HISTORY

Famous Trials: Corruption, Murder and Other Mayhem

“To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game.” — Bob Dylan, Hurricane

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A few years ago I had a business trip that took me to Dayton, Tennessee. Dayton is one of those countless little communities cozily nestled in the spaces between the Appalachian hills. Each has a main street, a library, and in this case even a Wal-Mart. If you want something more than beer at the local restaurant, you bring your own bottle. And since there is no liquor store in Dayton, you pick up that bottle at Wal-Mart. Yes, it’s a little different.

Dayton, like the countless other specks scattered through the region, is a place most of us would never have heard of except that it became home of a sensationally public event, the Scopes Monkey Trial. The famous “monkey trial” focused the heat generating spotlight of the media on this rather nondescript town. The high profile lawyers facing off there, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, represented not clients but ideologies which had come to a head in the early part of the 20th century.

I mention these things because of a DVD I’d borrowed from the library about another famous trial, Michael Jackson’s 2005 child molestation trial. The DVD, titled Michael Jackson: The Untold Story of Neverland, is essentially a documentary incorporating footage taken by Larry Nimmer, a filmmaker who had worked for the Jackson defense team. Nimmer had access to nearly every nook and cranny. In the event that the jury was unable to visit Neverland, his filming of the place would be used for showing Jackson’s world. As it turns out, the films were indeed needed, and now that bizarre private estate is being shared with the world. What a strange life.

There have been many famous trials in history. Douglas O. Linder has assembled details about many of these on a website titled Famous Trials. If you’re looking for a bit of diversion because your newspaper is thinner than it used to be, this guy has put together a whole boatload of details and analysis on some key moments in human history. You’ll find murder trials, free speech trials, race trials, religion trials and trials involving corruption, war and politics.

Here’s a partial list of the trials you can learn more about:

Socrates, 399 B.C.
Gaius Verres, 70 B.C.
Jesus, 30
Martin Luther, 1521
Thomas More, 1535
Galileo, 1633
Salem Witchcraft Trials, 1692
John Brown
Oscar Wilde
Scopes Monkey Trial
Alger Hiss
Rosenberg Trial
Lenny Bruce
Chicago Seven
Charles Manson
Patty Hearst
Leonard Peltier
John Hinckley
Falwell vs. Larry Flynt
O. J. Simpson

I doubt the Michael Jackson trial was really significant enough for this list, and probably a few others there may be questionable, but the aim of a trial is a verdict. And the verdict is usually important because there is something at stake.

When all is said and done, our most important trial might be the one we’re going through now: the daily trial of our own personal characters.

EdNote: The following comment was posted in response to the above after I shared the above. In light of the times we live in, I find it most interesting.

What’s rarely remembered is that William Jennings Bryan, the opponent of Darwinism and also a prohibitionist and a populist politician, considered by some to be responsible for the populist vein of the Democratic party. When he was at the helm of the party he was defeated twice by William McKinley in the presidential elections of 1896 and 1900. He was also a leader of the Free Silver economic movement, meaning that the US would have had an inflationary monetary policy under his presidency, in contrast with the “sound money” gold-based policy of McKinley.

I can only wonder what would have happened if the U.S. had elected a highly populist politician for President during such a critical period of US history.

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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