Lexington's most famous alcoholic checked into rehab Thursday.
Henry Earl, the Lexington homeless man who is an Internet celebrity for having been arrested more than 1,000 times for alcohol intoxication, checked himself into a four-month alcoholism recovery program at the Hope Center.
Earl sought treatment at the urging of Fayette District Judge Megan Lake Thornton, his defense attorney and prosecutors.
He was cut an unusual plea deal Thursday: two years probation, with a 90-day sentence hanging over his head if he gets arrested again.
The hope, said defense attorney Stephen Gray McFayden, was that the 58-year-old would check himself into the Hope Center program.
But he was under no obligation to do so.
The last time Earl was able to go two consecutive years without being arrested was in the mid-1970s, according to jail records provided to thesmokinggun.com.
Thornton has made it a priority to get Earl into treatment. But even she had doubts Thursday when she told Earl of the sentence he'd serve if he's arrested again.
"I don't know how that's going to work," Thornton said. "But when, and if — and I'm assuming it's when — you come back here (to court), it's going to be reassigned to me until you finish this process."
Earl was offered the deal because a Hope Center treatment program in jail lasts four months. The maximum that Earl can serve for alcohol intoxication is 90 days, so Thornton could not force Earl to complete the program.
The judge is "really cheering for him," McFayden said. "I am cheering for Henry. The community is. Henry has more fans than you could imagine."
McFayden said that Earl is thankful that Thornton is taking an interest in him. Earl had planned to thank her Thursday but was apparently too nervous, the lawyer said.
"He feels that Judge Thornton is actually genuine in her intent to help him," McFayden said.
For the first four months Earl would be in an inpatient program at the Hope Center. The second phase would help him transition into living on his own.
But Earl could walk away at any time.
"That was a concern for every party," McFayden said.
McFayden hopes to get Earl Social Security disability payments and into low-income housing — and off the streets.
Earl, who is largely viewed as a harmless eccentric, has received attention lately after an Internet site erroneously reported that he was arrested for the 1,000th time. The report was based on jail records going back to 1992.
Actually — as the Herald-Leader reported in 2005 — his arrests far exceeded that, but nobody had tallied up his arrests because the jail did not have electronic records before 1992.
The Smoking Gun, through open-records requests, determined that Earl has been arrested 1,333 times.
Earl is an Internet celebrity, even though he told a reporter in 2005 that he's never actually used the Internet. He became famous after humor Web site Fark.com began posting his mug shots and tracking his arrests.
Other Web sites devoted solely to Henry Earl have sprung up, including one that purports to have real-time stats of his arrests.