'I Can't Believe It,' She Says : Zsa Zsa Gabor Convicted of Slapping Police Officer

Times Staff Writers

The strange, oftentimes uproarious Zsa Zsa Gabor trial was handed over to posterity on Friday, with a jury convicting the actress of slapping a police officer, driving without a license and possessing an open container of alcohol--a flask of Jack Daniels--in her $215,000 Rolls-Royce.

But the tempestuous Hungarian was acquitted of disobeying Beverly Hills Police Officer Paul Kramer when she drove away from a routine traffic stop on June 14. Jurors found that the action--which led to a pursuit followed by an altercation and arrest--may have resulted from nothing more than miscommunication.

Gabor, wearing a bold, orange-and-black print dress, appeared excited and nervous as she arrived at Beverly Hills Municipal Court for the misdemeanor verdicts, which came after 14 hours of jury deliberation.

She gasped aloud when the first guilty verdict was read, but seemed to show no other reaction until she exited the courtroom, smiling once, with her husband, Prince Frederick von Anhalt of Germany. Outside, she faced a bumping-and-shoving crowd of two dozen TV news cameras and more than 50 members of an international press corps, and she lashed out at the ruling.

"I'm disappointed. I can't believe it," Gabor said, moments before the premises were cleared because of a bomb threat. "I can't believe that in a country as great as ours that a 6-foot-4 policeman can beat up a lady of 5-foot-4 and use dirty language as if she was a street walker. I think Russia can't be worse, or communist Hungary."

Asked how she felt about the prospects of jail, she said: "That would be wonderful. I'd have time to write my book.

"If I go to jail, Bistro Gardens (a restaurant) said they would serve me food three times a day."

Gabor's sentencing was set for Oct. 17. Although the convictions carry total maximum penalties of 18 months in jail and about $3,000 in fines, Gabor is unlikely to do jail time because of her nearly clean record and contributions to charity and show business, predicted her attorney, William Graysen.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Elden Fox, who sparred repeatedly with Gabor during her time on the witness stand, was evasive about whether he would seek a jail sentence, saying he was "contemplating" many possibilities.

'Expect Jail Time'

"She was convinced that there was no reason for these traffic laws to be enforced because she was Zsa Zsa Gabor," Fox said. "If you or I slapped a police officer, we would expect jail time."

Fox noted, however, that Gabor's age--reportedly 66--will be considered in her sentencing, as well as her history with the law. "There is a prior record," he added. "She was convicted in Britain of hitting a police officer with a pocketbook. She was fined $5,000."

Jurors, who began deliberating Wednesday, said they struggled with the barrage of conflicting and dubious testimony. At one point, a juror said, they became almost hopelessly deadlocked.

"Everybody (on the jury) basically took everything with a grain of salt," said juror Kathy Hudson, 30, of Los Angeles.

'Lot of Contradictions'

Gabor's own testimony, in which she accused police of doctoring videotapes made after her arrest, was filled with "an awful lot of contradictions," Hudson said. "She insisted she never swore. Then, when we looked at those (videotapes), there she was . . . her language was bluer than Officer Kramer's uniform."

Proceedings in the three-week trial--which cost taxpayers an estimated $30,000--seemed at times almost surreal, as if the participants were part of a Marx Brothers movie. At one point, Judge Charles G. Rubin halted arguments to admonish Gabor, an amateur artist, not to sketch jury members.

At the time, she was at work on portraits of her dogs.

One witness told a long and compelling story about his alleged difficulties with Officer Kramer in a previous case. But when a different officer--not Kramer, but an Officer Crawford--was paraded into the courtroom, the witness eagerly nodded.

Cast of Witnesses

"Yes, that's him." Said Gabor's embarrassed attorney: "No further questions."

The cast of witnesses featured three self-professed dyslexics, including screenwriter David Katzman, who estimated the width of six-lane Olympic Boulevard at 15 feet. Katzman stood near a blown-up street map and attempted three times to illustrate the complex route by which his car arrived at the scene of the altercation.

After nearly 20 minutes, he had produced a set of lines and arrows that resembled a stereo schematic, with his own car and Gabor's car facing opposite directions on the wrong sides of the street.

"Clearly, Mr. Katzman is not a map maker," Gabor's attorney said.

Juror Kevin Goodman, a Los Angeles attorney, said jurors "could never agree on whether Ms. Gabor got out of the car on her own or if she was pulled out of the car" by Kramer just before slapping him. But in the end, Goodman said, jurors who believed that Kramer pulled Gabor out of the car decided that he had the right to do so.

Acquitted on 1 Charge

Jury foreman John Burke, 35, an accountant, said the jury acquitted Gabor on the charge of disobeying an officer because it was possible she heard only the word "leave" when Kramer told her, "Don't leave" during the first traffic stop. Kramer stopped her after spotting expired registration tags.

"She got a message from us about how we feel about her driving around town committing battery on a police officer," Burke said.

Beverly Hills Police Lt. Jim Smith expressed pleasure with the ruling, commenting, "Everybody's feeling vindicated."

Worldwide publicity over the slap, as well as Gabor's daily antics, seemed to create a frenzy of interest in the case. Eccentricity seemed to run amok.

At one point, a mock fight in the court building between a Zsa Zsa Gabor impersonator and a man in a "Hang Zsa Zsa" T-shirt provoked wild laughter from bystanders and stern criticism from Gabor's daughter, Francesca Hilton.

'Miss Demeanor'

One TV broadcaster predicted a new line of Zsa Zsa perfume: "Miss Demeanor . . . slap it on, it assaults your senses."

And Trond Woxen, 46, who called himself "The Mad Poet" of Beverly Hills, gave a reading of his 16-verse account of the incident: "Winding up just as quick as a pitcher with ball/And a blazingly snappy release/She slapped the face of Officer Paul/Of the Beverly Hills Police. . . ."

At the end of it all, Gabor appeared anything but penitent--or unhappy.

Asked what she planned to do, she said: "I'm going home to collapse in my swimming pool."

With that, she stepped back into her Rolls-Royce and rode away.

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