Top 10 Most Famous Not Guilty Verdicts
With the invention of cable television and around-the-clock media, legal cases that would have once remained relatively obscure, if not out of the public’s eye altogether, now are brought into people’s living rooms and the so-called court of public opinion. Network and cable outlets devote massive amounts of time to cases that are sure to invoke high emotions in people who find a thrill in watching murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, and other legal matters evolve in court from start to finish.Indeed, many Americans today love to witness high-profile court cases unfold. As they watch the proceedings on TV or read about the cases online and in newspapers, followers form diehard opinions about whether or not the accused will go to jail or be found innocent. Viewers become pseudo-experts and debate rigorously with friends, neighbors, and online commentators about the would-be outcome of these cases. However, when the verdict contradicts with their deeply held opinions, people are often left aghast that the judge and jury could be so blind to justice. In fact, these 10 infamous not guilty verdicts continue to amaze and confound the American public and remain subjects of much controversy and emotion today.
10William Kennedy Smith
William Kennedy Smith, the wealthy and handsome nephew of Senator Ted Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and JFK, found himself on trial for rape in 1991. The accusations against him came from a 29-year old woman who met Kennedy, as well as his Uncle Ted and his cousin Patrick in a Miami bar. The accuser admitted that she went home with him that evening and agreed to spending time with him both inside and outside of his house. During a late night walk on the beach, the woman said that Kennedy raped her. Kennedy, however, denied the charge and said the pair had consensual sex.
Nonetheless, he went on trial in Florida after the March 1991 incident, but was soon found not guilty by the jury. The trial itself made front page news around the world; as the public watched the dark-haired young Kennedy nephew defend himself in court, people everywhere almost immediately took sides about whether or not he was guilty. Many said after the trial that he escaped punishment merely because of his family’s name and wealth. Despite being found not guilty in criminal court, Kennedy still faced a civil lawsuit levied by another accuser. Again, he was exonerated on that case and a later case brought by yet another accuser in 1999. He received his medical degree from Georgetown University in 1992 and now specializes in rehabilitative medicine for victims of landmines. He has slowly regained his professional reputation and now is considered to be a well-respected physician in Florida.
Lorena Bobbitt grabbed international headlines after she cut off her husband’s penis with a kitchen butcher knife. An immigrant from Ecuador, Bobbitt married her husband John Wayne Bobbitt, but by her own words, endured a stormy relationship with her husband. After fighting with her husband and, according to her, being sexually, physically, and emotionally abused, she used the knife to sever his penis while he slept. She then escaped the couple’s house, driving along a Virginia highway where she threw her husband’s maimed penis out the car window.
The penis was found, however, and her husband was able to undergo successful reattachment surgery. Lorena herself was charged with malicious wounding. While the international media followed her ensuing trial, she became a fragile symbol of domestic violence and victimized women everywhere. The jury was sympathetic to her plight and found her not guilty by reason of insanity. During the trial, Lorena accused her husband of being unfaithful and forcing her to undergo abortions. Her lawyer argued that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and therefore could not be found liable for her actions. She did, however, undergo a mandatory 45-day psychiatric evaluation after the trial ended.
8John Hinckley, Jr.
John Hinckley, Jr’s name will forever be infamous because of his attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in March 1981. Hinckley enjoyed a privileged childhood that stemmed from his father being a high-ranking oil executive in Texas. Despite playing sports like football and hockey, he developed an anti-social outlook on life. By the time he dropped out of Texas Tech in the late 1970s, Hinckley was taking medications for depression, anxiety, and personality disorder. He tried his hand at professional songwriting, only to be met with failure. He returned to live with his parents and inexplicably developed an obsession with then-teenage actress Jodie Foster.
So deep was his fascination and obsession for Foster that Hinckley concocted a plan to exhibit what he later coined as “the greatest love offering in the history of the world.” To show Foster how much he loved her, he planned to kill the president of the United States. He purchased a .22 caliber Rohm RG-14 and traveled to Washington, D.C. where he stood outside the Hilton Hotel and awaited the president. As soon as Reagan emerged from the meeting he was attending, Hinckley fired six times, hitting a police officer, a Secret Service agent, press secretary James Brady, and as he planned, the president. He was immediately arrested and faced trial, only to be found not guilty by reason of insanity. After the trial, he was committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. where he still resides today. The outrage of his acquittal resulted in Congress changing the rules for the insanity defense, making it more challenging for defendants like Hinckley to use this argument.
