Most Popular Law & Justice Stories of 2008

From O.J. Simpson to Caylee Anthony to Lori Drew, these stories made headlines.

ByABC News
December 22, 2008, 2:00 PM

Dec. 23, 2008— -- The year 2008 saw its fair share of unusual crimes, missing people and landmark cases.

It was the year O.J. Simpson, acquitted in 1995 of the murders of his ex-wife and her friend, was sentenced to prison for an armed robbery inside a Las Vegas hotel room; a suburban mother was convicted of cyberbullying her 13-year-old neighbor; thousands tuned in as investigators searched for a missing Florida toddler; and members of a polygamist religious sect clashed with authorities in Texas.

Here are the most widely read law and justice stories of 2008 from

Natalee Holloway Suspect: 'I Know What Happened'

Joran van der Sloot, a former suspect in the disappearance of American teen Natalee Holloway, said on surveillance recordings aired on a Dutch TV special that Holloway appeared to be lifeless on an Aruban beach three years ago during a romantic tryst and that "she'll never be found."

"I know what happened to that girl," van der Sloot announced during 20 hours of private conversations secretly recorded by crime reporter Peter R. de Vries.

Her body, van der Sloot said, had been dumped in the ocean by a friend with a boat.

"We're on the beach," he said on the recordings, according to the Dutch TV show. "Suddenly, she wasn't moving anymore."

Van der Sloot claimed he was lying in the secretly recorded conversations with Patrick van der Eem, a person he thought was a friend, but who was secretly working undercover for de Vries and his team of Dutch crime reporters.

What Happened to Caylee Anthony?

Investigators in Florida recently identified the remains of a young child as Caylee Anthony, a little girl whose disappearance captivated the nation.

A utility worker found the remains Dec. 11 in a wooded area near the home that Caylee shared with her mother and grandparents. Her death was ruled a "homicide of undetermined means."

Caylee was 2 years old when she was reported missing July 15. At the time, her mother, Casey Anthony, said she had not seen Caylee in 31 days.

Casey Anthony has been charged with murder. She is being held in the Orange County jail and faces up to life in prison if convicted.

The Raid on the Fundamentalist Polygamist Sect

Starting April 3, authorities in Texas raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch and took more than 400 children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints into state custody.

State child protection workers claimed that girls -- some as young as 14 -- from the polygamist religious sect were being married off to older men and that all of the children were at risk of physical or emotional abuse.

The raid was prompted by a series of phone calls from someone claiming to be a 16-year-old girl named Sarah, who said she was trapped on the compound and was being abused by her much older husband.

The raid sparked one of the largest child protection cases in U.S. history and set off a conflict between state power and religious freedom.

The case also proved to be a logistical nightmare for the state, as hundreds of lawyers and child advocates crammed into a San Angelo, Texas, courtroom for a mass hearing.

FLDS leaders, who claimed they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs, challenged the state's action in court. On May 29, the Texas Supreme Court sided with the sect, ruling that the state did not have the authority to place the children in emergency state custody.

At least 12 sect members have been charged with crimes including sexual assault and bigamy. Police suspect the phone calls that prompted the raid may have been a hoax.

Family's Nightmare: Daughter's Accident Photos Go Viral

With just a few mouse clicks, you can find pictures that are too graphic to show in the mainstream media -- images of horrible accidents, mutilations and death.

For Nikki Catsouras' family, this gruesome subculture added injury to already profound pain.

On Halloween, Catsouras lost control of her car, going across lanes over the median and slamming into a concrete tollbooth. She was killed instantly.

The accident scene photos showing her mutilated body soon appeared on the Internet. "They didn't even let me see my daughter, and now the whole world is seeing my daughter," said her mother, Lesli Catsouras.

The family soon began receiving anonymous e-mails and text messages that contained photographs of the accident, including pictures of Catsouras' decapitated body, still strapped to the crumpled remains of her father's Porsche. A fake MySpace page was created, which at first looked like a tribute to Catsouras but also led to the horrific photos.

The Catsouras family has filed a suit against the California Highway Patrol for reportedly releasing the accident scene pictures.

Case Closed? Police ID Adam Walsh Killer

It was one of the country's most famous cold cases, an unsolved murder that changed the way police investigate missing children cases.

But on Dec. 16, police in Hollywood, Fla., announced that they had solved the 1981 abduction and murder of Adam Walsh, the 6-year-old son of John Walsh, whose crusade to find his son's killer drove him to co-found the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and host "America's Most Wanted."

Police named Ottis Toole, a pedophile and serial killer long suspected of the Walsh murder, who died in prison in 1996, as the perpetrator.

"For 27 years we've been asking who could take a 6-year-old boy and murder him and decapitate him? Who? We needed to know," said Walsh, as tears streamed down his face. "And today we know. The not knowing has been a torture but that journey is over."

After his son's death, Walsh, who will turn 63 later this month, became a tireless advocate for missing children. He started the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center and co-founded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. His television show, "America's Most Wanted," debuted in 1988.

Since 1984, the center has assisted law enforcement with more than 148,160 missing child cases, resulting in the recovery of more than 132,300 children.

"America's Most Wanted" became one of the country's longest-running television shows. It began profiling missing persons, especially children, in 1991. It was briefly canceled in 1996, but reappeared after a public outcry. The show says its reports have led to the capture of more than 1,000 fugitives.

Family's 'Perfect Life' Shattered

David and Kim Crespi seemed to have it all.

