The Most Famous Trials in US History

The Most Famous Trials in US History

Throughout time, society has used an impartial system to decide whether someone was guilty of a crime, make a new law, or how much money to award someone. The thought is that by using people who won’t be affected by the outcome, the most fair decision will be reached. While that isn’t always what happens, it’s worked for the most part throughout history.

The selection process for a jury can take weeks, depending on how serious the case is. A large group of people is called to come and see if they’re impartial to the situation. The group of people is narrowed down until around 12 people remain. Both the defense and prosecution must agree on all 12 members of the jury.

After that, the case is laid out for the members of the jury to see. Trials can be for minor things like stealing a bag of chips from the store. However, a trial could be used to decide if someone murdered another person. Once this is over, all 12 members of the jury must agree on if the defendant is guilty or innocent.

If every juror cannot come to the same conclusion, then a hung jury is declared. While the defendant isn’t considered guilty, they can be tried again for the same crime in the future. If a defendant is innocent, they can’t be tried again. Getting it right the first time is key for the jury. For more crime-related articles, click here for the 25 most brutal criminals to live.

To gather this list of the most famous trials in US history, 24/7 Tempo consulted different trial-related sources. These include Sea Coast Online, Famous Trials, and Britannica.

State of Florida v. George Zimmerman


SANFORD, FL - NOVEMBER 19: George Zimmerman, the acquitted shooter in the death of Trayvon Martin, faces a Seminole circuit judge during a first-appearance hearing on charges including aggravated assault stemming from a fight with his girlfriend November 19, 2013 in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, 30, was arrested after police responded to a domestic disturbance call at a house. He was acquitted in July of all charges in the shooting death of unarmed, black teenager, Trayvon Martin. (Photo by Joe Burbank-Pool/Getty Images)

George Zimmerman claimed self defense in the death of Trayvon Martin.
  • Time of Trial: 2013
  • Verdict: Not guilty

Trayvon Martin was a teenager walking home at night when he was killed by George Zimmerman. The country became outraged because it felt like Zimmerman shot Martin simply because he was an African-American wearing a hoodie. Zimmerman claimed he was acting in self-defense.

The trial was heavily followed under a national microscope because of the way the situation unfolded. There was no evidence to suggest Zimmerman wasn’t acting in self-defense, but there also wasn’t evidence that pointed to this being a murder. Zimmerman was arrested for domestic violence multiple times following the trial and his “not guilty” verdict.

People of the State of California v. Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson

Source: Pool / Getty Images
OJ Simpson was found not guilty of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
  • Time of Trial: 1995
  • Verdict: Not Guilty

Just about the entire nation stopped what they were doing to turn on their television to watch OJ Simpson’s Bronco drive down the freeway. Simpson was a person of interest in the Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman murders. Once apprehended, Simpson and his defense team laid out the case for why it wasn’t him.

One of the most iconic moments in American history was watching Simpson attempt to put on the glove found at the scene of the crime. Much to his benefit, it didn’t fit. Simpson was found innocent, but was later arrested for robbing a Las Vegas casino. He served almost nine years behind bars for that crime.

People v. Manson

Source: Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images
Charles Manson wanted to start a race war.
  • Time of Trial: 1971
  • Verdict: Guilty

The idea that someone could easily brainwash a group of people terrified society when the Manson murders took place. Charles Manson wanted to start a race war, so he orchestrated the murder of actress Sharon Tate and multiple others. While Manson didn’t do any of the dirty work, simply being the brains of the operation is what put him behind bars.

He was never released from prison and died in 2017. The brutality of the crime, combined with the idea of grooming young people, is why Manson is studied today. These are the main reasons he’s so well-known in society many decades later.

Roe v. Wade

Source: BrianAJackson / Getty Images
Roe v. Wade has changed millions of lives across the United States.
  • Time of Trial: 2022
  • Verdict: Overturned

Women’s rights weren’t always a “thing.” Roe v Wade helped them progress with the landmark case in 1973. The case federally protected women’s rights to have an abortion, regardless of what state they were in. This happened when feminism was really starting to take off and become more popular. In 2022, the ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court.

