wsls logo

11 trials that captivated the country

Which of these do you remember most vividly?

Casey Anthony listens to the testimony of Krystal Holloway, who claims to have had an affair with Anthony's father, during her murder trial at the Orange County Courthouse on June 30, 2011 in Orlando, Florida. Anthony's defense attorneys argued that she didn't kill her two-year-old daughter Caylee, but that she accidentally drowned. (Photo by Red Huber-Pool/Getty Images)
Casey Anthony listens to the testimony of Krystal Holloway, who claims to have had an affair with Anthony's father, during her murder trial at the Orange County Courthouse on June 30, 2011 in Orlando, Florida. Anthony's defense attorneys argued that she didn't kill her two-year-old daughter Caylee, but that she accidentally drowned. (Photo by Red Huber-Pool/Getty Images) (2011 Getty Images)

In case you haven’t turned on your TV in the past week or so, the trial of the police officer accused of killing George Floyd last summer is now underway.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, faces charges of second-degree unintentional murder, second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder for Floyd’s death in May 2020.

It’s hard to say how long the trial will last, but given the first day went on for hours, this could span weeks -- and sure enough, people will be watching.

A big court case will often dominate the TV airwaves and lately, livestreams, for as long as it’s happening, and the trial of Chauvin doesn’t seem to be any different. With key civil rights issues on the line, it will be a landmark case.

Not only did Floyd’s death start a very real and overdue conversation about race in America, but the sentencing for Chauvin will be just as significant.

As for what other court trials had our eyes glued to the TV, we’ve come up with the following list.

Some of these listed below are pretty infamous, and a few, like the one happening now, are demands for more social justice.


The officers who assaulted Rodney King

A lot of the cases on this list revolve around the person who was on trial, but Rodney King is different. Even though King wasn’t on trial, he became the central figure of the case.

King was assaulted by four police officers in LA during the early ‘90s, and when the officers were let off the hook, the backlash resulted in protests and riots that turned deadly.

In this case, it was the aftermath of the trial that lives on more than the trial itself, and it just goes to show that these problems still exist today.

George Zimmerman

In 2012, George Zimmerman fatally shot a 17-year-old Black boy named Trayvon Martin. A year later, Zimmerman was acquitted on all charges. Martin was unarmed, but Zimmerman’s defense was that he was acting in self-defense, and that because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, he didn’t do anything wrong.

The trial was heavily covered by the media, and the aftermath of the verdict was, too. Martin’s name is often brought up as someone who the criminal justice system failed.

Casey Anthony

Two years after being accused of killing her daughter, Casey Anthony went to trial in 2011.

It was must-watch TV. The evidence stacked against Anthony was overwhelming. The evidence against her continued to pile on as the trial progressed, but much of it didn’t matter to the jury. It was shocking to many when Anthony was found not guilty.

The Menendez brothers

Lyle and Erik Menendez were tried in court after killing both of their parents. It was a court case that could have easily been made for TV. The brothers said that their parents were abusive, which garnered some sympathy, but it became more clear after the deaths that the brothers had something to do with it, because they were spending their inheritance quite lavishly. After a mistrial, the brothers were tried in court together and were sentenced to life in prison.

OJ Simpson

OK, this one might take the cake as far as “court trials that will go down in infamy.”

It was the perfect storm to have the public obsessed with the trial: A super-famous celebrity, a police chase, shocking evidence and people split on whether they believed Simpson.

It’s gone on to have documentaries and TV shows made about it, and just about anyone over the age of 25 probably knows at least something about this prolific court case.

Scott Peterson

It’s always tragic when a husband kills his wife, which made the court case of Scott Peterson, who was accused of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, even more of a media circus.

Peterson seemed guilty from the get-go, and it didn’t help him look any better when the public found out he had multiple mistresses. Peterson’s trial dominated the news, and he was found guilty in 2004.

Phil Spector

Court trials, especially for murder, always become a spectacle when a celebrity is involved, and that couldn’t be more true for Phil Spector.

In 2003, Spector was accused of killing actress Lana Clarkson. After a mistrial and many years later, Spector was found guilty in 2009 and sentenced to 19 years to life in prison. Spector died in a prison hospital earlier this year.

Michael Jackson

Like the OJ Simpson trial, when Michael Jackson was on trial for allegedly molesting a 13-year-old boy in 2005, the public had a hard time coming to terms that an icon like Jackson could do such a thing.

The trial was a frenzy that lasted four months, and Jackson was eventually found not guilty on all 10 counts.

Ted Bundy

We may never know the actual number of women Ted Bundy murdered, but reports say it’s close to 30. All throughout the 1970s, Bundy was a notorious serial killer who escaped from prison twice, only to be arrested again in Florida.

His trial was largely covered by the media in the late ‘70s, and Bundy was eventually found guilty of murder and later executed by lethal injection.

Woody Allen and Mia Farrow

Despite having a wildly successful career at writing and directing movies, Woody Allen was accused of allegedly molesting his 7-year-old adopted daughter in the early ‘90s. Allen took the accusation as an act of retaliation from Dylan’s mother, actress Mia Farrow.

Allen and Farrow were never married, so Allen filed a lawsuit for custody. The seven-week trial was heavily covered by the media since the two were such stars. Farrow was awarded custody of her daughter Dylan, yet Allen never had to answer for the alleged molestation accusations.

Bill Clinton

This wasn’t a traditional trial held in a courthouse. Instead, it was in the chambers of the Senate at the U.S. Capitol -- and the president of the United States at the time, Bill Clinton, was on trial after being impeached in the House of Representatives for perjury and obstruction of justice.

The trial lasted a little more than a month, and Clinton was eventually acquitted, but it will forever go down as a case that the public and media were obsessed with.

Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp became household names. It was the first time in modern history that a president was impeached, and since it involved a sex scandal perfect for a TV show, the public couldn’t get enough of it.


About the Author:

Jack is a Digital Content Editor with a degree in creative writing and French from Western Michigan University. He specializes in writing about movies, food and the latest TV shows.