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Infamous TV trials: OJ Simpson to Oscar Pistorius

OJ Simpson's mugshot
Image Credit: Abaca Press / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: A police mugshot of OJ Simpson from the 17th June 1994. Photo taken in Los Angeles, California, USA.

2022 saw one of the biggest changes in British legal history, with television cameras now permitted to film judges as they deliver their sentencing remarks at the end of trials in England and Wales.

However, there is still a ban on the broadcast of full trials in the UK. This is in stark contrast to some other countries, where cameras have captured some of the most infamous trials of all time. Here are some proceedings that became almost as well known as the crimes that preceded them.

1. O.J. Simpson

The O.J. Simpson trial was a landmark cultural moment, unfolding like a prime-time soap opera in 1995. Prosecutor Marcia Clark later recalled how, after the trial ended: ‘People would come up to me on the street and say “God, I loved your show".'

American football star Simpson was accused of fatally stabbing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. The case against Simpson, who was known to have been violent towards Nicole in the past, looked strong.

However, his defence sensationally claimed that DNA evidence had been compromised and that Simpson was the target of racism from the police. The most infamous moment came when Simpson was asked to put on the gloves allegedly used by the murderer.

The gloves appeared too small for his hands – a fact that many observers have put down to the leather shrinking after forensic testing. However, it enabled defence attorney Johnnie Cochran to come up with one of the most notorious quips of the 1990s, ‘If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit’ and Simpson was found not guilty.

Oscar Pistorius leaving court
Oscar Pistorius leaving the high court in Pretoria, South Africa on the 17th of October 2014 | Image: Trevor Christopher /

2. Oscar Pistorius

Having had both feet amputated as a child, Oscar Pistorius grew up to become the ‘Blade Runner’, a trailblazing sprinter who competed in both the Paralympics and Olympics. But his stellar career came crashing down when he shot dead his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in their home on Valentine’s Day 2013.

A world-famous athlete in the dock for allegedly murdering his partner drew obvious comparisons with the O.J. Simpson trial, but the atmosphere was very different. Pistorius, who claimed he’d shot Steenkamp believing her to be an intruder, was nakedly emotional throughout the proceedings. He delivered what seemed to be an anguished apology to her parents and threw up in a bucket when images of Steenkamp’s body were shown.

Pistorius was eventually found guilty of culpable homicide, but this was upgraded to a murder conviction after an appeal by the state. During his sentencing, Pistorius took off his prostheses to unsteadily walk around on his stumps in the middle of the courtroom. It was an attempt to emphasise his vulnerability in front of the judge and became one of the most memorable moments of the case. He was handed a six-year sentence which was later increased to 13.

Pistorius is due to be released from prison on parole on 5th January 2024, almost 11 years after he murdered Reeva Steenkamp.

3. Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy’s 1979 trial for murders and assaults committed in a Florida sorority house was the first to be nationally televised in the United States. Representing himself, the serial killer put on a smirking, showboating performance that helped cement his enduring pop-cultural status as the ‘suave’ and ‘handsome’ American bogeyman.

He certainly managed to charm the judge. Even while sentencing Bundy to death for crimes that were ‘heinous, atrocious and cruel’, the judge was at pains to compliment the killer, saying: ‘You'd have made a good lawyer and I would have loved to have you practise in front of me, but you went another way, partner. I don't feel any animosity toward you. I want you to know that.’

Strange as the footage of these remarks may seem, an even odder moment came in a later trial for another Florida murder. While questioning Carole Ann Boone, a girlfriend who was appearing as a character witness, Bundy asked her to marry him. She accepted, and thanks to a Florida law regarding proposals made in court, it constituted a legal marriage. Bundy received another death sentence soon after.

4. Jeffrey Dahmer

In marked contrast to fellow serial killer Ted Bundy, who seemed to relish the limelight, Jeffrey Dahmer was a sombre and rueful presence at his televised trial in 1992. The ‘Milwaukee Cannibal’, who had killed a string of men, wasn’t fighting to prove his innocence. Rather, the trial was intended to determine whether he was in control of his lethal impulses, as the prosecution argued, or a deranged man unable to resist his urges.

The trial was notable for its macabre details, with experts discussing Dahmer’s necrophiliac desires and attempting to fathom how such atrocities could have taken place. Some of the most haunting moments caught on camera involved the testimonies of the victims’ family members, who laid bare the agony they had to endure. One of them, the sister of victim Errol Lindsey, unleashed her fury, calling Dahmer ‘Satan’ before screaming and lunging toward him in the courtroom.

Dahmer himself delivered a memorably fatalistic statement. ‘I did never want freedom, frankly, I wanted death for myself,’ he said. ‘I knew I was sick or evil or both […] I should have stayed with God, I tried and failed and created a holocaust. Thank God there will be no more harm that I can do.’

Dahmer was ruled to be sane and sentenced to life behind bars, though he only served a few years as he was bludgeoned to death by fellow inmate, Christopher Scarver, in November 1994.