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Claudine LONGET

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Longet said the shooting was an accident
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 21, 1976
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: January 29, 1942
Victim profile: Olympic skier Vladimir "Spider" Sabich, 30 (her boyfriend)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Aspen, Colorado, USA
Status: Convicted of a lesser charge — misdemeanor criminal negligence — and sentenced to pay a $250 fine and spend 30 days in jail on January 31, 1977
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Claudine Georgette Longet (born 29 January 1942) is a French singer, actress, dancer and recording artist who was popular during the 1960s and 1970s.

Born in Paris, France, Longet was married to pop singer Andy Williams from 1961 until 1975. She has maintained a private profile since 1977, following her conviction for misdemeanor negligent homicide in connection with the death of her boyfriend, former Olympic skier Spider Sabich.

Career

Her first appearances as an actress on television were in two 1963 episodes of the comedy series McHale's Navy. She also acted in the 1964 theatrical feature film of the same title. Many of her acting roles during the 1960s were in episodes of television adventure series that included Twelve O'Clock High, Combat!, The Name of the Game, The Rat Patrol and Hogan's Heroes Episode #20: It Takes a Thief ... Sometime.

She appeared many times on The Andy Williams Show series and specials. She also occasionally appeared as a singer on other variety and music programs, including those of singers Bobby Darin and Tom Jones. Williams called Longet — a beautiful, athletic, slender, petite brunette with large doe eyes — "my favorite French singer".

Her career breakthrough occurred in 1966. She had a guest-starring role in the season-one finale of the NBC television adventure series Run for Your Life, which starred Ben Gazzara. In the episode "The Sadness of A Happy Time" she performed her English-French bilingual rendition of Jobim's bossa nova song "Meditation" ("Meditação"), singing with a very soft angelic voice filled with longing and melancholy but also with a cheerful optimism. The episode was first broadcast on 16 May 1966.

A&M Records cofounder Herb Alpert was among the viewers whom Longet charmed with her performance of "Meditation". When Alpert met Longet by happenstance at a club in New Orleans later in 1966, he offered her a recording contract with his company. Longet recorded singles, and five albums, for A&M Records between 1966 and 1970.

"Meditation" was Longet's first single release for A&M. Other Jobim compositions that she has recorded include "A Felicidade", "How Insensitive" ("Insensatez"), and "Dindi".

In 1968, Longet costarred with Peter Sellers in the MGM motion picture The Party, a box office hit that Blake Edwards wrote, produced, and directed. Elvis Presley reportedly identified The Party as his favorite film. Longet sang "Nothing to Lose" (music by Henry Mancini and lyrics by Don Black) in the film.

In 1971, she joined Williams' Barnaby Records label. She released singles and two albums for Barnaby, We've Only Just Begun in 1971 and Let's Spend the Night Together in 1972. She also recorded songs for a projected third album for Barnaby that went unreleased. Many of the songs for the planned third album finally appeared on the 1993 compact disc release titled Sugar Me, after the Lynsey de Paul song that Longet covered in the early 70's but the masters for some of the other songs are missing and presumed lost.

In 1975, she appeared as "The Flower" (a nonsinging role) with Richard Burton, Jonathan Winters, and others, on the children's album The Little Prince, based on the Antoine de Saint Exupéry novel. The album won the Grammy Award for Best Album for Children in 1976.

She has enjoyed success on the music popularity charts. Her 1967 debut album, Claudine, peaked at #11 on the Billboard pop albums chart in the United States. Claudine became a RIAA-certified gold album, selling more than 500,000 copies. Subsequent albums The Look of Love peaked at #33 in 1967 and Love is Blue peaked at #29 in 1968 on the Billboard pop albums chart in the U.S.

Longet's musical cohort on her charting albums was arranger Nick De Caro. He also arranged her other two albums on A&M, Colours (1968) and Run Wild, Run Free (1970), and We've Only Just Begun on Barnaby.

