Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Frank Sinatra, Jr. Kidnapping

Flamboyant Failed Defense

Root elicited only scant evidence about the victim's alleged willingness — for example, that Frank, Jr. shook hands with John Irwin at his release and said, "It's too bad we couldn't have met under different circumstances."

But she grilled both Junior and Sinatra, Sr. on the witness so gratingly that each finally lost his temper.

Sinatra, Sr. was incensed. Stealing his son was one thing. Calling him a publicity hound was another.

In the press gallery, one wiseacre stage-whispered to another, "Do you think Sinatra will be acquitted?"

Root told the jury the case hinged upon "not who committed the crime, but whether a crime was committed."

In the end, the defense failed.

All three defendants were convicted, and Judge William East lowered the boom. Keenan and Amsler got life plus 75 years, and Irwin got 16 years.

But the circus played on.

Under federal prison guidelines, Keenan qualified for a psychiatric evaluation, which was conducted in Missouri. The prison shrink set prosecutors to gnashing their teeth when he ruled that Keenan's judgment was so clouded by Percodan addiction at the time of the abduction that he likely was insane.

Judge East was compelled to reduce the sentences of Amsler and Keenan to 24 years, and a picayune technicality further diminished their time.

As a result, under the liberal parole protocols of the 1960s, both Amsler and Irwin were released after just 3 ½ years. Keenan, the brains of the operation, walked free a year later.

Remarkably, Dean Torrence, the rock star who financed the kidnapping, escaped punishment.

Torrence told L.A. Weekly that he didn't believe Keenan was really going to kidnap Sinatra, Jr.

"I don't think I ever took him seriously," Torrence said. "It was so insane."

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