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Jim Morrison pardon talk revives 40-year-old story


Reina McWilliams woke one recent Wednesday as usual to the sounds of the "Greatest Hits of the '60s and '70s" on Magic 102.7 FM. In between songs, an announcer reported that outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist was considering a pardon of the late Jim Morrison — rock icon and lead singer of the Doors — who was convicted for exposing himself during a now-legendary Miami concert in 1969. "Oh, my God!" she said out loud. It was her late husband, Terry McWilliams, who had prosecuted Morrison. The trial was a media zoo because it encapsulated the culture war between establishment do-gooders and long-haired rock 'n' rollers then vying for the soul of the country. The harsh sentence, the nagging doubts about whether Morrison even did what he was he accused of, and his premature death stoked the controversy for a time. But now, 40 years later, most people would shrug at the effort to restore Morrison's reputation. It's ancient history. Who, other than the diehard fans debating on the Internet, even cares? Sitting in her living room, on the couch near the wall where not one but two photos of Jim Morrison hang, Reina McWilliams smiled. "This is what Terry would have wanted."

The concert

The Jim Morrison who arrived late and stepped onto the stage at the sweltering, overbooked Dinner Key Auditorium — a converted seaplane hangar — on March 1, 1969, was not the heartthrob of the Doors' early fame. Morrison, 26, was paunchy, bearded and wore a cowboy hat with skull and crossbones.

The closest guy to the stage, photographer Jeff Simon, said it was obvious Morrison was "completely smashed out of his gourd."

The concert was a homecoming of sorts for Morrison, who was born in Melbourne and later attended what was then St. Petersburg Junior College before transferring to Florida State University. But if people were expecting a warm and fuzzy reunion, they were in for a shock.

Bootleg audio recordings provide the only record of the concert. One stanza into the second song, Five to One, Morrison began to berate the crowd.

"You're all a bunch of f - - - - - - idiots!"

His verbal assault was met with confused silence and uncomfortable laughter.

"Letting people tell you what you're going to do," he went on, "letting people push you around . . .

"Maybe you like being pushed around. Maybe you love getting your face stuck in the s - - -."

Morrison sang a couple of songs in a disinterested drone. He cut short other songs to resume his rants about love and revolution. The crowd hurled catcalls. But Morrison pressed on before inviting the restless crowd onstage.

Simon recalls people surging forward. A girl bit him on the shoulder. He crawled under the stage. When he emerged on the other side, the concert had disintegrated into chaos.

So it's likely Simon missed the controversial seconds when Morrison was alleged to have pulled his form-fitting leather pants below his crotch.

Afterward, the band hung around backstage for a couple of hours. Several police officers working the concert got autographs.

Although 26 uniformed officers worked the concert, none of them wrote a complaint.

The charges

Two days after the concert, Larry Mahoney's review ran in the Miami Herald.

"The hypnotically erotic Morrison, flaunting the laws of obscenity, indecent exposure and incitement to riot, could only stir a minor mob scene toward the end of his Saturday night performance," the article stated. ". . . Morrison appeared to masturbate in full view of his audience, screamed obscenities and exposed himself."

The article prompted numerous angry calls to the police department and City Hall. A couple of days later, the president of the Crime Commission of Greater Miami called for a grand jury investigation.

"This situation is a blot upon our community and those that are responsible for profiting as a result of depravity and immorality as occurred here, and where you have children from 9 to 14 years of age being subjected to such obscenities, certain immediate action is demanded," said Arthur Huttoe.

Eventually, Morrison was charged with a felony count of gross lewdness and lascivious behavior as well as misdemeanor charges of indecent exposure, public profanity and public drunkenness.

The outcry after the concert prompted a group of Catholic teens to organize a "Rally for Decency." Held at the Orange Bowl three weeks after the concert and attended by entertainers such as Anita Bryant and Jackie Gleason, the rally drew 30,000 people.

The State Attorney's Office assembled a four-person team — including a deputy state attorney who was running to be a circuit court judge — but it was 27-year-old Terry McWilliams who was tapped to lead the state's case. McWilliams was known as an aggressive and formidable young prosecutor. It was also well-known that McWilliams was a rock and blues musician. That was deemed an asset. He knew that world.

McWilliams wasn't thrilled with the assignment.

"I don't want to prosecute Jim Morrison," McWilliams told friends. "I don't want to be known for that."

"It was against his grain," said Simon, the photographer at the concert, who also happened to be best friends with McWilliams. "He loved Jim Morrison and the Doors. He didn't have a choice; they assigned it to him. If there was a way to get out of the case, he would have."

The trial

Doors fans and reporters jammed the courtroom for the trial the following summer.

Morrison's lead defense attorney, Max Fink, laid out his strategy in his opening statements. The jury, he said, would hear a lot of evidence "conjured up from gossip" and imaginations run rampant. In other words, he argued, Morrison never actually whipped it out.

