‘Naked violinist’ pleads guilty in New York and walks free

‘Naked violinist’ pleads guilty in New York and walks free


norman lebrecht

June 30, 2016

Stefan Arzberger, who was accused of attempted murder after breaking naked into a Manhattan hotel room and assaulting its female occupant, pleaded guilty yesterday in the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan to the lesser charge of reckless assault in the third degree.

Prosecutors then agreed to drop the main charge. Arzberger, former first violin in the Leipzig String Quartet, was given back his EU passport and told he could leave the US.

According to Newsday: Prosecutors said they accepted the plea after considering a number of factors, including the fact that no discernible motive was found, that the accusations deviated from Arzberger’s normal behavior and questions were raised about his criminal responsibility.

The incident occurred in March last year, while the quartet were on a US tour. Full details here.

Arzeberger, now 43, maintained he had gone to a bar where his drink was spiked, got picked up by a trans prostitute and was left naked and incoherent, searching for his room in the hotel.

His wife and friends stood by him throughout the ordeal and a fund was raised to support his living expenses in New York. He had to resign from the quartet, which needed to continue playing internationally.

He can now put the whole torrid period behind him and resume his career without a criminal record.

stefan arzberger


Update: The Leipzig Quartet has posted the following  contentious message, criticising the US justice system and regretting that the claims against Arzberger had not been tested and dismissed in court:

Ende einer Dienstfahrt: wir sind erleichtert und bestürzt zugleich. Keine Frage, niemand hat hier an die Stichhaltigkeit der unsinnigen Vorwürfe geglaubt. Bestürzt, weil ein unmenschliches Rechtssystem keinen Halt kennt. “Ass-hoolys” haben versucht, auch das Quartett zu zerstören. DANK AN ALLE UNTERSTÜTZER!


  • Olassus says:

    If he has pleaded guilty to reckless assault, then he will have a criminal record, no?

  • John H. says:

    I would think that after Mr. Arzberger’s experience with the US “justice system” he will probably avoid ever putting his foot in that country for the rest of his life.

    As a lawyer, dealing with many international cases, there are few systems more perverse and unfair as the US “justice system”. Mr. Arzberger was a victim of it, as have been many hundreds of thousands of others before him. Fortunately for him, his case was in the media spotlight and the German Government was behind him. There are today many thousands, equally innocent, who are imprisoned there and lost in a labyrinthian legal system that is as Byzantine and abusive as some of the worst in the Third World. Mr. Arzberger would do a tremendous service to human rights and international justice by making his case known to all, through a book or an in-depth series of interviews. He is one of the lucky ones. I personally know of two quite similar cases there where these obviously and equally innocent persons where sentenced to 30 and 26 years respectively. In both cases they were drugged and in one case the “victim” became psychotic and caused extensive property damage and hurt a child. Mitigating circumstances play little to no role in their approach to “justice”, with most emphasis at trial on the result.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Two words: Amanda Knox.

      • Edgar Holmes says:

        The case of Amanda Knox can not, in any way, be compared with the case of Mr. Arzberger. In the Amanda Knox case, Italian prosecutors were dealing with an actual murder and a dead body. That changes the entire process and how a suspect is detained and tried.
        In this case, no dead bodies were involved, no murder, only a psychotic man running naked through a hotel, kicking on random doors and then physically attacking a person who opened one of those doors. The same man was robbed, his credit cards used and him having no recollection of any of these events, concluding that his advanced psychotic and confused mental state was caused by some chemical substance ingested voluntarily or involuntarily. That is the question in this case, was his mental state altered against his will, unknowingly, or was he responsible for his own mental state and hence the actions perpetrated as a result of that.
        I agree, that this case will remain a case study in the questionable American “justice system” for many years to come.

  • MacroV says:

    For those inclined to criticize the U.S. justice system, consider how this would have been handled in other countries; even in his native Germany would the process or outcome have been different? There was an incident, and a victim. Regardless of Mr. Arzberger’s level of responsibility, It had to be investigated.

    Fortunately for Mr. Arzberger, the publicity probably helped him, as did, I assume, a good lawyer. No question the latter is indispensible (and not always affordable) in the U.S..

    • Gerhard says:

      For once I could hardly imagine a refusal to secure blood samples immediately after the incident …

  • Edgar Holmes says:

    Dear Sir,
    With all due respect, by asking, “consider how this would have been handled in other countries; even in his native Germany would the process or outcome have been different?”, you are opening yourself up to very serious ridicule and criticism.
    In the case of Germany, to name but one developed country, with a modern legal system, Mr. Arzberger would not have been detained, passport confiscated and forced to quit his job, lose all sources of income and be threatened with attempted murder. The events that preceded the “crime” would have weighed heavily in the case and the vast majority of judges at the outset would have looked first at that, his being drugged and robbed by an assailant, as well as his lack of motivation or any past criminal record and they would have most probably dismissed the case and possibly awarded some civil damages to the woman who was hurt in the process. He would have most certainly not been detained without any access to work for nearly a year and a half, be financially and professionally ruined and be psychologically tortured.
    May I also remind you that as a nation that still practices the death penalty, under very sinister circumstances, obtaining poisonous drugs from unknown sources and having them administered by unqualified, non-medical personnel, is worthy of the former Germany, during its Nazi period. The U.S.A. is in no position to serve as an example nor give lessons to the world as to what a just legal system is or isn’t. Most legal practitioners today, as well as most law schools outside of the U.S., use the U.S. system as an endless resource of case studies in how not to practice and try a case, how not to indict a person, detain a person, prosecute a person, arrest a person. Need I remind you of the hundreds of cases just in 2014 and 2015 of police shooting to death unarmed civilians, of tasering repeatedly unarmed civilians, with many dying and being permanently injured in the process. If you believe that is a proud system of justice, then you certainly have a different definition of justice than the rest of the world.

