Top 10 Most Shocking Not Guilty Verdicts in U.S. History

These high profile court cases saw a defendant who the public overwhelmingly assumed was guilty... but the jury thought otherwise. From R. Kelly, to George Zimmerman, these controversial cases shook up the public once the surprising verdict was reached.
Most people thought these defendants were bang to rights – but juries thought otherwise. Welcome to and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Shocking Not Guilty Verdicts in the U.S.

For this list, we’re taking a look at controversial and high profile cases that ended with a not guilty verdict when the defendant had largely been condemned in the court of public opinion. We’ll be ruling out any case that took place outside of the U.S. even if it involved an American citizen, such as the Amanda Knox murder case in Italy.

#10: R. Kelly

Video of the singer allegedly urinating in an underage girl’s mouth first emerged in 2002, but the child pornography charges would not be tried for another six years. Kelly’s high-powered defense team centered their arguments on the inability to identify either party in the video, despite more than a dozen people positively identifying the alleged victim. In a surprisingly brief trial, the defense ably demonstrated reasonable doubt to achieve a speedy acquittal. Critics, including the journalist who first broke the story, Jim DeRogatis, were disgusted that records detailing other alleged transgressions with minors could not be introduced. Presumably, such context might have altered the outcome of the trial.

#9: Lorena Bobbitt

On a June night in 1993, Bobbitt grabbed a carving knife, chopped off her husband’s penis and threw it into a nearby field. Understandably, the American public were fascinated throughout with a case that grew to encompass discussions about male and female domestic abuse. Despite John Bobbitt – penis now reattached - being cleared of rape on the night in question, years of his alleged abuse became the crux of Lorena’s trial. The defense argued this made her temporarily insane, leading to the mutilation she undeniably committed. With 20 years imprisonment and deportation hanging over her, the jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity and the judge sentenced her to 45 days of psychiatric examination.

#8: Daniel Pantaleo

Millions have watched the 43-year-old Eric Garner struggle for breath while locked in Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s fatal, prohibited chokehold. It has become one of the most visually impactful pieces of evidence in the ongoing issue of police killings. Several emergency services personnel involved in the incident were suspended, yet a grand jury decided not to bring any criminal charges against Pantaleo. This decision was welcomed by those who believe such incidents are caused by lack of respect for law enforcement. Protestors, like civil rights activist Al Sharpton, now campaign for DoJ civil rights charges against Pantaleo. They argue that citizens providing little threat to others, even if committing an offence, shouldn’t be treated so brutally.

#7: Robert Blake

Cases like this usually only exist in detective dramas like “Baretta,” the show this former actor is best known for. In 2001, Blake’s wife Bonnie Lee Bakley, who had a history of extorting men for money, was shot dead as Blake allegedly returned to collect a gun at a restaurant they’d just left. Two retired stuntmen testified that Blake offered them cash to kill Bakley, thus ending a reportedly loveless marriage. The jury didn’t buy the prosecution’s Hollywood-esque story, however, as Blake was acquitted of murder and solicitation of murder. There was significant solace for those who believed Blake was guilty though, as a $15 million civil suit for Bakley’s wrongful death bankrupted the ex-star.

#6: William Kennedy Smith

The Kennedys are one of the most newsworthy US families, so it was no surprise that the 1991 sexual assault trial of JFK’s nephew became a media circus starring the political dynasty. Following a night out in Palm Beach with Senator Ted Kennedy, Smith was accused of raping Patricia Bowman at the Kennedy’s nearby residence. The ensuing trial was defined by incessant expert analysis and a procession of Kennedys, as Bowman seemed all but forgotten. The prosecution was crippled by the judge’s prevention of three women’s testimony, a weakness seized upon by the formidable defense team. After 10 days of fervent, high-pitched proceedings, Smith was acquitted.

#5: Michael Jackson

As soon as Martin Bashir’s documentary showed the pop icon admitting to children sharing his Neverland bed in 2003, eyebrows were raised about the behavior of this eccentric pop star. The singer had already settled a multi-million dollar molestation case a decade earlier. Now new abuse accusations from the Arvizo family, whose son was featured in the documentary, led to a four-month trial in 2005. Fighting multiple counts that could’ve lead to a 20-year imprisonment, attorney Thomas Mesereau painted the Arvizos as money grabbers seeking to exploit Jackson’s kindness and immaturity. Jackson was acquitted, but many see the emotionally draining trial as the start of his decline in health.

#4: George Zimmerman

What actually happened between this neighborhood-watch chief and unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin sadly will never be known. But at the end, an unarmed Martin had been shot dead by Zimmerman. Martin’s supporters felt the teen was unfairly profiled by an overzealous vigilante, while Zimmerman’s camp argued the shooting was justified under Florida’s controversial stand-your-ground self-defense statute. There was too little evidence to pass a reasonable doubt threshold and convict Zimmerman of murder, yet many still maintain the verdict demonstrates how inherently racist the justice system is. Millions have weighed in, with some ignoring the humanity of both victim and defendant to weaponize a political argument.

#3: Casey Anthony

When her two-year-old daughter, Caylee, went missing, then 22-year-old Casey was seen partying and getting a tattoo – for much of the American public in 2008, this proved her guilt. When Caylee was reported missing a month after the actual incident, Anthony lied to authorities, saying Caylee was with a fabricated nanny. At trial three years later, however, the prosecution only possessed circumstantial evidence that Casey drugged and suffocated Caylee. The defense argued she died accidentally in the Anthony family pool and her grandfather covered it up. Despite Casey’s arguably neglectful behavior and overwhelming public condemnation, the jury was unconvinced by the questionable evidence and Anthony was convicted only of lying to the police.

#2: The L.A. Cops Who Beat Rodney King

The 1991 footage of four police officers repeatedly striking King with batons is part of American civil rights history. The clearly excessive use of force, however, occurred after a high-speed chase and King’s resisting of arrest – factors that would later lead to the cops’ acquittal by an all-white jury. This decision, in spite of what many saw as damning, undeniable evidence of police brutality and institutional racism, triggered the LA riots. 55 people were killed, despite King’s call for peace. Two of the officers later received 30 months imprisonment for civil rights violations. Unfortunately, the presiding judge’s criticism of King left many feeling the same problems were destined to reoccur.

#1: O.J. Simpson

“If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” – these words from O.J. Simpson’s attorney, Johnnie Cochrane, may have been responsible for the running back’s acquittal for Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman’s murder. Opinion was again split on racial lines. The African-American community saw the catchphrase as a summation of how the system had finally worked for them. Others viewed it as typical of the defense’s bombastic, diversionary tactics to create a media spectacle and impede justice. From the cut on his finger, to the low-speed chase, to the ill-fitting glove, to a $33.5 million wrongful death suit, the most publicized case in history remains unsolved and shrouded in mystery.
Casey Anthony paid her defense attorney for sex in exchange for a not guilty verdict.