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F. Lee Bailey

F. Lee Bailey (1933–2021), defense attorney for Sam Sheppard, O.J. Simpson

by Linnea Crowther

F. Lee Bailey was a criminal defense attorney known for his work with high-profile defendants including Sam Sheppard, Patty Hearst, and O.J. Simpson.

Notable early cases

Bailey’s first prominent case was Sheppard’s retrial. Sheppard was accused of the 1954 murder of his wife and had been convicted that same year. When he appealed the case, Bailey was hired, and he argued Sheppard’s case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966. Sheppard was found not guilty, and Bailey began to establish his high-profile reputation. He went on to successfully represent the defense in the murder trials of Carl A. Coppolino and George Edgerly, as well as in Ernest Medina’s court martial for his role in the My Lai Massacre. In 1975, Bailey represented Hearst for her involvement in armed bank robberies after her kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army; they were defeated and Hearst was sentenced to seven years in prison.

O.J. Simpson

Bailey joined the “Dream Team” that represented NFL star Simpson in his trial for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson (1959–1994), and her friend, Ron Goldman (1968–1994). Bailey provided much of the trial’s cross-examination, offering theories on the footprints and glove found at the crime scene. Simpson was found not guilty, and famous photos of that announcement feature Bailey smiling. In later media portrayals of the story of the crime and trial, Bailey was portrayed by Christopher Plummer (1929–2021) and Nathan Lane.



In 2001, Bailey was disbarred in Florida after a trial that landed him in prison for six weeks for contempt of court. At issue was Bailey’s management of shares in Biochem Pharma, which he said were given to him in payment by Claude DeBoc, a marijuana dealer he represented. As the stock was supposed to be included in DeBoc’s forfeiture of assets, Bailey was ordered to turn it over. He refused, was convicted, and was later found guilty of seven counts of attorney misconduct, leading to his disbarment. Massachusetts later disbarred Bailey as well, and he was unsuccessful in a 2012 attempt to receive a law license in Maine.

Notable quote

“Those who think the information brought out at a criminal trial is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth are fools. 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.” —as quoted in the New York Times in 1970

Tributes to F. Lee Bailey

Full Obituary: New York Times

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