Top Trials of the 20th Century

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5  Top Trials

of the

20th Century

Every so often there are trials that become so famous they grab the attention of millions of people from around the world. These are five of those cases from the last century and the early part of this one, where the drama was so immense that the world became enraptured.

 5. The Trial of Leon Czolgosz

The first “Trial of the Century” of the 20th century only lasted eight hours, but it was a huge sensation because of who was killed.

On September 6, 1901, President William McKinleywas standing in a receiving line greeting people at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Suddenly, 28-year-old anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot him twice at point blank range, and McKinley died eight days later. Czolgosz came from a poor immigrant family and shot McKinley because he thought that McKinley only helped the rich.

Czolgosz refused to talk to his two lawyers, two former State Supreme Court Judges, making it hard to come up with a defense. The trial started nine days after McKinley died on September 23, 1901 and Czolgosz didn’t testify in his own defense.

He was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was executed on October 29, 1901, via the electric chair.

4. The Scopes Monkey Trial

In March 1924, Tennessee passed a law that made it illegal to teach the theory of evolution in schools. Obviously, not everyone supported this law, so John Scopes, a high school teacher in Dayton, and a local businessman named George Rappalyea conspired for Scopes to get charged for breaking the law so they could challenge the ruling.

The court case attracted two of the country’s top lawyers, William Jennings Bryan, a three-time Democratic presidential candidate – who, incidentally, lost the 1900 election to William McKinley – volunteered to help the prosecution, while Clarence Darrow volunteered to help the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in defending Scopes.

The trial started on July 10, 1925, and attracted the attention of the country because it essentially represented what should be taught in schools – fundamental Christianity or science. The case didn’t start off great for the defense, because the judge opened each day with a prayer. Also, the defense wasn’t allowed to argue that the law was unconstitutional.

Near the end of the trial, Darrow changed tactics. He called Bryan, who was helping the DA, as a witness to defend Christian fundamentalism. During his examination, Darrow embarrassed Bryan by making him say contradictory and ignorant statements over his literal interpretation of the Bible.

In his closing statement, Darrow asked the jury to return a verdict of guilty so that it could be appealed. The jury spent eight minutes deliberating and returned a verdict of guilty. Scopes was fined $100, which was the minimum punishment. In 1927, the ruling was overturned on a technicality, but the law wouldn’t be repealed until 1967. The play (and later Oscar-nominated movie) Inherit the Wind tells the story of the infamous trial.

3. The Trial Charles Manson

In August 1969, the United States was shocked by the brutal murders of seven people in their upscale homes in Los Angeles. The most famous victim was actress Sharon Tate, who was the wife of film director Roman Polanski. She was eight-and-a-half months pregnant.

What made the crimes even more shocking was the people who were responsible for the crimes. It was a cult-like group of hippies that consisted of pretty young women, led by a strange little man named Charles Manson.

Due to the barbarity of the crimes and the weirdness of the culprits, the trial was a media circus. The members of the family that weren’t arrested showed solidarity by doing whatever Manson did, like carve Xs into their foreheads and shave their heads. At the courthouse, they would chant, sing, and treat the trial of the mass murderer like a picnic.

 In January 1971 Manson and several of his family members were found guilty and sentenced to death. The death penalty was abolished in 1972 and Manson’s sentence was commuted to life in prison.

2. The Trial of O.J. Simpson

Just after midnight on June 13, 1994, O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were found brutally murdered in front of Nicole’s condominium.

A short time later, a warrant was issued for O.J. and he agreed to turn himself in, but then went on the infamous, slow car chase with his longtime friend, Al Cowlings. Eventually, Simpson was arrested and charged with two counts of first degree murder.

Just some of the evidence the District Attorney’s office had against O.J. was that he had a fresh cut on his finger and his blood was at the crime scene. Second, there was a blood covered glove found on O.J.’s property. The blood belonged to O.J., Nicole, and Goldman. Third, there was a sock found in his bedroom that had his blood and Nicole’s blood on it. There was also a bloody shoe print found at the scene from a size 12 Bruno Mali, a pretty rare shoe, and O.J. wore size 12 shoes. Finally, the police had been called several times to the home of Nicole and O.J. because O.J. was an abusive husband.