But there was a larger issue at stake. Fink said this would be a trial about evolving moral standards.

"I want you to hear the evidence about community standards because some of us have forgotten things have changed in this world," he said. "They are changing very, very rapidly."

The first witness called by McWilliams, the prosecutor, was aimed for maximum impact. McWilliams may have been ambivalent about the case, but inside the courtroom he pressed it with vigor.

Colleen Clary was 16 and a junior at South Broward High School when she went with her boyfriend, Karl Huffstutlear, to the Doors concert. Police found her during their investigation because she had obtained the bleacher seats from her brother-in-law, a Miami police officer.

According to Clary, and several subsequent witnesses, Morrison at one point late in the concert said, "Do you want to see my c- - -?" Clary, visibly embarrassed, said he then pulled down his pants and "showed it."

"I was shocked and it was disgusting," Clary said.

Huffstutlear, 20, corroborated his girlfriend's account, saying Morrison "produced himself physically."

Two Miami police officers working the concert said they saw Morrison expose himself. Under cross examination, one of the officers acknowledged that she never mentioned that in an earlier deposition. Why? She said she wasn't asked.

And Robert Jennings, 22, then a clerk in the State Attorney's Office, testified that from his seat in the bleachers, "I could see the stage and it just seemed everyone seemed to be reaching like a peak and he (Morrison) placed his left hand on his pants and sort of pulled them down, you know, in front a couple of inches. Then he exposed himself with his right hand and he pulled out his penis, had it out about 5 to 8 seconds."

Later, a friend who attended the concert with Jennings testified that he was standing right next to Jennings in the rear of the auditorium, but he didn't see Morrison expose himself.

The defense countered with numerous concertgoers, including several police officers at the show, who said they did not see Morrison expose himself. And all three of the other Doors members testified Morrison never pulled down his pants.

Then came the star witness, Morrison himself, and some of the more bizarre exchanges ever to grace a courtroom.

McWilliams asked about the "undergarments" Morrison was wearing the night of the concert.

"They were the boxer type and it was kind of unusual, really, because I don't usually wear undergarments," Morrison said. "I got out of the habit about four or five years ago, I guess."

McWilliams also sought to establish that Morrison had no medical reason for reaching into his pants during the concert.

"Did you have a fungus in your lower abdominal area that evening?" McWilliams asked.

"God, I hope not," Morrison answered.

Morrison readily admitted to most of the foul language. But he adamantly denied exposing himself.

In his closing, another defense attorney Bob Josefsberg asked the jury to consider this: "Why didn't my witnesses see anything? Was this a private porno show for the state witnesses?"

In his closing, McWilliams borrowed a line from the Doors, saying that after a fair trial "the music's over," and that it was now the jury's job to "show your children and their children that there are laws, there are rules, there is responsibility."

The six jurors, none younger than 42, found Morrison guilty of misdemeanors of indecent exposure and using public profanity. But they cleared him on the more serious felony charge of lewd and lascivious behavior. Even the defense was surprised that the jury also acquitted Morrison of public drunkenness.

At the sentencing on Oct. 30, 1970, Dade Circuit Judge Murray Goodman read a statement, rejecting the premise Fink posed at the start of the trial.

"To admit that this nation accepts as a community standard the indecent exposure and the offensive language spoken by you would be to admit that a small minority who spew obscenities, who disregard law and order and who display their utter contempt for our institutions and heritage have determined the community standards for all of us."

Goodman sentenced Morrison to six months of "confinement at hard labor" in the Dade County Jail.

Morrison was released on $50,000 bail and the case was appealed. Morrison moved to Paris. The Doors released L.A. Woman in April 1971, and scored hits with songs Love Her Madly and Riders on the Storm. But the conviction weighed on Morrison's mind. "It's not good to have something like that on your record," he said in an interview that year.

On July 3, 1971, Morrison was found dead in a bathtub. The listed cause of death was heart attack; drugs were suspected. He was 27. The appeal was never heard.

Now ...

Forty years have passed since the trial. The judge has died. So has Morrison's lead defense attorney. And so has the young prosecutor who wished the case had never happened.

But for some, the struggle to clear Morrison's name, and his legacy, never ended. Doors keyboard player Ray Manzarek insists what happened in Miami was a "mass hallucination."

For more than 12 years, a group of ardent Doors fans, convinced that Morrison was railroaded, pressed Florida governors to consider a posthumous pardon. Petitions sent to governors Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush were ignored.

But the issue finally gained some traction recently with Gov. Charlie Crist, who also went to Florida State. With his term as governor winding to a close, Crist last week said he had reviewed the case and wasn't convinced that Morrison did "what he was charged with here."

Although there are many photographs of the concert, none showed Morrison exposing himself. And there was no video or other tangible evidence, Crist said. Perhaps, Crist said, the jury felt that "making a point was more important than being right."

Crist announced that he'll seek a pardon for Morrison when the Clemency Board meets on Dec. 9.

