December 2

This Day in History

Crime

Dec 2, 1991:

Kennedy cousin rape trial begins

Opening testimony takes place in the highly publicized rape trial of William Kennedy Smith, a nephew of President John F. Kennedy and son of Jean Kennedy Smith, the president’s sister and a former ambassador to Ireland. Smith, then a 30-year-old medical student at Georgetown University, was accused of sexually assaulting a 29-year-old Florida woman in the early hours of March 30, 1991, at the Kennedy family’s Palm Beach compound.

On the night of March 29, Smith went out in Palm Beach with his uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy, and cousin, Patrick Kennedy. They ended up at a night spot called Au Bar, where Smith met the accuser, who later accompanied him back to the Kennedy estate. Smith and the woman went for a walk on the beach, during which time Smith allegedly tackled and raped her. Taking the stand in his own defense in court, Smith testified he had sex with the woman but that it was consensual. At the trial, Judge Mary E. Lupo barred prosecutors from presenting testimony from three other women who claimed Smith had assaulted them.

As a member of one of America’s most famous families, Smith became the subject of intense public scrutiny and his trial turned into a media circus. Millions of viewers watched the nationally televised event and reporters from around the globe converged on the West Palm Beach courthouse. On December 11, after deliberating for 77 minutes, the six-member jury acquitted Smith on all charges. (In an interesting side note, Smith’s lead defense attorney, Roy Black, later married Lisa Haller, one of the jurors, in 1995.)

During the live television coverage of the trial, the accuser’s identity was electronically obscured with a large dot to protect her privacy. However, following the trial, the woman, Patricia Bowman, chose to identify herself publicly.

William Kennedy Smith became a doctor after the trial, specializing in working with victims of land mines, and remained largely out of the national spotlight. In 2004, a Chicago woman who was Smith’s assistant at the nonprofit Center for International Rehabilitation filed a lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault. A judge subsequently dismissed the suit.

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