Famous lawyer F. Lee Bailey has died at 87
WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) – F. Lee Bailey, the famous lawyer who defended OJ Simpson, Patricia Hearst and the alleged Boston Strangler, but whose legal career came to a halt when he was struck off the bar in two states, is deceased, a former colleague said Thursday. He was 87 years old.
The death was confirmed Thursday by Peter Horstmann, who worked with Bailey as a partner at the same law firm for seven years.
During a legal career that spanned more than four decades, Bailey was seen as arrogant, self-centered, and despicable of authority. But he was also recognized as daring, brilliant, meticulous and tireless in the defense of his clients.
“The legal profession is a business with a huge collection of egos,” Bailey said in an interview with US News and World Report in September 1981. “Few people who are not selfishly strong gravitate to it.”
Some of Bailey’s other prominent clients included Dr Samuel Sheppard – accused of killing his wife – and Captain Ernest Medina, indicted in connection with the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.
“I have never known greater intelligence than that possessed by F. Lee Bailey,” said J. Albert Johnson, Bailey’s longtime legal partner and childhood friend.
Bailey, an avid pilot, bestselling author and television show host, was a member of the legal ‘dream team’ that defended Simpson, the former NFL backer and acquitted actor on charges of ‘killing his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman in 1995.
Bailey was the team’s most valuable member, Simpson said in a 1996 Boston Globe Magazine article.
“He was able to simplify everything and identify what were the most vital parts of the case,” Simpson said. “Lee defined what the strategy was, what was going to be important and what was not. I thought he had an incredible understanding of what was going to be the most important parts of the case, and it turned out to be true.
One of the trial’s most memorable moments came when Bailey aggressively cross-examined Los Angeles Police Detective Mark Fuhrman in an attempt to portray him as a racist whose goal was to trap Simpson. It was classic Bailey.
Fuhrman denied using racial epithets, but the defense then showed tapes of Fuhrman making racist slurs.
Even though Fuhrman remained calm under the pressure and some legal experts called the showdown a draw, Bailey, recalling the exchange months later, said: “It was the day that Fuhrman dug his own grave.”
Bailey has secured the acquittals of many of his clients, but he has also lost cases, including that of Hearst.
Hearst, a publishing heiress, was kidnapped by the terrorist group Symbionese Liberation Army on February 4, 1974 and participated in armed robberies with the group. At trial, Bailey claimed she was forced to participate because she feared for her life. She was convicted anyway.
Hearst called Bailey an “ineffective lawyer” who reduced the trial to “a mockery, a farce and a sham,” in a statement she signed with a motion to reduce her sentence. Hearst accused him of sacrificing his defense in an effort to secure a contract for a book on the case.
She was released in January 1979 after President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence.
Bailey made a name for himself as an attorney for Sheppard, an Ohio osteopath convicted in 1954 of the murder of his wife.
Sheppard spent more than a decade behind bars before the Supreme Court of the United States declared in a landmark 1966 decision that “massive, pervasive and damaging publicity” violated his rights. Bailey helped secure an acquittal in a second trial.
Bailey also defended Albert DeSalvo, the man who claimed responsibility for the Boston Strangler murders between 1962 and 1964. DeSalvo confessed to the murders, but was never tried or convicted, then recanted. Despite doubts cast over DeSalvo’s claim, Bailey has always maintained that DeSalvo was the strangler.
Throughout his career, Bailey has upset authorities with his sometimes abrasive style and pursuit of publicity. He was censored by a Massachusetts judge in 1970 for “his philosophy of extreme egocentricity” and was struck off the bar for a year in New Jersey in 1971 for speaking publicly about a case.
Bailey was struck off the bar in Florida in 2001 and the following year in Massachusetts for his handling of millions of dollars in stock held by a convicted drug dealer in 1994. He spent nearly six weeks in a federal prison charged with contempt of court in 1996 after refusing to return the stock. The experience left him “embittered”. He was finally granted the right to practice law in Maine in 2013.
Francis Lee Bailey was born in Waltham, a suburb of Boston, the son of an advertiser and a schoolteacher.
He enrolled at Harvard University in 1950 but left at the end of his second year to train as a marine pilot. He retained a lifelong love of flying and even owned his own airline.
While in the military, Bailey volunteered for legal staff at Marine Corps Air Force Base Cherry Point in North Carolina, and soon found himself the legal officer of over 2 000 men.
Bailey received a law degree from Boston University in 1960, where he had an average of 90.5, but he graduated without distinction because he refused to join the Law Review. He said the university waived the requirement for an undergraduate degree because of his military legal experience.
Bailey has married four times and divorced three times. His fourth wife, Patricia, died in 1999. He had three children.