Drunk Driver Ruled Sane in Separate, Similar Case

A Los Angeles jury Thursday found that Encino hot-tub salesman Gary Christopher--sentenced in September to almost 10 years in County Jail for four drunk-driving convictions--was sane at the time of unrelated drunk-driving accident in Marina del Rey in July.

The Marina del Rey incident occurred while Christopher, 38, was out on bail from previous drunk-driving arrests.

Christopher was convicted Nov. 9 of three drunk-driving charges stemming from the Marina del Rey arrest, but a trial was ordered at Christopher's request to determine whether he was sane at the time of that arrest.

After the sanity ruling Thursday, Christopher's attorney, Leonard Chaitin, said his client suffers from alcoholism that "rendered him incapable of knowing right from wrong at the time of the accident."

The Superior Court jury deliberated two days before reaching its verdict on the sanity issue.

Christopher faces an additional maximum sentence of two years in jail for the Marina del Rey drunk-driving conviction and another maximum sentence of four years for probation violation. Superior Court Judge William Pardee scheduled sentencing for Feb. 19.

Christopher gained national attention when he was sentenced Sept. 10 to 9 years, 220 days in jail by Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Suzanne Person. Legal experts called the term the longest ever imposed in the United States for drunk driving.

During the two-week sanity trial, two psychiatrists testified that Christopher was unable to control his drinking.

Prosecutor Pleased

Prosecutor Sharon Liebherr said she was gratified by the verdict. "The jury said that chronic alcoholics can still be held responsible for their actions when they break the law," she said.

In the Marina del Rey case, Christopher was convicted of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, driving with a suspended license and leaving the scene of an accident, in which a 23-year-old woman was injured.

Since 1966, Christopher has been convicted 28 times on charges relating to drunk driving.

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