WALTHAM, Massachusetts – F. Lee Bailey, the prominent attorney who defended OJ Simpson, Patricia Hearst and the alleged Boston Strangler, but whose legal career was interrupted when he was sacked in two states, has died, a former colleague said Thursday . He was 87.
The death was confirmed Thursday by Peter Horstmann, who worked with Bailey as an associate in the same law firm for seven years.
In a legal career that spanned more than four decades, Bailey was considered arrogant, self-centered and disdainful of authority. But he has also been recognized as brave, brilliant, meticulous, and tireless in defending his clients.
“The legal profession is a business with an enormous accumulation of egos,” Bailey said in a September 1981 interview with US News and World Report.
Some of Bailey’s other high profile clients were Dr. Samuel Sheppard – charged with killing his wife – and Captain Ernest Medina, charged in connection with the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.
“I have never known an intellect greater than that of F. Lee Bailey,” said J. Albert Johnson, Bailey’s longtime legal partner and childhood friend.
An avid pilot, bestselling writer, and television presenter, Bailey was a member of the legal “Dream Team” that defended Simpson, the former NFL star who ran back and acquitted actor of killing his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. and her boyfriend Ron Goldman in 1995.
Bailey was the most valuable member of the team, Simpson said in a 1996 story in Boston Globe Magazine.
“He was able to simplify everything and identify the most important parts of the case,” said Simpson. “Lee set the strategy of the case, what would and what would not be important. I thought he had an amazing understanding of the most important parts of the case, and that turned out to be true. “
One of the most memorable moments of the trial was when Bailey aggressively cross-examined Detective Mark Fuhrman of the Los Angeles Police Department to portray him as a racist whose aim it was to defame Simpson. It was classic Bailey.
Fuhrman denied using racist epithets, but the defense later uncovered recordings of Fuhrman making racial slurs.
Although Fuhrman stayed cool under pressure and some legal experts called the confrontation a tie, Bailey, remembering the exchange months later, said, “That was the day Fuhrman dug his own grave.”
Bailey received acquittals for many of his clients, but he also lost cases, most notably Hearsts.
Hearst, a publishing heir, was kidnapped on February 4, 1974 by the terrorist group of the Symbionese Liberation Army and participated with the group in armed robbery. At the trial, Bailey claimed she was forced to attend because she feared for her life. She was still being sentenced.
Hearst called Bailey in a statement she signed with a motion to reduce her sentence, an “ineffective lawyer” who reduced the process to “mockery, farce and sham”. Hearst accused him of sacrificing her defense to get a book deal 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 US Supreme Court ruled in a landmark 1966 ruling that “massive, ubiquitous, adverse publicity” violated his rights. Bailey helped secure an acquittal in a second trial.
Bailey also defended Albert DeSalvo, the man who assumed responsibility for the Boston Strangler murders between 1962 and 1964. DeSalvo confessed to the murders but was never tried or convicted and was later revoked. Despite doubts about DeSalvo’s claim, Bailey always claimed that DeSalvo was the strangler.
Throughout his career, Bailey angered the authorities with his sometimes aggressive style and pursuit of publicity. He was convicted in 1970 by a judge in Massachusetts for “his philosophy of extreme egocentrism” and in 1971 he was expelled for a year in New Jersey for speaking publicly about a case.
Bailey was fired in Florida in 2001 and Massachusetts the following year for handling millions of dollars in stocks in a convicted drug smuggler in 1994. He spent nearly six weeks in federal prison, which was charged with disobeying the court in 1996 for flipping the holdings. The experience “embittered” him. He was finally granted the right to practice law in Maine in 2013.
Francis Lee Bailey was born in the Boston suburb of Waltham to a newspaper advertiser and a teacher.
He enrolled at Harvard University in 1950 but left at the end of his sophomore year to complete a marine pilot training course. He retained a lifelong love of flying and even owned his own aviation company.
While in the military, Bailey volunteered for the legal staff at Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina and soon became a legal officer for more than 2,000 men.
Bailey earned a law degree from Boston University in 1960, where he had an average of 90.5, but graduated with no honors because he refused to take the Law Review. He said the university waived the requirement for a bachelor’s degree because of his military legal experience.
Bailey was married four times and divorced three times. His fourth wife, Patricia, died in 1999. He had three children.