She also has had hit singles in America on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. Her charting singles include "Here, There and Everywhere" (music and lyrics by John Lennon and Paul McCartney), "Hello, Hello" (composed by Terry MacNeil and Peter Kraemer), "Good Day Sunshine" (composed by Lennon and McCartney), "Small Talk" (music and lyrics by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon), and "Love is Blue" (music by André Popp and French lyrics by Pierre Cour [Pierre Lemaire]). Another song, "Wanderlove" (music and lyrics by Mason Williams), went to #7 on the singles charts in Singapore and still occasionally gets airplay on Asian radio. She remains popular in Japan, where all of her original albums were reissued on compact disc.

Marriage to Andy Williams

Longet and Williams met in Las Vegas in 1960 when she was 18 and he was 32. Longet was experiencing problems with her car and had pulled over to the side of the road. Driving by, Williams stopped to offer assistance. She was the lead dancer of the Folies Bergère revue at the Tropicana Resort & Casino. They married on 15 December 1961 in Los Angeles, and had three children: Noëlle (born on 24 September 1963), Christian (born on 15 April 1965), and Robert ("Bobby") (born on 1 August 1969). They legally separated in 1970 and divorced in January 1975. According to Williams, they remained "very good friends.

Relationship with Robert F. and Ethel Kennedy

Longet and Andy Williams were close friends of Robert F. "Bobby" Kennedy and his wife, Ethel Kennedy. During the mid-1960s, they regularly socialized at Longet's and Williams's residences in Bel Air and Palm Springs and at the Kennedy residences at Hickory Hill and New York City. They also took summer cruises on the Salmon River in central Idaho and on the Colorado River.

On or before 4 June 1968, the day of the 1968 Democratic Party presidential primary in California, Kennedy — a contending Democratic presidential candidate — and his wife made tentative arrangements with Williams and Longet to visit a trendy local disco called The Factory. According to Williams, Robert Kennedy told them that he would make a hand signal at the conclusion of his televised speech at the Ambassador Hotel to confirm their get-together.

Shortly after midnight on 5 June, Longet and Williams were watching Senator Kennedy's televised primary victory speech in Kennedy's suite in his hotel and saw Kennedy make the "little hand gesture". When Williams rushed down to the hotel ballroom, he heard loud noises in the hallway and learned that Kennedy had been shot. Longet and Williams eventually joined Kennedy's family and friends at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, where doctors labored to save the Senator's life. They stayed at the hospital for about 24 hours. After Kennedy died during the early morning hours of 6 June, Longet and Williams went into his hospital room and saw Ethel Kennedy asleep near her husband.

Longet and Williams attended Senator Kennedy's funeral Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on 8 June. A television camera captured Williams consoling a sobbing Longet during the Mass. After Kennedy's brother Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy delivered a brief and emotional eulogy, Williams and a choir sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in what a Washington Post reporter described as a "hauntingly slow tempo". Outside the cathedral on the streets of New York, thousands of people were listening to the Mass over loudspeakers. When they heard Williams singing, they began singing with him.

After the funeral Mass, Longet and Williams boarded the 21-car funeral train that took Senator Kennedy's body to Washington, D.C. and Arlington National Cemetery for burial. Longet and Williams were with Senator Kennedy's body, Ethel Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, and other Kennedy family members in the end car of the train. The front page of the 9 June 1968 edition of the Washington Post has a large photograph that depicts Ted Kennedy and Longet standing together on the rear platform of the funeral train as it passed through North Philadelphia.

Longet and Williams named their son Bobby (who was born in August 1969) in remembrance of Robert Kennedy.

Arrest and Trial

Longet was arrested and charged with fatally shooting her boyfriend, Olympic skier Vladimir "Spider" Sabich, at his Aspen, Colorado, home on 21 March 1976. At her trial Longet said the gun discharged accidentally as Sabich was showing her how it worked. Williams publicly supported Longet throughout the trial, even escorting her to and from the courthouse.

