History's most sensational trials

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Stylist Team
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From Amanda Knox through to Linda Chamberlain, the "dingo baby" mum, and silent movies actor "Fatty" Arbuckle, we present the most sensational trials of recent history...

Click on an image below to launch the gallery

Picture credit: Getty Images and Rex Features

  • 2011: Amanda Knox

    Millions of people tune in around the world in October 2011, as Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were sensationally cleared of the murder of her flatmate Meredith Kercher in the Italian town of Perugia.

    During the four years it took to convict Knox and overturn her 26-sentence, media coverage went nuclear, with thousands of TV hours and column inches (not to mention a movie) spent pouring over what exactly did happen on that fateful night in 2007. 

    Both Knox and Sollecito their convictions reinstated in 2014, but were acquitted finally by Italy’s highest court in 2015.

  • 2011: Conrad Murray

    Fans erupted in cheers as Doctor Conrad Murray, 58, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter over Michael Jackson's drug-related death in 2009. The prosecution had argued that Murray was grossly negligent in administering a dose of the powerful anaesthetic propofol to the pop star. He was sentenced to four years in jail. Major networks cleared their schedules to follow the trial live, with outlets competing to bring breaking news on testimonies and witness statements as they happened.

  • 2011: Casey Anthony

    Speculation hit fever pitch in July 2011 as a Florida jury cleared young mum Casey Anthony of murdering her two-year-old daughter, in a trial that gripped the US.

    Complexities in the case (Anthony lied about her toddler's whereabouts while driving with her body in the boot of her car) divided national opinion. Some saw the 25-year-old as an out-of-control, neglectful mum who preferred clubbing to childcare, while others argued she was a victim of media assassination.

  • 2006: Saddam Hussein

    Perhaps the only thing more astounding than the capture of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was his trial, which descended into something of a circus thanks to the lead defendant himself.

    Angry outbursts, hunger strikes and boycotts on behalf of Hussein and his defence team frequently disrupted proceedings, to the bemusement of the world watching on. The former president was found guilty of crimes against humanity and was later hanged.

  • 2005: Michael Jackson

    High drama was the name of the game as Michael Jackson stood trial on child molestation, conspiracy and alcohol charges in May 2005.

    With a verdict imminent, thousands of fans waited outside and live TV carried aerial shots of Jackson and his team arriving in court in convoy. The pop star was seen wiping his eyes as he was acquitted of all charges.

  • 2003: Sally Clark

    The press went into overdrive with the case of British solicitor Sally Clark, who was convicted of murdering her two baby sons by shaking them to death in 1999.

    The prosecution waged on a disputed medical theory that there was a "73 million-to-one" chance that both her children could have died naturally. However, this statement was later called into question by a range of experts and Clark's conviction was overturned in 2003. She later died at the age of 42, having "never really recovered" from the false prosecution.

  • 2002: Slobodan Milosevic

    Slobodan Milosevic, the "butcher of the Balkans," made a mockery of the legal system at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague. A practised showman, the former Serbian president used a string of tactics - including denying legal counsel and refusing to accept the authority of the "evil and hostile" court - to drag his trial out for over four years.

    With both supporters and thousands of war victims monitoring his every move, he died in 2006 before a verdict was reached, leaving behind a bitterly divided legacy.

  • 2002: Michael Skakel

    In 1975, 15-year-old Martha Moxley was found beaten to death underneath a tree in Connecticut. Her neighbour Michael Skakel, the cousin of cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr., was long a suspect in the case but was only convicted 27 years later in 2002.

    Skakel's high society connections, his age at the time of the crime (15 years) and years of frenzied suspicion made his trial a major attraction for the press. He remains in jail, despite repeated appeal efforts.

  • 1999: Bill Clinton

    "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky" - words that came back to haunt Bill Clinton during his 1999 impeachment on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

    Sordid affair details and political intrigue proved a killer combination for the media, and the trial was primetime viewing around the world, despite despositions from Monica Lewinsky and other key figures taking place behind closed doors. Clinton was later acquitted via a Senate vote.

