Actor Pleads No Contest, Fined On Assault Charges
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Actor Sean Penn stood quietly in court Thursday as his attorney entered a no-contest plea to charges that the young star assaulted two journalists when they tried to photograph him and rock singer Madonna.
Penn, 24, received a 90-day suspended sentence and was fined $50 on each of two misdemeanor charges of assault and battery that stemmed from a June 30 scuffle with the free-lance British journalists outside a hotel.
Although a number of reporters and photographers attended the two-minute hearing, the ″circus atmosphere″ feared by General Sessions Judge William Faimon never occurred. Madonna, who subsequently married Penn, did not attend the proceeding.
Penn, wearing a dark suit and open-collar white shirt, avoided reporters before the session by entering the Metro Courthouse through a tunnel from the Criminal Justice Center across the street, then using a rear entrance into the courtroom. He used the same route when he left.
Penn said nothing as his attorney, Robert Sullivan of Nashville, entered the pleas.
″The plea of no contest does not represent an admission of guilt or responsibility on the part of Mr. Penn,″ Sullivan said outside the courtroom. ″Mr. Penn simply felt it was time to resolve this matter and get it behind him and move on to more productive, creative matters in which he is currently engaged.″
Assistant District Attorney Bob Strong said Penn will have a permanent criminal record showing the two assault and battery charges.
Free-lance reporter Ian Markham-Smith, 33, and photographer Laurence Cottrell, 30, claimed Penn attacked them when they photographed him and Madonna outside the Maxwell House Hotel, where Penn stayed while filming ″At Close Range″ in nearby Franklin, Tenn.
Both journalists attended the hearing and later told reporters they believed the sentence was lenient.
″I feel he got off light. I didn’t expect him to go down very heavily anyway. It’s only a misdemeanor here,″ said Cottrell.
Cottrell told police that Penn warned him not to take photographs on the day of the alleged assaults and that the actor began swearing when a photograph was snapped. He told police Penn struck him with a rock and whipped him with his own camera.
A separate $5 million civil suit has been filed by Markham-Smith in Los Angeles against Madonna and Penn for damages stemming from the alleged attack.
Faimon had moved the hearing to a larger courtroom and extra sheriff’s deputies were assigned in anticipation of a crowd after the judge received calls from reporters as far away as New York and the West Coast. But the courtroom, which seats about 60 people, was only about three-quarters full for the hearing.