As Zimmerman case shows, troubles often follow high-profile acquittals


Story highlights

George Zimmerman was exonerated in the death of Trayvon Martin

But he's run into trouble since, including speeding tickets and an assault charge

Others, like O.J. Simpson, have been arrested after high-profile acquittals

Some have declared bankruptcy, like Casey Anthony and Robert Blake

CNN —  

George Zimmerman showed little emotion as the verdict was read. But after months in which the weight of the world seemingly lay on his shoulder, a period in which he was called everything from a murderer to a racist to a pig-headed jerk, more emotion would be very understandable, if not expected. After all, he was a free man.

Yet his story didn’t end there.

Yes, when Zimmerman walked out of the Florida courtroom that Saturday night in July, he legally could have gone anywhere or done anything. A jury opted not to convict him of murder in the death of Trayvon Martin – the unarmed black teen who Zimmerman said he shot in self-defense – or a lesser charge of manslaughter. In an instant, he went from the prospect of life behind bars to seemingly unlimited prospects.

It hasn’t been that simple. A lot has happened to George Zimmerman since his acquittal.

His first brush for law enforcement came a few weeks afterward in Forney, Texas, some 1,000 miles west of the Sanford, Florida courtroom where the Martin verdict came down. A police offer pulled him over for speeding but – after Zimmerman told him he had a concealed weapon permit and a gun in his glove compartment – let him go with a verbal warning.

Then, in early September, he got a $256 ticket for going 60 mph in a 45-mph zone in Lake Mary, Florida.

That same month, his wife Shellie Zimmerman – who pleaded guilty to perjury for lying about family finances to a judge considering George’s bond on a second-degree murder charge – filed for divorce. Days later, she called 911 regarding an altercation at the Lake Mary house the two had shared.

No charges were filed in that incident, after Shellie Zimmerman declined to press the case.

But George Zimmerman was charged Monday with felony aggravated assault after allegedly pointing a shotgun at his new girlfriend. He’s also charged with two misdemeanors – domestic violence battery and criminal mischief – in connection with the incident, said Dennis Lemma, chief deputy with the Seminole County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office. On Tuesday, George Zimmerman appeared in front of a judge, who set his bail at $9,000 and prohibited him from possessing weapons, among other restrictions.

Will this be he last time in the headlines? Will he run into more trouble with the law, or will he keep a clean record? Even if he does, how will he fare personally and financially?

As the stories of others who have been acquitted in high-profile trials demonstrate, there’s no telling what comes next, but often it’s not pleasant.

O.J. Simpson

His case: When it comes to big murder cases marked by a huge media frenzy, intense public attention and prognosticators dissecting every expression and movement and piece of evidence, one stands out: the trial of Orenthal James Simpson.

Unlike George Zimmerman, O.J. Simpson was a household name before his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson was found stabbed to the death in front of her condo along with Ronald Goldman in June 1994.

He was a football star, earning a Heisman Trophy win as college’s top player and membership in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his years of excellence in the NFL. He was a media darling, appearing as a sports commentator, nationally syndicated commercials and the campy “Naked Gun” movies. It seemed everyone knew, and everyone liked, O.J.

Then, days after his ex-wife’s death, Simpson was an accused murderer. The public fixated on his friend’s white Ford Bronco as it was followed by authorities, a slow-speed chase that ended at Simpson’s Brentwood mansion and with his surrender.

His criminal trial began in January 1995. A cadre of top-notch attorney represented the football star including Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey, Alan Dershowitz and Robert Kardashian. The prosecution argued for a conviction, pointing to DNA evidence and trying to overcome the fact no murder weapon was found.

In October, after less than four hours of deliberation, a jury found him not guilty.

What came next: Simpson hardly returned to his old life. The civil trial against him – brought by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Goldman – began less than a month after his acquittal.

It ended with a jury finding Simpson liable in the pair’s deaths. He was eventually ordered to pay $24.7 million in punitive damages.

Financial troubles ensued, including a court order for Simpson to turn over assets such as a set of golf clubs, his Heisman Trophy and an Andy Warhol painting.

A legal fight over who’d benefit from his book, “If I Did It,” ended in 2007 when a federal bankruptcy court awarded Goldman’s family 90% of the proceeds. Neither the Goldman and Brown families had collected any money from Simpson at that point, according to lawyers for both families.

That September, Simpson and several others went into a Las Vegas hotel room to get sports memorabilia that Simpson claimed belonged to him from dealers Bruce Fromong and Al Beardsley. The six men confronted the dealers, brandishing weapons but not firing them.

Simpson claimed he was only going after what was rightfully his, saying he regrets only bringing along men “who I didn’t know and one I didn’t trust.”

This time, though, he and his lawyers couldn’t convince a jury to side with him. He was found guilty on 12 counts, including kidnapping and armed robbery, and sentenced to 33 years in jail.

His efforts to go free on appeal or have his convictions overturned went nowhere. Simpson did manage a small victory earlier this year, when a Nevada parole board reduced his term on some charges. But he still has four years more left to serve – at least.

Amanda Knox

Her case: Amanda Knox was in Italy to brush up on her language skills during a year abroad, sharing a villa in the university town of Perugia with British exchange student Meredith Kercher. But as the then-college student admitted later, she did more than study.

The night of November 1, 2007, for instance, Knox later recalled smoking marijuana, having sex and “being silly and together” with her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito. The next day, authorities found the 21-year-old Kercher dead in the residence she shared with Knox, partially clothed and with her throat cut.

