The first time I saw Lenny Styles he was in the dock being arraigned on charges of assault and causing serious injury by dangerous driving. As a teenager I had dreamed one day I would see him in a packed football stadium belting out his hits “Don’t Forget My Love“ and “I Don’t Want You No More Baby”. He was a dashing figure then, having hit the big time in his mid-thirties. As he once told an interviewer, “I was old enough to appreciate the struggle it took to get here, but young enough to enjoy the fruits of a Rock N’ Roll lifestyle.”
Ten years later his band came crashing down amid rumors of bust-ups, threatened lawsuits and bad management. Whatever the reason, the one thing that was undeniable about Styles’ fall from grace was his declining popularity and sales. I should know; I was a diehard fan loyal enough to buy his critically panned experimental prog rock album Underground Suspicion, purely for completion’s sake of course.
The shambolic figure in the packed courtroom this morning didn’t look like the old Lenny Styles. My former idol now sported greasy unkempt hair, but not in a cool rock star way, and a bulging stomach seemed to be testing the buttons on his crumpled tan jacket. It had been a long decline for Styles. Despite claiming his bandmates had robbed him of millions in royalties he had bought a seafront mansion only twenty miles from Nassau, where I grew up listening to his albums. He moved in with his third wife, twenty years his junior, and settled down for what he hoped would be a blissful life enjoying the very best the Caribbean has to offer.
You know what they say about the best laid plans.
Styles had a tempestuous marriage, and unlike most celebrity expats who move down here, he couldn’t keep things out of the tabloids. While he claimed to be soaking up the local music scene for a solo career, the frequently promised new releases never materialized, and he was forced into performing private gigs for millionaires because he was broke and couldn’t write songs anymore.
Then on December 12, 2022, his world came crashing down. Styles was seen in a flaming argument with his wife at Lynden Pindling International Airport. Begging her to come with him so that they wouldn’t miss their flight, Styles jumped on an airport buggy, punched the driver in the jaw knocking him off the vehicle, revved it to full speed, well, 25 MPH, and started careening wildly through the terminals. It was reported in several newspapers, including the local rag I work for, that Styles had been singing his signature lyrics:
Don’t Forget My Love Baby
You Can’t Have Enough Baby
The Times I Almost Cried Because You Just Never Tried
Don’t Forget My Love Baby
as he drove past bewildered tourists. The scene might have been perfect for a music video were it not for the fact that he was driving away from the beautiful woman, in this case his wife, and that he drove directly into a cleaner. She managed to remain upright, holding onto the front bars of the buggy, only for Styles to drive her directly into a wall. Her legs took the bulk of the impact.
There was screaming and vomiting as Styles reversed the buggy and the cleaner looked down at the two bloody stumps that had been her legs. Both legs were rather hastily amputated below the knee by an inexperienced surgeon with anxiety issues who some of us felt should be the one standing in the dock right now.
The clerk of the court got to his feet, “All Rise.” A few seconds passed before the excited murmur turned to silence and Mr. Justice Spencer took his position at the bench. I’ve seen Judge Spencer handle some of the most serious high-profile criminal cases on these islands. He has the most incisive analytical mind in his interpretation of the law, heaven help the lawyer who tried to use sophistry to try and trick him, and he also understands the theatricality of the courts. Spencer stayed on his feet for a few tantalizing seconds as his eyes surveyed the room.
He took in the lawyer for the Crown, Lawrence Richards, a physically imposing man who oozed arrogance. At 28, Richards had become the youngest Bahamian to take silk and become a KC (King’s Counsel), and he was already being tipped for the Supreme Court or perhaps Parliament or Governor General, the speculation was endless. His trademark gesture was to shoot his cuffs every time he got up to speak. Observant court spectators, and he liked to boast that some young Bahamian women kept a photo of him under their pillow, claimed he always wore the same set of cufflinks. They were of the Royal Crest of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Richards liked to wear his ambition, literally, on his sleeve. Before he sat, Spencer’s eyes bore into Styles. Nobody liked wealthy Brits treating the Commonwealth like it was still a colonial outpost, and although Spencer was a scrupulously impartial Judge, I knew, and pretty soon my readers would know, that Spencer wasn’t going to go easy on Styles because of his celebrity status.