The Aspen police made two procedural errors that aided Longet's defense: without warrants, they took a blood sample from her; and they confiscated her diary. According to prosecutors, the sample showed the presence of cocaine in her blood, and her diary reportedly contradicted her claim that her relationship with Sabich had not soured. In addition, the gun was mishandled by non-weapons experts. As they were unable to cite any of the disallowed material, prosecutors used the autopsy report to suggest that when Sabich was shot he was bent over, facing away, and at least 1.80 m (6 ft) from Longet, which would be inconsistent with the position and relative distance of someone demonstrating the operation of a firearm.

The jury convicted her of a lesser charge — misdemeanor criminal negligence — and sentenced her to pay a small fine and spend 30 days in jail. The judge allowed Longet to choose the days to be served, believing that this arrangement would allow her to spend the most time with her children. She chose to serve most of her sentence on weekends. (Critical reaction to the verdict and sentencing was exacerbated when she subsequently vacationed with her defense attorney, Ron Austin, who was married at the time; Longet and Austin later married and still live in Aspen.) After the criminal trial, the Sabich family initiated civil proceedings to sue Longet. The case was eventually resolved out of court, with the provision that Longet never tell or write about her story.

Recent years

Longet has not performed publicly since the trial. Her public appearances since then have been limited to writing liner notes for a 2005 CD compilation and providing voice-over commentary for a 2003 A&E Biography documentary about Williams. Interest in her music has resurged in recent years following several CD releases, inclusion of her songs on television and film soundtracks, and expressions of admiration by several young performers.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Vladimir Peter 'Spider' Sabich, Jr.

American Vladimir Peter Sabich, Jr. (October 1, 1945 - March 21, 1976) was a Sacramento, CA. born alpine ski racer. He was a member of the U.S. Ski Team in the late 1960s and competed at the 1968 Winter Olympics; he was the pro ski racing champion in 1971 & 1972.

Late in the afternoon of March 21, 1976, Sabich had returned from a day of skiing in Aspen and was preparing to shower. He was shot in the bathroom of his Starwood home by his live-in girlfriend, singer-actress Claudine Longet, then age 34. The two had met at a pro-celebrity event four years earlier in 1972 in Bear Valley, California, and were quickly an item. She claimed the gun discharged accidentally, when he was showing her how it worked. He was hit in the abdomen and lost a significant amount of blood before the ambulance arrived. He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, with Longet at his side. Spider Sabich was 30 years and 5 months old.

Longet was arrested and charged with the shooting. At the trial, Longet claimed the gun had accidentally backfired when Sabich was showing her how to use it.

The Aspen police made two procedural errors that aided Longet's defense: without warrants, they took a blood sample from her and confiscated her diary. According to prosecutors, the sample showed the presence of cocaine in her blood, and her diary reportedly contradicted her claim that her relationship with Sabich had not soured. In addition, the gun was mishandled by non-weapons experts. As they were unable to cite any of the disallowed material, prosecutors did use the autopsy report to suggest that when Sabich was struck he was bent over, facing away, and at least 1.80 m (6 feet) from Longet, which would be inconsistent with the position and relative distance of someone demonstrating the operation of a firearm.

The jury convicted her of a lesser charge—misdemeanor criminal negligence—and sentenced her to pay a small fine and spend 30 days in jail. The judge allowed Longet to choose the days she served, believing that this arrangement would allow her to spend the most time with her children, and she chose to work off most of her sentence on weekends. (Critical reaction to the verdict and sentencing was exacerbated when she subsequently vacationed with her defense attorney, Ron Austin, who was married at the time; Longet and Austin later married and still live in Aspen.) After the criminal trial, the Sabich family initiated civil proceedings to sue Longet. The case was eventually resolved out of court, with the proviso that Longet never tell or write about her story.

Spider Sabich is buried at Westwood Hills Memorial Park in Placerville, CA. since there was no cemetery in Kyburz, CA. (town southeast of South Lake Tahoe, CA.) at the time of his death in 1976. The presence of Claudine Longet and her supporters at Spider's funeral was awkward for the Sabich family.

Findagrave.com

 
 

Claudine Longet and Spider Sabich

By David Krajicek


A Bitter Goodbye

The funeral was a bitter goodbye.

