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Lyrics to Eagles’ Hotel California at centre of rare New York criminal trial

Glenn Horowitz, Craig Inciardi and Edward Kosinski appear in court (AP)
Glenn Horowitz, Craig Inciardi and Edward Kosinski appear in court (AP)

A criminal trial over the ownership of handwritten lyrics to the classic rock song Hotel California and other favourites by the Eagles has begun in New York.

Glenn Horowitz, Craig Inciardi and Edward Kosinski have been charged with conspiring to sell 100 pages of drafts on a yellow-lined pad without having the legal right to do so.

The notepad was allegedly stolen before they bought it and the trio knew its history was shaky at best, prosecutors said.

The unusual case concerns words to songs from the Hotel California album, which was released in 1976 and is the US’s third-biggest selling album.

Rare books dealer Horowitz, former Rock and Roll Hall of Fame curator Inciardi and memorabilia seller Kosinski are accused of scheming to thwart Eagles co-founder Don Henley’s efforts to reclaim the documents, and face charges including conspiracy to possess stolen property.

All three deny the charges.

The key witness is expected to be Henley, 76, who will testify between Eagles tour dates with the next shows planned for Florida in March.

The defendants are all well-established professionals in the collectibles world.

They got the documents from Ed Sanders, a writer and 1960s counterculture figure with rock roots of his own.

The Eagles (Redferns)
The Eagles (Redferns)

Assistant district attorney Nicholas Penfold got proceedings under way in Manhattan on Wednesday, telling the court in his opening statement: “The defendants were not businessmen acting in good faith, but criminal actors.”

He said they “deceived and manipulated to try to frustrate” Henley’s efforts to recover manuscripts that were rightfully his.

Lawyers for the men have said the case “alleges criminality where none exists and unfairly tarnishes the reputations of well-respected professionals”.

Stacey Richman, for Inciardi, said the documents simply weren’t stolen and that the men did nothing illegal by buying or trying to sell them.

“They have accused three innocent men of a crime that never occurred,” Ms Richman added during opening statements.

The defence say Henley voluntarily gave away the documents and leveraged prosecutors to try to take them back.

One of Kosinski’s lawyers, Matthew LaRoche, claimed the trial effectively makes a crime out of any circumstance in which “a celebrity tells you, ‘That property is mine,’ and you don’t give it back when they ask for it”.

The documents include lyrics-in-development for songs including Life In The Fast Lane, New Kid In Town, and the Grammy-winning titular song, Hotel California - which last year racked up more than 220 million streams and 136,000 radio plays in the US alone, according to entertainment data company Luminate, almost 50 years after its release.

The case was brought in 2022, a decade after some of the pages started appearing at auction.

Henley bought back some of the material for $8,500 (about £6,740), but also reported the documents stolen, according to court filings.

At the time, the lyrics sheets were in the hands of Kosinski and Inciardi, who had bought them from Horowitz.

He had purchased them in 2005 from Sanders who worked with the Eagles on a biography of the band that was shelved in the early 1980s.

Sanders, who also co-founded the avant-garde rock group The Fugs, is not charged in the case.

The three men who are facing charges are not charged with stealing the documents. Nor is anyone else - but prosecutors will still have to establish that the documents were stolen.

The defendants decided last week to forgo a jury, so Judge Curtis Farber will decide the verdict and the trial continues.