A friend recently mentioned that one of his now-grown daughters was named 'Sidney' after Sid Vicious. I immediately chimed in that I once was in an elevator with Sid while I was covering his murder trial on 21 November, 1978 for a long-gone fanzine called Imagine. Out on bail, he was getting arraigned that morning at Manhattan Supreme Court.
The morning of the arraignment was a complete media circus. All the tabloids, paparazzi, radio and TV correspondents were there in force to report on the British punk rocker, formerly of the notorious band the Sex Pistols, who allegedly killed his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen.
Before the hearing began, a bunch of reporters realized that Sid's mother, Anne Beverley, was in the hallway waiting to enter the courtroom like everyone else. She darts into the ladies room. I distinctly remember one female reporter following Beverley into the restroom, probably thinking "I can get an exclusive; you boys are stuck out here. Hah!"
Once the court session began, the prosecution made its case against Vicious, who pleaded not guilty in an unintelligible voice before Acting Justice Betty Ellerin. A few token punks were in the courtroom to show support for the defendant, who for the most part remained silent, and only occasionally spoke to his mother.
F. Lee Bailey had been commissioned to handle the defense for Vicious, whose real name was John Simon Ritchie. However, Bailey's associate and senior member of his staff, James M. Merberg, appeared with Ritchie in court at his indictment and arraignment.
"Our defense cannot be disclosed but I can say that it is a point away from Mr. Ritchie," Merberg added.
In his opening remarks, the prosecuting attorney, identified as "Mr. Sullivan," stressed that the 21-year-old Vicious was a drug addict who "had no value to the community. Mr. Ritchie has a record of misdemeanors back in England, including an assault on a police officer, which consequently led to his 'Vicious' nickname," said Sullivan.
Merberg's defense revolved around the fact the Vicious had been on a methadone program at the Lafayette Street Clinic regularly and is showing signs of improvement. "His dose has decreased from 90mm to 45mm since he began the program," said Mr. Merberg.
After about 90 minutes of mostly dry legalese, the judge adjourned for lunch. After gobbling down a hotdog on the street, I hustled back up the stairs of the courthouse.
I just missed a packed elevator; everyone else made it in. Another one just showed up, and I was the only person waiting for it, and hear someone yell, "Hold that elevator!" And in walks a guy in a business suit, who I recognize to be Merberg, and none other than Sid himself. The doors close.
Sid was perspiring heavily, and had quite a lot of acne on his face. He was a few inches taller than me, and less than a year older. His lawyer notices Sid's punk-style necklace, which might have been made out of razorblades, shakes his head (perhaps thinking, how did I did not see that earlier; not going to make a good impression on the judge), and tucks it under his client's button-down shirt.
With being the only reporter present (even though I was still in college), I figure I can't let this opportunity go. I think [wisely] against enquiring, "Did you do it, Sid?"
Instead I blurt out, "Sid, have you heard the new Clash album? (Give 'Em Enough Rope recently had been released.) Before he could respond, Sid's lawyer tells him not to answer. I'm thinking, "Oh man!"
The afternoon court session contained none of the color of the morning.
Justice Ellerin continued bail at $50,000 and set three conditions for Vicious to adhere to: "(1) Continue to report daily to the methadone clinic before 2 p.m., (2) report daily to the Third Homicide Zone officers before 1 p.m., and (3) do not leave the confinements of the New York City limits." She set December 12 to begin pre-trial motions.
As far as I know, that hearing never took place because Vicious was already imprisoned at Rikers by early December for cutting up Patti Smith's brother Todd with a broken glass at the club Hurrah's.
Sgt. Thomas Kilroy, of the Third Homicide Zone, who made the homicide arrest, was quoted as having said, "After an investigation, Vicious admitted killing Miss Spungen during a dispute." However, when I spoke with Sgt. Kilroy around the time of the arraignment, he denied ever saying that. According to Kilroy, Vicious was "high" when he was arrested.
A few years earlier, Spungen attended Devereaux, a high school in Philadelphia for students with emotional problems and high intelligence. A classmate of hers who was at my college told me, "Nancy was the most hateful person I've ever met."
Sid ultimately succumbed to his heroin addiction on February 2, 1979, purportedly to keep his death pact with Nancy. Earlier that day, he was released from prison.
Reminiscing about this stuff gives me a yearning to watch once again Alex Cox's Sid & Nancy and Julien Temple's Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.
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