The overturning didn’t make it federally illegal to have an abortion. However, states are now allowed to prosecute people who decide to have an abortion if it takes place within their domain. There are still safe zones like California and Colorado where it’s legal to have an abortion without repercussion.

Brown v. Board of Education

Source: ThoseGuys119 / Wikimedia Commons

  • Time of Trial: 1954
  • Verdict: Desegregate schools

Schools weren’t diverse back in the day. In fact, it was illegal in some places to allow different races of students to intermingle. Up until 1954, states weren’t required to let African-American students attend schools with white students. Brown v Board of Education changed all that.

The Supreme Court ruled that segregation was in violation of the 14th Amendment, forcing schools to integrate. This is also the time when private schools started to come up. Because they’ve never been federally funded, private schools have the right to do what they want and accept who they please. This case helped millions of people get a better education while moving America forward as a nation.

Bundy v. Florida

Source: Florida Memory Project / Wikimedia Commons

In the days leading up to his execution, Ted Bundy confessed to the murders of 36 girls and women.

Ted Bundy destroyed countless lives because of his murders.
  • Time of Trial: 1979
  • Verdict: Guilty

Not many murder trials have the theatrics that Bundy v Florida in particular had. People were shocked when they found out someone as well-spoken and conventionally attractive as Ted Bundy could commit such heinous crimes. Before going to Florida, Bundy escaped from a Colorado prison and made his way to Florida.

There, Bundy murdered multiple women on the Florida State University campus. In Florida, the death penalty was alive and well. Bundy’s punishment was exactly that, and he was executed in 1989. Before his death, Bundy helped FBI profilers get into the mind of a killer through brain tests and interviews. Doing so most likely helped clear Bundy’s conscience as much as it could.

The State of New Jersey v. Bruno Richard Hauptmann

Source: BIPS/Getty Images

1931: Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jnr, son of the American aviator, on his first birthday. A few months later he was kidnapped from his home and murdered. (Photo by BIPS/Getty Images)

Charles Lindbergh Jr. was just a toddler when he was kidnapped and murdered.
  • Time of Trial: 1935
  • Verdict: Guilty

Arguably the biggest murder trial is New Jersey and Bruno Hauptmann. He was accused of kidnapping and murdering Charles Lindbergh’s son, Charles Lindbergh Jr., in the 1030s. Hauptmann demanded money to be paid in the form of ransom for the return of the child, which didn’t happen.

The nation was following this case from the moment it started because of how famous Charles Lindbergh was at the time. Hauptmann was found guilty, but he maintained his innocence the entire time. There are tons of conspiracy theories out there regarding if he actually did it or not.

CA v. Menendez

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia
The Menendez brothers shot both of their parents to inherit their wealth.
  • Time of Trial: 1993
  • Verdict: Guilty

The Menendez brothers murdering their parents took twists and turns that nobody expected when the news broke about what happened. After the duo committed the crime, they appeared unbothered and indifferent that their parents were dead. They weren’t arrested right away.

Instead they were exposed for spending their inheritance money loosely. Their spending habits caught up to them as the reason the police started to investigate them more. The trial was broadcasted on Court TV, and the nation was caught up in how tragic of a story it was. The brothers were both found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

United States v. Timothy McVeigh

Source: Joe Raedle / Getty Images News via Getty Images
The memorial paying homage to the lives lost because of Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City.
  • Time of Trial: 1997
  • Verdict: Guilty

Terrorism isn’t tolerated in the United States, but it’s taken to a whole larger level when kids are involved. Timothy McVeigh bombed a building with a daycare in Oklahoma City after being disgruntled with the United States government. The nation was shocked that somebody who lived their whole live in America could do something so heinous.

What’s worse? McVeigh  served the country and was seemingly normal.  McVeigh was found guilty and sentenced to death. His famous last meal was two pints of chocolate chip ice cream. His attack is still the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in United States history.

