F. Lee Bailey, who helped acquit OJ Simpson, dies at the age of 87

Lawyer F. Lee Bailey, who represented O.J. Simpson, the Boston Strangler and Patty Hearst, dies at 87

  • F. Lee Bailey died of natural causes in Georgia on June 3 at the age of 87
  • He is known for representing clients like OJ Simpson, Patty Hearst and the Boston Strangler suspect
  • Bailey became a celebrity in the 1960s, hosting a television show and appearing in other primetime shows and commercials
  • Over time, though, he faced his own legal troubles and was disbarred from Florida and Massachusetts in 2001
  • In 2017, he filed for bankruptcy 

F. Lee Bailey, who brought drama, swagger and cunning to the courtroom in representing football star O.J. Simpson, heiress Patty Hearst and the Boston Strangler suspect, died on Thursday at the age of 87.

Bailey passed away in Georgia, according to the Boston Globe, which confirmed his death with his former law partner, Superior Court Judge Kenneth J. Fishman.

TMZ quoted his son as saying Bailey was in a hospice there and died of natural causes related to his age.

Bailey became world famous as part of the legal ‘Dream Team’ that cleared football star OJ Simpson in the fatal stabbings of his former wife Nicole Brown in 1995.

Simpson posted a videotaped tribute to his former lawyer on Twitter, calling him ‘a great friend’ and ‘one of the great lawyers of our time.’

Bailey rose to fame across the country for his front-page victories, which included an acquittal for a figure in the My Lai massacre of the Vietnam War and a successful appeal for Sam Sheppard, a Cleveland doctor convicted of murdering his wife.

In his later years, however, he was living above a hair salon in Yarmouth, Maine, banned from practicing law with his fortune gone.

Attorney F. Lee Bailey, known for defending clients like OJ Simpson, Patricia Hearst and the Boston Strangler suspect, died on June 3 at the age of 87 of natural causes

Simpson, center, was acquitted of killing his ex-wife in 1995 thanks to a legal ‘Dream Team’ comprising Bailey (left) and Johnnie Cochran Jr. (right)

A former Marine Corps pilot, Bailey built a reputation for being an incisive, fast-thinking cross-examiner with a sharp memory, a flair for showmanship, deep knowledge of polygraph examinations and a hate-to-lose mentality.

‘I can’t say no to a case if it has one of three qualities – professional challenge, notoriety or a big fee,’ Bailey told the New York Times during his heyday, when he was somewhat of a celebrity, with offices in Boston, New York and Florida.  

He was the host of a celebrity interview show ‘Good Company’ in the 1960s, and ‘Lie Detector’ in the 1980s, in which he asked his guests questions while they were hooked up to a polygraph.

He also appeared in prime-time television shows, made the cover of Time and Newsweek, sat for a Playboy interview, wrote best-selling books, hosted television specials and starred in commercials for vodka and mattresses — two products he said he was very familiar with.

Bailey owned a home in Massachusetts in the 1960s with its own helicopter hangar, and indoor and outdoor swimming pools, the Globe reports.

‘He was a celebrity lawyer, no question,’ veteran Boston attorney Joseph Balliro, a friend of Bailey’s, told the Globe.

Bailey rose to prominence following his successful acquittal of an auto mechanic who was accused of murdering his wife, and became a celebrity across the nation

But his imperious nature, cutthroat style and love of publicity made Bailey enemies among judges and fellow lawyers. 

He had a major public blowup with co-counsel Robert Shapiro, a longtime friend, just before they opened what proved to be a successful defense in Simpson’s sensational double-murder trial in 1994.

‘Guys like Bailey — and there aren’t many of them — are great characters and don’t generate great love,’ Roy Black, a high-profile Miami defense attorney and friend of Bailey’s, told the Jacksonville Times-Union in 2000. 

‘He’s a guy who goes for the jugular. That’s all he knows to do and he’s not going to win any popularity contests for doing that.’

Bailey once summed up his approach by telling the Times: ‘Prosecuting or defending a case is nothing more than getting to those people who will talk for your side, who will say what you want said.’ 

‘I use the law to frustrate the law,’ he said. ‘But I didn’t set up the ground rules. I’m only a player in the game.’

His first big success came in 1960, following his graduation from Boston University School of Law, when he defended an auto mechanic named George Edgerly, who was accused of murdering his wife.

Bailey hired a polygraph expert for the case, earning an acquittal for Edgerly and garnering enough press to attract a steady stream of clients. 

Six years later, Bailey successfully appealed Sheppard’s conviction, arguing in the United States Supreme Court that Sheppard’s jury was not properly sequestered.

He later won the doctor an acquittal at the retrial.

The case has been cited as an inspiration for the popular TV show and movie The Fugitive.

Bailey then became a key figure in the Boston Strangler case, in which Albert DeSalvo, who was already being held on a separate rape charge, admitted to killing 13 single women between 1962 and 1964.

Bailey defended DeSalvo on the rape charges, for which DeSalvo was given a life sentence, trying to use his confession to the murders as part of an insanity defense, but the judge would not allow the confession, and DiSalvo was convicted of the rape. 

Eventually, DeSalvo recanted his confession for the killings, but was stabbed to death in prison in 1973 before he could be tried for the Boston Strangler slayings.

Bailey defended Boston Strangler suspect Albert DeSalvo on rape charges. He is pictured here holding up a picture of DeSalvo

Bailey defended Patricia Hearst, daughter of Randolph Hearst, who participated in several crimes while being held captive by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974

He is pictured at a press conference held by his client Capt. Ernest Medina, who was accused of murder in the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War

From there, he went on to defend Patricia Hearst, daughter of media scion Randolph Hearst, who was kidnapped in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army extremist group and was held captive for 19 months, during which time she participated in several crimes, including a San Francisco bank robbery in which one bystander was killed.

Bailey started Hearst’s defense saying it was ‘not a difficult case’ and tried to convince jurors that she had been brainwashed by her captors and coerced into wielding a gun during a San Francisco bank robbery two months later.

He later got Hearst’s first-degree murder charges dropped in exchange for her testifying against other members of the group. She was convicted of the robbery in 1976, and was sentenced to seven years in prison, but only wound up serving two after her sentence was commuted by then-President Jimmy Carter.

She appealed on the grounds that Bailey put together a poor defense, was tired and shaking during the trial and had a conflict of interest because of his intention to write a book about her case. 

Bailey also successfully defended anesthesiologist Carl Coppolino in the slaying of his mistress’ husband in New Jersey in 1963, but failed to get Coppolino off a few years later when the doctor killed his wife in Florida.

And he won acquittals for Army Captain Ernest Medina, who had been charged with ordering the My Lai massacre of villagers in Vietnam, and for two suspects in the $1.5 million in the Great Plymouth Mail Robbery in Massachusetts in 1962.

But perhaps most notably, Bailey was part of the legal ‘Dream Team’ that cleared football star OJ Simpson in the fatal stabbings of his former wife and her friend in a tumultuous trial that was broadcast across the nation.

In one memorable scene from the trial, Bailey accused Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman of being racist, citing racial slurs he had made in the past, and alleged he planted a bloody glove on the scene to frame Simpson.

Neither accusation was fully substantiated in court but served to weaken Fuhrman’s credibility. 

O.J. Simpson  held up his hands before the jury after putting on a pair of gloves similar to the bloody ones found at the scene of his wife and friend’s double-murder


 But Bailey had his own legal troubles beginning in the 1966, when he spent 44 days in prison for failing to turn over stock and $700,000 that a Florida marijuana dealer had given him. 

Prosecutors said the stock and money should have been forfeited. Bailey said they were his payment from the drug dealer.   

In the 1970s, a grand jury investigation into Bailey’s conduct also led to his indictment on bank fraud charges. 

He was ultimately acquitted, with the help of future Dream Team lawyer Alan Dershowitz, but both his reputation and his wallet suffered as a result. 

Then in 1982, Bailey was arrested in California on a DWI charge and was represented by Robert Shapiro, who later brought him onto the Simpson defense team.

Following his acquittal, Bailey published a book titled: How to Protect Yourself Against Cops in California and Other Strange Places. 

By the mid-’90s, Bailey’s career was floundering as a result of these scandals, when Claude Deboc, a former client, pleaded guilty to drug smuggling. 

To cover Bailey’s fees, the government let him hold $6 million in stock owned by Deboc, but when its value more than quadrupled, government officials insisted the profits belonged to them and not to Bailey. 

He vehemently disagreed, citing a verbal agreement that could not be verified.

By that time, the Globe reports, Bailey had already spent $4.6 million of the stock proceeds. He was jailed for 44 days and fined $3.5 million.

Bailey was disbarred from Florida in 2001, with officials ruling he had engaged in ‘multiple counts of egregious misconduct, including offering false testimony.’ 

Massachusetts disbarred him shortly thereafter.  

In 2013, Bailey sought to resume his legal practice in Maine, passing the state’s bar exam, but Maine’s board refused to admit him 

He was successful at appealing the decision, but it was ultimately rejected by the state Supreme Court, which ruled Bailey ‘minimalizes the wrongfulness and the seriousness of the misconduct for which he was disbarred.’  

Instead, Bailey began running a legal consulting service in the state, and in 2017, facing a $5.2 million tax liability, Bailey filed for bankruptcy protection.

He blamed his legal woes in part to his role in acquitting Simpson, telling Town and Country Magazine at the time that he and Dershowitz ‘have the OJ curse in common, to a degree.’

From OJ Simpson to Patty Hearst – F. Lee Bailey’s biggest cases

 The Sam Sheppard case

In 1966, Bailey successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that Sam Sheppard had been denied due process in the murder trial of his wife, winning a re-trial. A not guilty verdict followed. 

The Boston Strangler case: Albert DeSalvo 

While Albert DeSalvo was in jail for a series of sexual assaults known as the ‘Green Man’ incidents, he confessed his guilt in the ‘Boston Strangler’ murders to Bailey. DeSalvo was found guilty of the assaults but was never tried for the killings.

 Carl A. Coppolino

Carl A. Coppolino was accused of the July 30, 1963 murder of retired Army Col. William Farber, his neighbor and the husband of Marjorie Farber, with whom Coppolino was having an affair. He was also accused of the August 28, 1965, murder of his wife, Carmela Coppolino. 

Bailey successfully defended Coppolino in the New Jersey case over the death of Farber in December 1966. However, Coppolino was convicted of murdering his wife in Florida. 

 The George Edgerly case

When an attorney representing George Edgerly, a mechanic charged with murdering his wife, was incapacitated by a heart attack, Bailey took over the defense using a lie detector to prove his innocence.

 Captain Ernest Medina, accused of the My Lai massacre

Bailey successfully defended U.S. Army Captain Ernest Medina in his 1971 court-martial for responsibility in the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War.

 The Patty Hearst case

The prosecution of Patty Hearst, a newspaper heiress who had committed armed bank robberies after being kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), was one of Bailey’s defeats.

In her autobiography, Hearst described his closing argument as ‘disjointed’ and said that she suspected he had been drinking.

Hearst was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison. She served 22 months before her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. She was pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

While Hearst was convicted at trial, Bailey did protect her from a further death-penalty prosecution, negotiating with prosecutors for Hearst to receive immunity in exchange for her testimony about the San Francisco robbery.

 The Claude DuBoc case

 In a plea bargain agreement with the U.S. Attorney, Claude DuBoc agreed to turn over his assets to the U.S. government, including a large stock in BioChem, worth approximately $6 million at the time of the plea deal. 

When the government sought to collect the stock, it had increased in value to $20 million.  

Bailey said he was entitled to the appreciation in payment of his legal fees. Since he had used the stock as collateral for loans, he was unable to turn over the stock to the government. 

In 1996, Bailey served 44 days in prison for contempt.

 The OJ Simpson case

Bailey joined the O. J. Simpson defense team just before the preliminary hearing.

He held numerous press conferences to discuss the progress of the case. In a press conference prior to his cross-examination of Mark Fuhrman, Bailey said, ‘Any lawyer in his right mind who would not be looking forward to cross-examining Mark Fuhrman is an idiot.’

 His famous cross-examination of Fuhrman is considered by many to be the key to Simpson’s acquittal. In front of a jury with a multi-ethnic background, Bailey got the detective to claim, ‘Marine to Marine,’ he never used the word nigger to describe blacks at any time during the previous ten years, a claim the defense team easily found evidence to refute.

Ultimately, the statement that Bailey drew from the detective forced Fuhrman to plead the Fifth in his next courtroom appearance, thereby undermining his credibility with the jury and the otherwise devastating evidence he allegedly found. 

 The Chantal McCorkle case

British citizen Chantal McCorkle, along with her American husband William, was tried and convicted in 1998 in Florida for her part in a financial fraud. The McCorkles sold kits, advertised in infomercials, purporting to show buyers how to get rich by buying property in foreclosures and government auctions. 

Among the grounds for their conviction was their representation in the infomercials that they owned luxury automobiles and airplanes (actually rented for the commercials), and their use of purported testimonials from satisfied customers, who were actually paid actors.

Chantal, represented by Mark Horwitz, and her husband, represented by Bailey, were each originally sentenced to over 24 years in federal prison under mandatory sentencing laws. After two appeals, the McCorkles’ sentences were reduced in 2006 to 18 years

 The Korean Air Lines Flight 007 case

Bailey took the case of aggrieved families of passengers on Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1983, but did not devote much time to it, instead traveling to Libya to discuss defending two men who were charged with blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. 

Bailey later denied that he intended to defend the Libyans, though a letter he had written to the U.S. Government suggested otherwise.

 The Koscot Interplanetary case

Koscot Interplanetary and Dare to be Great were multi-level marketing companies owned by Glenn W. Turner, accused of a pyramid scheme.

In 1973, Turner, Bailey and eight others were indicted by a federal grand jury on conspiracy and mail fraud charges.

The indictment said that Bailey had appeared in a film made for Turner’s organization and had appeared with Turner at several rallies. 

A nine-month trial ended in a hung jury. Charges were then dropped against Bailey. 

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