The ‘Hotel California’ Stolen Lyrics Case Was Just Abruptly Dismissed

Prosecutors in the trial involving handwritten lyrics from the Eagles 1976 classic Hotel California dismissed the case on Wednesday in a surprise decision that seemingly puts an end to one of the more unusual music-related criminal trials of recent years.

In the criminal case, three men were accused of conspiring to possess stolen property. That property in question was over 100 pages of drafts of songs from the Eagles’ landmark album, written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey. The trial was heading into its third week on Wednesday when, in a letter to Judge Curtis Farber, Assistant District Attorney Aaron Ginades wrote, “The People brought this matter forward because we believed the evidence, when fully presented, would prove defendants’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, the prosecution’s confidence in the merits of this case is not enough – the People’s evidence must be fully presented and rigorously tested.” Judge Farber agreed with the decision and dismissed the case.   

Late last week, the Henley team waived its earlier decision to invoke attorney-client privilege. As a result, over 6,000 pages of previously unseen documents, including emails involving Henley, Eagles manager Irving Azoff and members of their legal team, were handed over to the defense team starting this past weekend, as the trial was already well underway. On Monday, lawyers for those defendants expressed indignation over the last-minute document dump, which, they claimed, included new revelations about the case.

In comments Wednesday, Judge Farber noted, “It is now clear that both witnesses and their lawyers, two of which also shielded themselves from thorough and complete cross-examination by relying on Mr. Henley’s invocation, used the privilege to obfuscate and hide information that they believed would be damaging to their position that the lyric sheets were stolen. This is a basic confrontation violation.” As the prosecutors noted in court today, Farber “ruled that an adjournment and the recalling of witnesses” was unlikely to happen.

Farber also noted it was “troubling to the court that the People were manipulated into passive complicity in allowing this to develop” and that the prosecution was “eating a slice of humble pie.” But Farber added he was impressed by prosecutors showing “the highest level of integrity in moving to dismiss” the case. Upon hearing the ruling, the defendants — rare-books dealer Glenn Horowitz, former Rock and Roll Hall of Fame curator Craig Inciardi and rock memorabilia dealer Edward Kosinski — promptly hugged each other.

Henley, who is on tour with the Eagles, was not available for immediate comment. But Daniel M. Petrocelli, Henley’s lawyer, tells Rolling Stone, “The attorney-client privilege is a foundational guardrail in our justice system, and rarely, if ever, should you have to forsake it to prosecute or defend a case. As the victim in this case, Mr. Henley has once again been victimized by this unjust outcome. He will pursue all his rights in the civil courts.”

“This case never should have been brought,” Kosinski’s lawyer, Scott Edelman, told reporters after the decision. “The district attorney in this case got blinded by the fame and fortune of a celebrity and brought a case that would never be brought if it was just a normal person involved. That blinded them to the information that they weren’t being given and led to the events of today.”

Inciardi’s attorney, Stacey Richman, did not rule out civil action against Henley as well. “These are three factually innocent men. The question is now … where do these men go to get their reputations back?” Richman said. “We’ll be assessing our rights in the wake of the demonstration that these men are factually innocent.”

The first week of the criminal trial, which began in New York State Supreme Court on Feb. 21, included testimony from Henley, Azoff and a former executive at Christie’s, the auction house that had considered selling some of the paper (but opted against it after concerns over the pages’ ownership). “I don’t recall offering to send him lyric pads,” Henley said of writer Ed Sanders, who was given research materials (including the pads) for an unpublished biography of the Eagles in 1979. “He had no right to keep or sell them.”

In light of the new documents, Horowitz lawyer Jonathan Bach said on Monday that he and the other defense lawyers were “denied the opportunity to refresh [the witnesses’] recollections about what’s in the documents.” Calling the move “an injustice that taints the entire trial,” Bach called on Monday for a dismissal or at least to strike some of the previous testimony. Edelman argued that the documents were “critical evidence in the case,” and Richman noted the “extraordinary and shocking revelations” in the new evidence.

Responding to the small mountain of released material, Assistant District Attorney Ginandes, who himself appeared taken aback by the email onslaught, argued, “This is not the first case to have new material introduced … This is not the government trying to engineer anything.” Referencing a contract between the Eagles and Sanders from 1979 — which set ground rules for the book project and asserted that all materials given to the writer were the property of the Eagles — Ginades also asserted that Henley was the rightful owner of the pads in question.

The thought of having both sides inspect thousands of pages of emails, along with more testimony about them, did not go over well with Farber. “We’re in the middle of a trial,” he declared, unhappily. That day, Farber added, “The complaining witness’ initial election to revoke the attorney client privilege ….  rather appears to this Court to have been designed to withhold information the complaining witness and his attorneys believed might cast doubt on his claim a theft in fact occurred.” He also said, “The Court will simply not allow a witness’ strategic manipulation of the discovery rules to interfere with defendants’ confrontation rights. The complaining witness and his attorney will not get a second bite at the apple because they now understand their initial strategy to keep material information from the defense has now backfired.”

In the Manhattan DA’s letter to the court Wednesday, prosecutors conceded that “these delayed disclosures revealed relevant information that the defense should have had the opportunity to explore in cross-examination of the People’s witnesses… The People concede that dismissal is appropriate in this case.”

For more than 30 years, the pads had been in the possession of Sanders, who sold them to Horowitz, who then later sold them to Inciardi and Kosinski. Starting in 2012, some of those pages were offered up, or attempted to be offered up, on auction sites. Henley, who asserted that the materials were stolen, took the case to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which arrested the three defendants in the summer of 2022.


“One of the ironies of the case is that Mr. Horowitz and other defendants were accused of not doing a full investigation of Mr. Sanders,” Bach told reporters. “But it appears that the failure to do a full investigation lies with the other side.”

The examination of the newly disclosed emails was nowhere near complete when the case was dismissed. In one email from 2012, after the first batch of yellow pads appeared on the website for Kosinski’s Gotta Have Rock and Roll auction house, Henley initially wondered if the culprit was not Sanders but former Eagles guitarist Don Felder: “Yes, those are my worksheets. Stolen. Wondering if Felder is behind this … He had access.” According to emails sent soon after, it was determined that Sanders was likely the one who’d sold them, and Felder’s name never came up again.