Maple Leaf Gardens on Saturday, May 3. That morning,
the band members flew into Toronto (now Pearson) International
Airport. Moments after Hendrix stepped off the plane, a bottle
containing three packets of heroin and a tube with hashish residue was
found in his flight bag.

Police detained Hendrix for four hours, while a police lab confirmed
the suspicious substances were illegal drugs. Hendrix was arrested,
charged, photographed and released on $10,000 bail and then given a
police escort to Maple Leaf Gardens, where 10,000 fans were waiting
for the 8 p.m. concert to begin.

He didn't talk about his arrest on stage that night, although he
improvised the song "Red House,'' adding the line "as soon as I get
out of jail, I wanna see her." News of his arrest was slow to surface.
It didn't appear in the Star until the Monday paper two days later,
when music critic Jack Batten made a passing reference to the fact
that Hendrix was "incidentally out on bail" in his rave review of the
Saturday concert. Batten called the show "utterly, candidly erotic."
Hendrix, dressed in "tight crimson pants, purple shirt slit to his
navel" was the "embodiment of 1969 sex."

The same day the review was published, Hendrix appeared in an Old City
Hall courtroom filled with young fans. The three-minute arraignment in
front of Judge Fred Hayes was mostly noteworthy for his colourful
attire - he wore a pink shirt open to the waist, a multicoloured scarf
around his neck, and an Apachestyle headband. June 19 was set for his
preliminary hearing. When Hendrix appeared, he was dressed in a suit.
Judge Robert Taylor set a trial date of Dec. 8.

It went on for three days. Then an all-male jury deliberated for eight
hours before acquitting James Marshall Hendrix on both charges -
avoiding a maximum seven-year-prison term on each count.

He'd celebrated his 27th birthday shortly before trial - on Nov. 27.
He would not see his next one.

The musician described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as "arguably
the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music" died at a
London, England, hotel on Sept. 18, 1970, of asphyxia, from vomit
inhalation following a barbiturate overdose. Speculation continues
today as to whether the overdose was an accident, deliberate or foul

But when Hendrix won his court case Dec. 10, 1969, and emerged around
9 p.m. from York County Courthouse into a wet Toronto snowfall, he
appeared to be on top of the world - grinning, flashing a peace sign
and escorted by two beaming female admirers.

In an interview after his acquittal, with the Star's Marilyn Dunlop
outside the courthouse, Hendrix explained why he had used drugs in the

"Sometimes people are too sensitive, as I was," he told Dunlop. "So
they find something, maybe drugs, to make them feel better, brighter
and bolstered." He said as he became more successful and met more
people, "I saw a lot of good things and a lot of bad things. Some of
the bad things happened because of drugs . . . Look what happened to
me, even when I don't use them anymore."

During his trial before a jury and County Court Judge Joseph Kelly,
Hendrix admitted having smoked marijuana, hashish and taken LSD and
cocaine, but never heroin. He testified that his cannabis use had
declined over the previous year. Conservatively clad in a blue blazer
and ascot tie, Hendrix told the court: "I feel I have outgrown it."

The bottle containing heroin packets and a tube with hashish residue,
found in his flight bag, was not his, Hendrix testified.

He told the court that people were constantly giving him gifts and he
often didn't look at them closely. He testified that there'd been a
party in his Los Angeles hotel room. He'd complained of an upset
stomach and a girl had handed him a bottle with what he thought was
the antacid Bromo-Seltzer. He threw it in his bag. He said he didn't
know how the tube with hashish residue got in his bag.

To make the possession charges stick, the Crown had to prove Hendrix
knew drugs were in his bag.

There was some testimony to back up Hendrix's claims. His lawyer, John
O'Driscoll, called United Press International reporter Sharon Lawrence
to the stand.

She told the court that while she was trying to interview Hendrix she
had seen a girl hand him a bottle after he had mentioned a stomach
ache and he had put it in his bag, Lawrence said.

The court also heard that Hendrix expressed "surprise" to Toronto
customs official Mervin Wilson, who found the packets of white powder
(later determined to be heroin) when he pulled them out of the
musician's bag. The Star's story quoted Wilson as saying that Hendrix
told him "oh no, I really don't know what it is," when he showed him
the packets.

The court was also told that Hendrix was examined by police and had no
needle tracks on his arms, nor was any heroin paraphernalia found.

The defence implied someone had put drugs in Hendrix's luggage as part
of a setup. Indeed, a story in Rolling Stone magazine shortly after
his arrest speculated just that, implying that whoever was involved
had later called the airport. The May 31, 1969, article by rock
journalists Ritchie Yorke and Ben Fong-Torres questioned why RCMP were
there when the drugs were found: "For one thing the Mounties . . .
customarily do not wait at the airport to make dope busts . . ." They
also speculated that it was an example of conservative "Toronto
authorities" making an example of a "freaky, frizzy-haired
psychedelic" person to "scare the freaks out of Yorkville," then a
hangout for hippies.

At the verdict announcement of "not guilty," the young fans packing
the courtroom cheered.

When Hendrix stepped outside into the cold Toronto air, it was the end 
of what Hendrix biographers Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek ( Jimi 
Hendrix: Electric Gypsy) called a "nightmare" that stressed out the 
musician for the seven months the charges hung over his head.
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