Of course, the evidence was only a small aspect of what became the definitive Trial of the 20thCentury. The defense’s strategy was to show that the Los Angeles Police Department had a history of systematic racism and had planted the evidence to set up one of the most famous African-Americans in the world.

The trial essentially came down to the credibility of the LAPD. The DA pretty much had a slam dunk case, but all the defense had to do was create reasonable doubt by making it sound like it was possible that the LAPD could have set O.J. up because he was African-American.

On October 3, 1995, the jury was back with a verdict. 150 million Americans tuned in, which was about 57 percent of the population. The verdict was, of course, not guilty.

O.J. would later go on to lose a civil trial against Goldman’s family in 1997. Then in 2008, O.J. was convicted of robbery and kidnapping and he was sentenced to 9 to 33 years in prison.

1. The Trial of Michael Jackson

In the early 2000s, Michael Jackson was already the world’s most famous weirdo. Besides his odd appearance and strange personal life, since a civil suit in 1993, there had been rumors that Jackson was having inappropriate relationships with children. But things got worse for the King of Pop in February 2003, when a documentary called Living with Michael Jackson was released, and in it, Jackson talks about sleeping with children in his bed.

The documentary led to a police investigation and on November 18, 2003, the day after Jackson released his greatest hits album, his home, Neverland Ranch, was searched. The next day, a warrant was issued and Jackson turned himself in on November 20.

Jackson’s trial started on January 31, 2005, and the District Attorney didn’t have much in the way of physical evidence. Instead the case mostly rested on the accusations of one boy, a 13-year-old cancer patient. The DA said that the accusations fit a pattern, even though Jackson had never been convicted of sexual assault, or any crime for that matter.

The trial lasted six months and it was a spectacle. Jackson’s odd appearance and outrageous wardrobes were interesting enough to attract millions of viewers every day.

On June 13, nearly six months after the trial started, the jury unanimously acquitted Jackson of all charges. He ended up dying four years later on June 25, 2009.


Top Trials

of the 20th Century

Michael Jackson – The Thriller Handbook

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Thrilling Facts

About Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson was a man known for many things, including his music, his pelvis-centric dance moves, and the fact he was able to wear a fedora without looking like an idiot. But a man as complex and unique as the King of Pop could never be summed up with a list of just three things. So here’s a list of 10, starting with …

 10. He Personally Leaked Some of the More Bizarre Stories About Himself

Jackson, in stark contrast with the innocent child-like persona he adopted in public, was a calculating and efficient self-promoter behind the scenes. For example, he is known to have leaked several stories about himself to the press to ensure he continued to receive column inches in the world’s papers when he wasn’t actively making music.

Stories known to have been planted by Jackson himself include the one about him sleeping in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to make himself look younger; the news that he’d made a bid to purchase the skeleton of John Merrick, better known as the Elephant Man; and the fact he shared his bathroom with his pet monkey, Bubbles. While these stories undoubtedly gave Jackson unprecedented levels of media coverage, it eventually backfired when the press simply began making stuff up themselves, much to his annoyance. When the British media began referring to Jackson as “Wacko Jacko” he made the conscious and probably wise decision to stop leaking false stories to the news about his personal life.

9. He Wrote All of His Songs With His Voice

Despite being credited as the sole writer on virtually his entire discography and having a hand in the composition of much of the music to his back catalogue of hits, Michael Jackson rather surprisingly had little affinity for music. By this we mean that although Jackson understood how to compose a song, he could neither play an instrument nor read sheet music. To get around this, Jackson would instead compose his songs entirely in his head and then “sing” them to session musicians while recording his albums.

To this end, Jackson carried around a tape recorder with him at all times, and when inspiration struck – whether it be a musical hook or a guitar riff – he’d sing it into the recorder or, in the event of a bassline, beatbox it. Jackson would then layer all these elements together to create what amounted to acapella versions of his songs. Notoriously secretive, few examples of these recordings exist with there being, to our knowledge at least, a single recording of Beat It in which you can hear Jackson demonstrate this. He also demonstrated the technique in court to shut down a plagiarism suit.