The Crespis lived in a large home in a fast-growing suburb outside Charlotte, N.C. David Crespi had a high-powered job as a vice president at Wachovia Bank while his wife stayed home to raise their large family.

"I had the American dream," David Crespi said.

But he also harbored a dark secret that destroyed it all.

On Jan. 20, 2006, Kim and David Crespi were home with their daughters, Tessara and Samantha. The girls weren't feeling well and had stayed home from kindergarten that day. David Crespi was depressed and unable to go to work. He agreed to watch the girls while his wife went out to get her hair done.

According to David Crespi, it all seemed like a sign. "And it just came to me. There is no future. There is nothing. And that's the way it's all aligned for them to die."

By the time Kim Crespi had arrived home, her husband had stabbed her daughters to death and he was in police custody.

In his confession later that day, David Crespi admitted to the crimes and told police that the sprinklers had instructed him to dial 911. He was placed on suicide watch and prison psychologists later diagnosed him as having bipolar disorder.

"Tess and Sam were precious to us," David Crespi said. "They were incredible. They were a gift. I mean, we were just so thrilled to have them."

U.S. Headed for Heightened Alert Stage

Government officials told ABC News in July that they have been quietly stepping up counterterror efforts out of a growing concern that al Qaeda or similar organizations might try to capitalize on the spate of extremely high-profile events in 2008.

Anti-terror officials cited summer and fall's lineup of two major political parties' conventions, November's general election and months of transition into a new presidential administration as causes for heightened awareness and action.

This is what the Department of Homeland Security is quietly declaring a Period of Heightened Alert, or POHA, a time frame when terrorists may have more incentive to attack.

According to drafts of government memos described to ABC News, the period would run roughly from August 2008 through July 2009.

During this time, homeland security analysts will be asked to redouble efforts to study terrorism leads. And a number of agencies will be asked to review emergency response plans to a variety of attacks, from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to biological weapons.

The 'MySpace Suicide' Case

Lori Drew, a 49-year-old mother from a suburb of St. Louis, was convicted of misdemeanor charges for her role in organizing an online hoax that prosecutors said led to the suicide of her teenage neighbor.

The jury, in federal court in Los Angeles, rejected more serious felony charges of unauthorized access to computers in order to inflict emotional distress on 13-year-old Megan Meier.

Megan committed suicide in October 2006 after the end of her online relationship with a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. Prosecutors said Josh Evans was the fictitious creation of Drew, her daughter and her assistant, who reportedly created a fake MySpace account to spy on Megan.

Legally, as Drew's lawyer repeatedly reminded the jury, the case was not about whether Drew caused Megan to commit suicide. Instead, Drew was accused of violating MySpace's terms of service by obtaining personal information to inflict emotional distress on the teen.

The case highlighted the legal gray areas around cyberbullying. Prosecutors in Missouri said Drew did not break the law. She was charged in Los Angeles, where MySpace's computer servers are located.

The case is believed to be one of the first of its kind to use the statute barring unauthorized access to computers, which has previously been used to combat computer hacking and to address so-called cyberbullying. Drew's lawyers and outside legal experts have argued that the unusual prosecution could broaden the scope of what's considered criminal conduct on the Internet.

The Death of Thomas and Jackie Hawkes

A California jury recommended the death penalty for a former child actor convicted of murdering a couple by chaining them to their boat anchor and throwing them overboard.

The recommendation followed closing arguments so intense they drove some jurors to tears.

Skyler Deleon was found guilty Oct. 20 of murdering Thomas and Jackie Hawks, with several accomplices, after he posed as a potential buyer for their yacht.

Alleged accomplice Alonso Machain, a cooperating witness for the prosecution, described in gut-wrenching detail what happened aboard the Hawkses' yacht during their last hours.

Machain said that he, Deleon and a third man overpowered the couple, handcuffed the two to the anchor and sent them hurtling to their deaths.

"They were basically yanked -- yanked into the ocean,'' he told Orange County jurors, as tears welled up in the eyes of the Hawkses' friends and family in the courtroom gallery.

One Woman's Plea for Help Ends in Murder

"Listen please. Don't hang up and listen to me. I've been taken out of my house at gunpoint. I'm gonna head to the police station," Olidia Kerr Day told a 911 operator. "I was able to lie to him, and I'm going to go inside."

"Ma'am, ma'am, ma'am, you need to slow down because I don't know where you are," said the 911 call taker.

It turns out her desperate call for help had gone to the wrong police department because she was on a cell phone and the closest transmission tower had sent her call to the police in the adjacent town of Sunrise, Fla., not Plantation, Fla., where she lived.

It took a minute of valuable time to transfer the fleeing mother to Plantation police.

But things still didn't get any easier for Kerr Day. The 911 call taker for Plantation insisted that Kerr Day provide her with an address, ignoring Kerr Day's numerous requests for the location of the police department.

Kerr Day made it to the police parking lot on her own, without any help from the emergency call taker, but was blocked by an iron gate.

With nowhere to go, Kerr Day sat in her car, still frantically begging for help and hoping for police to arrive. Her lifeline began to sound frustrated.

"Stop yelling because I can't help you if you're yelling," the Plantation call taker said.

"I'm stuck now. He's going to kill me," said Kerr Day, who had been speaking with the Plantation call taker for one minute and 34 seconds.

Those were her last words. The chase ended with her muffled screams -- literally at the police department's front door.

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