Celebrity lawyer F Lee Bailey dies aged 87

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F Lee Bailey, the celebrity lawyer who defended OJ Simpson, Patricia Hearst and the alleged Boston Strangler has died at the age of 87, a former colleague said.

The death was confirmed by Peter Horstmann, who worked with Mr Bailey as an associate in the same law office for seven years.

In a legal career that lasted more than four decades, Mr Bailey was seen as arrogant, egocentric and contemptuous of authority. But he was also acknowledged as bold, brilliant, meticulous and tireless in the defence of his clients.

Obit F. Lee Bailey
OJ Simpson reacts as he is found not guilty (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Daily News via AP)

“Few people who are not strong egotistically gravitate to it.”

Some of Mr Bailey’s other high-profile clients included Dr Samuel Sheppard — accused of killing his wife — and Capt Ernest Medina, charged in connection with the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.

“I have never known a greater intellect than that possessed by F Lee Bailey,” said J Albert Johnson, Bailey’s long-time legal partner and childhood friend.

Mr Bailey, an avid pilot, best-selling author and television show host, was a member of the legal “dream team” that defended Simpson, the former star NFL running back and actor acquitted on charges that he killed his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, in 1995.

Mr Bailey was the most valuable member of the team, Simpson said in a 1996 story in The Boston Globe Magazine.

“He was able to simplify everything and identify what the most vital parts of the case were,” Simpson said.

“Lee laid down what the case’s strategy was, what was going to be important and what was not. I thought he had an amazing grasp of what was going to be the most important parts of the case, and that turned out to be true.”

One of the most memorable moments of the trial came when Mr Bailey aggressively cross-examined Los Angeles police Detective Mark Fuhrman in an attempt to portray him as a racist whose goal was to frame Simpson.

Mr Fuhrman denied using racial epithets, but the defence later turned up recordings of him making racist slurs.

Mr Bailey earned acquittals for many of his clients, but he also lost cases, most notably Hearst’s.

Hearst, a publishing heiress, was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army terrorist group on February 4, 1974, and participated in armed robberies with the group.

At trial, Mr Bailey claimed she was coerced into participating because she feared for her life. She still was convicted.

Hearst called Mr Bailey an “ineffective counsel” who reduced the trial to “a mockery, a farce, and a sham,” in a declaration she signed with a motion to reduce her sentence.

Hearst accused him of sacrificing her defence in an effort to get a book deal about the case.

She was released in January 1979 after President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence.

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