Spring had just arrived in 1976. An overflow crowd gathered at a Catholic church in Placerville, Calif., in the lap of the Sierra Nevadas, to mourn Spider Sabich, the young American skiing star taken in the prime of his life.

Sabich's large Croatian-American family was knit together at the front of the church, numb with grief.

Smart and dashing, with chairlift-stopping good looks, Spider Sabich was among a small group of professional American skiers who popularized the sport here in the 1960s and '70s.

The crowd assembled to pay last respects included skiing stars, Olympic athletes and childhood friends. Some had watched Sabich grow up on the slopes in nearby Kyburz, Calif.

uring the funeral, the Sabich family stole glances at a tiny female figure seated with a small group of her own friends. She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief, and now and then her shoulders convulsed.

She was Sabich's girlfriend, the French actress and chanteuse Claudine Longet.

On one hand, she had a right to be there. No one doubted that Spider had once been in love with Longet.

On the other hand, she was utterly out of place. She was, after all, the woman who killed Sabich.

She said it was an accident. His friends and family were not so sure.

A search for the truth would play out over the ensuing year. Before the last breathless gossip was whispered and the final expose written, the Sabich-Longet affair would develop into one of the decade's most riveting celebrity spectacles.


Skin and Bones

Sabich came from Croatian stock.

His father, Vladimir, grew up in Sacramento. A bomber pilot in World War II, he was shot down over Japan and spent a year in a Siberian prison. Sabich was released in 1944 and returned home to his wife, Frances.

A son was born to the couple the following year. The child was so spindly at birth that his father took one look and gave him his famous nickname.

"He was a long baby, but he had no flesh on him," Vladimir told the Sacramento Bee. "He was all skin and bones. I said, 'Geez, he looks like a spider."'

The alliterative nickname stuck. Few even knew his real name: Vladimir Jr.

In 1950, the growing Sabich family moved 50 miles east of Sacramento to the small mountain town of Kyburz, where Vladimir Sr. worked as a police officer.

They arrived in the mountains at an opportune time.

A brand-new ski hill, Edelweiss, opened down the road from their house, and the Sabich kids became slope rats.

Spider strapped on his first pair of leather boots and wooden skis at age five. Soon, he and his brother, Steve, were invited to join the Edelweiss youth ski team.


Highway 50 Boys

Their coach was Lutz Aynedter, a German downhill champion from the 1940s who emigrated to America after the war.

He taught the Sabich boys European-style ski racing, and Spider and Steve became junior stars among the fearless young racers of Kyburz, who became known as the 'Highway 50 Boys.'

As teenagers, Spider and Steve won one race after another against boys wearing better equipment who were racing for more ritzy California ski resorts, like Squaw Valley and Lake Tahoe.   

The Sabich boys caught the eye of Bob Beattie, ski coach at the University of Colorado, whose team served as a surrogate U.S. national team.

In 1964, two of Beattie's Colorado team members, Billy Kidd and Jimmie Huega, had stunned the ski world by winning the silver and bronze in the slalom at the Innsbruck Olympics in snooty, ski-crazed Austria.

The Sabiches won ski scholarships to Colorado. Steve's career was cut short by a knee injury, but Spider went on to earn a spot on the U.S. team for the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, France.

He worked hard, sometimes doing 25 training runs a day. But like most great athletes, he left the impression that it all came naturally.

"There were two things interesting about Spider," Beattie once said. "He had a great sense of humor and a lot of flair. He was a great-looking guy, very spirited. But he also majored in engineering when he came to Colorado. His mind worked very thoroughly, as an engineer's would. He had these two opposite sides to him."


Fifth at Olympics

Coach Beattie and the rest of America expected great things from the 1968 team, which also included Kidd, Huega, Moose Barrows and Ni Orsi, all Colorado Buffaloes.

But a combination of mishaps and stiff competition kept the Americans out of the medals. Sabich finished fifth in the slalom.

