The talented Francis Lee Bailey Jr, who died earlier this month, was one of those brilliant advocates who appear to fall foul of the authorities.
Bailey graduated from Boston University Law School in 1960. During his years there he’d also been conducting a detective agency, which he immediately sold. His very first high-profile defence was ‘The Torso Murderer’ George Edgerly was accused of dismembering his wife. Initially, Bailey was what was called Second Chair, but when the primary impulse had a heart attack Bailey took over, chased the polygraph evidence and got an acquittal.
Edgerly was convicted of another unconnected murder.
After that case, Bailey’s record of high-profile defences grew and grew. Clients included the millionairess Patty Hearst, Albert DeSalvo, who may have been the Boston Strangler, and Captain Ernest Medina, for whom he obtained an acquittal at a court martial over the so-called My Lai massacre during the war in Vietnam. Maybe his most memorable appearance was for O.J. Simpson. Bailey was given credit for throwing doubt on the evidence of this principal detective, getting him to admit he had made racist remarks years earlier and suggesting he would consequently have planted evidence.
He also looked for Dr Sam Sheppard in his retrial for murdering his wife. Sheppard had been railroaded by the local newspaper and Bailey claimed that the bias created had left the first trial unfair. Then he chased the prosecution’s witnesses. Sheppard is regarded as the inspiration for the television series The Fugitive.
On the debit side was Bailey’s refusal to hand over assets in a plea bargain that he ordered to get a Miami drug dealer. He served six weeks before his brother raised the sum to settle the matter. He was disbarred in Florida and Maine, and was also suspended for a year in a different case in New Jersey. In 2013 an program to practise law in Maine was denied. The state claimed he had failed to show by’clear and convincing evidence he possesses the requisite honesty and ethics’.