Phil Spector
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Celebrities who beat the rap

Phil Spector
By Chris Lee, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Celebrity justice can be a capricious thing. For every Paris Hilton -- whose high profile helped earn her a heftier than usual jail term -- there are a score of other bold-faced names who get busted for serious crimes, face seemingly insurmountable evidence of their guilt -- but who avoid lengthy incarceration.

Consider Wednesday’s mistrial in the Phil Spector murder case. If jurors’ failure to reach a verdict -- more than 4 1/2 years after actress Lana Clarkson was found shot to death in the gun-happy record producer’s home -- underscores any single truth, it’s arguably that the rich (and famous) really are different: They lawyer up much more effectively than poor, anonymous people do.

Which is not necessarily to presume Spector’s -- or anyone’s -- guilt. On the flip side, the rich and famous, it seems, are also much more likely to be considered guilty until proven innocent in the court of public opinion.

With that in mind, here are a few of the more notorious celebrities who have endured criminal investigations after being linked to high-profile fatalities -- people who went free but to whom scandal has become affixed like a scarlet letter: (Gabriel Bouys / AP)
O. J. Simpson
O.J. Simpson

The Heisman Trophy-winning NFL Hall of Famer is much more infamous than famous after becoming the prime suspect in a double murder involving his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. Charged with their deaths in 1994 and facing a mountain of circumstantial evidence, Simpson embarked on a low-speed car chase with friend Al “AC” Cowlings before finally turning himself in to police. In 1995, Simpson -- largely through the efforts of his “dream team” of attorneys, which included Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro and Barry Scheck -- was acquitted in what is remembered as one of the most controversial and sensational court cases of the decade. But two years later, a civil jury found him liable for the wrongful death of Goldman (as well as battery against the slain man and Brown Simpson), for which Simpson was ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages. Although the former All-Pro has maintained his innocence, Simpson’s tarnished reputation was not helped by the book he wrote, “If I Did It” -- a hypothetical account of Brown’s and Goldman’s murders. (Myung Chun / AP)
Rebecca Gayheart
Rebecca Gayheart

In 2001, former Noxema pitchwoman-turned-actress Gayheart struck down and killed a 9-year-old boy as he jaywalked across a busy highway. Facing possible prison time, the model-actress pleaded no contest to a charge of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, her license was suspended for a year, she had to pay a $2,800 fine and complete 750 hours of community service. Her lawyer Harlan Braun insisted that Gayheart did not receive any preferential treatment because of her celebrity. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images)
Petraeus And Crocker Testify Before Congress On State Of Iraq War
Ted Kennedy

Although he is a Democratic icon and vaunted member of America’s foremost political dynasty, the Massachusetts senator became synonymous in the public imagination with scandal for his part in the 1969 death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Leaving a party together on Chappaquiddick Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Kennedy drove off the road and into a pond -- he swam away from the wreck, she didn’t. Ruled an accidental death, Kennedy entered a plea of guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury for which he received a sentence of two months in jail (later suspended). The upshot: Many political watchers believe the incident derailed Kennedy’s ambitions to run for president. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
Matthew Broderick
Matthew Broderick

The terrible car crash occurred 20 years ago, just as the boyish actor’s film career had begun to take off. Driving a rented BMW along a country road in Northern Ireland, Broderick, best known as the star of ‘80s comedy, “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off,” crossed into incoming traffic and smashed head-on into a 30-year-old woman and her 63-year-old mother, killing them instantly. Broderick suffered a fractured rib and leg, a concussion and a collapsed lung. Moreover, he faced up to five years in prison for “dangerous driving” but was convicted of a lesser charge and fined just $175 -- prompting the victims’ family to call the case a “travesty of justice.” (Bob Grieser / Los Angeles Times)
Robert Blake
Robert Blake

Charged with one count of murder with a special circumstance, lying in wait and two counts of solicitation of murder in the 2001 shooting death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, actor Robert Blake faced life in prison if convicted. But even though he was credited as the only person with the opportunity, motive and means of killing Bakley, Blake was acquitted of her murder, a stunning outcome that surprised many legal analysts and trial observers. Outside the courthouse after the verdict had been handed down, Blake complained the case had left him “broke,” grousing: “If you want to know how to go through $10 million in five years, ask me.” (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Klaus Von Bulow
Klaus Von Bulow

In 1982, British-born socialite von Bulow was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison after his heiress wife, Martha “Sunny” von Bulow, was found comatose, having been injected with an insulin overdose at the couple’s palatial Rhode Island estate. Appealing the verdict, however, von Bulow hired a crack legal team headed by Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who cast reasonable doubts on witness testimony and some of the most damning evidence from the earlier trial, resulting in an overturning of the conviction in 1984. A year later, a second jury acquitted von Bulow of all charges. (Bettmann)
William S. Burroughs
William S. Burroughs

In Mexico City in 1951, Beat Generation writer Burroughs accidentally killed his wife, Joan Vollmer Burroughs, during a game of “William Tell.” Attempting to shoot a drinking glass off the top of her head while drunk, Burroughs claimed her life with a single pistol shot. According to the literary executor of the writer’s estate, two witnesses were ready to testify that the gun had gone off by accident and ballistics experts had been bribed to corroborate the story. But while awaiting trial, Burroughs decided to skip bail and return to the United States. He was convicted of homicide in absentia, although in the end, his two-year sentence was suspended. (Michael Edwards / Los Angeles Times)
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