By Ivy Brown
Defendants taking the stand in their own defense is arguably one of the most pivotal moments in a trial. That single decision can make or break a jury’s verdict. Court TV anchor Judge Ashley Willcott says, “In my experience, traditionally, we do not see criminal defendants testify because the risk is too high. No matter how well prepared their attorney, no one can predict what a defendant fighting for their life (sometimes literally) is going to do or say in front of the jury.”
In 2022, viewers witnessed 11 defendants taking the stand on Court TV. Wilcott says 11 defendants testifying out of the more than two dozen trials covered on Court TV “is remarkable,” and could be attributed to a “shift in our society, especially following the pandemic.” Wilcott continues, “There appears to be an attitude of, ‘What do I have to lose?'”
TEXAS v. AARON DEAN (Killed While Babysitting Trial)
Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean stood trial in the shooting death of 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson. The shooting occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 12, 2019, when a neighbor called a non-emergency line for a welfare check because the house had a door open and lights on. Cops, including Dean, got to the home at 2:28 a.m. Dean walked into the backyard, saw Jefferson in a bedroom window, and ordered her to put her hands up. A split-second later, Dean fired a single bullet, killing Jefferson.
FLORIDA v. CHAD ABSHER (Controlling Boyfriend Murder Trial)
Chad Absher stood accused of killing his girlfriend and shooting her sister in 2017. Prosecutors say Absher used a 9mm gun to shoot Lisa Rucker in the cheek while she was cleaning blood off the floor from the fight that ensued shortly before the shootings. He then turned the gun on his girlfriend, Ashlee Rucker, before fleeing the scene.
ALEX JONES DEFAMATION TRIAL : Sandy Hook Hoax Case
A Connecticut jury was tasked with deciding how much InfoWars host Alex Jones should pay the families of eight Sandy Hook victims and an FBI agent after spreading the lie that the school shooting was a hoax. The jury ordered Jones to pay $965 million.
OHIO v. GEORGE WAGNER IV (Ohio Family Massacre Trial)
George Wagner IV stood accused of helping his family plan and carry out the murders of 8 members of another family. Wagner was the first person from his family to stand trial on murder and conspiracy charges for the April 2016 nighttime massacre of the Rhoden family in four different locations. His mother and brother, Angela and Jake Wagner, pleaded guilty in 2021 and agreed to testify against him. His father, Billy Wagner, is awaiting trial. Wagner denied he helped plan or participate in the murders, which led to the biggest investigation in the state’s history.
FLORIDA v. DANIELLE REDLICK (Kitchen Knife Murder Trial)
Danielle Redlick was charged in the stabbing death of her estranged husband, former NBA executive Michael Redlick. 65-year-old Michael “Red” Redlick was found dead in his Winter Park, Florida home in January 2019. His estranged wife and former stepdaughter, Danielle, waited 11 hours before calling 911 to seek medical attention. Danielle initially told the 911 operator that her husband had a heart attack.
JOHNNY DEPP v. AMBER HEARD (Johnny Depp Defamation Case)
Ex-spouses Johnny Depp and Amber Heard squared off at the Fairfax County Courthouse in Virginia. Depp sued Heard for defamation. He claimed she damaged his reputation when she wrote an op-ed about domestic abuse that appeared in The Washington Post in December 2018. Depp wasn’t named in the article, but he claimed in his lawsuit that the article implied he abused her and, as a result, he lost movie roles and faced public scorn. Both celebrities testified in the trial, which gave viewers an inside look into the former couple’s tumultuous relationship.
OREGON v. NANCY BROPHY (Romance Novelist Murder Trial)
Romance author Nancy Crampton-Brophy was accused of killing her husband in 2018. Students at the now-closed Oregon Culinary Institute found the body of Chef Daniel Brophy on June 2. He had been shot in the back and chest. Authorities say the couple had fallen behind on their mortgage. Nancy stood to inherit more than a million dollars from his insurance and worker’s compensation policies.
GEORGIA v. RYAN DUKE (Beauty Queen Murder Trial)
The investigation of the 2005 disappearance of former beauty queen and beloved teacher Tara Grinstead spanned more than a decade, consuming the small town of Ocilla in rumors and speculation, before police arrested friends and former Irwin High School students Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes in early 2017. Ryan Duke initially confessed to killing Grinstead, but at trial claimed his confession was coerced.
KENTUCKY v. BRETT HANKISON (Breonna Taylor Botched Raid Trial)
Former Louisville police officer Brett Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing wildly into a neighbor’s apartment during the March 2020 raid that led to the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. The charges against Hankison weren’t related to Taylor’s death. He was accused of endangering the lives of three residents when he shot 10 rounds into Taylor’s apartment, which was next door.
FLORIDA v. CURTIS REEVES (Movie Popcorn Murder Trial)
Former Tampa police officer Curtis Reeves stood trial for the 2014 shooting death of Chad Oulson at a movie theater. Investigators said the men got into an argument when Reeves confronted Oulson about using his cellphone. Surveillance video shows Oulson grab Reeves’ popcorn and throw it at him. Reeves then fires a gun, fatally wounding Oulson. Reeves was charged with second-degree murder and aggravated battery. He pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense.
WISCONSIN v. THEODORE EDGECOMB (Deadly Road Rage Shooting)
Theodore Edgecomb was accused of fatally shooting lawyer Jason Cleereman in 2020. Edgecomb was riding his bicycle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, while Cleereman was in the passenger seat of his car. The men got into a verbal altercation, which ended when Edgecomb shot and killed Cleereman. But there are two very different accounts of what happened that night. But Edgecomb and his supporters claim he acted in self-defense after nearly being run off the road and threatened with racial slurs.