Spencer finally sat, and I could feel the relief in everybody around me. Then he began speaking in his curious mixture of Estuary English with a West Indian lilt: “Before we begin proceedings. I wish to make it known that the defendant has written to me insisting that he will defend himself in this case. Mr. Styles dismissed his regular attorney and sent away a lawyer the court tried to assign to him.“
There were gasps in the gallery.
“Mr. Styles, I am going to ask you some questions. You may step down from the dock for the time being.” Spencer spoke with a certain weariness, as though dealing with Styles was a chore. Styles had better tread carefully, I thought.
“Could you reiterate, please, Mr. Styles, why you are so intent on defending yourself?”
“Well, the thing is your Honor,” Styles responded in his gravelly Essex accent, “I’m broke, bankrupt, finished. I can’t afford a KC and the lawyer that was assigned to me wasn’t worth getting off my cell mattress for.”
A titter of laughter spread throughout the courtroom. I could see Richards suppress a smile, no doubt delighted that the defendant was going to make a fool of himself.
“Mr. Styles, I don’t want this courtroom to descend into a circus. I’ve already turned down a request from the media to allow this trial to be filmed. I don’t doubt that you have fallen on hard times financially, but you very clearly have assets. You should liquefy them to make sure you can afford the best defense. Bear in mind Clarence Darrow himself couldn’t disprove you were on that airport buggy. I also have to consider whether you are fit to plead and fit to stand trial. If not, it would be ludicrous to allow you to defend yourself.”
“Your Honor,” Styles responded solemnly. “You’re right, I was on that buggy. I intend to plead guilty today. I don’t want to prolong the suffering of the victim by forcing her to endure a trial. By defending myself I just wish to argue a few points of mitigation before you pass sentence. I’ve been reading up on the books since this tragic event occurred. I know my rights and responsibilities and would rather discharge them myself than hire a lawyer who would demand an astronomical fee.”
Spencer seemed to ponder his words. The court was silent while they awaited his response, then a fellow reporter leaned over to me and whispered, “I didn’t think old Styles could be so eloquent.”
Finally the silence was broken when Spencer responded, “Very well, Mr. Styles, if you wish to defend yourself, we should not delay the matter any longer. However, I insist that you treat this courtroom with respect. I will not tolerate an unkempt appearance or irreverent language.”
Within a few minutes I was rushing out of the courtroom to write up my article. Styles had pleaded guilty. Sentencing was due a week from today. I bashed away at my keyboard and got the piece finished in record time. I was pleased with the ending, “The day he crashed that airport buggy, Lenny Styles had been due to catch a plane to New York to promote a Greatest Hits album. No one could have predicted it would lead him to giving the performance of his life before the Honorable Mr. Justice Spencer.”
One week later I entered the gallery of the courtroom expecting to see the last act of Lenny Styles, former Rock God, played out before me. I had tried listening to some of his records before he was sentenced, hoping they might give me some special insight into the man I was covering in my article but it didn’t do a thing. I hadn’t listened to his music for at least ten years and was puzzled at how I ever liked it. Every other song was about him trying to get his leg-over with some model, which didn’t seem in the best of taste as he put that cleaner in a wheelchair. Then when I got to his prog rock phase, I was yearning to go back to the “let’s get laid” songs. This was a guy who desperately wanted to say something about the world, but had no idea what it should be.
Styles entered the dock flanked by two guards and I could see that he had taken the Judge’s advice. He was wearing a dark suit and tie, and his hair, although still long, was neater than usual. It occurred to me that this would be the last time I would see him as a free man for a while. The sentences for assault and death by dangerous driving were harsh and although Styles hadn’t killed anyone with that airport buggy I’d wager that Richards would be fishing for a long indeterminate sentence. A convicted rock star would look great on his CV.
Richards had been first in the courtroom and was pacing up and down before the bench. Pausing once in a while to shoot the cuffs and give everyone a glimpse of those Royal cufflinks of his. In an odd way he looked more nervous than Styles. Styles was a man who had made it to the top and then through obsessive self-destruction worked his way back down again. Everybody expected Richards to achieve greatness and that heavy responsibility could wear down even a man of his enormous self-belief.
“All rise,” the clerk barked and we began the familiar ritual of Mr. Justice Spencer keeping us on our feet while he locked eyes with anyone in the court he thought could challenge him. Finally we sat and Spencer called on Richards to begin for the Crown.
