In December 1991, the trial of William Kennedy Smith attracted millions of television viewers and laid the groundwork for an era defined by celebrity trials that blurred the lines between news and entertainment.
30-year-old Kennedy Smith, the nephew of US President John F. Kennedy, was accused of sexually assaulting a woman he met in a Florida bar while out with his other famous uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy. The woman told authorities Kennedy Smith attacked her as they walked on a beach near the Kennedy compound.
As a member of one of the most famous families in the U.S., Smith’s case was big news on its own, but it became a legit media circus when a brand-new cable news outlet named Court TV took a gamble and decided to air live gavel to gavel coverage of the entire trial.
Reporters from around the globe flocked to the Palm Beach courthouse for the proceedings which were attended by numerous high profile Kennedy’s including John F. Kennedy Jr, who took his turn showing support for the latest male family member to find himself in hot water.
Famed criminal defense lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, who would later form part of OJ Simpsons dream team, provided expert commentary on Court TV which blurred out the accuser’s identity with a large dot. Following the trial the woman chose to identify herself publicly as Patricia Bowman.
Taking the stand in his own defense in court, Smith testified he had sex with the woman but that it was consensual.
At the beginning of the trial, Judge Mary E. Lupo made a controversial decision to bar prosecutors from presenting testimony from three other women who claimed Smith had assaulted them which may have played a part in in Smith’s acquittal on all charges.
William Kennedy Smith became a doctor after the trial, specializing in working with victims of land mines, and remained largely out of the national spotlight.
In 2004, a Chicago woman who was Smith’s assistant at the nonprofit Center for International Rehabilitation filed a lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault. A judge subsequently dismissed the suit.
For more stories from the, check out my podcast “History of the 90s.” It is available on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at http://www.curiouscast.ca