Tough guy actor Robert Blake faced murder charges after his second wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, was shot and killed in 2001. Bakley was a known con artist who by her own admission used older men for money and favors. She targeted Christian Brando, Marlon Brando’s son, prior to her involvement with Blake. While she was romantically involved with both men at the same time, she became pregnant and initially named Brando as the father. However, a DNA test proved that Blake was the father of her daughter, leading to the pair getting married in November of 2000. By May 2001, Bakley was dead from a gunshot wound to the back of her head. Blake found himself accused of her murder and was put on trial.
During the televised trial, two former stuntmen testified that Blake tried to hire them to kill Bakley. Both stated that they turned down the Baretta actor, but believed that he had a direct hand in killing his wife on his own. Blake said in pre-trial interviews that he took his wife out to dinner that evening and then walked her to their car. However, he left his gun in the restaurant and went to retrieve it. During the time he went back into the restaurant, Bakley was killed by an unknown assailant. The stuntmen who were called to the stand admitted to using drugs and having mental health challenges. Blake’s defense deftly called their testimony into question, leading to Blake’s acquittal and the jurors being called stupid by the district attorney. Despite being found not guilty by a court of law, the actor never recovered his former reputation as a respected actor. Moreover, he faced civil action in court after Bakley’s three children filed suit against him for their mother’s wrongful death. He was ordered to pay $30 million in restitution, but later was given a lesser penalty of $15 million.
Hip hop artist R. Kelly found himself in legal turmoil in 2002 when a video showing him having sex with a minor made its way to the mainstream media. In the video, he engaged in intercourse and also urinated on a female reportedly less than 18 years of age at the time. Police investigated Kelly and found numerous photos of the girl, as well as other images that law enforcement deemed child pornography. The hip hop star soon was arrested and charged with sexual misconduct with a minor and distribution of child pornography.
Despite the charges, Kelly would not face trial until 2006. During the early onset of legal proceedings, the trial was delayed because of Kelly’s ruptured appendix and his resulting surgery. However, after he was released from the hospital and physically capable of standing trial, his case once again was delayed while attorneys argued over when the tape was actually made. The case finally went to court in 2008 and lasted for two weeks. It took the jury less than a day to find him not guilty on the 14 counts levied against him. Nonetheless, Kelly’s reputation has never rebounded. He is still known by and large as the hip hop artist who had sex with and urinated on a teenage girl, all the while taping the encounter. He has diehard fans who follow his music regardless of his reputation. However, the public as a whole seems unwilling to forget or forgive the matter entirely.
Arguably one of the most famous and iconic music acts of all time, Michael Jackson saw his fortune come tumbling down in 2003 after being accused of child molestation. It was no secret to his fans or the world in general that Jackson preferred the company of children over adults. While many people viewed his preferences as odd, few expected that he would be accused of molesting the children whom he invited to stay at his Neverland ranch. However, in 2003 a young boy said that Jackson molested him after giving him and other kids at the ranch wine and alcohol. These accusations came about a decade after Jackson faced earlier legal scrutiny for the same charges. The earlier charges were dropped after Jackson settled with the boy and his family out of court. The charges in 2003 led to Jackson being tried in Santa Barbara, CA court.
The trial became a media circus as Jackson made sporadic appearances in his defense. At one point, he had to be forcefully led into court, all the while dressed in his pajamas. The public became bitterly divided over the trial; his devoted fans cried out for an acquittal while his naysayers called for his imprisonment. The jury found him not guilty and allowed him to return to Neverland. However, Jackson claimed that the he wanted to live a normal life and fled to Bahrain with his children and a few trusted advisors. He died in 2009, never having regained his former glory in the entertainment world.
Seattle college student Amanda Knox has held the public’s fascination since 2009 when she first faced trial in Italy. As an international student in Italy, she lived with a British roommate, Meredith Kercher, and had an Italian boyfriend, Rafael Sollecito. After her roommate was discovered raped and murdered in their shared flat, Knox and Sollecito were accused of having a hand in her death. Along with Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast immigrant, the pair were tried and found guilty of murdering Kercher and sentenced to prison. Knox’s verdict was appealed and overturned in 2013, which allowed her to return home to Seattle. However, in her absence, the Italian courts once again tried and found her guilty. The subsequent appeal resulted in her total exoneration in 2015.
Her ordeal in Italy brought to light the perils of double jeopardy in the Italian legal system. It also led the worldwide audience who followed her trials to question whether or not she was subjected to unfair scrutiny because she is an American. Her supporters claim that the Italian courts are prejudiced against Americans while her critics say she was exonerated simply because of her nationality. Her dilemma also put the spotlight on the questionable detective work by Italian police officers and the fact that much of the evidence used against her in court was tainted. She has since graduated from college in Seattle and is now engaged to be married. She has said she will never return to Italy.
