TORONTO — Jimi Hendrix claimed to have smoked grass four times, hash three times, dropped acid five times, and sniffed coke twice but had “outgrown” drugs. And he never touched the big H during his colorful life as a pop idol. Hendrix was testifying in the Toronto Supreme Court on Monday, December 8th, charged with the possession of heroin and hashish found in his flight bag during a routine Customs examination at Toronto Airport last May.
It took three days of testimony and a jury deliberation of eight hours before Hendrix was found not guilty.
Hendrix was defended by Toronto lawyer John O’Driscoll, under the jurisdiction of Judge Joseph Kelly. The singer/guitarist shuffled into court on Monday at 10 A.M. looking as straight as he could possibly hope to look: blue blazer, grey flannel pants, shirt and a beautiful scarf with a chunky Mexican turquoise/silver bracelet and ring which blew the white-shirted jury’s minds.
When finally at 11:30 A.M., they got around to starting Hendrix’s trial the Judge noted, “We seem to be missing a jury.” By the time 12 just men were found, it was time for a 20 minute recess.
The Crown’s first witness, Custom Officer Marvin Wilson, took the stand. The bust took place at his counter. The first piece of baggage Hendrix gave him for examination was a white flight bag. Marvin seized a small glass jar which was laying right on top of toilet articles and couldn’t help but notice it contained 4 cellophane packets of white powder. He guessed it to be narcotics. On asking what it was, he said, Hendrix replied, “Oh no, I really don’t know what it is. Someone must have put it in my bag.” But as the defense demonstrated, Wilson wasn’t too sure of his facts. At the preliminary hearing in June, the officer had testified that Hendrix said, “Oh no, I really don’t know what they are. Someone must have given them to me.” Marvin also came across an aluminum tube with a black filter but couldn’t see anything suspicious about it and threw it back into the bag. Meanwhile, the Custom’s Supervisor had materialized and invited Hendrix into an office for physical examination. The RCMP had also entered the scene at this stage and they did a field test on the powder which indicated that it was a narcotic – heroin. Hendrix later testified that they all treated him well and he had even commended them on their politeness. He was taken to police headquarters, charged, and released on a hefty bail. The aluminum tube was scraped and analyzed – it contained traces of hash.
The second and third witnesses were the Customs Supervisor and RCMP Officer, who supported Marvin’s testimony. The Crown proved beyond a doubt that they were Hendrix’s bags and that the jar and tube respectively contained heroin and hash.
Then James Marshall Hendrix took the stand. Twenty-seven years old. Lives in New York. Born in Seattle. Did 18 months in the Army. Discharged for back injury. Professional musician. Four gold records. Jimi then proceeded to tell the court about how generous his fans are. He receives countless gifts: scarves, jewelry, clothes, teddy bears, oil paintings, anything at all. Most of the time he is too busy to look at them and he just tosses them in his bags. In fact, Jimi admitted, he is often given dope but he always throws it away.
Tuesday. The public benches are packed. Hendrix on the stand again.
A change in appearance: the shirt is wilder, blue patent boots. He tells his side of the story. It was about 6 P.M., a few hours before a concert, the hotel was the Beverly Rodeo in Hollywood, the room was crowded. He was being interviewed by a reporter but was feeling bad. He asked everyone to leave, saying he wasn’t feeling well and he wanted to take a nap. Then a girl thrust a small bottle into his hand saying, “Maybe this will make you feel better.” Someone had just suggested he take a Bromo-Seltzer so he presumed this was medicine and tossed it in his flight bag. He played Detroit the next night and didn’t think any more about the bottle. The following night he arrived in Toronto.
The Crown cross-examined to find flaws. He was questioned extensively about drug use, terminology and availability. He claimed he didn’t know where the aluminum tube came from but it was definitely a gift – for what purpose he didn’t know. The Crown wasn’t daunted. What other possible use could this tube have? Hendrix suggested it was “probably a peashooter.”
After a lengthy lunch break, Sharon Lawrence was called to the witness box. A conservative 26-year-old blonde whose sheer wholesomeness must have impressed the jury. Miss Lawrence is a U.P.I. writer who happened to be with Hendrix the night of Thursday, May 1st at the Beverly Rodeo. Her story tallied with Hendrix’s completely. It was a little too pat for the Crown Prosecutor in fact, who found her remarkable recollection of detail incredible. She explained that being a reporter who often had to interview people without a notebook, she had developed a photographic memory that never failed her. She could even describe the guy who suggested Hendrix take a Bromo-Seltzer! She remembered the girl bearing gifts but didn’t know her name.
Chas Chandler, former Animal and one-time Manager of Hendrix did his bit by appearing in the Witness Box and verifying Jimi’s description of the life led by a pop star and the inevitable gifts bestowed upon them. It took the jury a few minutes to cut through his unbelievable London accent. Chandler played bass guitar with the Animals and said, “The general policy was never to eat cakes that arrived in the dressing room because you never knew what was in them.” Hendrix had previously said dope gifts came in all shapes and sizes and that it was not uncommon to receive hash cookies and cakes. The Animals were once given a box of clothing which they didn’t have time to go through but had sent back to London with all their equipment. On inspection after their arrival in London, the box was found to also contain four ounces of marijuana.
Chandler, 30, managed Hendrix from ’66 to ’68. Both the Crown and the Judge strongly objected to Chandler being called on as a witness because “he had no relevancy to the case.” But it was a smart move on O’Driscoll’s behalf because it at least showed the jury that Hendrix’s life wasn’t just peculiar to him.
And so it dragged on till Wednesday. A more cheerful Hendrix sauntered in wearing a more adventuresome grey and white pinstripe suit and Presley-purple shirt.
All that was left was the addresses by the Council for Defense and the Council for Prosecution. The Defense rested the case on the law that to be charged with possession of a narcotic there has to be knowledge of. So with Hendrix’s vague testimony and the evidence of Sharon Lawrence, there was doubt whether Hendrix did know what he was carrying. And if there is any doubt, O’Driscoll kept telling the jury, you cannot convict a person.
The Crown Prosecutor pointed out little inconsistencies in Hendrix’ testimony and said Hendrix’s attitude was strange, never attempting to locate the gift-bearing girl or to check dates.
The jury deliberated for eight hours before reaching their verdict of not guilty. Everyone agrees they did the right thing. After all, Hendrix is a reformed man it seems, given up dope forever, returned to the straight and narrow – all with one sweeping, grandoise declaration to the court: “I’ve outgrown it.”
Hendrix now plans to regroup his old Experience members for a final, “farewell tour” of the U.S., England, and Europe. He has asked Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell to join him for six weeks of concerts next spring.
This story is from the January 21, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.