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Robert Downey Jr. Gets 3 Years in Prison

Court: Despite actor's plea, judge says all options for drug rehabilitation--as well as his patience--have been exhausted.

August 06, 1999|MONTE MORIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Actor Robert Downey Jr. delivered a desperate monologue Thursday, begging a judge to spare him from state prison and vowing yet again to end his storied addiction to drugs.

But he failed to sway his audience, Malibu Superior Court Judge Lawrence J. Mira.

Mira told Downey he was manipulative and had exhausted the court's options for drug rehabilitation and the court's patience, and sentenced the actor to three years in prison for repeatedly violating probation on drug and weapons charges.

Downey, 34, was given credit for 201 days of time served and placed on "the next bus out" to a prison reception center in Chino, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Martin Herscovitz. Downey's lawyer said he would probably appeal the sentence.

Before sheriff's deputies led him from the courtroom in handcuffs, Downey pleaded with the judge to spare him prison time and allow him to complete a court-ordered drug treatment program he has attended while in custody for more than a month.

Although Downey has attended six other types of drug treatment programs without lasting success, the actor said he had recently summoned the resolve to stay sober.

He said he had come to see his addiction this way:

"It's like I've got a shotgun in my mouth, my finger on the trigger and I like the taste of gun metal."

In that emotional state, Downey said, the judge's past threats of imprisonment were lost on him. Warnings, no mater how severe, were "just interrupting my business."

Dressed in orange jail clothes and shower sandals, Downey spoke loudly and with poise, but admitted to the judge that he was nervous.

"I'm kind of shaking in my thongs here," he said.

Ultimately, Mira said that Downey posed a threat to the public and himself.

"Is there any question that if this defendant continues to use drugs we're going to be reading his name in an obituary?" Mira said. "We tried rehabilitation and it simply hasn't worked."

Downey was first arrested in June 1996, when he was pulled over in his pickup and found to be in possession of cocaine, heroin and a pistol. He was arrested two weeks later after he stumbled into a neighbor's Malibu home under the influence of drugs.

Downey, who won an Academy Award nomination for his performance in the movie "Chaplin," was placed on probation and ordered to undergo drug counseling. Treatment included two in-custody "lock-down" programs, two residential programs and two outpatient rehabilitation programs.

Downey violated his probation three times by failing to submit to drug testing, according to court records.

He was represented in court Thursday by lawyer Robert Shapiro, one in a string of defense attorneys that the judge described as a "who's who of the criminal bar in Los Angeles."

In asking Mira to give his client another chance, Shapiro cited a probation report that recommended Downey not be sentenced to prison.

The probation report said Downey had, at one point, been attending five to six 12-step meetings per week. His attendance declined to one or two meetings a week.

"During this time, the defendant was also in the midst of divorce proceedings," the report said.

Shapiro said his client's addiction was the result of his growing up in a dysfunctional family and being exposed to drugs at a young age.

Imprisonment, Shapiro said, would solve nothing. "Drugs are as readily available inside the jail as outside the jail."

Downey seemed aware that Mira was not going to grant his plea for freedom. At one point, referring to his belated commitment to sobriety, he acknowledged the possibility that "I've showed up five minutes late for the miracle."

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