Most of the team turned professional and competed in World Cup ski racing in Europe. Sabich had a decent career, with one victory in the slalom and 18 top ten finishes. In 1969, he was ranked as high as 11th in the world.

In 1970, Beattie formed the Professional Ski Racing Tour in the United States to capitalize on the sport's growing popularity in America.

Sabich gladly joined up, eager to return to America after spending most of the three previous years in Europe.

He moved to Aspen, where his brother, Steve, by then a contractor, built him a chalet in the exclusive Starwood section, where his neighbors included Tina Sinatra and John Denver.


A Babe Magnet

Sabich quickly became one of the tour's stars — on and off the ski runs.

Blond and blue-eyed, he was the sort of man who stopped conversation when he walked into a ski lodge. Ski bunnies crowded in for a closer look.

"He was so charming and very sexy," longtime friend Dede Brinkman told the Sacramento Bee. "It was the same type of charisma you see in movie stars."

His brother Steve added, "Spider was a babe magnet. Just catching his overflow was fine with me."

In the early '70s, Bob Beattie pioneered the use of celebrity ski races to drum up interest in his new U.S. tour. Spectators would flock to the slopes to see stiff-skiing celebrities, then stick around to see the real ski racers.

In 1972, singer, actress and ski enthusiast Claudine Longet was invited to a celebrity skiing exhibition held before a pro race at Bear Valley, Calif., just 25 miles from Sabich's hometown of Kyburz.

Sabich and Longet met there for the first time and were overwhelmed by an immediate mutual attraction.

Sabich was accustomed to women finding him irresistible. But with Longet, the feeling was mutual. A friend likened it to "nuclear fusion."

They were a couple before the weekend was over.


Paris to Vegas

Longet was born in Paris on Jan. 29, 1942. After high school, she worked briefly as a dancer in a stage revue for tourists in Paris, and through connections there learned of a thriving market for thin, leggy young women for the French girlie shows that were the rage in Las Vegas.

Longet certainly qualified as French, thin and leggy. She had melancholy doe eyes and a face often described as innocent, surrounded by a hive of auburn hair. She was soft-spoken and seemed as fragile as rice paper.

Arriving in Las Vegas at age 19, Longet found work as a danseuse in "LeFolies Bergere," the Tropicana casino's famous "feather show" of French-style burlesque. (The show, which opened in 1959, is still running in 2005.)

Longet soon caught the winking eye of Andy Williams, the cardigan-wearing crooner. They were married on Christmas in 1961. He was 34, and she was not yet 20.

The following year, Williams had a career-changing hit with "Moon River," the ballad that Henry Mancini wrote for the film Breakfast at Tiffany's.

As Williams' star ascended, Claudine put her career on hold and gave birth to daughter Noelle in 1963 and son Christian in 1964.

The popularity of "Moon River" landed Williams his own television show in 1963, and Longet became a frequent guest. (Their signature shtick played on Claudine's accented English. Her tag line became, "Ooooohhhh, Andeeee!")

That accent led Longet to a series of '60s TV roles as a sexy foreigner in programs such as Hogan's Heroes, Combat!, Rat Patrol, Run for Your Life, Dr. Kildare, 12 O'Clock High and Alias Smith and Jones.

She then won star billing in the 1968 Blake Edwards film The Party, playing a Hollywood starlet who becomes the love interest of Peter Sellers' character.


Love is Blue

Longet had a parallel career as a pop singer, releasing the first of five recordings in 1966. Her specialty was covers of easy-listening songs, sung in a distinctive breathy whisper.

She had four Top 100 hits in her career, including a cover of fellow Frenchman Andre Popp's made-for-Muzak "Love Is Blue."

She also recorded covers of the Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere," Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love," "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys, "Make It With You" by Bread, and a number of Carpenters' tunes, including "They Long to Be (Close to You)" and "We've Only Just Begun."

In 1969, Longet gave birth to her third child, Bobby, named for Williams' friend Bobby Kennedy. By then the marriage was on the rocks, even though Longet and the children continued to appear until 1972 as a happy family on Williams' popular Christmas specials.