Minnesota v. Chauvin

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
The riots that followed George Floyd’s death are going to go down in history.
  • Time of Trial: 2021
  • Verdict: Guilty

One of the most unforgettable and shocking events to take place during Covid was seeing Derek Chauvin murder George Floyd. Chauvin claimed this was self-defense, which is a claim that’s often worked in the past for police officers. America was tuning in religiously to see what the court was going to rule when it came to Chauvin’s case.

Once all was said and done, Chauvin was found guilty of murder. There was an iconic moment when the courtroom camera panned over to him and he looked like he was in utter disbelief. Ultimately, Chauvin was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for the crime.

WI v. Dahmer

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

  • Time of Trial: 1993
  • Verdict: Guilty

The idea that one human could eat parts of another and still function as a member of society is disturbing. Somehow, canibals attempt this lifestyle as they continue to appear to be normal. That’s exactly what Jeffrey Dahmer did. The worst part is that he went after people who couldn’t defend themselves through manipulation. In order to avoid the death penalty, Dahmer plead insanity.

The court didn’t buy this claim and said he was completely sane. They noted that he understood what he was doing when he committed the crimes. Dahmer was sentenced to life in prison because Wisconsin had abolished the death penalty by the time of his trial. Had it still been legal, the death penalty likely would have been Dahmer’s punishment. His time alive in jail wouldn’t last long, though. Three years after getting locked up, Dahmer was murdered in prison by Christopher Scarver.

Koon v. United States

Source: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images
The riots after the Rodney King trial showed the world how seriously the United States took the verdict.
  • Time of Trial: 1992
  • Verdict: Not guilty by the state, guilty on the Federal level

Los Angeles had the attention of the United States after the Rodney King beating that was filmed. The police officers were found not guilty by the state court, which was the catalyst for the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. These riots ultimately resulted in the deaths of innocent people. After that, the four officers who beat King were tried at the Federal level.

Here, two of the officers, Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell were found guilty for the role they played in what transpired. The other two officers were found not guilty of all charges. This marked the beginning of police brutality stories getting filmed before coming to the surface. King died in 2012 after an accidental drowning in his own swimming pool.

Commonwealth vs William Henry Cosby, Jr

Source: Kevin Hagen / Getty Images
Bill Cosby’s accusations were startling to a world that loved him so much.
  • Time of Trial: 2015
  • Verdict: Guilty, overturned to innocent

Once upon a time Bill Cosby was a beloved actor making people laugh on screen in the Hollywood industry. Little did society know what this man was truly capable of. He was accused of assaulting a teenage woman back in the day, which he vehemently denied. Many people took his denials seriously until more evidence came out.

Soon enough, it became clear Cosby was not who people thought he was. Cosby was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison. Later on, the actor got his charges overturned. He still had to pay out one of his victims in civil court in 2022. Cosby’s reputation went from crystal clear to trashed in one fell swoop, based on the awful choices he made.

State of Florida v. Casey Marie Anthony

Casey Anthony Released From Jail
Source: Red Huber-Pool / Getty Images News via Getty Images
The death of Casey Anthony’s daughter had the nation by the throat.
  • Time of Trial: 2011
  • Verdict: Not guilty

Killing a parent is unfathomable. Killing your own child when they can’t defend themselves is one of the truly worst things anyone could ever think of. This is what Casey Anthony was accused of doing to her daughter, Caylee. Anthony originally claimed that her daughter was kidnapped by a nanny.

She said Caylee disappeared for weeks before her body was found near the Anthony home. Police didn’t buy the story from Anthony and arrested her on the spot. The nation clung to this case because of the horrifying nature of the crime. After a long trial, the jury came back with a shocking “not guilty” verdict.

People v. Jackson

Source: Pool / Getty Images News via Getty Images
Michael Jackson is arguably the biggest celebrity the world has ever seen.
  • Time of Trial: 2005
  • Verdict: Not guilty

Michael Jackson lived a life of fame, fortune, and scandal before his death. He grew up in show business and knew nothing else from childhood until adulthood. He was so famous that they had to close a grocery store just so he could experience doing something as normal as picking out food to eat. However, he’s remembered for being accused of assaulting minors.

