Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Robert Sorrells -- Don't Fuck with the Cowboy

Sorrells in 1967 (aveleyman.com)
Born in 1930, Sorrells was a bit player in films, especially Westerns, from the early to the late 1960s.  His films include All Fall Down (1962), Morituri (1965), Gunfight in Abilene (1967), The Last Challenge (1967), The Ride to Hangman's Tree (1967), Death of a Gunfighter (1969), Bound for Glory (1976, as Woodie Guthrie's father), Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978), Fletch (1985), and Nowhere to Run (1989).  Sorrells also landed small parts in three made-for-television movies (San Francisco International, 1970, NBC; Female Artillery, 1973, ABC; Gus Brown and Midnight Brewster, 1985, NBC), and was seen on a variety of Western television series (Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Rawhide, Lancer, Cimarron Strip).


Sorrells in 2002
The 74-year-old actor was retired and living in a low income senior citizens complex in Simi Valley, California, when an argument in a bar on July 24, 2004, turned deadly.  The night before, Sorrells drank until closing at the Regency Lounge, a seedy downtown bar located on Los Angeles Avenue and Galt Street about twenty miles northwest of L.A.  The next morning, he revisited the tavern to inquire about a lost credit card, returning later in the afternoon to resume drinking.  Sorrells harassed a female bartender to the extent Arthur DeLong, a 45-year-old painting contractor who was drinking at the tavern, escorted the elderly man outside.  Sorrells drove his Volkswagen minibus back to his apartment in Heywood Gardens, retrieved a semiautomatic pistol, and returned to the Regency Lounge around 5:00 P.M.  What next transpired was captured on silent videotape from a surveillance camera mounted in the ceiling above the bar.  Sorrells, a silver-haired man with a Col. Sanders-type goatee, walked into the bar, held the gun to DeLong's back, fired, and shot another round at the man as he lay dead on the barroom floor.  The former Western actor then turned the gun on another patron seated at the bar, Edward Sanchez, 40, shooting him in the face and back.  Sanchez survived the attack.  Stunned patrons recalled prior to exiting the bar, Sorrells shouted, "Does anybody else want to fuck with the cowboy?"  Simi Valley police apprehended the retired actor in his van minutes later three blocks from the shootout, and booked him in the Ventura County Jail on suspicion of murder and attempted murder.  A detective later testified that five hours after the shooting Sorrells' blood-alcohol level was still more than twice the legal limit.

Interviewed by detectives, the former actor's friends painted a sad picture of a man in emotional decline.  Friendly and outgoing, Sorrells was a practicing vegetarian who kept a small shrine to an Eastern god in his apartment.  Proud of his former screen accomplishments, he often showed friends residual checks from the Screen Actors Guild.  The death of his mother and poodle in 2003, however, radically changed Sorrells' personality.  He cut himself off from others, and resumed drinking.  Paramedics once called to his apartment described Sorrells in their report as a "babbling drunk."  A friend who spent the last decade performing with Sorrells (a talented guitarist) in a weekly jam session reported how after the deaths the elderly man began acting "weird."  Sorrells started calling the man to complain of how he felt he ruined his life by "pickling his brain" with alcohol and drugs.  Later, he received a threatening phone call from Sorrells announcing their friendship was over.  "I don't like you," the actor said.  "I have a gun and will come after you."  The music group banned the aging actor, a self-professed celibate yogi with the email username "yogibob," after he propositioned one of its female members.  A woman in Heywood Gardens sadly commented, "He was my friend, but he was a wacko, no doubt about it.  My intuitive reaction is that he's nuts....  It's just so heartbreaking."

The damning videotape recorded by the surveillance camera in the Regency Lounge was played at a preliminary hearing in October 2004 to determine a trial date.  The prosecutor likened Sorrells to a "gunfighter" in one of his 1960s Westerns.  The trial date was set, Sorrells later pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and attempted murder in May 2005 after a psychiatric examination determined he was sane at the time of the shooting.  On July 13, 2005, Sorrells was sentenced to a prison term of 25 years to life.

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