Let’s be honest, we all have a little guilty pleasure that revolves around high profile trials. Some of them have staying power because they involve powerful people stealing billions from the American people. Others are completely mind-boggling. This list takes a look at the biggest trials of the past two decades that attracted a heavy media presence with it.
In cases where national and worldwide media are on-hand covering a trial, it adds a sensational element that piques public interest. This ends up inflating the proceedings even more. It’s a nasty cycle that we’ll never be able to break. Every one of the trials you’re about to see has been dubbed the “trial of the century”. So which one do you think takes the cake?
This remains one of the most high profile trials of all time. It’s the case that set the bar for the many 24/7 news channels we see today. It’s what made CourtTV (now TruTV) a household name because it seems like everyone in the world was locked into every minute of that trial.
There were a lot of layers to this incident that made it so captivating. From the low-speed police chase to finding O.J in the back of his white Ford Bronco, it had a bit of everything. It was also one of the most sensationalized court cases in history. The entire country held their breath when the jury gave a ‘not guilty’ verdict on October 3, 1995.
He’s perhaps America’s most well known home-grown terrorist. Timothy McVeigh was one of the masterminds behind the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building which killed 168 people in 1995. He was hoping to inspire a revolt against the FBI and the federal government.
McVeigh was inspired to carry out the bombing because he felt like there was in an injustice done during the 1993 Waco Seige which saw 86 people killed, many of whom were children. For six years he was responsible for the deadliest attack on American soil. That ended after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.
Rod Blagojevich was arrested at his home in 2008 and charged with 17 corruption charges. At the time, he was the governor of Illinois which made the case incredibly high profile. Not only that, but the Justice Department was warned that he was setting up many “pay-to-play schemes in regards to newly elected President Barack Obama’s now-vacant Senate seat.
Blagojevich was basically looking to auction off the empty senate seat to the highest bidder. Apparently, the greasy politics of the past just don’t fly anymore. He was found guilty of 17 of the 20 charges and was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison.
Lewis “Scooter” Libby
The media was all in on the Scooter Libby case from day one, literally. In 2005, he was Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and was convicted of leaking confidential information about CIA agent Valerie Plame to the New York Times.
He was indicted on five counts and forced to resign from his position immediately. He was convicted on four of five charges for lying to the FBI and a few other charges that revolved around putting a CIA agent in danger. In 2007, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a $250,000 fine to add on top of it.
Lyle and Erik Menendez
Lyle and Erik Menendez were convicted in 1994 for the 1989 shotgun murders of their wealthy parents. The brothers were not considered to be suspects right away, but their spending habits after their parents’ deaths started to raise some eyebrows.
The brothers claimed that they suffered years of sexual and emotional abuse from their parents. At first they were tried separately with two different juries, but both of those trials resulted in a mistrial. They were then tried together and it resulted in a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for both of them.
There’s a reason that John Gotti was known as the Teflon Don. Not only was he the media’s favorite mobster sociopath, but for years police couldn’t find a chink in his armor big enough to prosecute. Law enforcement got the break they were looking for when Gotti’s former business associate “Sammy the Bull” Gravano snitched to the FBI and spilled the beans.
Gotti was sentenced to life in prison in June 1992 after convictions on murder and racketeering charges. His crime family raked in hundreds of millions of dollars a year from drug trafficking, racketeering, extortion and prostitution.
Rae Carruth was a promising wide receiver in the National Football League. It looked like he had it all, a beautiful girlfriend and a job that made him millions of dollars. But, as soon as his girlfriend, Cherica Adams, became pregnant, everything changed. He didn’t want to feel trapped.
Carruth hired a hitman to kill his pregnant girlfriend at a stop light. He drove his car beside hers so that the gunman he was sitting with could get a clear shot. Tragically, she ended up dying, but not before she was able to tell police that her husband was involved in the shooting. He was sentenced to at least 18 years locked up in 2001.
When you’re the House Majority Leader in Congress, you’re going to have a lot of eyes on your every move. Tom DeLay served the media a steak dinner when he was arrested and decided to smile for his headshot. In 2005, he was charged with money laundering and conspiracy charges related to illegal campaign finance activities aimed at helping Republican candidates. He was forced to resign as SOTH due to pressure from fellow Republicans despite not being found guilty of any crime.
It wasn’t until 2010 that DeLay was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison on the charge of conspiring to launder corporate money into political donations and five years in prison for money laundering.
Although Martha Stewart’s crime wasn’t the most violent, or heinous act on this list, it was still all over the news. The charges were related to insider trading of ImClone Systems stock and no one could see it coming. She was America’s do-it-all woman with a seemingly squeaky clean image.
The networks were providing wall-to-wall coverage of her fall from grace despite having a media empire of her own. She ended up being sentenced to five months in the slammer in 2004, but surprisingly, it didn’t end up halting her career once she got out. She’s had a couple TV shows of her own since that time which is natural for every convict, right?
Michael Jackson is one of the most talented musicians the world has ever seen. But for all of his talent and hard work, his legacy will always be tainted by some very ugly and recurring accusations. He was accused back in 1993 of child molestation but the charges fell apart under scrutiny.
10 years later, leaked footage from a documentary had enough questionable content that Jackson was arrested in November 2003 and indicted on seven counts of child molestation. He was acquitted on all charges less than two years later. In 2019, a documentary titled Leaving Neverland shows the star witness of the 2003 trial go back on his claims that Michael didn’t molest him, and says that he endured years of sexual abuse from Jackson.
The infamous massacre on the Long Island Railroad in 1993 killed six people but spawned a movement when one victim’s wife, Carolyn McCarthy, won election to the House of Representatives and became an outspoken voice on gun-control. Colin Ferguson shot bullets out the window as his train pulled up to the Garden City train station.
He ended up firing his defense counsel and insisting on representing himself and questioning his own victims on the stand. On February 17th, 1995, Ferguson was convicted of the six murders and convicted of the attempted murder for wounding 19 passengers. He is currently serving his sentence of 315 years and 8 months to life.
Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling
Two of the most notorious white-collar criminals ever, Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling engaged in a massive securities, wire and accounting fraud that brought down their $100 billion company. Even if you don’t know these guys, you’ll probably remember the company Enron which was all over the news for months.
The result of the scams cost about 20,000 people their jobs and for many others meant losing an insane amount of money. Lay ended up dying of a heart attack before sentencing and Jeffrey Skilling was sentenced to nearly 25 years behind bars.
This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, but Saddam Hussein’s trial in front of the world was pretty massive. The location of the trial was in front of a military tribunal in Baghdad, so it was hard to get the play-by-play coverage, but it was still intensely covered.
Human rights activists called the trial a shame from the beginning by saying that the conclusion had already been made on his fate before the trial began. The former Iraqi dictator was ultimately given the death penalty which we all know very well considering there’s leaked cell phone footage showing his last seconds.
John Bobbitt was a huge hit on the comedy circuit in 1993 when his wife Lorena Bobbitt cut off his genitals while he was asleep in retaliation for years of sexual abuse. After she did the crime, she drove around with the appendage in her car and eventually threw it into a field.
It was reattached surgically and Lorena was acquitted by reason of insanity and mostly withdrew from the public eye.
It’s a story that broke the hearts of Americans and was an emotional rollercoaster for close observers of the case. A seemingly perfect family who were rich and seemed to have it all together until husband Scott Peterson killed his pregnant wife over affairs and money.
This was a case tailor-made for the murder documentaries that we are obsessed with today. Peterson was found guilty of killing his wife, and charged with second-degree murder of their unborn child, Conner after a lengthy trial. He’s currently on death row in a San Quentin prison.
You know that Enron debacle that happened a few pages ago? Well, just when you may have thought that people would’ve learned, Bernard Ebbers comes in hot with another white collar crime scandal. Ebbers is the founder of telecom giant WorldComm and was once worth more than $1 billion.
WorldComm was one of the biggest telecommunications companies in the world until Bernie Madoff made his way to the company. Ebbers was a very religious man which is why it’s surprising that he decided to commit accounting fraud amounting to billions of dollars and is currently serving a 25-year prison term.
John Allen Muhammad
In October 2002, the Beltway scene was terrorized by a man named John Allen Muhammad and his accomplice Lee Malvo. They killed 10 people and wounded three others during a 3-week sniper spree. They started getting cocky and left notes telling the police to investigate other robberies which ended up resulting in the discovery of their fingerprints.
Despite appeals and countless self-proclaimed justification for his actions, he was killed in 2009 by lethal injection. His right-hand-man, Lee Malvo received life in prison and the possibility without parole.
Robert Blake had one of the steepest falls from fame when he was charged with murdering his wife in 2002. He was known from the TV series Baretta, and (oddly enough) In Cold Blood. He took his wife out for dinner in 2001 and she was ambushed and shot in the head while parked on a side street.
Blake was arrested after a few people came forward saying that he tried to hire them as a hitman to kill his wife. He was charged with one count of murder with special circumstances (since he hired someone to kill her). It only took three years for him to be acquitted of all his charges after the judge found that there was no evidence connecting him to the crime.
Jack Kevorkian was a public champion for a patients right to die via physician assisted-suicide. He claims to have helped nearly 130 patients end their lives. He was given the nickname Dr. Death by the media.
60 Minutes aired a video of the doctor injecting a lethal substance into a patient in 1998. After a two day trial, Doctor Death was found guilty to second-degree murder. The trial raised questions about euthanasia that have not even been answered to this day. Doctor Death was paroled in 2007 and died in 2011.
Stacey Koon, Theodore Briseno, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind
Rodney King had been pulled over during a high-speed chase with police officers. As soon as he was pulled out of the car, there is videotaped evidence of the four officers continually attacking a defenseless King.
The jury saw the video and could see that the four officers, Stacey Koon, Theodore Briseno, Laurence Powell, and Timothy Wood were using their power to senselessly beat up Rodney King. The trial was all over TV, but the true drama came after the four officers were acquitted. That’s what ended up sparking the 1992 Los Angeles riots and kept the nation glued to their TV sets.