These accusations were shocking and terrifying for an entire generation who looked up to the pop star and adored his music. While Jackson was found not guilty of the sex crimes, there were other accusations that came to light against him later on. He’s still regarded as one of the greatest performers of all time due to his dance moves and singing ability.

People v. Peterson

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

This Oct. 21, 2022, photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabiliatation shows Scott Peterson. Peterson has been moved off death row more than two years after the California Supreme Court overturned his death sentence for killing his pregnant wife two decades earlier, corrections officials said Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. Peterson was moved last week from San Quentin State Prison north of San Francisco to Mule Creek State Prison east of Sacramento. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

  • Time of Trial: 2004
  • Verdict: Guilty

It takes a special kind of evil to be willing to murder a pregnant woman. That’s just what Scott Peterson was found guilty of. His wife and unborn child were murdered on the night of December 23, 2002. Peterson wasn’t arrested for the crime until April 2003, when the body of his wife Laci was found in San Francisco.

Peterson has denied his involvement in the murder ever since he became a suspect. The jury in charge of his case didn’t buy his story and found him guilty of murder. He was sentenced to the death penalty, which was later lessoned to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

United States of America v. Robert Sylvester Kelly

Source: Scott Olson / Getty Images News via Getty Images
The accusations R. Kelly faced were astonishing to the common person.
  • Time of Trial: 2022
  • Verdict: Guilty

Music will always be part of American culture. Hip Hop and R&B exploded onto the scene in the 1990s with groups like N.W.A, and solo artists like Tupac and Eminem. One rapper who produced hit after hit was R. Kelly. Fans loved his voice, but his career has been stained by disturbing allegations over the years. The one that really stuck out to society was the alleged possession of child photos.

There’s no reason for anyone to ever have their hands on these types of things in their household, no matter who they are or how famous they are. Kelly was sentenced to a total of 31 years in prison for all of these charges against him. Aside from this, former female partners have opened up about Kelly’s bizarre sexual preferences in the bedroom as well.

People v. Murray

Source: Photo by Pool/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 29: In this CNN screen grab, Dr. Conrad Murray listens as he sits in court during his sentencing for the involuntary manslaughter of singer Michael Jackson at the Los Angeles Superior Court on November 29, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Judge Michael E. Pastor sentenced Murray to four years in county jail for his involuntary manslaughter conviction of Jackson. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)

  • Time of Trial: 2011
  • Verdict: Guilty

As mentioned earlier, society was enamored by Michael Jackson when he was at his peak. His sudden and unexpected death turned the world upside down in a way, especially when it was revealed that he died from a drug overdose. While this might sound like a common story for celebrities, there was more digging to be done before officially closing the case for good.

Conrad Murray was Jackson’s personal physician. He was the man who prescribed Jackson the drugs that killed him. This meant there was a chance Murray could be held liable for the death of his client. Due to the fame of Jackson, this case sat front and center on most every television set in the world. Murray was found guilty of manslaughter, for which he was sentenced to four years in jail. Two years into the sentence, he was released.

People v. Ramirez

Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images
Richard Ramirez committed some of the worst acts any human has ever done.
  • Time of Trial: 1989
  • Verdict: Guilty

Not many individuals have been able to hold the city of Los Angeles by their fingertips like Richard Ramirez. The Nightstalker terrorized Los Angeles between April 1984 and August 1995. There was nothing he wouldn’t do, which is why society was so thankful when he was captured. The most poetic part of his capture? A group of citizens came together to apprehend him until the authorities finally arrived.

After that, the focus was on Ramirez. People wanted to see the face of a man who could do such unspeakable things to others. Ramirez received the death penalty for his crimes, but died from cancer before the execution could be carried out by the state of California. For more criminal related content, click here to read about the most infamous crime committed in every state.

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