  • 1997: Louise Woodward

    Innocent abroad or cold-hearted killer: this was the question that divided the world when 19-year-old British nanny Louise Woodward was convicted of shaking eight-month-old Matthew Eappen to death in a fit of impatient rage in Boston in 1997.

    The verdict prompted an outcry in Woodward's home village of Elton in Cheshire and Judge Hiller Zobel later reduced the conviction to manslaughter, sentencing the teenager to time already served. The Eappens remain convinced she is responsible for their son's death.

  • 1995: OJ Simpson

    In one of the most sensational trials of the last century, former US football star OJ Simpson was found not guilty of stabbing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman to death outside their Californian home.

    With 95 million Americans watching police give chase to OJ Simpson's white Ford Bronco on the day of his arrest, the trial itself threw up plenty of material to keep the nation captivated - from allegations of institutional police racism to OJ's violent relationship with Nicole.

    Many felt the verdict was a miscarriage of justice and OJ was later convicted over the deaths by a civil jury but successfully appealed the ordered payout.

  • 1992: Rodney King

    The acquittal of four white police officers caught on video brutally beating black motorist Rodney King prompted one of the biggest race riots in recent history.

    The verdict, passed by an all-white jury, provoked a political storm and in south LA, angry crowds shouting "guilty, guilty" tried to storm police headquarters.

    55 people were killed in the ensuing violence. Two of the officers were later found guilty on federal charges of violating Rodney King's civil rights. Rodney King himself was awarded $3.8 million in damages from the City of Los Angeles.

    Picture shows King showing his injuries to reporters

  • 1992: Erik and Lyle Menendez

    In 1989, brothers Erik and Lyle Menendez called the police in hysterics to report the deaths of their wealthy parents in a brutal shotgun attack. They were later charged with the murders - and their lengthy, contested trials plus the grisly nature of the crime - guaranteed a massive viewing audience.

    Their first trial ended with the jury unable to make a decision, after the brothers admitted killing their parents but testified to self-defence in the face of abuse. A second trial in 1996 ended with them sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

  • 1991: William Kennedy Smith

    The nephew of President John F. Kennedy, William Kennedy Smith's trial for rape played out to a TV audience of millions amid high emotions and conflicting opinion.

    Smith was acquitted of the charges after the jury heard his early-morning encounter with the alleged victim was "right out of a romance novel." However, questions were raised over the barred testimony of three other women who claimed they were sexually assaulted by Smith in the 1980s.

  • 1991: Wanda Webb Holloway

    The trial of "Texas Cheerleader Mom" Wanda Webb Holloway had all the components of a slightly unbelievable TV drama - so little wonder it enthralled America.

    Surburban housewife Holloway tried to hire a hit man to kill the mother of her teenage daughter's rival on a junior high school cheerleading squad. She was caught on tape telling a go-between man (her brother-in-law) to "go for it," securing her conviction for attempted murder and a 15-year jail sentence.

    Picture shows officer holding tapes used to convict Holloway

  • 1986: Jeremy Bamber

    In 1986, Jeremy Bamber was found guilty of killing his adopted parents, his sister and her six-year-old twin sons at their farmhouse in Essex, in an attempt to seize the family inheritance. The trial garnered massive media attention, not least because Bamber was pictured sobbing at the funeral alongside his girlfriend (left) just after the massacre before embarking on a "playboy" lifestyle in the south of France.

    Bamber has always maintained his innocence, claiming his schizophrenic sister was responsible, and has launched several unsuccessful appeals.

  • 1982: Linda Chamberlain

    The extraordinary case of Linda Chamberlain and the baby she claimed was taken by a dingo on a camping trip at Australia's Ayers Rock continues to hold the world spellbound, even 20 years on.

    Chamberlain was found guilty of murdering her baby and sentenced to life in 1982. The trial made headlines around the world and quickly prompted two books and a film. In 1986, a jacket belonging to baby Azaria was found close to a dingo's lair at Ayer's Rock - five days later, Chamberlain was released and in 1988, she was pardoned. An inquest in 1995 returned an open verdict.

  • 1981: John Hinckley

    John Hinckley was the lone gunman behind a 1981 attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. The son of a wealthy oil executive, his trial was a huge draw in media terms - particularly when the jury heard his actions were fuelled by an obsession with actress Jodie Foster and were an attempt to impress her.

    He was found not guilty on grounds of insanity and was committed to psychiatric care, where he remains today.

  • 1974: Patricia Hearst

    Newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped in California by revolutionary group Symbionese Liberation Army in 1964 - and was quickly brainwashed into accepting their ideals. She was caught on camera helping them rob the bank and was later caught by the FBI after going on the run.

    Her trial was a source of fascination across the world, not least because of the strange circumstances under which she had been criminalised. She was sentenced to seven years, later reduced to three and was pardoned in 2001 by President Clinton.

  • 1969: Charles Manson

    In one of the longest-running murder trials in US history, Charles Manson and three members of his ritualistic cult were found guilty of murdering seven people, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate - the wife of film director Roman Polanski.

    Throughout the trial, Manson became a figure of morbid fascination for a nation both appalled and transfixed by the grisly nature of his crimes. He is the subject of numerous films and documentaries and is still serving a life sentence, despite numerous parole requests.

  • 1951: Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

    Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were a married couple with two young sons when they were found guilty of passing US atomic secrets to the Russians in 1951 and sentenced to death.

    As the only people in the US to face such a severe sentence for Cold War espionage, the trial sparked outrage from all sides - it was in part fuelled by US Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist crusade and numerous appeals were made for the couple's clemency.

    They were executed by electric chair in 1953.

  • 1945: Nuremberg trials

    In 1945 history was made, with the first international war crimes trial in the city of Nuremberg, where the Nazis used to hold their annual rallies.

    The 21 defendants were all regarded as key players in the Nazi party, responsible for bringing Europe to war and costing the lives of 50 million people - including millions in the Jewish genocide.

    Hermann 'Fat Stuff' Goering (pictured), Hitler's chosen successor, was one of the more prominent and charismatic defendants as he went about promoting Nazi policies rather than admit to criminal activity. He was sentenced to death but committed suicide just beforehand.

  • 1934: Gloria Vanderbilt

    More than 100 reporters crammed into court to see the start of a custody battle within one of America's wealthiest families, in what was dubbed "the trial of the century."

    Gloria (pictured) was the heiress to a $4 million fortune, kept in a trust fund managed by her mother (her father had died). In 1934, her aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, claimed Gloria's mother was unfit to care for her due to her debauched lifestyle, and applied for custody. Details that emerged from the trial scandalised American society and confirmed their worst fears about their super-rich. Custody was eventually granted to the aunt.

  • 1931: Scottsboro boys

    No crime in US history sparked as many trials, reversals and retrials as that of the Scottsboro boys, nine black teenagers charged with the gang rape of two white girls on a Southern Railroad freight run in 1931.

    The case was first tried in Alabama where all but one defendant were found guilty and sentenced to death. A series of appeals followed, with racism and a right to a fair trial emerging as crucial issues. All but two of the defendants ended up serving prison sentences in a case widely regarded as a massive miscarriage of justice and one which led to the end of all-white jurys in the American south.

  • 1921: Fatty Arbunkle

    The case of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (pictured centre), the original king of silent movies, represents Hollywood's first major scandal.

    In 1921, Arbuckle and a friend were "entertaining" several women in a San Francisco hotel room. One of the women later died of a ruptured bladder and her friend claimed Arbuckle had raped her. Arbuckle was charged with first-degree murder, eventually reduced to manslaughter. He was acquitted after three trials but huge legal bills and ongoing gossip effectively ended his career for good.