2005's Biggest Court Cases

From Michael Jackson to Saddam Hussein, celebrities, leaders and regular people have made big headlines with criminal trials, and some cases will carry over to the new year. Here is a look at some of the most sensational and salacious legal battles of 2005.

Michael Jackson

The "King of Pop's" child molestation trial ended in June with his acquittal. He had been charged with molesting a boy sick with leukemia. In 1993, Jackson avoided a similar legal battle by settling out of court. Shortly after this year's victory, Jackson left his elaborate Neverland ranch and moved to Bahrain with his three children.

But Jackson's woes do not end there. He reportedly is in dire financial straits and it is said that his yearly spending exceeded his income by up to $30 million. He is also in danger of defaulting on $200 million in loans guaranteed by his stake in the Beatles' song catalog.

"I think he needs to sell the merry-go-round at this point," said ABC News legal contributor Joe Tacopina. "He's cash poor, but he still has assets. He'll be forever hounded by young men popping out of the woodwork and making accusations."

On top of that, Jackson's ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, has sued him in California, accusing him of abducting their two children. Jackson says he will never return to the United States.

"The odds are stacked in his favor to maintain those kids because he's been their primary caregiver for some time," said former prosecutor and Court TV News anchor Lisa Bloom. "Moving the kids to Bahrain was probably, ultimately a very savvy move because U.S. law is not going to go far in Bahrain."

Scott Peterson

The former fertilizer salesman was found guilty of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Connor, in November 2004. He is on death row at California's San Quentin -- the same prison where former gang leader, Stanley "Tookie" Wilson, was put to death earlier this month. Peterson is currently appealing his conviction.

Bloom said Peterson didn't have much of a chance.

"Only about 5 percent of these appeals are granted," she said. "He doesn't stand much of a shot. I predict Scott Peterson will fade away. I think Scott Peterson loves the fame and notoriety, loves having his picture on the front page. Now he's faced with being just another prisoner number whatever on death row, and that's the best punishment of all."

Also this month, a judge ruled that Peterson could not collect the $250,000 from Laci Peterson's insurance policy. It was instead awarded to Laci's mother, Sharon Rocha.

Debra LaFave

Last year, 25-year-old teacher Debra LaFave was charged with having sex with her 14-year-old student. She was charged with two counts of lewd and lascivious battery and one count of lewd and lascivious exhibition after she allegedly had sex with the student in a sport-utility vehicle while another teenager drove.

LaFave struck a plea deal that would have given her three years' house arrest, followed by seven years' probation, but a county judge rejected the plan and set an April trial date. The judge said he did not want to go below the sentencing guidelines of the case. Those guidelines call for 16 years in prison. Her lawyer said such a sentence was too harsh because his client was "too pretty for prison."

Now both LaFave and the victim's mother are begging the judge to keep the case out of trial. The mother does not want her son to undergo the ordeal.

"When you have a child victim and the parents consult with the defense team and make a conscious decision not to put their child through the humiliation of the trial, I believe the judge has to honor that," Tacopina said. "That kid just wants to get on with his life and not open up old wounds."

Saddam Hussein

The trial of the former Iraqi dictator who was captured by U.S. forces near his hometown of Tikrit two years ago opened in October. Saddam and eight others are charged with crimes against humanity -- ordering the killings of 148 men and teenage boys in the Shiite town of Dujail. They face the death penalty if convicted and all have pleaded not guilty.

Thus far, Saddam has made the trial colorful with his outbursts and tirades. He publicly cursed President Bush, accused his American guards of humiliating him by confiscating his watch, and said that he was beaten by guards while in custody.

"They said Iraq had chemical weapons," Saddam said in one of his outbursts. "They said I had ties to terrorism, but later acknowledged that I did not. A pox on Bush and his father."

"What gets me is that we have so many people who are 'enemy combatants' imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, who are never charged and never go to trial," Bloom said. "These are accused terrorists and we never get to hear the facts. Then there's Saddam, who the whole world knows has murdered millions of people. And he gets a trial. Not only does he get a trial, but he's allowed to stand up in court, make trouble, wave his finger at the judge, and cross-examine people whose relatives he murdered. That trial is completely out of control. It needs to be reined in."

In addition, lawyers and defendants have been seen nodding off during chilling testimony from survivors and relatives of those who died. The trial was temporarily adjourned in November so the defense team could replace two lawyers who were killed. The defense team includes former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

"I for one have a personal rule: Never take a trial that might get me killed," Tacopina said. "But let's face it, Saddam is going to get convicted. Let's not hold our breath. What this case is really about is the new Iraqi government figuring things out. They're in their fetal stage, and they're taking baby steps."

On the Horizon for 2006

Bloom said that she expected the Debra LaFave trial to "blow up" in April and that the cameras in the courtroom would only add to the sensationalism. She also predicted that if famed rock producer Phil Spector was tried for murder, that the case would receive a lot of attention. He is accused of shooting actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra, Calif., home in February 2003. Spector denies the charges.

"I would love to see someone brought to justice for the disappearance of Natalee Holloway," said Bloom, referring to the teenager who disappeared while on vacation in Aruba.

Tacopina said that the Melanie McGwire case in New Jersey was "Scott Peterson in reverse." Tacopina is participating in the murder trial of McGwire, who is being called the "Black Widow." She is accused of dismembering her husband, putting his body parts into three suitcases, and then throwing them in the Delaware River. McGwire has denied that she is responsible for her husband's death.

"She's going to trial in 2006, and we'll be covering that from gavel to gavel," Tacopina said.