Did These 9 Defendants, Who Were All Found Not Guilty, Actually Get Lucky?

It's a story that seems to play out over and over in the media among high-profile people accused of outrageous crimes. The public has its mind made up that the person is guilty, sensational trials end in them being found not guilty, and the accused has a black cloud hanging over their head because the public believes they got away with murder. Sometimes that stigma hovers over certain people longer than others, but either way, that person's name will always be associated with a memorable criminal case.

March 13, 2019
By: Matt Gilligan

Photo By: Robert Blake as Baretta and Fred [ABC Television/Wikimedia Commons]

Photo By: Mug shot of O.J. Simpson [Las Vegas Metropolitan Police]

Photo By: Robert Durst [Jae C. Hong-Pool\Getty Images]

Photo By: Staircase [Pexels]

Photo By: Snoop Dogg [Dodge Challenger 1/Wikimedia Commons]

Photo By: Michael Jackson [Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office]

Photo By: Mug shot of Casey Anthony [Pinellas County Jail]

Photo By: Ted Kennedy [Wikimedia Commons]

Photo By: Mug shot of George Zimmerman [Wikimedia Commons]

Robert Blake

Robert Blake had a lengthy career in Hollywood that spanned nearly six decades. He began as a child actor, won acclaim for his role as a murderer in the 1967 film In Cold Blood, and was most recognizable as the detective “Baretta” on television in the 1970s. But it was a bizarre shooting in 2001 that forever marked Robert Blake’s life, despite all of his previous accomplishments.

In May 2001, Blake had been married to Bonny Lee for only about six months, and the couple already had a baby when the woman was shot and killed in a parked car outside a restaurant in Studio City, California. Blake had gone back inside the restaurant after the couple had finished their meals to retrieve a gun he said he left at the table. When he returned to the car, Bakely had been shot twice. Police discovered the murder weapon in a dumpster, but determined that Blake had not fired the gun.

Prosecutors, however, believed that the actor had arranged for his wife to be killed. Two stuntmen came forward and testified that Blake hired them to kill his wife, but the jury didn’t find them credible, so their testimony was viewed with suspicion.

In March 2005, Blake was found not guilty of the murder of Bonny Lee Bakely. Jurors said that the evidence against Blake was “flimsy.” But later the same year, the actor was found liable for his wife’s murder in a civil suit brought by her family. Blake was ordered to pay $30 million in damages for Bakely’s death. That sum was later cut in half to $15 million. In 2006, Blake was forced to file for bankruptcy.

Since then, Blake has remarried and divorced again. Today, the 85-year-old Blake is retired from acting and has maintained a low profile since being thrust back into the spotlight in 2001. [CNN] [NBC News] [ABC News]

For more on Robert Blake, watch the "An Inconvenient Murder" episode of Investigation Discovery's Vanity Fair Confidential on ID GO now!

O.J. Simpson

O.J. Simpson seemed to have it all when his world came crashing down in the summer of 1994. The former football legend was only 46 years old and enjoyed a film and commercial career when his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and a 25-year-old waiter named Ronald Goldman were brutally murdered in front of Nicole’s Los Angeles residence. The two were viciously attacked with a knife, and Nicole was almost decapitated during the assault.

Suspicion immediately fell on O.J. Simpson, whose history of domestic abuse against his ex-wife was well documented. On June 17, 1994, Simpson was supposed to surrender to police, but instead led authorities on a low-speed pursuit on multiple highways in Southern California. Simpson’s friend and ex-teammate Al Cowlings drove the now-infamous white Ford Bronco during the chase while Simpson stayed in the back seat — with a gun. The chase finally ended back at Simpson’s home, where he surrendered to police. Simpson’s actions made him look suspicious, but public opinion was largely split along racial lines as to whether he had committed the killings. At the time of the killings in 1994, 63 percent of white Americans compared to only 22 percent of black citizens believed Simpson was guilty.

Simpson’s “Trial of the Century” was a media circus that kept the nation riveted until a jury found Simpson not guilty in October 1995. Many people were outraged and believed that he had gotten away with murder. The law did catch up with Simpson however, years later. In 2008, 15 years to the day of being found not guilty of murder, Simpson was found guilty of robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and kidnapping stemming from an incident in a Las Vegas hotel room. He was sentenced to prison and served nine years before he was released in 2017.

Interestingly, a 2015 poll showed that the majority of Americans, white (83 percent) and black (57 percent), believed that Simpson was guilty of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. [The Washington Post] [The New York Times] [Ad Age] [The Los Angeles Times]

For more on this case, watch Investigation Discovery's O.J. Simpson Trial: The Real Story on ID GO now!

Robert Durst

Like it seemed to play out with O.J. Simpson before him, Robert Durst escaped justice for many years until the law finally caught up with him. The real estate tycoon is suspected of killing not one, not two, but three different people since the 1980s.

The first person Durst is suspected of killing was his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, in 1982. The couple were known to have a tumultuous relationship, and Kathleen went missing in New York City. Durst claimed he dropped his wife off at a train station and never saw her again. He filed a missing person’s report, but his wife was never located. Police investigated but never came up with enough evidence to charge him.

Eighteen years later, in December 2000, authorities believe that Durst shot and killed Susan Berman in Los Angeles. Prosecutors argue that Berman knew information about Kathleen Durst’s disappearance in 1982, so Durst murdered her to keep her quiet. Shortly before Berman’s murder, Robert Durst learned that police in New York were reinvestigating the 1982 disappearance of his wife. The same year he allegedly murdered Berman, Durst moved to Galveston, Texas, and began presenting himself as an elderly, mute woman to avoid detection.

Robert Durst’s story took another deadly turn in 2001 when he was arrested for the murder of an elderly neighbor in Galveston named Morris Black. The man had been killed, dismembered, and his body parts had been dumped in Galveston Bay. Durst stood trial for Black’s murder in 2003, but claimed he had acted in self-defense during a fight with the man and that the gun went off by accident. A jury found Robert Durst not guilty, but he did serve some time in Texas for jumping bail and tampering with evidence. He was released from custody in 2006.

For years, prosecutors in California worked to build a case against Durst. Finally, Durst was arrested in New Orleans in 2015 in connection with Berman’s murder. The 75-year-old Durst is set to stand trial in California for murder in September 2019 for her killing. [The Los Angeles Times] [NBC News]

For more on this case, watch Investigation Discovery's Robert Durst: An ID Murder Mystery on ID GO now!

Michael Peterson

This case gained a lot of notoriety due to the popularity of the Netflix documentary The Staircase. In 2001, Peterson’s wife took a tumble down a flight of stairs in the couple’s house in Durham, North Carolina. Michael Peterson called 911, but it was too late — Kathleen was dead. Peterson told police his wife had been drinking and had also possibly taken Valium, and that she must have tripped down the stairs.

An autopsy showed that Kathleen had severe injuries to her head and neck, and it looked like she had been badly beaten with a blunt instrument. It was determined that Kathleen had died from bleeding out at the bottom of the stairs for an hour and a half. Suspicion started to mount around Michael Peterson as more details about his life and his past were exposed.

Investigators learned that Peterson was bisexual, and prosecutors would later propose that he killed his wife to keep her quiet after she found out. It was also revealed that he had lied about his combat record and the extensive medals he claimed he won for valor. Most shocking of all, though, was another incident involving a dead woman and a staircase.

In 1985, the Petersons were in Germany and had dinner at a friend’s home. The woman, Elizabeth Ratliff, had two small daughters. Kathleen Peterson left after the dinner, but Michael said he stayed around to help put Ratliff’s daughters to bed. The next morning, Elizabeth Ratliff was found dead at the bottom of her staircase. The Petersons went so far as to adopt Ratliff’s two daughters. Years later, Ratliff’s body was exhumed, and it was determined that her death was not an accident, but a homicide.

Michael Peterson stood trial in North Carolina for his wife’s murder and was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. The convicted man maintained his innocence and was released from prison in 2011 and placed under house arrest after it was found that one of the main witnesses who testified against him had falsified evidence in more than 30 cases. Many people were outraged that Peterson had served only eight years behind bars.

In 2017, Peterson entered an Alford plea (like the one that ultimately set the West Memphis Three free in 2011), which recognizes that there is enough evidence to convict him for the voluntary manslaughter of his wife, but that he maintains his innocence. Because of the plea, Peterson does not have to serve any additional time in prison. [CrimeFeed]

For more on Michael Peterson, watch Investigation Discovery's An American Murder Mystery: The Staircase on ID GO now!

Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg may be everywhere these days — releasing albums, hosting TV shows, and even getting his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but right as his career was blowing up in the mid-1990s, the rapper stood trial for murder that put his entire future in jeopardy.

In August 1993, a gang member named Philip Woldemariam was shot and killed in a park in Los Angeles by Snoop Dogg’s bodyguard, McKinley Lee, after a verbal confrontation. Woldermariam was a known member of the By Yerself Hustlers, while Snoop Dogg was affiliated with the Long Beach Insane Crips.

Prosecutors painted the incident as a cold-blooded murder, and it looked like the rising rap star might be sent to prison for a lengthy stretch. The defense argued that the killing was an act of self-defense and that Woldemariam went for a gun in his waistband before Lee fired the fatal shots. Snoop Dogg was defended at his trial by none other than superstar lawyer Johnnie Cochran.

Snoop Dogg (real name: Calvin Broadus) and McKinley Lee were ultimately found not guilty by a jury in February 1996. Snoop Dogg dodged a bullet and has since gone on to have an extremely successful career in show business — and hangs out with convicted felon Martha Stewart. [The Los Angeles Times] [The Washington Post] [The Independent]

Michael Jackson

The King of Pop is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable entertainers of all time. From his early days with the Jackson 5 to his unparalleled success as a solo artist in the 1980s and 1990s, Michael Jackson is an American icon. But his legacy will forever be tarnished by accusations of sexual assault against young children, and the debate still continues to this day.

Jackson had been accused of sexual assault in the past, but it wasn’t until 2005 that he stood trial for allegedly molesting an underage boy named Gavin Arvizo who was battling cancer at the time Jackson met him. A 2003 documentary called Living with Michael Jackson raised many eyebrows due to the singer’s admissions that he slept in the same bed as children on many occasions and was seen holding Arvizo’s hand in the film.

Police reopened their investigation into Jackson after the documentary aired. In November 2003, Jackson’s home, Neverland Ranch, was searched and Michael Jackson was arrested. The following month he was charged with child molestation and “administering an intoxicating agent for the purpose of committing a felony.”

Jackson’s criminal trial began in February 2005. Employees at the Neverland Ranch and members of the Arvizo testified against Jackson. Gavin Arvizo claimed that Jackson had given him and his younger brother wine that he called “Jesus juice” and made sexual advances toward them. Others testified for the defense, including actor Macaulay Culkin, who claimed he never saw Jackson act inappropriately toward anyone, but that he did sleep in Jackson’s bed many times. Culkin and Jackson became friends when the actor was still a young boy.

On June 13, 2005, Jackson was found not guilty by a jury on all 14 counts. Four years later, in June 2009, Michael Jackson died at the age of 50.

In January 2019, HBO premiered the documentary Leaving Neverland, which focuses on Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men who allege that they were sexually abused by Jackson from 1987 to 1996 when they were children. Robson had previously testified in Jackson’s defense when he was 10 years old in 1993 and denied any inappropriate behavior ever took place. Robson’s lawyer now says his earlier defense of Jackson was the result of "brainwashing by a sexual predator.”

The publicity stemming from the revelations in Leaving Neverland has caused Michael Jackson’s legacy to be reexamined nearly 10 years after his death. In February 2019, Jackson’s estate sued HBO over the documentary film, saying, “Michael Jackson is innocent. Period. 10 years after his passing, there are still those out to profit from his enormous worldwide success and take advantage of his eccentricities. Michael is an easy target because he is not here to defend himself, and the law does not protect the deceased from defamation, no matter how extreme the lies are." [People] [Global News] [Cosmopolitan]

For more, watch Investigation Discovery's Barbara Walters Presents: Michael Jackson: The Man in the Mirror on ID GO now!

Casey Anthony

When a child is the victim in a high-profile case, emotions are bound to reach a boiling point. Such was the case with the death of Caylee Anthony, a two-year-old girl who disappeared in June 2008 and whose body was found six months later.

The young girl’s mother, Casey Anthony, became the focus of a sensational trial that captured the attention of the nation and outraged many when she walked free.

Casey Anthony was only 19 when she gave birth to her baby, Caylee, in 2005. On July 15, 2008, Casey’s mother, Cindy Anthony, called police in Orlando to report that her granddaughter was missing — and had been for 31 days. Casey told police that little Caylee had disappeared after she left her with a babysitter who had vanished. Casey Anthony’s story was full of lies, including a false claim that she had worked at Universal Studios in Orlando.

Police and the public were extremely suspicious as time wore on and there was no sign of the missing toddler. Searches continued but to no avail. In October 2008, four months after her daughter disappeared, Casey Anthony was charged with first-degree murder and child abuse. She pleaded not guilty. Two months later, on December 11, 2008, Caylee’s remains were found in a wooded area not far from the Anthony home.

Casey Anthony’s trial began in May 2011. Prosectors alleged that Anthony murdered her daughter by knocking her out with chloroform and putting duct tape over her mouth and nose to suffocate her. They also portrayed her as a party girl who was desperate to rid herself of the responsibility of having a child. The defense team argued that Caylee had accidentally drowned in the family pool and that Casey’s father, George, had discovered the dead girl and helped to dispose of her body.

On July 5, 2011, a jury found Casey Anthony not guilty of murder and child abuse. She was, however, found guilty of lying to law enforcement and was sentenced to four years with credit for time served, so Anthony walked away a free woman 12 days after her trial ended. [CNN] [CNN (2)] [ABC News]

For more on this case, watch Investigation Discovery's Casey Anthony: An American Murder Mystery on ID GO now!

Ted Kennedy

No matter what Senator Ted Kennedy accomplished in public service throughout his life, the dark shadow of what happened on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts on July 18, 1969 always followed him and besmirched his public image.

Kennedy, being from such a prominent American political family, had his sights set on bigger and better things when he drove his black Oldsmobile off a bridge and into a tidal pond on Chappaquiddick Island after a party late on that July night. The vehicle landed upside down in the murky water. Kennedy was able to escape the car and swim to safety, but his companion, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, was trapped and died in the car.

Kennedy returned to the scene with his cousin and an aide, and the men claimed to have dived into the water repeatedly to try to reach Kopechne, but to no avail. The men left the scene and Kennedy didn’t report the incident to police.

Fishermen spotted the crash site, and Kopechne’s body was retrieved from the overturned car. Kennedy eventually went to the police station around 10 A.M. the next morning and admitted he had been driving the Oldsmobile. He denied that he was speeding or driving under the influence of alcohol. Because he had waited so long to go to the police station, Kennedy’s blood-alcohol level wasn’t able to be tested. The police could find no wrongdoing on Kennedy’s part, and he pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a suspended two-month jail sentence.

Kennedy’s detractors have argued for years that he received special treatment and escaped with a slap on the wrist because of his family name and his connections.The incident was so controversial that it likely influenced Kennedy’s decision not to run for President later in his career. Ted Kennedy died of cancer in 2009 at the age of 77, having accomplished so much in his life, but he always had the events of July 1969 tarnishing him. [History] [Boston.com]

George Zimmerman

The most recent incident on this list took place in February 2012 and caused the public to debate such issues as racism and gun rights.

On the evening in question, 28-year-old George Zimmerman called 911 to report a suspicious person in his Sanford, Florida, neighborhood. Zimmerman served as a neighborhood watch captain and had spotted 17-year-old Trayvon Martin walking down the street with a gray hoodie covering his head. Zimmerman followed Martin in his SUV — where he kept a loaded handgun — and was told by the 911 operator that the police would handle the situation.

Soon after, calls from other people came into 911 saying there was a fight between two men and that shots had been fired. Martin lay dead in the grass, and Zimmerman had visible wounds from a scuffle. Zimmerman told police that the teenager attacked him and he’d shot in self-defense. After an investigation, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder. The story set off a firestorm of controversy in the press and the public forum: Why was a teenage boy who was minding his own business accosted and then shot and killed by a seemingly trigger-happy neighborhood watch captain?

After a month-long trial, Zimmerman was found innocent by a jury in July 2013. Public outrage followed the verdict and many thought the case was a complete and total miscarriage of justice. [CNN] [Miami Herald] [Chicago Tribune]