The List

George Zimmerman and 10 other supposed 'trials of the century'

Here we go again. Zimmerman is charged with murder, and pundits are proclaiming this the biggest trial ever. Haven't we heard that before?

It's safe to say that history is written by historians, not by people trying to sell newspapers, so when reporters and pundits describe the upcoming trial of Florida neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman — facing second-degree murder charges for the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin — as the "trial of the century," take it with a grain of salt. That particular phrase is widely overused and, while reporters had a strong case when applying it to, say, the landmark 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial," the salacious 1907 trial of playboy Harry Thaw for the murder of architect Stanford White — reportedly the first time the phrase appeared in newsprint — was ultimately less memorable. Here's a list of 11 more recent cases that have been tagged with the dubious "trial of the century" label:

1. O.J. Simpson murder trial
"That image of the white Bronco speeding down the freeway is forever burned into our minds, and it was only the start of what would become one of the most unbelievable trials of the century. On June 17, [1994,] O.J. was expected to turn himself in for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend. But O.J. never showed up to the police station." (Kristin Wong, Hollyscoop, Nov. 7, 2011)

2. Microsoft antitrust trial
"Forget O.J. The real 'trial of the century' is taking place right now in a Washington, D.C., court room., where mighty Microsoft Corp. is going toe to toe with the U.S. Department of Justice." (John Moran, Hartford Courant, Dec. 24, 1998)

3. Bill Clinton impeachment
"The impeachment trial of President Clinton will be the 'trial of the century.' We know this is true in the same way we know so many other things are true — because everybody says so. 'It will truly be the trial of the century,' Alan Dershowitz wrote in USA Today. 'It will be the real trial of the century,' Tom Brokaw said on NBC News. 'Without doubt, the trial of the century,' Cynthia McFadden said on ABC News. 'Trial of the Century,' reads the huge headline on the cover of the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine. The Independent, a liberal London newspaper, agrees. So does Agence France-Presse. And the New York Post, the New York Daily News, the Detroit News, and the Rock Hill (S.C.) News, all of which termed the upcoming impeachment battle 'the trial of the century.'" (Peter Carlson, The Washington Post, Jan. 4, 1999)

4. Martha Stewart obstruction-of-justice trial
"It is Trial of the Century time again, and Martha Stewart, America's doyenne of domesticity — perhaps the only woman in the world who decants her washing-up liquid — is in big trouble. The preliminary skirmishes are over, the media circus is assembled, and on January 12 at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse, a jury will be asked to decide if Martha is a crook." (William Langley, Britain's Daily Telegraph, Jan. 4, 2004)

5. Casey Anthony murder trial
"The Casey Anthony trial will be remembered as the first 'Trial of the Century' for the social-media age. In the summer of 2008, Casey Anthony, a single mother from Orlando, Florida, was accused of murdering her two-year-old daughter, Caylee, after failing to report that she had been missing for 31 days. (Scott P. Johnson, ABC-CLIO, July 19, 2011)

6. Conrad Murray's Michael Jackson manslaughter trial
"The trial of the century began in Los Angeles yesterday when Conrad Murray faced a charge of involuntary manslaughter over the death of Michael Jackson. More than two years after the King of Pop died on 25 June, 2009, aged 50, his family and fans were at the courthouse to hear the first day of evidence against Jacko's personal doctor." (Britain's Daily Mirror, Sept. 28, 2011)

7. BP oil spill case
"Some leading analysts and legal observers believe the highly anticipated 'trial of the century' over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, set to begin in three weeks, will end before it starts. BP and negotiators for federal and state governments are frantically working to confect a settlement so they won't have to leave the fate of billions of dollars in potential pollution fines and spill damage payments in the hands of U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. (David Hammer, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, Feb. 5, 2012)

8. Egypt's Hosni Mubarak Arab Spring crackdown trial
"Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who faces charges in the killings of more than 800 protesters during the revolution last year, will hear his verdict in June.... The closely watched case that began last August, dubbed the "trial of the century" by Egyptian media, came to a close Wednesday as the final hearing ended." (Amro Hassan, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 22, 2012)

9. John Edwards' campaign hush-money trial
"As jury selection begins in the bombshell political trial of the century, the United States vs. John Edwards, his 2008 presidential campaign returns $2.1 million in taxpayer money." (Dick Siegel, National Enquirer, April 11, 2012)

10. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad's 9/11 terrorism trial
"With last week’s announcement that charges against Khalid Shaikh Mohammad and his four co-defendants had been authorized, the on-again, off-again military commission proceedings in the 9/11 case have now officially begun.... The case has been called the trial of the century. Sixty-six pages of the 123-page charge sheet are taken up by the long list of victims of the 9/11 attacks.... The stakes in the case are high; the facts are extremely emotive, and the defendants could hardly be less sympathetic." (Joanne Mariner, Justia, April 13, 2012)

11. Zimmerman's Trayvon Martin murder trial
"The Zimmerman trial will be closely watched by Americans, creating another 'Trial of the Century'-type atmosphere, where testimony will be evaluated on a nightly basis by lawyers and former judges on cable TV shows. It will be important to remember that their opinions aren't included in deliberations by the jurors, something we all should have learned from the last Florida 'Trial of the Century,' involving the acquittal of Casey Anthony." (Frank Beckmann, The Detroit News, April 13, 2012)


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