Top Nine Legal Cases of 2011

VIDEO: Part 2 of Katie Couric's special looking back at 2011.
ABCNEWS.com

The legal system was tested in 2011 and while some cases ended in applause, there are debates whether the conclusions of others resulted in justice.

In some criminal or civil cases, the legal maneuvering is just beginning.

But from the riveting saga of Amanda Knox to the fascination with Casey Anthony, the year provided more drama than most reality shows could hope to produce.

Casey Anthony

Accused Child Killer Goes Free

People were outraged when a jury in Orlando, Fla., acquitted Casey Anthony on July 5 of murdering her 2-year-old daughter Caylee. On the first day of the trial, Anthony's lawyer Jose Baez dropped her longstanding claim that Caylee had been kidnapped by a fictitious babysitter nicknamed Zanny the Nanny and had instead drowned in the family pool. Baez claimed that Anthony's father had sexually abused her for years, trained her to lie and helped Anthony dispose of Caylee's body.

Emotions were so raw after the verdict that the court decided to keep the names of the jurors secret to protect them from death threats.

Casey Anthony, 25, is on probation for lying to police about Zanny the Nanny, but her location has also been kept secret by the court because of death threats.

Amanda Knox

Seattle Woman Released After Four Years in Italian Prison

Amanda Knox, 24, nearly collapsed Oct. 3 when an Italian appeals court ruled that her murder conviction four years earlier was based on faulty evidence and freed her. It ended years of legal setbacks that had convinced a jury in Perugia that she and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito joined in the grisly stabbing and sexual assault of her British roommate Meredith Kercher. The sex-tinged murder story spawned several books and a TV movie.

In dismissing the charges, the court wrote that the theory that Knox and Sollecito decided to kill Kercher "was not, in fact probable: the sudden choice of two young people, good and open to other people, to do evil for evil's sake, just like that, without another reason."

Now home in Seattle, Knox tries to keep a low profile although she continues to be followed by paparazzi.

Dr. Conrad Murray

PHOTO: Dr. Conrad Murray's trial started with the District Attorney showing a picture of a dead Michael Jackson lying on a gurney with his mouth open,  eyes closed and  tape over space between his lips and nose.
ABC
Michael Jackson's Doctor Convicted of Manslaughter

A Los Angeles judge ripped into Dr. Conrad Murray for his treatment of the superstar Michael Jackson, calling the use of the powerful sedative propofol as a sleep aid "medicine madness." The judge said Murray was motivated by greed and a desire for fame.

The trial revealed much of Michael Jackson's eccentric lifestyle, but caused a sensation when the prosecutor introduced photos of Jackson's lifeless body on a hospital gurney.

Although Judge Michael Pastor sentenced Murray to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter, Murray is expected to serve less than half of that because of prison overcrowding.

Penn State

PHOTO: Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, right, leaves the office of Centre County District Justice Daniel A. Hoffman under escort by Pennsylvania State Police and Attorney General's Office officials, Bellefonte, Pa., Dec. 7, 2011
Andy Colwell/AP
Ex-Coach Jerry Sandusky Accused of Sexually Assaulting Boys

The sex abuse scandal at Penn State stunned the campus, but that shock turned to anger when the university's board ousted longtime football coach Joe Paterno.

Paterno and the school's president were booted when a grand jury report claimed that ex-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had raped or sexually assaulted eight boys over a 15-year period, and numerous warnings were ignored by the school.

Sandusky has denied the accusations, but since the grand jury report was issued in November, two more young men have come forward to claim that they too were molested by Sandusky.

Syracuse University

PHOTO: Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, shown in this March 2, 2010 file photo, was placed on administrative leave after child molesting allegations arose.
Cal Sport Media via AP Images
Associate Basketball Coach Bernie Fine Accused of Molesting Ball Boys

On the heels of the Penn State scandal, Syracuse University fired veteran associate basketball coach Bernie Fine after three former ball boys for the team claimed that Fine had molested them.

Fine has denied the allegations and has not been charged with any crime, but a federal investigation is still ongoing.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

French Presidential Contender Beats Rape Rap

It was an international furor when Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund and a candidate to be president of France, was arrested in May and charged with raping New York hotel maid Nofissatou Diallo.

Five months later the charges were dropped because Diallo's credibility was impaired by changes in her story and comments she made about the case to a jailed friend.

After returning to France, Strauss-Kahn admitted having sex with Diallo, but said it was consensual.

Coronado Mansion Death

PHOTO: Jonah Shacknai and Rebecca Zahau had a happy relationship of nearly three years according to Zahau's sister. Zahau was found dead at Shacknai's home in Coronado, Calif., on July 13. Police have not yet ruled out suicide.
ABC News
Rebecca Zahau's Bizarre Death Was Ruled a Suicide

Rebecca Zahau's body was found nude, hanging from a balcony with her hands and feet bound. A strange message was left in black paint on a wall. And her death last July, in an historic California mansion, came two days after her boyfriend's son suffered a fatal fall in the mansion while she was caring for the boy.

Zahau's family have not accepted the coroner's suicide conclusion and is trying to have the case reopened. The family's lawyer, Anne Bremner, had the body exhumed and the results revealed on the Dr. Phil show. During the show, noted medical examiner Dr. Cyril Wecht expressed "grave and serious doubts" that the woman killed herself.

Joshua Komisarjevsky

PHOTO: Joshua Komisarjevsky
Connecticut State Police
Second Death Sentence for Petit Murders

The nightmare that Dr. William Petit has had to repeatedly relive since his wife and two daughters were killed in a 2007 home invasion finally ended on Dec. 9 when a judge sentenced Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, to be executed. Komisarjevsky's accomplice Steven Hayes was sentenced to death last year.

Petit, the lone survivor of the assault, sat through every day of testimony in both Connecticut trials, hearing how his wife was raped and strangled, his youngest daughter sexually assaulted, and both daughters left tied to beds as the house was set on fire.

"We think justice has been served," Petit said at the conclusion of the case.

Rod Blagojevich

PHOTO: Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich speaks to the media following a guilty verdict in his corruption retrial at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Chicago, Illinois, June 27, 2011.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Former Illinois Governor Gets 14 Years

The flamboyant and often kooky former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was sentenced on Dec. 7 to 14 years in prison.

The prison sentenced stemmed from his conviction this summer on 18 charges of corruption. The most glaring accusation was that the tried to sell President Obama's former Illinois Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job.

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