It seems that every decade there is a trial that captures the nation’s (and sometimes the world’s attention. And it seems that in each of these trials, the accused will be found guilty. Then the world gets shocked when the verdict is “Not Guilty”. We just had the Casey Anthony trial. Last decade was the Michael Jackson molestation trial. The ’90s had the O.J. Simpson trial. And in the ’80s, we had the von Bülow trial.
On June 6, 1966, Claus von Bülow married Sunny, the American ex-wife of Prince Alfred of Auersperg.
On the morning of December 22, 1980, Sunny was discovered lying on the bathroom floor of their Newport, Rhode Island mansion. She was unconscious and unresponsive. She was hospitalized, and remained in a coma as a result of hypoglycemia.
Because of the increased marital tensions between Claus and Sunny in the fall of 1980, her children were suspicious that her brain injury was the result of foul play by Claus. Sunny’s two eldest children persuaded Richard H. Kuh, the former New York County District Attorney, to investigate the possibility Claus had attempted the murder of their mother. After the gathering of evidence, Rhode Island prosecutors presented the case to a grand jury who returned an indictment, and in July 1981, Claus was charged with two counts of attempted murder.
The trial began in 1982. Claus was accused of injecting Sunny with enough insulin to put her in a coma. Sunny’s family had hired a private investigator to look in to the coma, feeling that the police were not taking the case seriously, believing it to be a suicide attempt or accidental overdose. The private investigator, Eddie Lambert (an associate of the Von Bülow’s lawyer Richard Kuh), was told by several family members and a maid that Claus had recently been locking a closet in the Newport home that previously was always kept open.
A locksmith was hired to break into the closet. But, he insisted that they find the key. The key was found, and a bag containing syringes and insulin was discovered. This was the evidence the prosecution needed to find Claus von Bülow guilty. He was sentenced to thirty years in prison. Justice was served!
But wait! Claus von Bülow appealed, and hired Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz (who later went on to become a member of O.J. Simpson’s “dream team” of lawyers). Dershowitz campaigned to get von Bülow acquitted on the basis that the evidence against Claus Von Bülow was obtained illegally. In 1984, the conviction was reversed, and a retrail was held. In 1985, at the second trial, von Bülow was found not guilty on all charges.
Sunny remained in a coma until her death from cardiopulmonary arrest on December 6, 2008, at Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home in New York City.
As of 2010, Claus was still alive, and was living in South Kensington, London, where he writes art and theater reviews.
Alan Dershowitz wrote the book Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bülow case. It was made into a movie in 1990. Jeremy Irons starred as Claus von Bülow, and won an Academy Award for his role. Ron Silver played Dershowitz, and Glenn Close played Sunny von Bülow.