Casey Anthony was arrested in 2008 for the suspected murder of her two-year old daughter Caylee Marie Anthony. The Orlando, Florida mother soon became an internationally reviled figure as the media latched onto the story and covered the disappearance of the toddler and the subsequent finding of her decomposed body not far from her home. Casey became law enforcement’s primary suspect and put on trial shortly after her daughter’s body was found. The public overwhelmingly condemned the seemingly callous and scatterbrained mother, believing that a jury of Anthony’s peers would find her guilty as well.
However, Casey had a skillful criminal defense lawyer, Jose Baez, by her side and was found innocent by the jury. The defense called into question Anthony’s parents motives for not reporting their granddaughter missing sooner and for their own apparent lack of concern for their daughter after she had the baby. The defense lawyer also went as far as suggesting that Casey’s own father could have been the father of Caylee. Despite computer searches and other evidence found in the Anthony home coinciding with the manner in which the child died, the jury still did not find the mother guilty. The millions of people who followed the trial and continuous coverage reacted with outrage and anger. They could not believe that Casey was acquitted and that no one has yet to be held responsible for the child’s death. Casey and the defense attorney became subjects of widespread scorn. In fact, Casey has since gone into hiding to avoid the death threats she receives on her life.
Sanford, Florida criminal justice college student George Zimmerman garnered international scorn and hatred after shooting and killing teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman and his wife lived in the Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood, which had been the target of frequent home invasions. In February 2012, as Zimmerman observed the teenager watching through the neighborhood and called for the young man to stop. The pair got into a heated argument about Martin’s reason for walking through the area so late at night. During the fight, Martin challenged Zimmerman, who then shot and killed the teenager. Zimmerman claims he acted in self-defense after Martin attacked him.
The case drew criticism after President Obama commented that Martin was more than likely innocent and that if he had a son, he would have looked like Martin. The remark, combined with growing dissatisfaction with the way law enforcement was handling the Sanford, Florida case rallied African-Americans and the media to descend on the area and demand justice. Zimmerman, who is half-white and half-Hispanic, was repeatedly called a “white Hispanic” by the media. The constant reporting fueled racial tensions throughout the country. Zimmerman went on trial in June 2013, charged with second-degree murder. During the trial, Zimmerman’s defense called witnesses who confirmed that Trayvon had frequently engaged in criminal behavior prior to the evening he was shot. The defense also argued that Zimmerman was defending himself, actions that were recorded in 911 calls. On July 13, 2013 the jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder, as well as the lesser charge of manslaughter. Zimmerman, however, remains a much-reviled figure and has had to go into hiding to avoid death threats. Radical groups like the Black Panthers have put a bounty out for his murder.
Arguably the most divisive of all modern court cases, the O.J. Simpson murder trial still sparks controversy decades after the jury’s decision was rendered. Simpson enjoyed fame and fortune as a retired professional football player. He married blonde beauty Nicole Brown Simpson and had two children with her. During their time together, he starred in movies and commercials, reaping a hero’s reward for his athletic prowess and affable disposition. He seemed on top of the world until he and Nicole divorced. After their divorce, his former wife began seeing other men, a move that reportedly set off Simpson’s jealous anger.
After having dinner with her family at a local restaurant, Nicole went home where she was joined by her friend, 25-year old Ronald Goldman. Sometime during the evening, the pair were heinously murdered, both becoming the victims of repeated stabbings. Their bodies were discovered the next day, their blood spattered all over the walkway and landscaping outside Nicole’s home. Almost immediately, suspicion fell on O.J. Simpson. After the infamous Bronco chase throughout Los Angeles’ highways, Simpson was arrested and put on trial for their murders. It would seem that the prosecution had everything it needed to put Simpson behind bars for life. As the public became engrossed in the tale of the superstar athlete gone wrong, people throughout the U.S. and the world formed opinions about his guilt or his innocence. The jury went on to find him not guilty of first-degree murder, although he would be found civilly liable for their deaths. He escaped imprisonment for the murder of Nicole and Ronald. However, he later was convicted of robbery and kidnapping in a separate incident. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison.
Celebrities, athletes, and everyday people make for compelling legal dramas that increasingly unfold before the public’s eyes. With the international and national media covering sensational trials, people are quick to form opinions about whether or not accused individuals are guilty or innocent. The amount of time and coverage dedicated to these proceedings rival any amount of attention paid to even the most expensive TV show or blockbuster movie. Given the minute scrutiny and the bait-and-hook tactics utilized by many media outlets, it is little wonder that people react with shock, anger, sadness, and outrage when not guilty verdicts are rendered against those who are tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. These 10 infamous not guilty verdicts continue to attract controversy, disbelief, and anger by individuals who watched these proceedings from start to finish. They also will arguably will go down in history for how and why the judges and juries found in the defendants’ favor.