AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd pleaded guilty in a New Zealand court Tuesday to a charge of threatening to kill a man who used to work for him. He also pleaded guilty to possessing methamphetamine and marijuana.
Rudd faces up to seven years in prison on the threatening to kill charge, although his lawyer Craig Tuck said the prosecution case boils down to an angry phone call, and he is seeking a remedy that would involve no legal consequences for Rudd.
Rudd acknowledged in a court summary of facts that he'd offered large amounts of cash, vehicles and a house to an associate after asking him to have the victim "taken out" and that he'd also directly said to the victim he was going to kill him.
The 60-year-old drummer was released on bail pending a June sentencing hearing.
Rudd arrived at the Tauranga court house in a sports car wearing sunglasses and a red tie, and didn't say anything during his brief appearance other than to enter his guilty pleas.
It's unclear whether Rudd has a future with the Australian rock band he's been part of on-and-off for almost four decades. The band intends to use Welsh drummer Chris Slade for its upcoming "Rock or Bust" album tour but hasn't said if that's a long-term arrangement.
By agreeing with prosecutors to enter the guilty pleas, Rudd avoided the need for a trial which was due to begin Tuesday. Prosecutors agreed to drop a second charge of threatening to kill. Earlier, citing a lack of evidence, prosecutors had dropped a murder-for-hire charge.
According to the court summary, the dispute began in August on the night that Rudd released his solo album, "Head Job."
Rudd threw a party at his marina restaurant, Phil's Place, to celebrate the launch. He was the toast of the town that night, and even the mayor of Tauranga attended. But as the night progressed, Rudd became concerned that security wasn't tight enough.
"The defendant was angry that the album launch did not go well," the court summary said. "As a result he sacked a number of people from his employment and professional team. This included, among other people, the victim who he was particularly angry with."
About four weeks later, Rudd called an associate, who was on vacation in Australia. Rudd told the man he wanted the victim "taken out," according to the court summary. When asked to clarify, Rudd said he wanted the victim "taken care of."
In another call, according to the court summary, Rudd offered the associate "$200,000, a motorbike, one of his cars or a house," which the associate took to mean as payment "for carrying out his earlier request."
Two hundred thousand New Zealand dollars is equivalent to about $153,000 U.S. dollars.
The morning after calling his associate, Rudd called the victim directly, saying "I'm going to come over and kill you," according to the court summary. He tried to call the victim again a couple of times after that but the man didn't pick up.
"As a result of threats made by the defendant, the victim was genuinely very fearful of his safety," the summary of facts stated.
Rudd's defense appeared to be making the argument that only Rudd's call to the victim remained relevant because prosecutors had dropped the murder-for-hire charge.
"What we can see now was that this matter was just essentially an angry phone call," Tuck said after the hearing. "They turned up at his home, nine police officers, a dog, media ..."
The summary also outlines the Nov. 6 search of Rudd's home when police found the drugs. When police arrived, Rudd was wearing jeans but no shirt, according to the summary.
"While being spoken to by the police, the defendant reached out to move a container containing cannabis crumbs from the coffee table and place it on the floor out of sight," the summary says.
Police found methamphetamine in Rudd's jeans pocket and in his bedroom and marijuana in several places, according to the court summary. In all, police found 0.48 grams (0.02 ounces) of methamphetamine and 91 grams (3.2 ounces) of marijuana, according to the summary.
Tuck said he would be seeking a discharge without conviction in the case.
An unusual loophole in New Zealand law gives a judge the discretion not to enter a conviction even in cases where a defendant has pleaded guilty. A judge can do this if he or she thinks the consequences of a conviction outweigh the seriousness of the crime, a move which can allow a defendant to keep a clean record.
The judge in the case, Robert Wolff, said he would not enter a conviction against Rudd before hearing Tuck's arguments.
Tuck, a human rights lawyer who has acted for Rudd before, took over the case after Rudd dropped his previous attorney, Paul Mabey.
Tuck said the case had done enormous damage to Rudd's reputation and he was looking into legal remedies for that.