Reversal of Fortune
In March, 1982, international socialite and Danish aristocrat Claus von Bulow was found guilty of attempting to murder his immensely wealthy, comatose wife, Sunny, at her palatial mansion, Clarendon Court, in Newport, Rhode Island, by insulin injection on two occasions, in December, 1979, and in December, 1980. Sentenced to thirty years in prison but granted one-million-dollar bail pending appeal, von Bulow hired the author as his new leading defense counsel. Dershowitz created a defense team which, by June, 1985, succeeded in securing a reversal of von Bulow’s conviction, a new trial, and an acquittal on both counts of assault with intent to murder.
The von Bulow case was the dream of the media. It had all the ingredients to catch the imagination of a public addicted to soap-opera excesses: fabulous wealth, sex, drugs, aristocracy, servants, and all the other accoutrements of the international jet set. It contained many features of the classic mystery, including a dramatic piece of evidence: an incriminating black bag containing drugs and a syringe with an insulin-encrusted needle.
Claus von Bulow’s conviction at his first trial was rendered with great assurance by a jury never allowed access to the notes of the private attorney of the victim’s family, Richard Kuh, and convinced by the inadequately challenged expert medical testimony provided by the prosecution. The prosecutor’s case, however, was too pat. The cleverness of the alleged crime and the intelligence of von Bulow did not match with the clumsy discarding of the easily found black bag with its incriminating evidence. The step-children, although possibly convinced of von Bulow’s guilt, had financial motives for securing his conviction, and the defendant himself always held fast to his claim of innocence.
Dissatisfied with his counsel at his first trial, von Bulow sought out noted defense lawyer and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. After accepting the case, Dershowitz soon became convinced that his client’s innocence could be established, primarily by gathering new scientific evidence that would undermine the significance of the insulin-encrusted needle introduced at the first trial and by gaining access to the Kuh notes, which would possibly discredit the testimony of two key prosecution witnesses, the stepson and the maid. Most of the book is devoted to these and other aspects of the work of the defense team in the three years between von Bulow’s conviction and acquittal.
Dershowitz has provided a very persuasive argument in favor of his client’s innocence and of his investigative and defense methods. This is a book that makes instructive reading for the criminal lawyer and provides entertainment and enlightenment to the lay reader.
Reversal of Fortune
The two trials of Danish-born aristocrat Claus von Bülow in 1981 and 1985, respectively, could not have been more unalike in both content and outcome. The story behind these two trials so widely reported by the world’s media is skillfully delivered by one of the most important attorneys for the defense, Alan M. Dershowitz. His book, Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bülow Case, demonstrates that though the legal proceedings often bordered upon soap opera, they were important in that they showed how notorious and despised individuals such as von Bülow can be found guilty in one trial and found innocent in a retrial as long as the defense works hard enough and long enough to find new evidence, to discredit prosecution witnesses, and to make the defendant more believable.
Reversal of Fortune not only acquaints readers with the events that led to the first and second trials but also with the problems of that hidden society of America’s wealthy: drug dependency, festering jealousies and hatreds, child neglect and abuse, alcoholism, and boredom. Martha von Bülow (always referred to as Sunny by her friends) was deeply influenced by the amoral Newport, Rhode Island, society within which she circulated. A shy and quiet...
(The entire section is 2,930 words.)