Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Kennedy Smith

The Trial

Palm Beach County Courthouse
Palm Beach County Courthouse

On December 2, 1991, eight months after the alleged crime, the four women and two men on the jury heard their first day of testimony. The case, which was nationally televised, "riveted millions of viewers from coast to coast and attracted reporters from around the world," Mary Jordan reported in a December 1991 Washington Post article. That first day, Judge Mary E. Lupo struck a blow to the prosecution team by disallowing them from entering the testimonies of the three women who claimed that William assaulted them. The judge ruled that the cases were just too dissimilar. The decision significantly weakened the state's case.

As the trial progressed, the prosecution presented Patricia as a "doting mother and caring daughter" who divided her time between volunteering support to parents with premature babies at the hospital and looking after her daughter, Mark reported. However, Lasch suggested to the jury that Patricia's life was suddenly turned upside down after William forcefully raped her at the Kennedy's family retreat. Over the course of two days, millions watched Patricia's harrowing testimony concerning the events of that fateful Easter weekend in 1991.

Patricia Bowman testifies
Patricia Bowman testifies

Patricia provided detailed accounts of the night she claimed she was raped, telling jurors how she initially trusted William and found him even "likable." Yet, she claimed that the first hint that something was wrong was when William took off his clothes and jumped into the ocean. She testified that when she turned to leave, William brutally attacked her. Patricia said that she yelled, "No!" and "Stop," while trying to fight him off of her, yet he ignored her pleas pushed up her dress and raped her anyways, Mark reported.

When she was taken to the hospital after the incident, few doubted that Patricia had been forcefully attacked. After all, the "bruises on her torso were consistent with the attack she described," Booth stated in her article. Moreover, Patricia "passed two polygraph tests and a voice-stress analysis." The "police, prosecutors, rape counselors and the doctors who examined Patricia all believed her story," Booth further claimed. The evidence, as far as the prosecution was concerned, was irrefutable. The defense disagreed. 

Roy Black, defense attorney
Roy Black, defense attorney

After Patricia's heart wrenching and powerful testimony, the defense presented its case. They believed Patricia to have quite a different character from what the state asserted. According to Mark, the defense suggested that she was a party girl and "ne'er-do-well without a paying job, who dated a bartender and wasted her trust fund on $60-a-bottle Veuve Clicquot champagne." They presented witnesses to support their argument. They further claimed that on the night of the alleged rape, William and Patricia did have intercourse but that it was consensual sex. 

William eventually took the stand and, like Patricia, gave convincing testimony. Mark reported in her article that William testified that Patricia acted strange on the night in question, calling him another name and repeatedly asking for his ID card. Mark further said that during William's testimony he claimed that following "consensual" sex with Patricia, she started to "shake and cry," stating that she had been raped. By the end of William's testimony it was apparent that the defense team's strategy was to convince the court that the real victim was not Patricia but actually the defendant. Despite all of the evidence, the tactics proved successful.

Mark Schnapp, defense attorney
Mark Schnapp, defense attorney

On December 23, 1991, the jury deliberated for less than 80 minutes before returning their verdict. William was found "not guilty" of all charges. In response to the judgment, William jumped out of his chair and hugged his lawyer. When he walked out of the courthouse, hundreds of people chanted his name and clapped in support, Jordan reported. However, there were few there to support Patricia who had risked all to confront the Kennedy clan.

Days after the trial ended, Patricia, whose face was electronically obscured throughout the trial to protect her identity, shed her anonymity during an interview on ABC's "Prime Time Live" with Diane Sawyer. Richard Zoglin reported in a December 1991 Time article that she decided to "come forward so that other rape victims would not be scared off by her experiences." Even though it took more than a decade, other alleged rape victims slowly emerged, naming William Kennedy Smith as their alleged attacker.

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