It's the oldest criminal defense in the book, heard in courtrooms and on soap operas the world over: the old "I don't remember doing it" defense.
Well, this time it actually worked.
Michael Gerard Sullivan, a lawyer in Sydney, Australia, was accused of stealing two paintings from the Katoomba Fine Art Gallery in December 2008. He was dining in the gallery's restaurant, "in between courses," when he decided to pop upstairs on the fire escape, enter the gallery, and steal two paintings under the watchful eye of the security cameras.
ABC News in Australia recently aired the security footage from the incident. At one point, Sullivan lines the paintings up in the gallery and assesses them before deciding to head out, seemingly oblivious to his crime.
Sullivan pled guilty in court, yet claimed he had no memory of the events that took place. After hearing from psychiatrists, the judge ruled that Sullivan had a case of "dissociative amnesia," and was essentially playing the character of an "art thief" at the time the paintings were stolen. According to the sentence, he was then placed on a two-year "good behavior bond."
The artist whose paintings were stolen, James Willebrant, was not pleased with Sullivan's lenient sentence, and told ABC News that he should have gotten at least some time behind bars.
In May of this year, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Sullivan had worked with some of the most prestigious law firms in Australia. The prosecution held to their belief that he was lying about the amnesia, and the truth was that he simply didn't want to admit he had committed a crime.
"The version he's maintaining is one consistent with someone who is not accepting responsibility for what he has done," the prosecuting lawyer told the Herald.
The paintings were valued at $14,500 and have since been returned.
What do you think, readers? Is this a flimsy defense or is it valid? Let us know in the comments section below.
Here are some other high-profile art heists:
18 paintings including two by Fra Angelico, were stolen from New York art dealer Colnaghi's. The thieves broke in through a skylight, a manourve that could have gone very wrong, sending the thieves flying down the stairwell. Once inside, the thieves trod on canvases and failed to choose the most valuable paintings, but still made off with enough to be worth $6 million. Only 14 of the works were recovered. PICTURE: Wikimedia
140 objects, including Maya and Aztec Gold, Mixtec and Zapotec sculptures, were stolen from Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology on Christmas Eve 1985. The alarms had not been working for three years, thieves simply removed the glass from the cases. PICTURE: Wikimedia
Not all art thieves are financially motivated. Thieves who stole Van Gogh's The Fortification of Paris with Houses, Picasso's Poverty and Gauguin's Tahitian Landscape from the Whitworth gallery in Manchester hid the works behind a public toilet. A note pinned to the tube said they stole the paintings to highlight security gaps at the gallery. How public spirited of them. IMAGE: Wikipaintings
A rich American collector, Charles Wrightsman, bought Goya's Portrait of the Duke of Wellington and planned to take it to America with him. Due to public outrage, the government matched the sum ($392,000) and it was hung in the National Gallery. It was stolen three weeks later, and the thief demanded a ransom, which was not granted. The Duke was later deposited in the left-luggage office of New Street station in Birmingham. A 61-year-old retired truck driver confessed to the theft. IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons UPDATE: A previous version of this slide incorrectly stated that the artwork was still at large, when in fact the painting has been restored. We apologize for the error.
Thieves overpowered the guide and chucked the painting the Madonna of the Yarnwinder by Leonardo Da Vinci out of the window, telling tourists "Don't worry love, we're the police. This is just practice". The painting was found at the offices of one of Scotland's most successful law firms. Several solicitors were arrested, some of whom were said to be scrutinizing a contract which would have allowed 'legal repatriation' of the painting. The painting was recovered and returned to the Buccleugh family. IMAGE: Wikipedia
A masked thief dressed in black stole five paintings from Paris's Musee d'Art Moderne, including Pablo Picasso's Le Pigeon aux Petits-Pois and La Pastorale by Henri Matisse. Collectively the paintings are worth about €100m. The CCTV system had failed, the intruder had trigged no alarms and the night watchmen hadn't noticed the break in until it was too late. The CCTV had been reported as broken, but hadn't been fixed adequately. IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons
Thieves seized a Rembrandt self portrait and two Renoir paintings from the National Museum in Stockholm. One thief threatened an unarmed guard with a submachine gun while the other two grabbed paintings. They scattered nails on the floor to slow down pursuit and got away on a motorboat. The thieves went on to request $10 million per painting in ransoms through a lawyer who was then arrested in connection with the robbery. The paintings are still missing. IMAGE: Wikipedia
Thieves made off with $300 million worth of art works, including The Concert by Vermeer and works by Rembrandt and Manet. Two men in police uniforms turned up at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner museum claiming to be responding to a disturbance. Once let in, guards were handcuffed and locked in a cellar while the thieves went to work. Attempts to recover the paintings - for a $5 million reward - failed.
The most audacious art theft of all time, Vincenzo Peruggia, an employee of the Lourve, walked out of work one day with the Mona Lisa under his coat. The theft remained undiscovered for most of the next day, as workers thought it was being photographed. Peruggia believed the Italian painting should be in Italy, and two years later tried to sell it to the Uffizi in Florence. IMAGE: PA
The Scream is one of the most stolen paintings of all time, made worse because there are four different versions. Most recently, it was stolen from the Munch museum in Oslo, where it was uninsured because curators felt the painting was 'priceless'. There were no demands for ransom but the painting was recovered 2 years later. IMAGE: PA