“Your Honor, on December 12, 2022, Henry Samuels got out of bed bright and early in the morning, made breakfast for his wife and two daughters and then drove to the Lynden Pindling International Airport where he worked, or works I should say, as a courier. Within a few hours Mr. Samuels would be assaulted and left severely shaken by the man who stands before you in the dock today, who threw him off his airport buggy as he was late for his plane. Marcia Harris, a cleaner at Pindling International was even more seriously hurt by the defendant’s criminal actions. Styles was driving the buggy at such speed that when he hit Ms. Harris the vehicle slammed into her and pinned her against the wall. When Styles finally managed to reverse the buggy her legs were a bloody pulp.
“Your Honor I have submitted to you the victim impact statements of Mr. Samuels and Ms. Harris. She cannot be in this courtroom today. She is now an amputee and travelling is a strain, but I will read to you an extract of her statement, ‘I am haunted by what happened. The pain, both physical and emotional, is too much to bear. I can no longer do my job. I feel unable to be a friend to my friends…’ I do not think I need to continue, Your Honor, suffice to say it makes for harrowing reading.
“There is one aggravating factor I wish to submit. Styles was very drunk when he committed these crimes. He was too inebriated to remember how much drink he had consumed when interviewed by police, but a breathalyzer test proved he was at least four times over the legal limit and Styles had a vague recollection of drinking Aquavit, Sambuca and Cointreau. In some circumstances, drunkenness may be a sign of diminished responsibility. However, Styles is a rock star, or at least he used to be one.”
There was a groan from the gallery. Richards had made a cheap shot.
“He would be fully aware, judging from the experience of his celebrity lifestyle, of the effect alcohol would have on him and that it would drive him to do stupid, and in the case of the assault on Mr. Samuels, belligerent things. Finally, I want to address the character of the defendant. It’s true Styles has no previous arrests or convictions and has led a life of some achievement. In that sense, as much as this can be said of a rock star, he is a man of good character. However, Styles is not a Bahamian by birth. He does not hold Bahamian citizenship or pay taxes here. He is a guest in our country and a wealthy one who insisted on giving us the grotesque spectacle of defending himself while pleading bankruptcy. Your Honor, I do not need to draw your attention to the sentencing guidelines for these crimes as you are fully aware of them”
He shot his cuffs as he prepared to make his kill.
“But I ask that you should not feel encumbered by the guidelines and consider the misery caused by this horrific crime as warranting a sentence at the higher end of the scale or even exceeding it.”
Richards sat back down. Even this small action he seemed to perform smugly. The rising star of the Bahamian justice system had finished his address. My immediate reaction was that Styles was in big trouble. A Judge should only exceed the guidelines in sentencing when a crime is exceptionally serious. But this usually applied to cases such as rape, child abuse and murder. It was a tall order for Richards to ask for a particularly long sentence for a case such as this, and the comments about Styles’ character were just legal nonsense, but still Richards had cause to be confident. If Styles hadn’t fired his lawyer, the ambitious prosecutor’s comments could have been picked apart. But now all Styles had was one last chance to redeem himself and possibly get off with a lighter sentence.
Spencer instructed Styles that he could step down from the dock in order to make his remarks. Styles duly obliged and began speaking, hesitantly but then with increasing confidence. “Your Honor, Mr. Richards claims that my decision to represent myself is a ‘grotesque spectacle’. No doubt he is hoping it will prove true the old adage ‘a man who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client.’ Mr. Richards made some assumptions about my character. I will not contest them at any great length. But I will say that drunken debauchery has not always been my default position. The week I had my first No.1, my bandmates went out partying to celebrate whereas I stayed in to watch Ted Bundy’s final interview on Death Row. Bundy, like me, chose to defend himself in court and he was sentenced to death, an outcome which the Crown might find rather encouraging.”
The public burst out laughing at this and Richards joined in a second later, not realizing the joke was on him.