The couple separated in 1969. Claudine and the children stayed in their oceanside mansion in Malibu, Calif.

Williams and Longet remained friendly. He agreed to pay her $8,000 a month in support. When they finally divorced in 1975, Longet won a $2.1 million settlement.

By then, she was deeply involved with Spider Sabich.

That relationship would bring her more fame — or infamy — than anything she had done in a recording, television or film studio.


Change of Lifestyle

At 31, Sabich was enjoying the peak of his career in 1972 when he paired up with Longet, then 34. He was the top slalom racer on Beattie's pro circuit, and he was earning more than $200,000 a year from winnings and endorsements.

Longet began splitting time between Sabich's chalet in Aspen and her own home in Malibu — no mean feat when raising three children.

After a year or so, Sabich invited Longet and her kids, then ages ten, nine and four, to move in with him. It was a sobering change of lifestyle for the swinging bachelor, and naturally there were conflicts.

Friends of the skier said Longet could be needy and demanding. Once, she hurled a wine glass at Sabich at a nightclub because he wasn't giving her enough attention.

She forbade Sabich to attend Aspen's annual 'Best Breast' bash, a racy but guileless celebration of the female anatomy.

Not that Sabich and Longet lived like Mormon missionaries.

Aspen was frosted with cocaine in that era. It is reasonable to assume that Sabich and Longet enjoyed the full complement of vices available.

"Spider smoke, drank and did whatever all of us did," his brother Steve said. "Let's not forget, those were the '60s and '70s."


A Fatal Shot

Sabich suffered a compressed vertebra injury in the final race of the 1973 ski season, at Aspen Highlands. Although he continued to ski competitively, the back problem hampered his performance in the following three seasons.

At the same time, his relationship with Longet had grown increasingly contentious. He told friends they were heading for a split — although he was having problems convincing Longet that it was time to move on.

By March 21, 1976, Sabich faced a double dilemma over his personal and professional future.

The couple went their separate ways that morning. Sabich skied, then met with Bob Beattie. Longet saw the children off to school, then donned ski gear herself.

She apparently never made it to the slopes. She shopped, then stopped at a bar for a glass of wine or two. She was waiting at home at 3:30 when the children arrived from school.

Sabich got home 30 minutes later.

Preparing to shower, he stripped to blue thermal underwear. He planned to go to a party that night. According to one account, he planned to go to the party alone. According to another, he planned to go with Longet. Longet walked into the bathroom holding a pistol as Sabich disrobed.

A single shot rang out, and Sabich was hit in the abdomen. Longet's children ran to the sound and saw the skier in their mother's arms, bleeding. She called for help, then sent the children outside to await the ambulance.

Sabich lost a tremendous volume of blood on the bathroom floor. He died in the ambulance en route to the hospital, with Longet at his side.


Aspen Outrage

Andy Williams rushed to Aspen to support his ex-wife, who spent the night of the killing at the home of John and Annie Denver.

She needed the support.

When friends of Sabich began whispering that the skier had grown weary of Longet, public opinion in laid-back Aspen turned against the Frenchwoman.

"Everybody hates her," one resident told Newsweek.

Longet did not help her personal P.R. by going around Aspen wearing a T-shirt stamped with the sports logo "No Sweat."

She attended the Sabich funeral and burial in California, then returned to Aspen to learn she was being charged with reckless manslaughter, a felony with maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. Longet hired Charles Weedman, a hired-gun criminal defense attorney from Los Angeles, and Aspen lawyer Ron Austin.

From the outset, Longet said the shooting was an accident. She told the first two cops who questioned her that she was fooling around with the gun.

The cops said Longet told them she aimed at Sabich and made a gunshot sound — "boom-boom" or "bang-bang."

Longet pleaded not guilty, and a trial was scheduled for January 1977.

It was a modern prototype of the celebrity-crime spectacle, played out over a couple of weeks at the Pitkin County Courthouse in Aspen.

Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who lived in Aspen, said the trial was "like fouling your own nest."