Knox was questioned soon thereafter. She allegedly confessed being in the home at the time of Kercher’s death. She also implicated a local bar owner who was detained but cleared two weeks later. Rudy Guede, who was arrested the next month, admitted having sex with Kercher that night. Over his claims of innocence, Guede was convicted in October 2008 and given 30 years in prison, a sentence that was later reduced to 16 years.

Guede’s conviction did not mean that Knox was in the clear. Far from it. The trial for she and Sollecito started in 2009. Eleven months later, it ended with both of their convictions on all charges related to Kercher’s death.

Knox and her lawyers keep fighting, centering on accounts from prison inmates and Guede plus DNA evidence. In October 2011, her and Sollecito’s murder convictions were overturned for “lack of evidence.”

What came next: Free for the first time in four years, Knox went to the airport and then over 5,500 miles away to her hometown of Seattle.

She’s remained there since, admittedly a changed woman, a damaged one.

“It’s really hard for me to talk to people about it,” Knox told CNN’s Chris Cuomo last May. “It’s like, as soon as I allow myself to cry, I can’t stop.”

After being made into an international news sensation – a common moniker, “Foxy Knoxy,” harked on her good looks and allegations of sexual deviancy – Knox stayed largely out of the public eye. But not totally: She wrote a memoir, “Waiting to Be Heard,” after getting a reported $3.8 million advance. In part to promote that book, Knox conducted media interviews detailing her memories from that night and beyond.

She continues to be trailed by Kercher’s death in other ways as well. Italy’s Supreme Court decided last year to retry the case, saying the jury that acquitted Knox and Sollecito didn’t consider all the evidence and discrepancies in testimony needed to be answered.

That retrial is going on now. Knox, though, isn’t there for it, staying instead in the United States. Even if she’s cleared once again, she worries about a lifetime of answering questions from doubters.

“I really want this to be behind me,” she told CNN earlier this year. “I need this. I don’t know how long I can hold it together. I don’t know how long I can defend myself.”

Michael Jackson

His case: First, Michael Jackson was a child star, the little guy with the big voice in the Jackson Five. Then, he was a musical icon – the unquestioned “King of Pop,” scoring hit after hit after hit.

Beyond that, he was also an accused child molester. One such claim arose in August 1993, revolving around a 13-year-old boy with whom Jackson allegedly sexually molested him over a five-month period. Local prosecutors decline to press charges, after the primary victim refuses to testify. (Jackson later paid out approximately $25 million to settle a civil lawsuit tied to this case.)

New sexual molestation charges, however, were brought against Jackson in late 2003. A grand jury indicted the pop star the following April on charges of molesting the boy at the center of the case, giving him alcohol and conspiring to hold him and his family captive.

Jackson pleaded not guilty and did not testify during his 14-week trial. It culminated in June 2005, when a California jury exonerated him on all the child molestation charges.

What came next: The singer dabbed his eyes with a tissue after his acquittal, according to courtroom observers. Many of his fans were not as restrained, erupting jubilantly that he’d been cleared.

Still, it’s not as if Jackson returned wholly to a charmed life. The state of California closed down Neverland Ranch, his one-of-a-kind home/zoo/amusement park, in March 2006 over allegations of unpaid wages. Later that year, Jackson settled with his ex-wife Debbie Rowe, getting full custody of their children for an undisclosed lump sum.

More troubles and lawsuits followed, as Jackson fought to hold onto his past despite seemingly formidable financial issues. He kept on working, including announcing in March 2009 that he’d embark on a “This Is It” tour.

Four months later, Jackson was dead.

Why? Testimony during subsequent trials revealed that, as he readied for his comeback concerts, the then 50-year-old claimed to be suffering from insomnia. His cause of death was an overdose of propofol, a drug that Dr. Conrad Murray told investigators he infused into Jackson almost every night for two months to put him to sleep.

In November 2011, Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in connection with Jackson’s death. And last month, a Los Angeles jury decided that AEG Live – the promoter behind his tour – was not liable for Jackson’s death and didn’t owe the late singer’s family millions of dollars in compensation, even though they hired Murray.

Ironically, Jackson has continued to generate accolades and money from the grave. He earned multiple awards following his death, and two posthumous albums came out. In October, Forbes magazine estimated that Jackson’s songs and other items took in $160 million over the past year, ranking him first on its list of “top-earning dead celebrities.”

Robert Blake

His case: Robert Blake was a kid when he broke into the business on “The Little Rascals.” Aside from a stint in the Army, he remained a fixture for decades in Hollywood. His career highlights included a breakout role in the 1967 film “In Cold Blood” and an Emmy-winning turn in the TV series “Baretta” in 1975.

A whole new generation came to know him in May 2001 for a reason that had nothing to do entertainment – the slaying of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley.

Bakley was found shot in the head in the actor’s car after the two had eaten together at an Italian restaurant in North Hollywood. Blake – who’d married Bakley six months earlier after a paternity test revealed her child belonged to him – said he’d gone back inside when she was killed.

Authorities didn’t believe him. In April 2002, he was arrested on charges of first-degree murder with special circumstances plus two counts of solicitation of murder.

His trial on those charges took place years later. It ended with a jury acquitting him of murder and one solicitation of murder charge; the jury deadlocked on the other solicitation count.

What came next: As with O.J. Simpson, Blake’s acquittal wasn’t a total victory.

Bakley’s estate (including her four children) filed a wrongful death suit against him and won in November 2005, after which Blake was ordered to pay $30 million in damages.

Blake filed for bankruptcy the following February, even as he fought to appeal the wrongful death judgment against him. He also raised questions about Bakley’s past and her relationships with other men as being possibly tied to her death.

And he self-published his memoir, “Tales of a Rascal: What I Did for L