“Your Honor, in mitigation I wish to submit my early guilty plea. I also stress this was a crime that lacked any premeditation. I feel remorse for what I did and recognize that I need to spend time in prison, ‘do porridge’ as we say back in Essex, as a punishment and deterrent. I was under a great deal of stress at the time of the offence. I do not offer that as an excuse but I ask that you take it into consideration when sentencing. I further offer my good character as mitigation. Character which Mr. Richards praised in the faintest possible terms. He need not have read out the victim impact statement for I have spoken to Ms. Harris myself and heard those exact words.“
This caused consternation. Styles had been doing well up to this point. Everything he said was legally valid. It made me wonder if that Bundy interview he mentioned had sparked a heretofore hidden passion for the law. But this was serious, as Spencer pointed out.
“Mr. Styles, you have been prohibited from having any contact with either Ms. Harris or Mr. Samuels. This is to avoid any possibility of witness intimidation.“
Styles pulled some letters from his suit jacket. “I assure you, Your Honor, that my contact with Ms. Harris was of a truly positive nature which has helped me realize the gravity of my crimes. Ms. Harris wrote to me saying she wanted to get past her anger and work towards forgiveness. I would have considered it cruel to have ignored her letter. I wrote back to express my deep guilt at what I had done to her, and she wrote back the same words she put to you in the victim impact statement, Mr. Richards.”
Richards shot to his feet in a rage. “This is outrageous. Styles was instructed not to contact either victim, and he speaks of this legless woman like she’s just another fan asking for a signed autograph of one of his crappy albums.”
“Govern your tongue, Mr. Richards,” the Judge snapped back.
Richards took a deep breath. “I apologize, Your Honor, but we cannot accept what Ms. Harris said in the victim impact statements to be simultaneously a piece of mitigation. I suspect Ms. Harris is still traumatized by what happened and is unwisely trying to keep a foot in both camps.” At which point I was fighting back the laughter, but it all came pouring out when Spencer responded.
“That was a somewhat unfortunate turn of phrase, Mr. Richards.”
Spencer turned to Styles. “Mr. Styles, if it is true that Ms. Harris contacted you first you should have taken legal advice about what to do but as you have spurned legal advice,” he sighed, “I will make a judgement on this in my sentencing remarks. Do you have anything further to add?”
“Just one last thing, Your Honor.” Styles seemed unfazed by the little explosion that had occurred in the midst of his summing up. “Mr. Richards asked you to consider exceeding the guidelines in sentencing me. If I understand the matter correctly the convention is for the prosecution to draw the Judge’s attention to the sentencing guidelines and not ask for a specific sentence.” He turned to Richards. “May I remind m’learned friend that I have a lot more to lose from his mistakes than he has,” which caused another round of laughter.
Once the clerk had brought the court back under control Spencer announced he would now rise to consider sentencing. It was an hour recess and the mood was electric. There was no shortage of opinions amongst my fellow scribes. Styles had made a fool of himself and Spencer would teach him a lesson, said one. No, Styles had knocked Richards all over the courtroom. He’d get off with community service, countered another. I knew they were both wrong. No matter how well Styles had performed there was only ever going to be one option, prison. The question was how long.
When we were called back in and the Judge began his sentencing remarks the tension was unbearable.
“Lenny Styles, you have pleaded guilty to assault and causing serious injury by dangerous driving. As my remarks will be made public and as they may affect sentencing in further cases I intend to go over the events of that fateful day in some detail in order to clarify how I have reached the sentence I pass on to you today. You arrived at Lynden Pindling International Airport at 11 AM on December 12, 2022. You had booked two first class tickets for a flight to New York to promote a Greatest Hits album you hoped would revitalize your career and alleviate your financial problems. Your flight was scheduled to depart at 11:30. Airport rules stipulate you must check in at least one hour prior to boarding so there was no possibility you would have ever got on that plane. After being informed of this by staff you flew into a rage, arguing viciously with your wife who was accompanying you. Shortly thereafter, you tried to bribe Mr. Samuels to drive you to your plane on the airport buggy, circumventing the security checks in the process. When he refused you floored him with a single punch, jumped on the buggy, revved the engine up to full speed and started singing one of your own songs I believe, a piece of dubious lyricism and quite disgusting sentimentality.”
The audience broke out in laughter at Spencer’s antediluvian remark. Even Styles cracked a smile.
