Famous U.S. Trials Course Materials (Ex College, Tufts University)

The Salem Witch Trials. O.J. Simpson. Lizzie Borden. The “Mississippi Burning” case. The Scopes “Monkey” trial. The George Zimmerman Trial.

These trials, separated in time and place, cover the span of three centuries of American history. What makes trials such as these so resonant? Why do some garner attention so universally, while others – perhaps even more interesting or sordid – do not? While there were great differences between the defendants in these particular cases, the outcomes of the trials, and the periods in which they took place, they share the commonality of being defined as “great American trials” or “trials of the century” – trials that have a unique place in our history. This course, offered through the Ex College at Tufts University, will discuss these cases and others like them, with the intention of resolving what made them so iconic and so influential in American history and popular culture.

Famous Trials in US History 2017 syllabus

The following are short videos and documents which make up the required and recommended course materials, some of which reside here and others which can be accessed on Douglas O. Linder’s “Famous Trials” website. Links to those latter materials may be found here and will open as a new window:


Trial the First:  Salem Witch Trials (1692):

A. Required Materials:

An Account of the Events in Salem (link)

Salem Witch Trials cast of characters (Word document)

Salem Witch Trials summary timeline (Word document)

Biographies (link)

Examinations and Evidence (link)

Procedure in witchcraft cases (link)

The Man of Iron (link)

Petitions of accused witches (link)

B. Recommended Materials:

Petitions for Compensation (link)

Letter of Gov. Phips (link)

Excerpt from An Impartial Account of the Most Memorable Matters of Fact… (PDF)

Excerpt of An Account of the Differences in Salem Village (Complaints Against Rev. Parris) (PDF)

Witchcraft in Salem Village — Trial of Elizabeth Howe (PDF) (A transcription of the documents related to E. Howe, executed in July 1692, including affidavits filed against her)

Arthur Miller talks about ‘The Crucible’:



Trial the Second: the Lincoln Conspirators (1865)

A. Required Materials:

The Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators (link)

Lincoln Conspirators Trial Cast of Characters (Word document)

Chronology (link)

Ten Conspirators (link)

Attorney General opinion on Military Commissions (link)

Excerpts from the Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators (Word document)

B. Recommended Materials:

John Surrat’s 1870 speech (link)

Excerpt of Editorial on the Lincoln Conspirators Trial (Word document)

The Man Who Shot the Man Who Shot Lincoln (PDF)

Lincoln Must Die! (PDF) (account of an earlier assassination plot)

A Kangaroo in Obama’s Court (PDF) (article on military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay)

Afterlife — Lincoln’s Legacy (PDF) (views of Lincoln following his death)

Lincoln Assassination, Part I:

Lincoln Assassination, Part II:

The Lincoln Conspirators Trial: Their Confinement and Execution, by the U.S. National Archives:




Trial the Third: Trial of Lizzie Borden (1893)

A. Required Materials:

The Trial of Lizzie Borden (link)

Trial Chronology (link)

Excerpts from the Lizzie Borden Inquest (Word document)

Indictment (link)

Key Figures (link)

Transcript excerpts (link) (please read testimony of Robert Morse, Bridget Sullivan, Dr. Bowen, Adelaide Churchill; Alice Russell; Dr. Dolan; Hannah Reagan; and Emma Borden)

Evidence of Lizzie Borden’s guilt (link)

B. Recommended Materials:

Newspaper accounts (link)

Floor Plan of Lizzie Borden House (PDF)

Prosecution Closing Statement (PDF)

Defense Closing Statement (PDF)

Judge Dewey’s Charge to the Jury (PDF)

Excerpt from “American Justice” episode on Lizzie Borden (2006):


Trial the Fourth: Leopold and Loeb Trial (1924)

A. Required Materials:

Leopold and Loeb: An Account (link)

Biographies (link)

The Glasses (link)

Nathan Leopold’s confession (link)

Psychiatric testimony (link)

Clarence Darrow enters a guilty plea (link)

Decision and Sentence (link)

In Leopold’s words (link)

B. Recommended Materials:

Excerpts of the Summations (link)

Defense in Marathon Bombing Has Echoes of Clarence Darrow (PDF) (trial strategy that mirrors Darrow’s anti-death penalty plea)

Leopold and Loeb Documentary:



Trial the Fifth: Scopes “Monkey” Trial (1925)

A. Required Materials:

The Scopes “Monkey” Trial (link)

Biographies (link)

Anti-Evolution Statute (link)

Trial Excerpts (link)

John Scopes reflects (link)

Excerpts of H L Mencken’s reporting on Scopes trial (Word document)

B. Recommended Materials:

Evolution Controversy (link)

Impressions of the Scopes Trial  (link)

H.L. Mencken, The Scopes Trial (PDF)

God v. Darwin: The Scopes Trial:

Excerpt from “Inherit the Wind” with Spencer Tracy:

Trial the Sixth: Rosenberg Trial (1951)

A. Required Materials:

Trial of the Rosenbergs (link)

Chronology (link)

Diagram of a Spy Ring (link)

Biographies of the participants (link)

Excerpts from the Rosenberg Trial Transcripts (Word Document)

Judge’s sentencing remarks (link)

B. Recommended Materials:

Final letter to the sons (link)

The final plea (link)

Iowa-Born, Soviet-Trained (PDF) (Article about George Koval, the real atomic bomb spy)


Trial the Seventh: U.S. v. Cecil Price “Mississippi Burning” Trial (1967)

A. Required Materials:

The Mississippi Burning Trial (link)

Chronology (link)

Biographies (link)

Excerpts from the Mississippi Burning Trial transcript (Word document)

John Doar’s Closing Statement (Word document)

H.C. Watkin’s closing statement (Word document)

KKK Documents (link)

The Jury’s Decision (link)

Supreme Court decision (link)

Historical context–excerpt from “Civil Rights Heroes: The Murder of Emmett Till”:

B. Recommended Materials:

In Quotes (link)

Horace Doyle Barnette confession (Word document)

Doar’s Story (link)

Websites: if you want to see the modern face of the KKK –and I prefer to not link to their websites here despite the fact that I am including them solely for academic purposes– two representative examples are found at kkkknights.com and kkk.bz.