Evidence Barred

After the shooting, gung-ho cops made two decisions that would have dire consequences for Longet's prosecution.

First, they forced Longet to give a blood test without a judicial order. Second, they confiscated her personal diary without a warrant.

Before the trial, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Longet's rights were violated by the blood test and diary seizure.

The drug test reportedly showed traces of cocaine in Longet's blood, and her diary allegedly documented the failing relationship.

Frank Tucker, the county prosecutor, read the diary and said the conflict between Sabich and Longet could not have been clearer.

"She was an over-the-hill glamourpuss, and she was not going to lose another man," Tucker said. "Andy Williams had already dumped her, and she was not going to be dumped again, thank you."

The evidence ruling was a boon to the defense.

Lawyers Weedman and Austin had indicated to reporters that the trial would include evidence that the relationship was on the skids. They thought prosecutors would be allowed to read compromising passages from Longet's diary.

But with the diary barred, the tone of the defense changed. The lawyers insisted that Sabich and Longet were deeply, blissfully in love.


It's Not True!

Seating a jury of 12 local men and women with open minds was not easy. One prospective juror after another said they believed Longet had shot Sabich on purpose.

On the first day of jury selection, Longet sat weeping in a shapeless gray minidress and Frye knee boots as citizens announced her guilt.

"To me, this is all total despair," she told reporters. After three days, a jury of seven men and five women was finally empaneled.

Bob Beattie, Sabich's former coach, was the first witness. He said the trial had an oddly genteel tone, as though no one wished to distress Longet.

"The hardest question they asked me was my name," Beattie said.

A police officer followed, testifying that Longet said she pointed the gun at Sabich and said "bang-bang" or "boom-boom."

From her seat at the defense table, Longet all but shouted, "It's not true!" Judge George Lohr failed to admonish her — and a starstruck tone for the trial was set.

Perhaps the most effective defense evidence concerned the handgun, a cheap knockoff of a German Luger that Vladimir Sabich Sr. had purchased while in France to watch his son at the '68 Olympics.

Sabich Sr. gave the gun to his son Steve, who stored it at Spider's chalet. Longet claimed she discovered the gun in a closet on the day of the shooting.

A defense witness said the safety on the gun was defective, and the firing mechanism had been lubricated with too much grease. The witness said it was entirely possible that the gun fired accidentally.


Star Testimony

On Jan. 11, the media got what it was waiting for: Claudine Longet took the witness stand. Attorney Weedman gave her the handgun and asked her to describe the shooting.

She began, "I picked up the gun and walked toward the bathroom, saying to Spider, 'I would like you to tell me about this gun.' I kept walking and I had the gun in my hand."

Longet said she asked Sabich whether the gun was safe, and they exchanged a few words about the safety switch.

"He said, 'Yes, it' s safe.'  I said, 'It won' t fire?'

"He said, 'You've got it.'"

At that instant, she said, the gun went off.

Longet began crying as she described how Sabich staggered against a wall and held his abdomen.

"Spider called my name three times and he sort of slid down," she said. "I told him to try to make it, to talk to me. He was fainting. I tried to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but I didn't know how."

Weedman asked Longet to describe her relationship with Sabich.

"Spider and I loved each other very much," she said. "I think we were the very best of friends. There were times over four years when we disagreed on things. We would have small arguments... But above all, we were the very best of friends and loved each other very much."

In his closing statement, Weedman returned to the gun testimony and to Longet's professed love for the man she killed.

"If there's any evil in this town," Weedman said, "it was the evil of the gossip about the relationship between Spider and Claudine... Not one single loud-mouthed gossip was able to come here and tell you anything bad about this relationship. For that, there should be some shame in this community."


Guilty of a Misdemeanor

After four days of testimony, the jury took three hours and 40 minutes to return a verdict. They passed on the felony charge of reckless manslaughter but convicted Longet of criminally negligent homicide, a misdemeanor.

Longet accepted the verdict without emotion, although she later told reporters, "I am not guilty. I have too much respect for human life to be guilty."

