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Prominent Defense Attorney F. Lee Bailey Has Died At 87


Renowned celebrity attorney F. Lee Bailey, whose legal career lasted more than four decades, died today. Bailey was one of the most famous lawyers in the country. He represented clients from football star O.J. Simpson to heiress Patty Hearst to the Boston Strangler. NPR's Cheryl Corley joins us to remember him.

Hey, Cheryl.


KELLY: He was known for his larger-than-life manner in the courtroom, going back to early in his career in the 1960s. Take us back to what it was like when F. Lee Bailey was in front of a judge, in front of a jury.

CORLEY: Well, he had this reputation for just being very theatrical and dramatic. He had a flair for showmanship, but he also had this very sharp memory and a hate-to-lose mentality. He essentially was a character...

KELLY: Yeah.

CORLEY: ...But a very effective attorney. And he had these very memorable cases. His first big success came in Ohio in 1966, when he took on the case of Dr. Sam Sheppard. And he was...

KELLY: Ah, the fugitive.


KELLY: Yeah.

CORLEY: Accused of killing his wife - and he took Sheppard's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, had his conviction overturned on the grounds that the jury was not properly sequestered. And he won the doctor an acquittal at retrial. And as you mentioned, the, you know, popular TV show and movie "The Fugitive" was based on that.

KELLY: And then he - I'm sorry to cut in. And then he had a bunch of high-profile cases. But was he best known for what was called the trial of the century?

CORLEY: Yes, absolutely, Bailey was part of the so-called dream team that cleared O.J. Simpson of the fatal stabbings of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend in a very tumultuous trial. Of course, O.J. Simpson is Black. His wife and her friend were white. And race was a huge factor in this trial as well, so it was very dramatic. A very dramatic moment in the trial came when Bailey questioned LA Police Detective Mark Fuhrman, suggesting that he was a racist, that he had often used the N-word and that he had planted a bloody glove to frame Simpson.


F LEE BAILEY: And you say on your oath that you have not addressed any Black person as a [expletive] or spoken about Black people as [expletive] in the past 10 years, Detective Fuhrman?

MARK FUHRMAN: That's what I'm saying, sir.

CORLEY: Yeah, so as I mentioned a dramatic moment in the case. And today, O.J. Simpson posted a video clip on Twitter remembering Bailey.


O J SIMPSON: He was the one lawyer that, every morning, came into this little lockup cell they had me in before the trial to talk to me and tell me what to expect that day. He was great. He was smart, sharp as ever.

KELLY: Sharp maybe - he also faced controversy though, Cheryl. He was actually disbarred - is that right? - in his later years. What happened?

CORLEY: Yeah. Yeah, he was disbarred in Florida 20 years ago. In 2002, the year after that, he was disbarred again in Massachusetts for the way he handled millions of dollars in stock that was owned by a convicted drug smuggler. He was asked to return that money, and he refused to turn over the stock. And he was charged with contempt of court, so he spent almost six weeks in federal prison for that. And he sought to resume his practice, but he ended up running a legal consulting service instead. And in June of 2016, he filed for bankruptcy because of a $5 million federal tax bill.

KELLY: That is NPR's Cheryl Corley telling us about the celebrity attorney, F. Lee Bailey, who died today.

Thank you, Cheryl.

CORLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.