As an example of just how talented Jackson was at emulating the sounds of various instruments with his voice, musicians who worked with him reported that he could “sing” chords and layer his voice skillfully enough to eerily replicate an entire string section.

8. He was an Actual King

For a guy known worldwide as The King of Pop, it’s kind of weird that few people ever talk about that time in 1992 when Michael Jackson actually became a real king.

You see, in the early ’90s Jackson embarked on a tour of Africa, during which he encountered a small kingdom on the Ivory Coast called Sanwi. The people of Sanwi were enamored with Jackson and the tribal chief told him that mystics had foretold that the singer was actually a direct descendent of the Sanwi royal bloodline.

So in a small, but nonetheless extravagant ceremony, the nation crowned Jackson King (an official title he had to sign papers to confirm) and even allowed him to sit in a golden throne set aside for royalty. Jackson’s official title was later reduced to Crown Prince, and his kingly duties were taken up by another man, but he was for all intents and purposes considered genuine royalty from that point on. Sanwi even held a royal funeral for him and declared two days of mourning when he died.

As for why you’ve probably never heard this, Jackson simply never talked about it. In an interview with Ebony magazine in 1992, Jackson was humble about his new found status as a king, telling an interviewer asking how it felt to be a real king:

“I never try to think hard about it.”

7. He Earns More Money Dead Than We Will Alive

Now you’d think that being dead would, for most people, put an end to their ability to make money. Employers are notoriously picky when it comes to hiring people who aren’t alive. Michael Jackson is an apparent exception to this rule, being recognized as the highest earning dead celebrity, earning close to a billion dollars in 2016, more than seven years after his death.

Jackson’s ability to earn unbelievably fat stacks of cash despite the normally insurmountable hurdle of being dead is mainly due to sales and licensing of the vast catalogues of music he owned. Along with his estate owning the rights to his own hits and albums, which continue to make millions, Jackson also bought the rights to his favorite songs during his lifetime, so he earned money when people bought those albums, too (most famously, he bought the rights to the Beatles catalogue in 1985, though Sony has since acquired full ownership, including Jackson’s remaining 50% stake last year). We don’t know if that’s smart or just selfish, but either way we’re mad impressed that a skeleton earns more than us thanks to business decisions it made a decade ago. Speaking of Jackson’s skeleton …

6. His Death Broke Google

Like the Moon landing and losing your virginity, the death of Michael Jackson is an event where you remember exactly where you were when it happened. It was a global event that resulted in an almost immediate outpouring of grief. We say almost, of course, because people had to check Google to make sure the news was accurate.

That’s not us being facetious, by the way. According to stats released by Google themselves minutes after news of the singer’s death broke, so many millions of people tried to search his name that it brought the monolithic website to its knees. Yes, Michael Jackson’s death caused so many people to panic and google his name that it broke Google!

Then again, this is hardly surprising given that a few months before his death news of him touring again caused …

 5. People Scalped His Tickets (That Didn’t Exist Yet) for Hundreds on eBay

News of Michael Jackson’s death was partly shocking because it occurred just weeks before he was due to embark on what he insisted was his last ever set of concerts at the London O2 Arena. The aptly named This Is It concert was set to be the singer’s last hurrah, and consisted of 50 straight sold out shows at the same venue, with people flocking from across the world to see it.

Initially the concert only had 10 shows booked, but the instantaneous selling out of tickets and tidal wave of complaints the venue received for not having enough prompted Jackson to schedule 40 more, all of which, again, sold out minutes after tickets going live.

Demand for tickets was such that Jackson’s official website offered fans a chance to enter a pre-sale draw, essentially securing them a chance to purchase a ticket ahead of time so they wouldn’t have to sit on the ticket website the day they were announced and hit refresh over and over. The offer crashed the website, with a reported 16,000 people trying to apply for the draw every second for several hours.

This unprecedented level of enthusiasm saw people who managed to secure a place in the pre-sale draw able to sell their tickets (which didn’t exist yet) on eBay for upwards of $500 a piece. Then again, it’s not surprising people were so keen to see Jackson perform considering he once …

4. Danced the Moonwalk So Hard Fred Astaire Called to Congratulate Him

Though he didn’t necessarily invent the Moonwalk (the genesis of the move is traced back to dancer Cab Calloway, and is thought to have been perfected by mime Marcel Marceau), he is arguably the person who showed the world just how cool it could look to see a man effortlessly glide backwards like he was just pushed onto a greased air hockey table.