Trial the Eighth: McMartin Preschool Trial (1987-1990)

A. Required Materials:

McMartin Preschool Trial (link)

Chronology (link)

Letter to McMartin parents (Word document)

Police Interview with Accuser  (link)

Victim Interviews (link)

McMartin Trial Transcript Excerpts (Word document)

Modern Day Salem Witchhunt? (link)

More Than Suggestion  (PDF) (interview practices)

The Longest Trial–NY Times (PDF) (contemporary account of the end of the McMartin trials)

The Real Victims of Satanic Ritual Abuse (PDF) (case of Frances and Dan Keller, cleared after 21 years)

B. Recommended Materials:

The Kelly Michaels Trial (link)

Peggy Buckey interview (link)

Reversal of Michael’s conviction (link)

Stickel’s tunnel excavation and report (PDF) (good example of how people concocted evidence)


Trial the Ninth: LAPD Trial/Rodney King (1992)

A. Required Materials:

Trial of the LAPD (link)

Chronology (link)

Holliday Videotape (link)

Use of Force Chart (link)

Excerpts of LAPD Police Transmissions (Word document)

Police Reports (link)

King’s Arrest Record (link)

Excerpts of the LAPD Trial Transcript (Word document)

Key Figures (link)

B. Recommended Materials:

Supreme Court decision (link)

Images (link)

In Their Own Words/Quotes (link)


Trial the Tenth: O.J. Simpson Trial (1995)

A. Required Materials:

O.J. Simpson Trial (link)

Chronology (link)

Biographies (link)

O.J. Simpson’s Statement (link)

911 Call and Suicide Letter (link)

The Jury (link)

Incriminating Evidence (link)

If I Did It (link)

O.J. Simpson car chase; interview with Detective Tom Lange:

B. Recommended Materials:

Criminal Trial Excerpts (link)

Opinion Polls (link)

What O J Simpson Taught Me About Being Black (PDF)

Verdict in O.J. Simpson civil case—O.J.’s statement:

Judge’s sentencing remarks for armed robbery conviction:


Trial the Eleventh: Oklahoma City Bombing Trial (1997)

A. Required Materials:

Timothy McVeigh (link)

Chronology (link)

McVeigh in Waco (link)

Arrest and Searches (link)

Three Prosecuted Conspirators (link)

Excerpts of the McVeigh Preliminary Hearing (Word document)

Sentencing and Appeals (link)

Last Words (link)


B. Recommended Materials:

John Doe #2 (link)

Selected Excerpts from the Trial Transcript of Timothy McVeigh (Word document)

Into The Mind of Terror (PDF) (excerpt from biography on McVeigh)

The ‘Patriot’ Movement Explodes (Spring 2012) (PDF) (rise in militia and related groups since election of President Obama)

Inside America’s Toughest Federal Prison (PDF) (description of life in Supermax)


Trial the Twelfth: President Clinton Impeachment Trial (1999)

A. Required Materials:

Impeachment of President Clinton  (link)

Chronology (link)

Constitution and Impeachment (link)

From Monica to Handsome (link)

Clinton’s Depositions (link)

Sex and the Starr Report (link)

Lewinsky’s Hellish Day (link)

Was He Guilty? (link)

The Senate Votes (link)

President Clinton’s response to Lewinsky allegations during a speech on education proposals– at the 6:18 mark (January 1996):

Excerpt of President Clinton’s testimony before the Independent Counsel (1998):

President Clinton admits to affair on live television (1999):

B. Recommended Materials:

Map of West Wing (link)

The Blue Dress (link)

For some historical context– impeachment proceedings against President Nixon (July 1974):

More historical context– President Nixon’s resignation (August 1974):

Larry King interviews Monica Lewinsky, Part I (February 2002)

Larry King interviews Monica Lewinsky, Part II (February 2002)


Trial the Thirteenth: George Zimmerman Trial (2013)

A. Required Materials:

The George Zimmerman Trial: An Account (link)

Chronology (link)

Florida Statute on Justifiable Use of Force (link)

Critical Phone Calls (link)

Selected Police and Court Documents (link)

Testimony and Video Clips from Trial (link)

Verdict (link)

blacklivesmatter website (link)

B. Recommended Materials:

Comments of Jurors (link)

Obama’s Statement on Verdict (link)




Famous U.S. Trials Course Materials (Ex College, Tufts University) — 5 Comments

  1. hi– interesting website and some helpful video sources I used for a school project. Will you be adding anything more on the Salem Witch trails?

    • Jonn– will be adding some documentary features from History Channel or others if I find the right one. cheers, Ian

  2. I’m not one of your students, but found this collection of videos interesting from a historical point of view–liked the range of old cases and more recent ones as well–O.J. will likely always be one of the great American trials.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *