Ten "trials of the century"

Ransom Riggs

From the floss archives: a look back at ten "trials of the century" and why they all deserve that dubious honor.

1. 1906: The State vs. Harry Thaw
Harry Thaw, the trust-funded son of a Pittsburgh industrialist, shoots Madison Square Garden architect Stanford White in the face "“ during a show at Madison Square Garden. Claiming White raped his wife, his lawyer wins an acquittal by arguing Thaw suffered from "dementia Americana," afflicting any American male whose wife's purity is violated.

2. 1924: Leopold and Loeb
Wealthy college boys Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb murder a teenager just for fun, their "perfect crime" foiled when Leopold leaves his glasses with the body. Lawyer Clarence Darrow gives a 12-hour speech in their defense, sparing them from hanging.

3. 1925: The Scopes Monkey Trial
Darrow, the era's reigning liberal heavyweight, leaps to the defense of Tennessee schoolteacher John Scopes in the then-and-now legendary "Monkey Trial." Darrow loses the case despite much grandiose speechifying by he and prosecutor William Jennings Bryan; Scopes is fined a measly $100 for teaching evolution despite a state law banning it (though he never pays); and 75-plus years later we're still arguing about monkeys. Good work, guys.

4. 1945: The Nuremburg Trials
An international tribunal decides the fate of two dozen high-ranking Nazis. Journalists expecting monstrous defendants are surprised by the ordinariness of baddies like Hermann Goering, remarking on "the banality of evil."

5. 1970: Fun for the whole Family
Charles Manson and his merry family of murderers are convicted in highly-publicized proceedings, further courting media attention by carving giant X's into their foreheads.

After the jump: they just keep comin'!

6. 1976: Patty Hearst
Newspaper heiress Patty Hearst is convicted of robbing a federal bank as part of the radical Symbionese Liberation Army, coverage of which sells a lot of newspapers. Coincidence? Or genius?

7. 1982: John Hinckley, Jr.
John Hinckley, Jr., not-quite assassin of president Ronald Reagan, successfully pleads insanity, causing several states to re-write laws regarding the insanity plea. Though he is now famous, Jodie Foster still cruelly refuses to date him.

8. 1992: Rodney King
A not-guilty verdict for LAPD officers charged with beating black motorist Rodney King sparks devastating riots in Los Angeles, killing 58 people.

9. 1995: OJ
Trial of the Century of the century? Let us break it down: the crime was sensational, but Harry Thaw's moreso / Cochran was compelling, but no Clarence Darrow / its racial implications were troubling, but not like Scottsboro. Word.

10. 1999: The Clinton Impeachment
"Slick" William J. Clinton is (at least) the eighth US President to engage in sexual misconduct while in office, the first to be forced to discuss it under oath, and his impeachment is the last of the 20th century's Trials of the Century.