Amid Tears and Jeers, Justice Makes Prison Pen Pals Out of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Jim Bakker

The nerve! There was Zsa Zsa Gabor, sitting in Beverly Hills Municipal Court on the day of her sentencing, sponging up what could be her final day of free publicity (pending an appeal). She was playing it full throttle, dressed in widow’s black taffeta, spritzing perfume on her bosom with flourishes that even Sarah Bernhardt might have found overly theatrical. And yet, despite this exquisite performance, the camera kept cutting away from her. Imagine! And not just away from her, but from the whole drama-filled courtroom!

And with good reason. Because on the other side of the country, in the Charlotte, N.C., federal court, Jim Bakker was awaiting sentencing at the very same moment. What a field day for celebrity criminal fans! In one fell swoop they could tune in CNN and see justice meted out to two world-class spillers of crocodile tears. But what a lot of grumbling was heard in both cases! In fact, it was a day dedicated to griping. For Zsa Zsa the first sour notes were evidenced outside the court, where one woman volunteered, “What I really want to see is Gabor picking up trash on the freeway,” and a man carried a banner reading FRY ZSA ZSA. FREE JAMES BROWN. The groans then moved inside, to the spectators’ rows, where Zsa Zsa’s barrel-chested attorney, Harrison Bull, turned what could have been a quick sentencing session into a four-hour, nine-witness ordeal.

Six of the witnesses were called to support Bull’s motion for a new trial, which Judge Charles Rubin denied. The next three witnesses testified to Gabor’s character. Most entertaining was Betty Cardoni, director of Mercy Crusade, an animal welfare organization that provides spaying and neutering among other services, who stated that “Zsa Zsa has rescued many dogs from traffic situations at risk to herself.”

With that over, sentence was passed. For slapping police officer Paul Kramer and for two driving violations, Gabor was given 72 hours in jail, 120 hours of community service and nearly $13,000 in fines. Complaints were immediate. Zsa Zsa, of course, was not happy. Also displeased was attorney Kevin Goodman, who served on the jury. “I’m very, very disappointed,” he said. “At the very least, she should spend 30 days in jail. She’s so self-centered, 30 days wearing prison garb and eating prison food would do her a world of good.” Jury foreman John Burke was also critical. “There should be more community service,” the accountant said. “I would have wished for a little more severe sentence. She’s not going to grow as a person because of this.”

Similar rumblings could be heard in Bakker’s case when he received a 45-year sentence and a $500,000 fine following his conviction on 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy. The squawks started with former church secretary Jessica Hahn. The sentence “won’t add up to the years that people worked to save up money to give to PTL,” she told CNN. Several jurors agreed with her in principle. “One hundred years behind bars wouldn’t make Jim Bakker feel guilty,” said Catherine Boardman. “In his mind, he’ll never believe he’s guilty.”

“I thought he should have to pay $3 million,” added juror Dempsey Jones. “But the 45 years was just right. If he’d gotten more time, it would be better fuel for appeal.”

Beyond his usual supporters and his wife, Tammy Faye, who was holding down the fort back home in Orlando, Jim was eliciting little sympathy. Despite Bakker’s presentencing apology “for those I have hurt,” Don Hardister, his bodyguard and friend of 12 years, said, “In my mind, Jim has never really apologized for his sins. He never said he was sorry and meant it. Had he done that, it would be easier to forgive him.”

And so the two great celebrity trials of the day came to an end. Bakker was immediately taken into custody and shipped off to the Federal Correctional Institution in Talladega, Ala., in handcuffs and leg irons. Tammy Faye will remain in Orlando and, according to some sources, continue the ministry as well as the TV show. Hahn, exploring new career frontiers, will host Thunder & Mud, a live female mud-wrestling tournament-cum-heavy-metal concert airing Nov. 10 on pay-per-view TV channels.

On the other coast, Judge Charles Rubin is leaving the country for a long vacation. Prosecutor Elden Fox will go back to managing the Beverly Hills D.A.’s office, “and wait,” he says with mock seriousness, “for Zsa Zsa to come back to me.” As for Zsa Zsa, she may have a TV role in the offing. NBC’s Night Court is reportedly working on an episode involving a no-longer-young, foreign-born actress who, flaunting furs and diamonds, attacks a Tiffany salesman and then a cop who’s called in to restore law and order.

How do they come up with ideas like that?

—Robin Micheli in Los Angeles, Linda Marx in Charlotte and Orlando

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