How 9 Famous Acquitted Defendants Spent Their Lives
By Alvin Ward
Here’s how life shook out for a few acquitted defendants in high-profile trials.
1. Lizzie Borden
Although 32-year-old Lizzie Borden was never convicted of the 1892 ax murder of her father and stepmother, her highly publicized trial followed her for the remaining 34 years of her life. Borden became close friends with actress Nance O’Neill, but she lived out the rest of her life as a recluse. Although Borden remained largely out of public sight, mourners at her 1927 funeral remembered her as a quiet source of charitable donations. Her will certainly demonstrated her charitable streak; the largest earmark from her substantial estate was a $30,000 donation to the local Animal Rescue League.
2. Fatty Arbuckle
Silent film actor and comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was one of the biggest stars in the medium’s early days, but his career flew off the rails in 1921. Actress Virginia Rappe fell ill at a party thrown by Arbuckle and died several days later, and the rotund funnyman found himself facing accusations of raping and killing the young woman. Arbuckle weathered two mistrials for manslaughter before being found not guilty in a third trial.
The trial may have legally cleared Arbuckle’s name, but the scandal all but destroyed his Hollywood career. Hollywood briefly blacklisted Arbuckle entirely, but even after the ban was ostensibly lifted he couldn’t find work. Meanwhile, his existing films were rarely shown. (Many prints of Arbuckle’s films have been lost.) Arbuckle eventually found work directing comedy shorts under a pseudonym before making an acting comeback with Warner Brothers in 1932. In 1933 he signed a contract to make a new feature film, but he died in his sleep the very same night.
3. O.J. Simpson
The beneficiary of one of history’s most famous not-guilty verdicts saw his legal luck run out after a 2007 armed robbery in Las Vegas. Simpson was convicted on 10 charges related to an attempt to regain some of his sports memorabilia, and was sentenced to 33 years in Nevada’s Lovelock Correctional Center. He was freed on parole in 2017.
4. Sam Sheppard
Sheppard, a Cleveland-area physician (center), was convicted of the 1954 murder of his pregnant wife in their suburban home. Sheppard spent nearly a decade behind bars before a 1966 retrial acquitted him. After a brief attempt to return to medicine following his release from prison, Sheppard found an unlikely second career as a professional wrestler who went by the name The Killer before his death in 1970.
5. Claus von Bulow
In 1982 British socialite von Bulow was convicted of attempting to murder his heiress wife, Sunny, with an insulin overdose. However, this conviction was later overturned, and he was found not guilty in a 1985 retrial. (Jeremy Irons won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of von Bulow in 1990’s Reversal of Fortune.) In 1991 von Bulow returned to London, where he worked as an art and theatre critic. British newspaper The Telegraph ran his blog posts.
6. William Kennedy Smith
© Lannis Waters/Sygma/Corbis
The physician nephew of John F. Kennedy was accused of rape in 1991, but a jury acquitted him after a hugely hyped trial. Kennedy still practices medicine; he founded the Center for International Rehabilitation and works with patients who have been disabled by landmines.
7. Robert Blake
The Baretta star was acquitted for the 2001 murder of his wife in 2005, but like Simpson, he was found liable for the death in a civil trial. The 2005 civil verdict awarded $30 million to his wife’s children, and in 2006 he filed for bankruptcy listing the eight-figure judgment as his biggest liability. Blake hasn’t yet returned to acting to fill out his bank balances, but has made autograph-signing appearances at memorabilia shows.
8. John T. Scopes
Scopes, the Tennessee schoolteacher who famously went to trial in 1925, was initially convicted of violating the state’s prohibition of the teaching of evolution and fined $100. However, his conviction was later overruled because the trial judge had set the fine rather than the jury. Following this decision, Scopes left Tennessee to pursue graduate studies in geology at the University of Chicago. He spent the rest of his life working as a geologist for oil and gas companies.
9. Casey Anthony
In 2011, Anthony was found not guilty in the death of her two-year-old daughter, Caylee. Anthony has kept a low profile since her trial. In 2013, she filed for bankruptcy, listing $1,084 in personal property and $792,119.23 in liabilities. In 2017, Anthony gave her first interview since her acquittal. "I'm still not even certain as I stand here today about what happened," she said. "I don't give a s*** about what anyone thinks about me, I never will. I'm OK with myself, I sleep pretty good at night."