True crime is not always simple. Even the most well-documented real-life cases can seem more like the work of fiction, filled with bizarre legal twists that surprise us and verdicts that may disgust us.
Sometimes people do indeed get away with murder. A person can commit a terrible crime and walk away free because their defense concocted some brilliant scheme that makes just enough sense to keep a jury from convicting them. Other times, innocent people are wrongly accused, and it takes a creative, surprising defense to clear their good name.
What is assured, though, is that as long as humans continue to commit murder and lawyers continue to defend them, defense teams will keep coming up with the wildest legal defense arguments - and some of them will work.
Michael Peterson Believes An Owl Killed His Wife
In 2001, Kathleen Peterson was killed by blunt force trauma to her head. Her husband, writer Michael Peterson, was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. Peterson’s attorney, T. Lawrence Pollard, had a different theory. He believed that an owl had killed Kathleen Peterson. A feather was found in Kathleen’s hand matching that of an owl, and the lacerations on her face and head matched that of an attack by a large bird.
Since Peterson’s conviction, Pollard has managed to find several owl experts who corroborate his theory. In 2010, Pollard's theories were made public and several articles were written on this mysterious yet sensible owl defense. The story garnered enough attention that Peterson was granted a new trial, which was set to begin on May 8, 2017. However, a few months before the retrial, he accepted an Alford plea deal and was freed based on time already served.
Sandie Craddock Used PMS As Her Murder Defense
By the time Sandie Craddock was 29, this London resident already had dozens of criminal convictions, but now she was charged with the murder of a fellow barmaid. What seemed like an open and shut case of murder was turned on its head when Craddock’s legal team chose the defense of diminished responsibility due to premenstrual syndrome (commonly referred to as PMS).
Experts were able to prove that all of Craddock’s crimes and suicide attempts took place during this phase of her menstrual cycle and the court agreed that she was not in control of her faculties. Craddock’s charge was reduced to manslaughter and she was released on probation and obligated to remain on hormone therapy.
John Hinckley Jr. Said The Movie Taxi Driver Inspired Him To Shoot The President
After seeing the 1976 film Taxi Driver, John Hinckley Jr. became obsessed with Jodi Foster, one of the film's stars. Soon Hinckley’s obsession with the starlet grew and he began to stalk her, sending her letters, calling her on the phone, and even taking classes with her at the same university.
Hinckley decided the only way for him to ever get Foster’s attention would be for him to do something big. Taking a cue from the character Travis Bickle from the film, he decided that assassinating the president would do the trick. In 1981, Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan, police officer Thomas Delahanty, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, and press secretary James Brady.
The case seemed open and shut: if you shoot the president, you go to jail. However, the defense argued that Hinckley was insane. A team of psychiatrists agreed and the court was even shown Taxi Driver in its entirety.
Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The public outcry that followed was loud enough to force Congress to revise laws and make the insanity defense more difficult to use.
Steven Steinberg Sleepwalked Through A Murder
In 1982, Scottsdale, Arizona, resident Steven Steinberg was accused of stabbing his wife 26 times. Initially, Steinberg blamed his wife’s murder on an intruder until police found evidence linking Steinberg to the crime. He quickly changed his tune, claiming he had been sleepwalking when the murder occurred. During the trial, a psychiatrist was able to confirm that Steinberg had been sleepwalking and was in a state of “dissociative reaction.” The court found Steinberg not guilty.