A review of some of the most shocking trial verdicts

It has often been said that justice is blind. While this should rightly be the case in terms of ensuring non-discrimination against a defendant, the shocking outcome of some of the most high profile cases in recent years shows that, on occasions, justice can also appear to be blind to the evidence presented in court, both factual and circumstantial. The outcome of the trial in such cases often results in what many members of the media and public perceive to be a travesty of justice. This potential for this apparent blindness to the presented facts can be evidenced by reviewing some of what are considered to be the most shocking trial outcomes recorded in recent years, a number of which have involved celebrities.

Simpson – 1994

Perhaps the most noticeable controversial outcome to a trial is that involving the indictment of O.J. Simpson for the double murder of his wife, Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman on June 12 1994. Late that evening, a then unknown man entered Brown’s property, slashed her throat and then repeatedly stabbed Goldman, causing his death. Following an investigation, the police issued a warrant for O.J.’s arrest and made arrangements with his lawyer for the football star to turn himself in to the authorities on the 17 June. However, the star failed to turn up and there followed one of the most bizarre globally televised road chases as police endeavoured to apprehend him. There followed one of the longest trials in Californian legal history. Due to a well-presented defense and, what some observers have indicated as being a preconception by members of the jury and general public with Simpson the celebrity, he was found not guilty of the murders. However, he was later to be found guilty of causing the two deaths in a civil court, a judgement which resulted in him having to pay compensatory damages of $8.5 million and punitive damages of $25 million.’

Jackson – 2005

In 2005, Jackson was accused of molesting a child, aged 13 at the time of the alleged incident. In addition to molestation, the charges included ‘abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.’ This was not the first time that such accusations had been levelled against the singer, who on at least two previous occasions had reached multimillion-dollar out of court settlements with his accusers. The case in question, however, arose following a televised interview where Jackson was seen holding hands with his accuser and suggesting that wanting to sleep with someone you were fond of was perfectly natural. Nonetheless, following the defense successful discrediting of the evidence of the accuser and his family, Jackson was finally acquitted of all charges. While his fans may have welcomed the verdict, many others, including legal experts, considered the verdict to be wrong.

R. Kelly – 2008

In 2008, following a six-year investigation into allegations of committing child pornography offences, the rapper star R-Kelly was found not guilty of all fourteen offences of which he had been charged. Had he been found guilty, Kelly faced a potential prison sentence of 15 years. The case against R-Kelly focused upon a video-tape he had produced of himself engaging in sex with a girl who, according to the prosecution, was only 13 years old at the time of the offence (1998). However, as neither the girl nor her immediate family agreed to give evidence in court, after seven hours of deliberations, during which the balance of the jury changed a number of times, they finally returned a unanimous not-guilty verdict. Although the majority of the jurors were convinced, that R-Kelly was the man in the videotape, their reason for his acquittal was based upon the fact that they could not positively identify the girl in the tape as being the accuser nor her potentially being under age at the time of the alleged offence.

Casey Anthony – 2011

A case that has recently become notorious, not because of the status of its defendant but rather because of the perceived ‘travesty of justice’ of the verdict, is that involving Casey Anthony, which was concluded in 2011. In June 2008, Casey’s two year-old daughter Caylee, went missing, a fact that the mother did not report to the police until a month later. Despite intense searches, within which members of the local community took part, the daughter’s remains were not found until December of that year, buried close to the home of Casey’s parents. As a result of this find and subsequent investigation, Casey was formally charged with ‘murder, aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse.’ Much of the evidence presented against Casey during the case was considered circumstantial and little of it could be considered as direct evidence of Casey’s involvement with the alleged murder. In fact, according to one juror, a significant element of the prosecution’s case relied heavily upon proving the bad behaviour of the accused during the period between when her daughter went missing and when her body was finally found. Indeed, it was revealed in court that, during this period, Casey apparently spent little time showing concern for her missing daughter, and seemed to be more focused upon spending times with boyfriends and out drinking. Whatever the reason, the outcome was that Casey Anthony was acquitted of the four charges, a result that resulted in immediate public and media outcry.

However, while it might be apparent from this review that the accused in these cases may have ‘escaped’ justice, there is an important consideration to be remembered. In the eyes of the law in the legal systems that exist in western democracies such as the US, the defendant retains the right to be considered or presumed innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, irrespective of the perceptions of the media and public, for all of the defendants in the cases outlined, the presumption of their innocence remains intact, irrespective of his/her statues in the community. Equally, of course, one could also argue whether in some cases, perhaps including that involving R-Kelly, the most shocking aspect of the outcome was that the case was allowed to be brought to court in the first place.