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Carl Anthony Coppolino Trials: 1966 & 1967

Devastating Cross-examination

Bailey rose to face the witness. What followed was brutal and at times belligerent. It also remains a classic of cross-examination. Bailey began sarcastically. There had been no murder at all; everything she said had been a lie, a figment of her malicious imagination, instigated by an evil desire for revenge on the man who had ditched her. Wasn't that right? Over a torrent of prosecution objections, Bailey pressed on: "This whole story is a cock-and-bull story, isn't it?"


"Didn't you make this all up, Mrs. Farber?"


"Did you fabricate this story?"


Shifting tactics, Bailey ridiculed Farber's claim of having been an unwilling but helpless participant in the murder, saying he would produce medical testimony to prove such obeisance impossible. He hacked away, constantly reminding the jury of her adulterous and jealous behavior and, most of all, her age. "This 52-two year-old woman …" was a repeated theme, as if this were reason enough to explain Farber's vitriolic accusations. Perceptibly, the mood of the court swung against her. At the end of a two-day ordeal, she limped from the stand, her credibility in tatters.

She was replaced by Milton Helpern. Even this seasoned courtroom veteran reeled under the Bailey bludgeon. At issue was whether William Farber had suffered from terminal heart disease, and if the cricoid fracture had occurred before or after death. Helpern was emphatic on both points, although Bailey drew from him the grudging admission that there was no bruising about the neck, as would normally have been present if strangulation had occurred. Bailey speculated that rough handling of the body during disinterment, in particular a clumsy grave-digger's shovel, had caused the cricoid fracture. Helpern scoffed at such an idea. But Bailey had his own expert witnesses and they thought otherwise.

Doctors Joseph Spelman and Richard Ford, both experienced medical examiners, expressed the view that, not only was the cricoid fracture caused postmortem, but that William Farber's heart showed clear signs of advanced coronary disease, certainly enough to have killed him.

With the verdict still very much up in the air, Bailey called his star witness, Carl Anthony Coppolino. Slim and sleekly groomed, he answered his accusers well and without any noticeable guile. Coppolino came across as confident without seeming cocky, helpful but not obsequious.

Summing up, Judge Elvin Simmill commented on the vast array of conflicting medical evidence and stressed to the jury that they must be satisfied of Coppolino's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." It was an admonition that they took to heart. After deliberating for less than five hours they returned a verdict of not guilty.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Carl Anthony Coppolino Trials: 1966 1967 - Round One, Devastating Cross-examination, Florida Fights Back, Suggestions For Further Reading