While the justice system within the United States is meant to be fool-proof and provide punishment for those who break the law, there are many times when the system simply does not work. Most notable of these times, most likely because of the high media attention that they receive, are murder trials. And more specifically, murder trials that end in a not-guilty verdict.
From the moment a murder trial becomes part of the media circuit, the outcome of a trial is waited upon like Christmas morning. The trial is dissected, discussed, and mulled over by former prosecutors, defense lawyers, and TV anchors in the hopes of heightening the final jury decision. Viewers become wrapped up in testimonies and form their own opinion of what the murder verdict should be. But occasionally, no matter how blatantly obvious the evidence appears to viewers, and how sure viewers are of a defendants guilt, the jurors final verdict is not-guilty.
When this happens there is often an outcry from the viewers who watched the trial unfold before them. Whether the outcry comes from anger or sadness, the shock of the final not-guilty verdict leaves viewers and those closest to the trial feeling defeated and slighted by the judicial system.
Throughout history there have been several murder trials that are remembered for their shocking verdicts. These are five of the most controversial murder verdicts.
5. Robert Blake Trial
It was Friday, May 4, 2001. The 67 year old former TV star, Robert Blake, took his 44 year old wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, to dinner at Vitello’s Italian Restaurant in Studio City.
The pair had met nearly two years earlier after Bakley began showing up at a jazz club that Blake frequented. After their meeting, a one night stand had led to an unexpected pregnancy and a rocky relationship between Bakley and Blake.
After dinner on that fateful Friday, the pair returned to their vehicle, but Blake doubled back, supposedly to find a gun he left in the restaurant, leaving Bakley alone in the vehicle. A few minutes later, when Blake returned to his vehicle, he discovered Bonny slumped over, blood oozing from the bullet wound to her head.
After police arrived at the scene they questioned Robert Blake as a witness, not a suspect. But as the investigation continued, police discovered several large holes in Blake’s story. According to the restaurant owner, Blake did not leave a gun at his table, nor did he come in search of a “forgotten” gun.
However, without any evidence to prove Blake fired the shot that killed his wife, he was deemed not-guilty to all murder charges on March 16, 2005. Just a few months later, Blake found himself back in the courtroom, this time in a civil trial. Though he testified to his innocence in the murder of Bonny Bakley, he was found guilty of “intentionally” causing Bakley’s death and was required to pay $30 million to her children.
4. George Zimmerman Trial
On the evening of February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman pursued Trayvon Martin through a gated community where Zimmerman was in charge of the neighborhood watch. After his pursuit he got out of his vehicle to confront the 17 year old boy. There was a scuffle and Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin.
Police arrived at the scene within minutes. Zimmerman was treated for wounds and questioned by police for over 5 hours. He was then released. But six weeks later, when the incident had caught the national attention of the media and racism accusations against Zimmerman abounded, he was arrested.
While on trial, Zimmermann maintained his actions were based on self defense. In July 2013, Zimmerman was found not guilty of second degree murder and manslaughter charges. Outcry came from around the country as many cited that Zimmerman’s violent reaction to Martin on the night of the murder was down to racial profiling. The racial debate continues to this day and still weighs heavy on the members of the Florida community.
3. Darren Wilson Grand Jury Trial
In August of 2014, officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri following a confrontation. The incident was immediately picked up by media and quickly turned into a racially charged story. Following the shooting, several stories arose that pointed toward Michael Brown’s involvement in a robbery just minutes before his encounter with Wilson.
Public outcry over the teen’s death filled the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. The tension between officers and the community only heightened when a grand jury chose not to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown.
The evening of the not-guilty announcement was filled with cars being set on fire, rioting, gun fire, looting, and heavy protests. President Obama made a national address, insisting that there be peace across the United States. Across the country people protested, marching in Manhattan, Oakland, California, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
This incident of what has been perceived as racially-charged police violence continues to be a source of tension within the Ferguson, Missouri area and throughout the U.S.
2. Casey Anthony Trial
In one of the most controversial murder trials to hit Orange County, Florida, Casey Anthony was found not guilty of first-degree murder of her daughter, Caylee Anthony.
Anthony’s daughter went missing in June of 2008, but she failed to report the four year old missing until July, when her mother confronted her. After that, an investigation began, uncovering a mountain of evidence that all pointed to Casey Anthony as Caylee’s killer.
During her murder trial, Casey changed her stories more times than the highly publicized courtroom could count. Her testimony even included fictitious characters like a Nanny and a supposed job at Disneyland.
Testimony cited a smell of decomposing human remains coming from Anthony’s car, and the reports of chloroform found within the trunk of Anthony’s car. But still, the jury was unable to unanimously conclude that Anthony was guilty of murdering her four year old daughter. On July 5, 2011 Anthony was found not guilty on all counts of murder. Shock rang through the American public. Crowds angrily protested outside Casey Anthony parents’ home in Florida as well as outside of the courthouse where Anthony’s trial took place.
1. OJ Simpson Trial
In 1995, OJ Simpson was a retired pro football player and a mediocre actor. Sure he had won the Heisman trophy and was a member of the Football Hall of Fame, but after he retired so did his fame. That is until he led police on a slow speed chase in his white Ford Bronco wearing a fake beard and carrying a gun, after the murder of his ex wife and her friend.
The bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson, 35 and Ronald Goldman, 25, we’re found outside Nicole Brown Simpson’s home in California. DNA evidence and blood footprints eventually led police to suspect OJ Simpson of the double murder.
After the car chase Simpson was arrested and the “Trial of the Century” began. Simpson’s team of lawyers, led by Johnnie Cochran, planted huge amounts of doubt into the jury’s minds, with courtroom slogans such as “if it don’t fit. You must acquit,” in reference to the bloody glove found at the scene.
Lead prosecutor Marcia Clark threw just about everything she could at the defense to try to crack their case. But in the end, the sensationalism of the trial – caused by Judge Ito’s decision to allow cameras in the courtroom – overshadowed the prosecution’s efforts. In 2005 OJ Simpson was found not guilty of the double homicide.
Shock was felt across the country as an estimated 142 millions Americans tuned in to hear the verdict. Though Simpson may have gained fame through his acquittal, he lost a lot of money after. Fred Goldman, the father of Ronald Goldman, pursued OJ Simpson through civil trials, eventually forcing Simpson into bankruptcy and a $33.5 million home foreclosure. Simpson is currently serving up to 33 years in Lovelock prison for attempted armed robbery and kidnapping.