April 08, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck is a shiny happy person, now that he’s been acquitted in his British air rage trial. Buck had been accused of going on a drunken rampage during a British Airways flight from Seattle to London last April, with flight attendants saying he drank 15 glasses of red wine, verbally threatened them, tore up a printed warning from the cockpit, punched a wall, spilled yogurt all over a crew member and himself, and overturned a food cart. He was charged with one count of being drunk on a plane, two counts of assault, and one count of ”criminal damage to a quantity of crockery.”

In his defense, Buck claimed he’d had only six glasses and suffered an extreme reaction to the combination of alcohol and the prescription sleep aid Ambien, which a friend had given him and which he’d never taken before. Buck also claimed the combination had made him black out, and that he remembered nothing of the flight.

Buck hadn’t mentioned the Ambien when police initially questioned him; at the time he denied being on any medication. In court, he said he was still delirious during his interrogation, but prosecutors accused him of lying to save his (and the band’s) reputation. Attesting to that esteemed reputation were celebrity character witnesses, including bandmates Michael Stipe and Mike Mills and U2’s Bono.

Of Buck’s usual drinking habits, Mills said, ”He enjoys red wine with dinner, as do I, and he’ll have a few glasses, and then after dinner he won’t have any more.” Stipe said, ”Well, he’s in a pop band, I mean, he’s had some drinks before — we all have — but he’s not an alcoholic by American standards.” (Stipe did not elaborate on what American standards for alcoholism were, or how they might differ from those of pub-crawling Brits.) Of Buck’s demeanor, Bono said, ”He’s actually famously known for being such a peaceable person…. I had to twist his arm to get him to go to a boxing match once because he’s so sort of — he thought it was an aggressive sport.”

After a two-and-a-half-week trial, jurors apparently found the celebrity testimonials convincing; They deliberated for just five and a half hours before returning a verdict early Friday. They also apparently bought the defense’s description of Buck’s actions as ”non-insane automatism.” That’s a legal term, not a medical one, though it is possible for medication to disrupt a sleeper during his dream state, causing him to act out. The medical term for that, aptly enough, is R.E.M. behavior disorder.

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