At least one prosecution witness has changed his story.

"Truthfully, I didn't see anything happen," said Huffstutlear, now 60, a retired electrician living in Lake Placid. "I don't know why I said it. I really didn't see it."

And he believes police coerced the testimony of his then girlfriend, now ex-wife, Colleen Clary. But Clary, now Colleen Fantine, stands by her testimony.

"I remember that he did it," Fantine said by phone recently. "There's no question in my mind."

Fantine, 58, now lives in Iowa and works at a McDonald's. Despite the concert, and missing two weeks of school because "everyone at school was against me" for testifying, she remains a big Doors fan. She's got tons of Doors albums, she said, and a picture of Morrison hangs on her living room wall.

She sees no purpose in a pardon, though.

"What for? Supposedly he's not with us anymore."

But for a Doors fan like Dave Diamond, who has helped lead the fight for a pardon, it does mean something.

"If we're going to get basic about it, it's the right thing to do," Diamond said. "Jim Morrison had a right to due process, just like you and me. He was a citizen of Florida first, before he was a '60s rock icon, the Lizard King and all that. This is not about Gov. Crist. It's not about whether people liked the Doors. It's about Jim Morrison, citizen of Florida, and rectifying a 40-year-old wrong."

"Jim was railroaded pure and simple," said former Doors manager Bill Siddons, who drove Morrison to the concert that night. "Jim's arrest warrants were issued five days after the show in a climate of political maneuvering that had nothing to do with what happened at the show."

After all this time, Jerry Hopkins, co-author of the seminal Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive, said the suggested pardon is "sort of funny."

"Most of the charges filed against Jim in 1969 were unsupported in reality (forgetting public drunkenness) and all clearly were part of a trumped-up campaign that raged for decades against the devil worship called rock 'n' roll … and we all know who, or what, won that struggle," Hopkins said.

Interestingly, one guy who doesn't buy the whole "Morrison was railroaded" line is Morrison's local defense counsel, Josefsberg.

Josefsberg, now 72, wouldn't offer his personal opinion about whether Morrison exposed himself, but said, "Six jurors say that he did. I believe in the jury system."

The defense could have brought in 50 people from the concert to testify they didn't see Morrison expose himself. But maybe, he said, those people just didn't see it. Maybe they blinked or briefly looked away. The jury believed the few who said they did see it.

"It was a fair trial," Josefsberg said.

But Josefsberg didn't think jail was an appropriate sentence.

"I think the whole thing got out of hand," Josefsberg said. "There was an overreaction. The moral climate was very much against him."

The prosecutor

The young prosecutor thrust into the middle of the culture war, the one who stood for rules and responsibility and demanded justice, remained ambivalent about his role as the flag-carrier for a morally outraged public. But the case helped propel McWilliams to a successful legal career.

He rose to chief of the major crimes division of the State Attorney's Office. In 1977, McWilliams went into private practice. He famously defended one of the five cops accused of killing insurance salesman Arthur McDuffie in 1980. Their subsequent acquittal touched off riots in Miami. McWilliams later defended one of the men accused of riot-related murders.

But the Morrison case ate at him.

Terry McWilliams was an emotional guy who lived life with passion. His wife, Reina, shares pictures of Terry swimming with sharks, sport fishing for giant tuna, piloting his plane.

Photos from his youth in Chicago show Terry sporting a flat top, posing with rock and blues bands like the Mad Lads. Another photo shows a classic renegade pose: Terry splayed across his motorcycle, holding a guitar.

McWillians saw Morrison as a kindred spirit. To treat him the same way he did so many criminals really bothered him, friends said.

"I think it probably depressed him more than any other case he tried," said McWilliams' friend and longtime law partner James Woodard. "Other than the rush of winning the case, I don't think he was really happy in the long term that Morrison was convicted. . . . Morrison was one of his idols."

McWilliams took Morrison's death less than a year later very personally, Woodard said.

"I think, truth be told, that Terry always felt Morrison's downward spiral and ultimate death was a result of that conviction," Woodard said. "That was what he told me. . . . That baggage followed him around a long time, up until the time he died (from skin cancer in 1995)."

McWilliam's wife, Reina, said her husband didn't talk very much about the case with her.

"I know for a fact he didn't feel good about it," she said.

McWilliams was convinced Morrison did expose himself that night, his wife said, but he "would have been the first one saying that (granting a pardon) is what he wanted to do."

"I know that for a fact. I'm sure he's up there in heaven going, 'Yes!' "

Reina McWilliams said she always thinks of her husband when she hears Doors songs on the radio. Despite prosecuting him, her husband remained a big fan. Next to a photo of Jim Morrison on the living room wall is one of Terry playing the guitar.

"All these years later . . . ," she mused. "How times have changed."

Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 893-8603 or [email protected]

Jim Morrison pardon talk revives 40-year-old story 11/26/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 27, 2010 3:53pm]
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