“This brings me to the true victim of your crimes, Marcia Harris. By your own admission you were blind drunk that morning, having been drinking since a party at your house the night before with no period of sleep in between. You set off on your journey legless and by the end of it so was Ms. Harris. It goes without saying that what you did constituted a serious breach of airport security. You caused a great deal of damage not to mention distress to passengers and staff–” Spencer paused for a moment and then added almost as an afterthought “–and the flight was missed.
“Mr. Richards identifies your drunkenness as an aggravating factor. After careful consideration I have decided to dismiss this. It’s true that you were more than familiar with alcohol and the potentially deleterious effects it has on you but you have never been convicted of a violent crime. There is no evidence that your drinking leads you to commit violence, although you may have known it would cause you to be reckless.”
That was the first blow for Richards. I could see him scowl at his table.
“Mr. Richards also cast aspersions about your character and behavior in this courtroom. I too had deep reservations about you defending yourself in this case. I had a nagging suspicion that as an expat you consider yourself superior to our justice system and thought you could cheat it. Those fears have been put to rest. You have taken responsibility for your actions and pleaded guilty at the earliest possible opportunity. You have defended yourself with wit, bravado and…” Spencer’s lips widened into a large smile, “…joie de vivre. The fact that a man of your talents should end up in the dock at all is very sad. There are a few other mitigating circumstances which you did not present to me but I consider important in regards to your sentence. You are sixty-three and in some respects your health is not robust. Your doctor has written to me regarding your heart condition and enlarged prostate brought on no doubt by your excessive drinking. I also take into account that your recklessness that day was exacerbated by the heated argument you had with your wife moments before you commandeered the buggy. I gather that she has since filed for divorce. The heartbreak and stress this must have caused you coupled with your very public humiliation is, in a sense, the real punishment that you face.”
Styles had kept a straight face so far but now I could swear I saw a tear run down his cheek. Richards looked agitated, worried that Styles would escape prison.
“Therefore, on count one, I am satisfied that you did not intend serious harm on Mr. Samuels and your real desire was stealing the buggy in the hope you could catch your plane. However, all assault is very serious and a custodial sentence is thus inevitable. I sentence you to two years imprisonment. On count two, no sentence I pass can take away the pain and damage inflicted on Ms. Harris. I am satisfied you feel remorse for what you have done and did not intend to hurt her. I sentence you to three years imprisonment on this count to be served consecutively with the sentence on count one. Once you have served half your sentence in prison you will be released and serve the remainder of the sentence on license.”
Spencer motioned to the two guards. “You may take him down.”
It was while Styles was being led away that the courtroom descended into chaos. One woman, perhaps a deranged fan, shouted after Styles, “I’ll be waitin’ for ya, ma sweetie. Angels don’t deserve prison.” Richards got to his feet in a rage, shot his cuffs and launched into a career destroying tirade. “Eighteen months in prison is a disgrace. That’s less than a year for each leg that poor woman lost.” Spencer told him to sit down and stop making a fool of himself but there was no stopping the man. He ran over to Styles who was at the door that led to the cells downstairs and sneered, “Enjoy prison, white boy.”
If I hadn’t seen what happened next I would never have believed it. Styles offered Richards his hand, smiled and said, “Thanks for coming, sport.” I’ve never seen a man refuse a handshake. It’s just in our nature to offer our hand back. Richards was no exception. He gave Styles his hand and Styles clasped it firmly, holding Richards wrist with his left hand so he couldn’t escape his grip. He must have held it for ten, maybe twelve seconds. It seemed like hours. When he finally let go Richards turned, smarted and shot his cuffs only to curse when his shirt sleeve on his right hand flopped out. He tried to push it back into his jacket sleeve while looking down on the carpet to see where his cufflink had fallen.
Styles stood behind him. The guards seemed in no hurry to take him away. He smiled and waved at the crowd and for a second I was the teenager again and he was the rock star. All the easy charm and his natural ability to work the audience came flooding back. I have witnessed many courtroom crowds cheer as a defendant is being taken down, although they are usually cheering the Judge after he has given a life sentence to a rapist or murderer. This time they were cheering for a defendant. People in the gallery who could see the glistening silver cufflink Styles was holding as he was finally led away were cheering just that little bit louder.
— Steven Powell is the author of five books, including Love Me Fierce in Danger: The Life of James Ellroy published by Bloomsbury. He is the authorized biographer of James Ellroy, and leading authority on his work.