Jackson reportedly learned the move from a pair of dancers named Casper Candidate and Cooley Jaxson, whom he saw perform it on the show Soul Train while sporting dangerously awesome afros. Jackson perfected the dance move and debuted his enhanced version atMotown 25 to a visibly and audibly shocked crowd who couldn’t believe what in the hell they were seeing.

Sitting at home watching the show was an 84-year-old Fred Astaire who, upon seeing Jackson glide across the stage, picked up his phone and called him to gush over how amazing it was. Jackson, a massive fan of Astaire’s, fanboyed down the phone for several minutes before quickly rushing to a nearby bathroom and vomiting in excitement.

3. The Glove was to Hide a Skin Condition

Few artists have a “look” as well defined and iconic as Michael Jackson’s. Everything from his pimpin’ fedora to his needlessly high socks have become ingrained in pop-culture as integral parts of the Jackson mythos. Arguably his singular most defining item of clothing though was his single glove.

Custom made by the same guy who made the gloves for Kate Winslet in Titanic, Jackson’s sported many different styles of gloves over the years. While many assumed that glove was simply for style, because it admittedly does look pretty fly, according to those close to Jackson it was actually used to hide the early stages of vitiligo (a disease which caused the skin to change color and often starts with unsightly blotches on the hands and feet).

While this became somewhat unnecessary in later years as Jackson’s skin tone changed from a deep chocolate, to a creamy mocha, to that of anemic skim milk, the glove was nonetheless an important tool used by the singer to hide something he felt self-conscious about.

2. He Composed an Unknown Amount of the Soundtrack for Sonic 3

Released in 1994, many fans of the blue hedgehog consider Sonic 3 to be one of the best games in the series, partly because it lets you play as Knuckles and partly because that soundtrack though. Well for any fans of the game, you may be pleased to know that Michael Jackson had a hand in creating it, though exactly how much is hotly debated.

The story goes that during development, Sega brought in Jackson to compose the soundtrack for the game, a move that was seen as being in no way weird in the ’90s. Shortly after production on the game began, though, the first allegations of child abuse were leveled at Jackson, prompting Sega to distance themselves from the artist. Today the company denies Jackson had anything to do with the game or its music.

This doesn’t exactly fit with other reports, though, which claim that Jackson had a direct hand in creating a number of tracks for the game, but ultimately became frustrated with the limited range of the sound chip in the Sega Genesis, leaving the project of his own volition. As a result the extent of Jackson’s involvement with Sonic 3 isn’t clear, but for anyone curious, the songs often thought to be the ones most likely to have been composed by Jackson, at least in part, are Carnival Night Zone, Hydrocity Zone, and Ice Cap Zone.

1. He Promised to Write a No. 1 Single… for Bart Simpson

Michael Jackson was a massive fan of The Simpsons, famously lending his voice to the episode “Stark Raving Dad“, which features a man who delusionally thinks he’s Michael Jackson, voiced by… erm… Michael Jackson.

It’s noted that Jackson personally reached out to the staff of the show to ask for a bit part and took his role extremely seriously, taking part in line readings with the rest of the cast and refusing the use of a special trailer set aside for him. During his time with the Simpsons staff, Jackson explained to Matt Groening that Bart was his favorite character and that he wanted to write the troublesome 10 year old a number 1 hit single. Groening laughed, assuming Jackson was joking. He wasn’t joking.

 Jackson, true to his word, went home and composed the basic idea for the song, Do The Bartman, a rap single from the point of view of Bart Simpson. Due to contractual obligations with his label at the time, Jackson had to remain uncredited as a composer, but went against his label’s stipulations and performed back vocals to the track because it’s not like anyone was going to believe the King of Pop would slum it with the voice cast of cartoon. Jackson, seemingly just because he could, also got Bart to namedrop him in the song he was singing in for no apparent reason. Sadly for Jackson the song never became a number one hit in the US, only topping the charts in territories like Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Though that’s mostly because it was never actually released as a single in the States.

Michael Jackson

– The Thriller Handbook