    • NYMike says:

      All will be remedied when we elect Trump

      • V.Lind says:

        Your country just goes from bad to worse, doesn’t it. Oh, yeah, he’s a fan of waterboarding. Then I suggest he take it up as his leisure activity — on the receiving end.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Wow. A result like that doesn’t happen without a good lawyer.

    For the commenters imagining that all this would have been resolved quickly in other countries because he was drugged against his will… there was never any evidence about a drug other than his claim. No blood tests, no witnesses, no suspects.

    But somehow they’d just open the cell door after someone said “I was drugged.”



      As a physician and friend of Stefan, I can tell you that there is no other explanation for such a temporary psychotic episode then a drug ingestion. And I am not talking about pot or cocaine but a class of drugs called ” bath salts” available over the counter used not for recreation but for criminal purposes. Such stories are unfortunately all to common with people robed, beaten or worse. The drugs induce temporary paranoia psychosis and violent behavior. Had the lady not opened the door the whole episode would have remained unknown. The drugs are not part of the usual drug screen and further more no blood sample was obtained by the police initially. The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming in favor of Stefan having acted under the influence of drugs he had not taken by his own volition.
      What would be the motive for Stefan to do such a thing?
      I know Stefan feels terrible about what happened to this elderly lady and now that the criminal case has been dropped he and his lawyers are planning to negotiate a fair compensation for her pain and suffering that night. Ironically had he been convicted, his liability insurance would not have covered him and the lady would have gotten nothing.

      • Cyril Blair says:

        “…he and his lawyers are planning to negotiate a fair compensation for her pain and suffering that night.”

        That is very smart. A much better situation than the victim suing him.

    • Cyril Blair says:

      Robert Holmen is exactly right. All things considered, and as frustrating as the episode has been for Arzberger, he is extremely lucky that things turned out the way they did. He has lost more than a year of his life, but he was free the entire time; not free to leave the U.S., but free. He wasn’t behind bars. That doesn’t always happen to accuseds.

  • Pallas says:

    Dear all,
    in any other OECD-country Mr. Arzberger had been released after one or two days, nobody had taken is passport neither put him away from work and insurance.

    Today the US – with million of nice people – has a political system of modern middle ages. Since 2nd world war more than 30 million people were killed by American war activities around the globe.

    And so is the habitus as world-police -station with 25% of all prisoners world wide. It is not North Korea, it is not Russia or Iran – it’s the US legal system.

    About 97% of all pre-trial arrangements are settled by dealing with rights and money. Look to the Arizona prison system – they look like Concentration Camps!

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Soooo… I can fly over to Europe, assault and nearly kill a random stranger, claim I was drugged and get released in a couple of days, am I right? Or do I have to be a musician to pull this off?

      • Pallas says:

        Of course, there will be investigation. But on bail you are allowed to work, to stay with your family and prepare for possible trial.

        And never, never you have 13 (!) two-minutes-nonsense-hearings before a possible trial. And: no, it is not necessare to be a musician!

        Is that answer enough, Greg?

    • MacroV says:

      As an American I have a lot of problems with our justice system: Death penalty, overzealous prosecutors, racial (and economic) bias, and more. You’ll get no argument from me about the state of many U.S. prisons.

      But in this case you had an assault, a victim, and no doubt about the perpetrator. The only question was whether the perpetrator was responsible for his actions. It took a while, but the system worked: Mr. Arzberger and his lawyers were able to convince prosecutors that he was not ultimately responsible. This is not a case to demonstrate the flaws of the U.S. legal system, other than the possibility that had he been black, without the money for a good lawyer, he’d been unlikely to have been released on bail or to plea to such a lesser charge.

      I seriously doubt that in most OECD countries he’d have been released – with his passport – within two days. He almost killed a woman, for heaven’s sake.

      • Marion says:

        You are mistaken and I suspect, that because you see everything from an American perspective, that you find it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that elsewhere a more humane and sane system of dealing with crimes and problems does exist. The American system is totally based on guilt and punishment. When YOU couple that with, what you already say, a biased and unjust legal system, you will never get justice, no matter how hard you try. Mr. Arzberger is free today not because he has received a fair and just hearing, but because he had money and connections. As you rightly said, had he been a poor black man, he would today be in prison, probably locked up for a few dozen years with no way to prove his innocence, or the fact that he himself was the first victim in the sequence of events. Just think for a moment of the many thousands of people locked up in U.S. prisons, innocent people, who couldn’t and never will get justice because of the colour of their skin, or their lack of money to buy their freedom. Mr. Arzberger, through friends and supporters, was able to buy his freedom, but he never received justice. That is the big difference. You say that “the system worked”. No the system didn’t work, at least not in the name of justice, but only for money. That reality, combined with all the other horrors of the U.S. system, make it hard for any educated and civilised person to not cringe when they hear Americans constantly hectoring and trying to give the world lessons in justice and law. It would all be laughable, if it wasn’t so pathetic.

      • Cyril Blair says:

        Macrov is absolutely correct too. The U.S. justice system has worked for Mr. Arzberger.

        The justice system has NOT worked for the victim. Seems like a lot of Mr. Arzberger’s fans and supporters are forgetting her. Hopefully the financial compensation he provides to her will be enough to heal her pain and suffering and psychic wounds.

  • David H Spence says:

    I’ve been curious almost all along what the consequences might have ultimately been for the original and only really intentional perpetrator of trouble at Hudson Hotel the evening into morning Stefan Arzberger got into such a heap of trouble. For all justice to be done, there needs to be full scrutiny of what is going on, so that this person never gets off easy.