F. Lee Bailey, the celebrity attorney who defended O.J. Simpson, Patricia Hearst and the alleged Boston Strangler, died this past week. He was 87.
Bailey, a best-selling author and former TV show host, was a member of the legal “dream team” that defended Simpson, the former superstar Buffalo Bills running back and actor acquitted on charges that he killed his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, in 1995.
Some of Bailey’s other high-profile clients included Dr. Samuel Sheppard — accused of killing his wife and the inspiration for the 1960s TV series “The Fugitive” — and Capt. Ernest Medina, charged in connection with the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.
Lesser known today — but certainly notorious at the time — Bailey defended George Fitzsimmons, who stabbed his aunt and uncle, DeAlton and Euphresia Nichols, both 80, to death in their Roulette home in Potter County, Pa., on Nov. 18, 1973.
Famed for successfully defending high-profile clients, Bailey took a loss in his attempt to get Fitzsimmons acquitted by reason of insanity.
A bitter irony was that Fitzsimmons was living with his elderly aunt and uncle after walking out of a mental institution in Buffalo after three years following the murder of his parents. Trained in the U.S. Army in martial arts, he killed his parents with blows with his hands during an argument about attending church.
In Roulette, Fitzsimmons was convinced that his aunt and uncle were trying to kill him by spiking his food with arsenic. He confronted them and, in the ensuing argument, he stabbed them both to death with a large hunting knife.
Fitzsimmons drove to Buffalo and eventually turned himself in to authorities; he was returned to Potter County to face two counts of murder.
Bailey, who later said he took the case because Fitzsimmons inherited his parents’ estate and had the money to pay his sizable fee, pushed an insanity defense over his client’s objections.
The trial, which opened in July 1974, was held in Greensburg on a change of venue. The Potter County prosecutor was Harold B. Fink. After more than two years, Fitzsimmons was found guilty by the judge in a non-jury trial and sentenced to concurrent life terms.
In 1999, Fitzsimmons died of cancer at the age of 62 in Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Facility-Dallas.