During my first year at NACDL [National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers], I received an unexpected call one day from my old friend Hunter S. Thompson, asking for my help with some legal problems. This was in 1990. Hunter had been arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a woman who had been spending time at his house, as a journalist and as a guest. The relationship had soured, and she fled, called the police and claimed that Hunter had assaulted her, amongst other drug-related claims.
I had met her on my last visit to Owl Farm, and I had witnessed Hunter playfully snapping her photograph, and using a pair of scissors to cut a hole in her sweater and bra so her nipples were exposed. He told her how beautiful the photo would be; she was laughing and having a great time. It was fairly clear that they were intimate sexually, and that she was cooperating in whatever games Hunter had decided to play.
So I was dubious when I heard she had filed charges, and was sort of expecting that the charges would be dismissed. I presumed she wouldn't be a very credible witness. But the prosecutor, whether he simply saw a chance to make himself famous by bringing down the notorious law-breaker Hunter S. Thompson, or whether he really did believe Hunter had committed a sexual assault, was serious and moving forward with the charges.
When Hunter called me, he was rather cryptic. He said he was in trouble and needed my help. I asked how I could help, and he asked if I could come out to Owl Farm so he could fill me in. I was flattered that Hunter was calling me for help, and I always enjoyed any excuse to return to Owl Farm, so I jumped on a plane to Aspen.
When I landed, I called Hunter and told him I had arrived. He said to come directly out to the farm, so I jumped into a taxi (this was when the local taxi company was known, appropriately enough, as "Mellow Yellow Taxi").
When I got to the farm, I paid the taxi driver, sent him away, and called Hunter to let him know I was there. But Hunter wasn't answering. After waiting a couple of minutes, I started to climb over the gates, past the two vulture sculptures with red glassy eyes on either side of the entrance, intending to walk up to the house and ring the doorbell.
As I started to climb the gates, a security alarm went off. Lights and a siren sounded, and Hunter came running out of the house with an automatic rifle pointed at me, yelling, "Who the fuck is out there? I'm going to shoot your ass off!"
I screamed, "Hunter, It's me. Keith. I just spoke with you a few minutes ago and you said to come on out. Put the fucking gun down!"
Hunter broke into a big grin, lowered the gun, and said, "Oh hell, Keith, come on in." He had a twinkle in his eye. I always presumed that he was playing with me, that he wasn't really going to shoot my ass off, but I was never certain. The possibility of danger made any visit to Owl Farm a special experience, but that time was a little more intense than I was accustomed to.
Hunter welcomed me in, and we spent several hours catching up on life and the status of the criminal charges he was facing. Hunter explained that he hadn't taken them seriously, and that he had had hired a local attorney who he assumed could make the charges disappear. As it turned out, the attorney was a former sheriff's deputy who had never tried a criminal case in his life, and was, in Hunter's words, "a crusading ex-drunk ex-addict, AA leader who didn't mind saying rehab was the best place for me anyway, and was eager to begin the plea-bargaining process ASAP, in order to get me on supervised court probation and safely 'within the system.'" Hunter continued, "Going to trial with a lawyer who considers your whole lifestyle a crime in progress is not a happy prospect."
Now, one might ask why Hunter didn't realize the charges were serious and hire an experienced attorney at the outset. He had been charged with eight felonies. The New York Times had estimated he could spend eight decades in prison, and the Village Voice had speculated that Hunter might be in jail "until well into the next century." Perhaps he had managed to get through a lot of tight situations in his life without taking a serious hit, or perhaps he was just too stoned to realize the gravitas of the situation. Regardless, after the first couple of hearings, he understood he needed someone experienced and skilled in the practice of criminal law on his side, so he called me to help him find someone.
I called my friends Gerry Goldstein and Michael Stepanian, and they in turn called Hal Haddon, a wonderfully talented criminal defense attorney from Denver. The three of them formed a defense team that immediately took over the case, and before long, almost miraculously, the tide turned; eventually the charges were totally dropped. Hunter went from being a likely convicted prisoner to a free man, because of the skill and creativity of his lawyers.
In appreciation, Hunter subsequently wrote a wonderful letter to the editor of the Champion, the monthly publication of the NACDL, thanking all of us for saving his ass. He wrote, "Well. Keith, what can I say? Except thanks to you and your gang: The Long Riders of NACDL. You boys are okay. When the Great Whistle blew, NACDL members Gerry Goldstein and Hal Haddon were warriors, and saved me from going to prison...They seemed to come all at once, in what clearly was my darkest hour. Mike Stepanian from San Francisco, Hal Haddon from Denver, Keith Stroup from Washington, DC, and the ineffable maestro of motions, Gerry Goldstein from San Antonio... They came from all points of the compass and all points in time, and we stomped on the terra like champions. It was something to see folks, and it was a beautiful war to be part of...Haddon stomped through the courtroom like one of the Gallo brothers mashing grapes, and Goldstein gave them nightmares at high noon just by sitting at the Defense Table with that fine cheetah's grin on his face and shooting his cuffs now and then with obvious impatience at having to wait so long for the meal he knew was coming. It was a rout, folks. The DA's cheap bunglers collapsed in a heap and fled like rats into whatever darkness they could find, which was not much... All I can say now is Thanks, once again,. You boys are OK when you get the right music to dance to, and I was proud for the chance to dance with you."
Later, I received a gift from Hunter in the mail, in appreciation of the role I had played in bringing together his successful defense team. It was the framed picture of Hunter knocked on his ass by the exploding can of paint, with the inscription: "The wicked accuse; the godly defend."