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William Kennedy Smith Trial: 1991

Tabloid Interview Nets $40,000, Defendant Remains Cool, Suggestions For Further Reading

Defendant: William Kennedy Smith
Crime Charged: Rape
Chief Defense Lawyers: Roy E. Black, Mark Schnapp, and Mark Seiden
Chief Prosecutors: Moira K. Lasch and Ellen Roberts
Judge: Mary E. Lupo
Place: West Palm Beach, Florida
Dates of Trial: December 2-11, 1991
Verdict: Not guilty

SIGNIFICANCE: The Kennedy family name and the concomitant glare of global media attention made this nothing less than the most heavily scrutinized rape trial in history.

Achance encounter at a Palm Beach, Florida, nightspot between William Kennedy Smith and Patricia Bowman led to the couple returning to the Kennedy compound overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. From the house they walked down to the beach. What happened next would become the subject of worldwide headlines. According to Bowman, Smith raped her. Smith maintained that everything which occurred had been with Bowman's consent. The state, satisfied that Smith had a case to answer, filed rape charges against him.

When she rose to speak to a jury of four women and two men on December 2, 1991, prosecutor Moira Lasch already had lost an important battle. Judge Mary Lupo had earlier denied the prosecution's request to admit the testimony of three other women who claimed that Smith had assaulted them between 1983 and 1988 on grounds that it did not demonstrate the discernible pattern of behavior required by Florida law for introduction. This meant that Lasch had to pin virtually her entire case on the word of the accuser.

First, though, Anne Mercer, a friend of Bowman's, who had also been at the Kennedy house on the night in question, told the court that Bowman was "literally shaking and she looked messed up … she said she had been raped." When Mercer had confronted Smith to ask him how he could have acted as he did, his response, she said, was simply to shrug his shoulders.

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