She faced a maximum jail sentence of two years and a $5,000 fine. But no one expected her to serve heavy time, including the jurors.

"I wouldn't want her to go to prison, heavens no," juror Daniel DeWolfe, 27, told the Associated Press. "By no means is she the type of person who should be in jail. I don't think she's a threat to society."

He said the entire trial was a waste of taxpayers' money and that Longet would not have been prosecuted had she not been a celebrity.

"I think they should have plea-bargained and straightened this out," DeWolfe said. "There was no need to make this big fuss about it."

Such comments left Spider Sabich's family gnashing their teeth, and their aggravation only increased at Longet's sentencing on Jan. 31, 1977.

"The defendant did not intentionally cause the death of Spider Sabich," Judge Lohr began. "All of the evidence is that the defendant and the decedent had a close personal relationship and the death of the decedent was a deep personal tragedy to her."

He denounced Aspen for its hostility toward Longet, and he castigated the scores of people who wrote him letters about the shooting, most urging a tough sentence in the Sabich "murder."

Before sentencing, Longet stood before Lohr in a flowered minidress and begged for mercy on behalf of her children.

"My children and I are very close," she whispered. "We love each other very much. They respect me and they firmly believe in my innocence. They are beautiful. They are happy. They are very gentle and open. With all my heart, I would like them to stay that way." Lohr said he was certain that Longet would not commit another crime. But he added, "To impose no imprisonment might undermine respect for the law."

He decreed a $250 fine and 30 days in county jail, to be served "at a time of her choosing."

The Sabich family bristled at the sentence — and bristled again when Lohr urged those involved to "go forward to lives as normal as possible."

Outside the courtroom, Longet was less demure than she had been before the judge, lambasting prosecutor Tucker.

"I think it's very unfortunate that I fell into the hands of a district attorney more concerned with his own ambitions than with justice," she said.

Tucker replied, "She was the victim of her own recklessness and carelessness. It's always good to be able to blame someone else."


Life's a Beach

Judge Lohr added the "time of her choosing" clause to the sentence out of concern for Longet's children. He assumed she would want to serve her time while the children were on summer vacation.

But Longet had her own priorities. Not long after the sentencing, she stole away for a Mexican seaside vacation with defense attorney Ron Austin, who abandoned his family to take up with Longet.

Longet eventually did serve her time, mostly on weekends. Longet and Austin married and currently live in Aspen. Longet is now 63.

Longet has been allowed to live a private life in the resort town, but she has been portrayed as the duplicitous villain in pop culture.

A 1977 Saturday Night Live episode featured a segment about the "Claudine Longet Invitational Ski Shoot." Chevy Chase and Jane Curtin played commentators as a film showed a skier crashing after the sound of gunfire. "Uh-oh," Curtin said, "he seems to have been accidentally shot by Claudine Longet."

And the release of the Rolling Stones' LP "Emotional Rescue" was delayed in 1980 while lawyers vetted the potential libel in one of the cuts, "Claudine."

The song, written by Mick Jagger, included these lyrics:

"Oh, Claudine/Now only Spider knows for sure/But he ain't talkin' about it any more/Is he, Claudine?/There's blood in the chalet/And blood in the snow/She washed her hands of the whole damn show/The best thing you could do, Claudine."

The song was cut from the album, although copies have leaked out.

Like Jagger, prosecutor Tucker and Sabich's family believe that Longet killed a man and escaped with little retribution.

Vladimir Sabich Sr. filed a $1.3 million wrongful-death civil lawsuit against her. They settled out of court after Longet agreed to a confidentiality clause that barred her from speaking about Sabich.

"I wasn't looking for money," Vladimir Sabich Sr. told the Sacramento Bee in 1996. "I just wanted the truth. I kept her from publishing a book."

"I've always known she shot Spider Sabich and meant to do it," said former district attorney Frank Tucker.

"It's a shame, because Spider accomplished so much in his life," said Steve Sabich, Spider's brother. "Claudine accomplished only two things — marrying Andy Williams and getting away with murder."

TruTV.com

 

 

 

 
 
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