NEW YORK – Emmy-winning actor Rip Torn (search) was acquitted of drunken-driving charges Thursday by a Manhattan jury that deliberated less than two hours — and then was treated to a personal thank you from the star in a courthouse hallway.
"This is one of the great events in my life," a choked-up Torn said after hearing the not guilty verdict in Manhattan Criminal Court. "To be in the hands of this wonderful jury. I love New York."
Within minutes of the acquittal, the jurors were in Torn's hands. He offered hearty handshakes to the four men on the jury, while planting kisses on the hands of the two women.
"Thank you very much," said Torn, a 1996 Emmy Award winner for his portrayal of the hard-drinking producer on "The Larry Sanders Show (search)."
Jurors said the prosecution failed to prove that Torn was drinking before his car was involved in a Greenwich Village fender-bender with a taxi.
Earlier, Torn's attorney had told the panel in his closing argument that the actor's obnoxious antics in a police station after his Jan. 13 arrest were ignited by anger instead of alcohol.
As Torn listened intently, defense attorney Adam Levy acknowledged that his client was embarrassed by the barrage of obscenities he spewed at police.
But Levy, the son of television's Judge Judy Scheindlin (search), insisted that Torn had but two drinks on the night when his Volvo was involved in the accident.
A police videotape later captured Torn cursing and berating officers before turning down a sobriety test. Levy suggested that decision followed Torn's mistreatment by police after his 1:08 a.m. arrest.
Asked later if he would have done anything different, Torn replied, "I'd be a lot calmer."
Levy complained that the 72-year-old actor was handcuffed and prevented from using the bathroom for no reason; the prosecution said the cuffs were in response to Torn's outrageous behavior.
During prosecutor Jason Berland's summation, Torn smiled ruefully at descriptions of his actions and shook his head vigorously in contradiction of comments to the jury.
Berland said Torn was treated just like any other defendant arrested for allegedly driving while intoxicated.
"We are not here because the defendant was framed in some grand conspiracy," Berland said. "We are here because the defendant had too much to drink."
Berland left the courtroom without commenting on the verdict.
The actor, whose real name is Elmore Torn, has appeared in scores of films, including the "Men In Black" movies.
The defense rested without calling Torn, although his wife testified that he appeared sober when they attended a memorial service and reception for an old friend before the accident.