6 Colossal Criminal Cases That Surged Interest in Criminal Justice Careers

Long before the silver screen, before television and radio — even before books were accessible to the masses — there were criminal trials. People would gather outside the courthouse and linger near the gallows to hear exciting tales of wrongdoing and the punishments that await perpetrators. The experience is hardly different today save that people watch criminal justice unfold from the comforts of their living room couches. It isn’t news coverage that makes criminals fascinating characters; criminals have captivated people for millennia for a variety of reasons, including our fascination with death and our eagerness for justice.

Thankfully, those most intrigued by the process of criminal justice — from investigation to sentencing — now have the option of contributing to the identification and prosecution of criminals in a variety of criminal justice careers. Today, the discovery of the alleged Golden State Killer is encouraging thousands of graduates into online criminal justice masters programs, and the following landmark cases of the past did just the same.

Scott Peterson

Scott Peterson was once a handsome man with a comfortable life, but he threw it all away when he murdered his wife, Laci, and his unborn child. The Peterson Trial was a sensation at the start of the ‘00s, with nearly relentless media coverage demonizing the man and his every action. Just after the 9/11 attack, just after President Bush led America into war, Peterson demonstrated that there remained evil at home, too, and that we desperately needed professionals to help bring criminals to justice.

The Menendez Brothers

Lyle and Erik Menendez were raised in the movie business as their father, Jose, was a Hollywood executive. Therefore, it makes sense that the brothers would be somewhat successful at acting appropriately surprised and grieved at the sudden assassination of their parents — despite the fact that they were the ones to do the slaying. The Menendez story captivated America for much of the early ‘90s, and in doing so, it showed that when televised, even the most gruesome activities could become entertainment, and where there is entertainment, there is a clamor for jobs.

Rodney King

Unlike other cases on this list — and almost all other famous crime cases in history — the Rodney King case is known not by its perpetrators but by its victim. Rodney King was an African-American man who was brutalized and killed by police in Los Angeles. The resulting trial of four officers, Stacey Koon, Theodore Briseno, Laurence Powell and Timothy Wind, revealed the overwhelming racial tension in cities around the U.S., and the verdict sparked the Los Angeles riots that caused much-needed change in the criminal justice system — but that change is far from complete.

John Gotti

Known better by his nickname, Teflon Don, John Gotti was a mobster sociopath who nearly evaded all criminal charges — until one of his own turned on him. Gotti’s rise to power in the ‘80s was a well-known secret; somehow, everyone knew that Gotti was the ruthless boss of the Gambino crime family, but no one could prove it. The trial that ultimately led to Gotti’s conviction was filled with fascinating characters and unequivocal evidence diligently collected to bring the man down — all thanks to work by various criminal justice professionals.

Jack Kevorkian

Throughout the ‘90s “Dr. Death” Jack Kevorkian championed physician-assisted suicide, leading to the deaths of unknown hundreds of patients. Kevorkian was put on trial five times for murder, and four times he walked free. He was finally convicted in 1999 after a “60 Minutes” episode showing him administering a lethal injection, but the jury remains out, so to speak, regarding a person’s right to die. Criminal justice professionals working in concert with ethicists, physicians and the public might produce an answer to the age-old question “Is dying a crime?”

O.J. Simpson

Inarguably the trial of the century, the case of the People v. O.J. Simpson had everything: beautiful, famous people, passionate professionals, racial tensions, love, anger and more. Every minute of the trial was broadcast across America, and everyone had an opinion on O.J.’s guilt, L.A.P.D.’s competence and Johnnie Cochran’s charisma. Unlike other famous trials, every participant in O.J.’s courtroom gained fame, encouraging boys and girls everywhere to follow in the footsteps of Marcia Clark, Christopher Darden and even Robert Shapiro.

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