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10 Most Famous Not Guilty Verdicts

by George Smith
fact checked by Rachel Jones

Movies can teach us so much about how the world works. From Law Abiding Citizen, we learn “it’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove in court.” For most of the people mentioned in this article, that statement could not be more true. In the peoples’ court, these ten individuals are as guilty as they come, but in the court of law, each of them was acquitted of their crimes.

Related: Top 10 People Found Guilty At Trial Due To Surprise Evidence

10 Casey Anthony

Caylee Anthony was born in August 2005 after Casey lied about being pregnant and said she wasn’t sure who the father was. She said it could have been her fiance or another man who she said died in a car crash. A few months short of Caylee’s 3rd birthday, Casey had an argument with her family and drove away her daughter.

A month later, Casey’s mom Cindy calls the police to report that Caylee is missing and that she thinks Casey killed her. Apparently, the car Casey drove off in was impounded and smelled like a dead body had been in there. A day later, Casey was arrested.

Throughout the investigation, Casey repeatedly lied to the police, family, and even a nanny. In December 2008, a utility worker found the bones of Caylee less than a half-mile away from their house.

Why They Were Acquitted

In 2011, the jury found Casey Anthony not guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, and aggravated manslaughter of a child. Still, Anthony was, however, convicted on four misdemeanor counts, which included providing false information to a law enforcement officer. A juror told People, “She seems like a horrible person. But the prosecutors did not give us enough evidence to convict. They gave us a lot of stuff that makes us think that she probably did something wrong, but not beyond a reasonable doubt.”

9 Belva Gaertner

Episode 175: Stranger Than Fiction: Belva Gaertner & Beulah Annan and Chicago

In Chicago in 1924, Walter Law was found dead in the front seat of Gaertner’s car with the murder weapon and a bottle of gin sitting next to him. Belva was found later in her apartment wearing bloody clothes; she told police that she had found him dead. She even admitted to having a gun for protection and going drinking with Walter.

Police arrested her, but she was later acquitted of the murder.

Why They Were Acquitted

To put it simply, her entire defense was that she didn’t remember what happened that night. Belva and her lawyer presented her case like she was a fallen socialite who couldn’t have done it. She was a fashionable, charming, and supposedly high-class woman—and the jury bought that hook, line, and sinker. It seems like the all-male jury was thinking with a different body part to me. Oh, and if this story sounds familiar, Belva and another woman from Chicago’s “Murderess Row,” Beulah Annan” were immortalized in the hit play Chicago as Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart.

8 William Kennedy Smith

The Trial of William Kennedy Smith.

In March of 1991, William Kennedy Smith was spending the night out with his uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy. While they were at a bar, he met Patricia Bowman. The two hit it off, and they ended up back at the Kennedy beach estate. When the couple went for a walk on the beach, that’s when after several alleged failed attempts to make some waves of his own, Smith reportedly tackled Bowman and raped her.

Why They Were Acquitted

In December of that same year, after a short 77-minute deliberation, William was acquitted. Smith’s defense team argued that Bowman had fabricated the story after having consensual sex in order to extort money from the wealthy Kennedy family.

There are a few details that don’t make sense with the verdict. First, one of the jurors later married the lead defense attorney. Second, other alleged victims of his were not allowed to testify. Pairing this with the fact that in 2004, a judge threw out another case of sexual assault against him, it sounds more like the justice system was trying to protect the precious Kennedy name, no matter what.

7 Harry K. Thaw

A Rooftop Murder: Stanford White, Henry Thaw, and the Trial of the Century

It’s hard to imagine how he was found not guilty when multiple eyewitnesses say that after Harry Thaw shot Stanford White in the face, he screamed, “I did it because he ruined my wife! He had it coming to him! He took advantage of the girl and then abandoned her!” The crime took place on June 25, 1906, at New York City’s Madison Square Garden—in front of hundreds of people. Press coverage was high, as many deemed this the trial of the century.

The District Attorney didn’t want to prosecute; instead, he wanted Thaw declared insane and treated in a mental hospital. And when Harry’s lawyer agreed, he was fired because Harry wanted to go to trial. After all, he believed he was justified in killing White. Two trials later, Thaw was found not guilty due to temporary insanity and sentenced to life in a criminally insane hospital.

Why They Were Acquitted

Money is the real reason Harry Thaw was acquitted. His mom had been paying people off his entire life to keep the family reputation as clean as possible. She spent $500K on a team of doctors to have him deemed temporarily insane. There is so much more to this story; you should read it and see just how crazy Thaw really was.

6 Eadweard Muybridge

Slices of Time: Eadweard Muybridge’s Cinematic Legacy

In 1874, Eadweard Muybridge, a renowned photographer, was charged with the murder of his wife’s lover, Major Harry Larkyns. Muybridge’s wife was 22 years his junior and began an affair with the drama critic for The San Francisco Post. Muybridge shot Larkyns in the head while he was sleeping in his home. The affair occurred while Muybridge was traveling in the American Northwest taking photographs.

Eadweard and his wife, Flora, had a son. Although after he was born, Muybridge found a photo with “Little Harry” written on the back, so he didn’t believe it was his. Finding this might have been the last straw since he killed Larkyns only five months after his son’s birth.

Why They Were Acquitted

Muybridge’s attorneys argued that he was insane at the time of the crime and did not know what he was doing. The jury, however, thought that the murder was justified because even though it was against the law, it wasn’t against the law of human nature. Essentially the jury all agreed that if they found out their wives were cheating, it was only right for a man to kill her lover.

5 Lorena Bobbitt

The night Lorena Bobbitt sliced off her husband John’s penis: 20/20 ‘The Bobbitts’ Part 4

In 1993, Lorena Bobbitt was charged with the malicious wounding of her husband, John. According to her, throughout their marriage, she was repeatedly and consistently physically, emotionally, and sexually abused. She silently dealt with this abuse for years until one night, John came home drunk and forced himself on her before passing out.

While recovering, everything snapped, and she took a kitchen knife and gave his jingling johnny the French Revolution treatment. She said it wasn’t until she was driving in her car that she realized what had happened and promptly threw little johnny from the car. Don’t worry—they were able to successfully reunite John with his severed penis.

Why They Were Acquitted

Bobbitt’s attorneys argued that she was not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. The jury agreed and found Bobbitt not guilty. Although she did have to undergo a psychiatric evaluation for 45 days.

4 Sam Sheppard

Bill Remembers: The Sam Sheppard Murder Case

In 1954, Dr. Sam Sheppard was convicted of bludgeoning his pregnant wife to death in their home outside Cleveland, Ohio. He was adamant that he was not guilty, claiming that a “bushy-haired intruder” had committed the crime. Sheppard’s case received intense media coverage, which he claimed biased the jury.

Why They Were Acquitted

In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Sheppard’s conviction, ruling that he had not received a fair trial. He was retried in 1966 and acquitted. An added silver lining to this is that The Fugitive is supposedly based on this case, although he didn’t look all that much like Harrison Ford.

3 John Hinckley, Jr.

Reagan Shooter John Hinckley Granted Release From Court Supervision

Attempting to kill the President of the United States usually ends in a one-way trip to prison. However, in 1981, John Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate U.S. President Ronald Reagan. But he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and instead was committed to a mental hospital. He claimed in a letter written before the attempt that he wanted to get the attention of actress Jodie Foster. It seemed he had been stalking her.

Why They Were Acquitted

Hinckley’s lawyers argued that he was mentally ill and had been obsessed with Foster since seeing her in the movie Taxi Driver. Because of this obsession, he wanted to recreate scenes from the movie in his own life, including the scene where the lead tries to assassinate a Senator. After his acquittal, changes were made to the laws regarding the insanity defense, making it much harder to use this defense. In fact, in Utah, they abolished it altogether.

2 O.J. Simpson

(Raw) 1995: O.J. Simpson verdict is not guilty

In 1994, O.J. Simpson was tried for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. As Simpson was a former NFL star and actor, the trial received intense media coverage. He was represented by Johnnie Cochran, who made headlines with an argument about the fit of a glove in evidence during the trial. “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Why They Were Acquitted

Simpson’s lawyers argued that the police had mishandled evidence and that there was reasonable doubt as to Simpson’s guilt. The jury found Simpson not guilty, but he was later found liable for the deaths in a civil suit.

But it’s not a complete surprise that Simpson was eventually held accountable in the civil suit. I mean, the man wrote the book on this crime—literally. It’s called “If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer.” But after “getting away with murder,” he later served nine years of a 33-year sentence in a Nevada prison for various charges, including kidnapping, robbery, and gun charges.

1 R. Kelly

R&B superstar R. Kelly found guilty on all counts in sex trafficking trial in NYC

In 2008, R. Kelly was tried on 14 counts of child pornography. The trial was based on a tape that allegedly showed Kelly having sex with an underage girl.

The ridiculous part is that we all should have seen it—he practically bragged about it in some of his songs, including “She’s Got That Vibe.” What’s that one? Oh, just the song he wrote about his 14-year-old wife. Yes, you read that right.

Why They Were Acquitted

Kelly’s lawyers argued that the tape was not him and that the girl in the tape was not underage. The jury found Kelly not guilty on all charges. Thankfully, there is some justice in the world because Kelly was put on trial again in 2021 and found guilty of sex trafficking, sexual exploitation of a minor, and a few other things.

fact checked by Rachel Jones