Murder, a form of homicide, is the unwarranted taking of a human life. Not all homicides are criminal acts, however. If a homicide happens as part of an act of self-defense against a deadly attack and is deemed a reasonable use of force, it can be excused. Other homicides may be excused if a killer meets the definition of legal insanity, which has a number of categories. Homicide may also result from unplanned acts of negligence or from gross negligence that is not premeditated, such as by motor vehicle.
In homicide investigations and trials, the various shades of “guilty” and “not-guilty” hit the front pages when celebrities are involved. The so-called “trial of the century” ended in a not-guilty verdict for O.J. Simpson, who was charged with the stabbing deaths of his ex-wife and her friend. The murder trial and its aftermath had a number of sociological and other implications that generated intense debates on the issues of wealth, race and spousal abuse in American society.
In April 2009, rock-music pioneer Phil Spector was convicted of second degree murder in the 2003 shooting death of an actress whom he had met just hours earlier. It was his second trial, the first having ended in a mistrial. He is serving 19 years to life, although his attorneys are working on an appeal. Spector had been accused by other women of having threatened them with a gun in earlier incidents.
In another famous case, it was a celebrity’s friend who stood trial. In 1981, while out on parole after killing a prison inmate in 1965, Jack Abbot stabbed a man in a restaurant. Abbot had become well known because of his association with writer Norman Mailer. Abbot had written to Mailer while he was incarcerated, and Mailer helped Abbot publish a bestseller called “In the Belly of the Beast,” which was favorably reviewed by the New York Times. During the trial in which Abbot was eventually convicted of manslaughter, he was supported by writer Jerzy Kosinski and actress Susan Sarandon. Abbot committed suicide in his cell in 2002 after numerous parole requests had been denied.
Celebrities can also be homicide victims. The most famous may be Sharon Tate, the 1969 victim of Charles Manson. More recently, songwriter-singer Marvin Gaye was tragically shot and killed by his own father in an argument in 1984. His father, a fundamentalist preacher and alcoholic, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and served a suspended sentence with probation.