F. Lee Bailey, lawyer at O.J. Simpson ‘trial of the century,’ dies at 87

FILE PHOTO: Defendant OJ Simpson reacts after court clerk announces that Simpson was found not guilty
Defendant OJ Simpson reacts next to F. Lee Bailey after the court clerk announces that Simpson was found not guilty of the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman, October 3, 1995.
Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

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 before his career ended in disbarment, died on Thursday. He was 87.

Bailey died in Georgia, said Peter Horstmann, an attorney and former associate. Bailey was in a hospice there, TMZ quoted his son as saying

Simpson, who was acquitted of murder charges in 1995 following the “Trial of the Century” in Los Angeles, posted a videotaped tribute to Bailey on Twitter, calling him “one of the great lawyers of our time.”

Bailey became one of the most famous attorneys in the country with courtroom victories that 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 and his fortune gone.

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.

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. But I didn’t set up the ground rules. I’m only a player in the game.”


Bailey could not acquit himself of contempt of court in 1996 and spent 44 days 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.

An agreement was reached in the case but Florida disbarred Bailey in 2001, saying he had engaged in “multiple counts of egregious misconduct, including offering false testimony.” Massachusetts also disbarred him.

Bailey suffered another notable loss in the defense of Hearst, daughter of media scion Randolph Hearst, who during her college days was kidnapped in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army extremist group.

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.

Hearst was convicted of bank robbery in 1976, spent two years in prison and accused Bailey of bungling the trial. 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 was part of the legal “Dream Team” that cleared Simpson in the fatal stabbings of his former wife and her friend in a tumultuous trial. Shapiro accused Bailey of undermining him, including planting unflattering stories in the media, and announced that he would only speak with Bailey on trial matters.

Bailey’s most dramatic moment in the Simpson trial came when he questioned Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman, suggesting he was a racist and had planted a bloody glove to frame Simpson. Neither accusation was fully substantiated in court but served to weaken Fuhrman’s credibility.


Francis Lee Bailey Jr. was born in Waltham, Massachusetts, on June 10, 1933. He left Harvard after two years and went on to discover the two driving passions of his life – the law and aviation.

Bailey joined the Navy before switching to the Marines and becoming a fighter pilot. After his military service, he went to law school at Boston University while simultaneously running an investigative company for attorneys.

Bailey’s first big success came in Ohio in 1966 with Sheppard’s appeal. He took it to the U.S. Supreme Court and had the conviction overturned on the grounds that Sheppard’s jury was not properly sequestered. Bailey 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 – 13 single women, most of them sexually assaulted, killed between 1962 and 1964. Albert DiSalvo was being held on a separate rape charge but knew details about the slayings that had not been made public.

Bailey wanted to use his confession as part of his insanity defense on DiSalvo’s rape charge. But the judge would not allow the confession and DiSalvo was convicted of the rape.

He was stabbed to death in prison before he could be tried in the Boston Strangler slayings, but was a strong suspect.

Bailey 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.

Bailey also 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 Great Plymouth Mail Robbery in Massachusetts in 1962.

In 2013, Bailey sought to resume his legal practice in Maine but the state’s Supreme Court refused him, so he ran a legal consulting service there.

He filed for bankruptcy in June 2016, due to a $5 million federal tax bill.