Gerry Spence

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Gerry Spence
Born (1929-01-08) January 8, 1929 (age 95)
Laramie, Wyoming
Education University of Wyoming Law School
Occupation Lawyer

Gerald Leonard "Gerry" Spence (born January 8, 1929) is a semi-retired American trial lawyer. He is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame.[1] As of 2014, Spence has never lost a criminal case either as a prosecutor or a defense attorney. He has not lost a civil case since 1969.[2][3]


Spence graduated from the University of Wyoming Law School in 1952, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in May 1990. He started his career in Riverton, Wyoming, and later became a successful defense attorney for the insurance industry. Years later, Spence said he "saw the light" and became committed to representing people instead of corporations, insurance companies, banks, or "big business".[4]

Gerry Spence and his second wife, Imaging, share their time between homes near Jackson, Wyoming and Santa Barbara, California.

High-profile cases

Karen Silkwood

Spence gained attention for the Karen Silkwood case.[4] Karen Silkwood was a chemical technician at the Kerr-McGee plutonium-production plant, where she became an activist and vocal critic of plant safety, as what would now be known as a whistleblower. On November 13, 1974, Silkwood died in a one-car crash under suspicious circumstances after reportedly gathering evidence for her union. Spence represented Silkwood's father and children, who charged that Kerr-McGee was responsible for exposing Silkwood to dangerous levels of radiation. Spence won a $10.5 million verdict for the family.

In 1984, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the family's right to sue under state law for punitive damages from a federally regulated industry.[5] The Silkwood case achieved international fame and was the subject of many books, magazine and newspaper articles, and a major motion picture.

Other famous cases

After the Silkwood case, Spence tried a number of high-profile cases. He has not lost a civil case since 1969 and has never lost a criminal case with a trial by jury. He has had several of his more prominent civil verdicts overturned on appeal and lost a 1985 manslaughter case in a bench trial in Newport, Oregon in December 1985, later prevailing on appeal.[6]

Spence prosecuted Mark Hopkinson for ordering the murders of four people in Uinta County, Wyoming. Spence made a deal with Mike Hickey, the perpetrator of three of the murders as well as another unrelated murder, to testify against Hopkinson in exchange for a twenty-year sentence. Hopkinson was executed on January 22, 1992 while Hickey was released from prison in 1999.[7]

Spence successfully defended Randy Weaver on murder, assault, conspiracy, and gun charges in the Ruby Ridge, Idaho, federal standoff case, by successfully impugning the conduct of the FBI and its crime lab. Spence never called a witness for the defense. He relied only on contradictions and holes in the prosecution's story.

He also successfully defended Ed Cantrell in the Rock Springs, Wyoming murder case, and he won the acquittal of former Filipino First Lady Imelda Marcos in New York City on federal racketeering charges.

Spence also defended Earth First! founder David Foreman.[8]

On June 2, 2008, Spence obtained an acquittal of Detroit lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, who was charged with making unlawful campaign contributions. Before returning a not guilty verdict, the federal court jury deliberated 18 hours over four days. The acquittal kept Spence's record intact of never losing a criminal case, including the Michael Jones homicide[9] trial in 1985.

In civil litigation, Spence won a $52 million verdict against McDonald's Corporation on behalf of a small, family-owned ice cream company.[10] A medical malpractice verdict of over $4 million established a new standard for nursing care in Utah. In 1992 Spence earned $33.5 million verdicts for emotional and punitive damages for his quadriplegic client, after a major insurance company refused to pay on the $50,000 policy.[11]

Mock trial: United States v. Oswald

In 1986, Spence defended Lee Harvey Oswald, the deceased assassin of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, against well-known prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi in a 21-hour televised unscripted mock trial sponsored by London Weekend Television in the United Kingdom.[12] The mock trial involved an actual U.S. judge, a jury of U.S. citizens, the introduction of hundreds of evidence exhibits, and many actual witnesses to events surrounding and including the assassination. The jury returned a guilty verdict. Expressing admiration for his adversary's prosecutorial skill, Spence remarked, "No other lawyer in America could have done what Vince did in this case." [13] The "docu-trial" and his preparation for it inspired Bugliosi's 1600-page book examining the details of the Kennedy assassination and various related conspiracy theories, entitled Reclaiming History, winner of the 2008 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime.[14] Several times in the book Bugliosi specifically cites his respect for Spence's abilities as a defense attorney as his impetus for digging more deeply into various aspects of the case than he perhaps would have otherwise.[15]

Tort reform activism

During the election season of 2004, Spence, a vocal opponent of tort reform, crisscrossed his native Wyoming spearheading a series of self-funded town hall-style meetings to inform voters of an upcoming ballot measure, Constitutional Amendment D, which would have limited Wyoming citizens' ability to recover compensation if injured by medical malpractice. The ballot measure failed, with a 50.3% "No" vote.[16]

Public interest and television work

For many years, Spence has lectured at law schools and conducted seminars at various legal organizations around the country.[17]

He is the founder and director of the non-profit Trial Lawyers College, where, per its mission statement, lawyers and judges "committed to the jury system" are trained to help achieve justice for individuals fighting "corporate and government oppression," particularly those individuals who could be described as "the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned."[18]

Spence is also the founder of Lawyers and Advocates for Wyoming, a non-profit, public interest law firm.

Spence served as legal consultant for NBC television covering the O.J. Simpson trial and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, and Geraldo. He briefly had his own talk show on MSNBC, which he hosted from his home in Wyoming.

Current activity

After winning the Fieger acquittal in 2008, Spence told jurors, "This is my last case. I will be 80 in January, and it's time for me to quit, to put down the sword."[3] In 2010, Spence was still listed as an active partner in the Spence Law Firm, located in Jackson, Wyoming and continues to make public appearances.[19] Gerry Spence's next case, a civil suit for wrongful incarceration, ended with a mistrial in December 2012, when the jury could not come to a unanimous decision.[20] Per the cite to the AP story : "The verdicts Pratt read in court indicated jurors had found in favor of Larsen, Brown and the city of Council Bluffs on both major issues. The first issue was whether Harrington and McGhee's constitutional rights to due process had been violated. The second was whether the city had failed to adequately train and supervise the police officers. When the judge polled the jurors to ensure all agreed, three women said no." In October 2013, the AP reported that the suit was settled between the two parties four days before a retrial was scheduled to start.[21]

Partial bibliography

Gerry Spence is the author of more than a dozen books[17] and is currently under commission for at least 2 more,[22] including:

  • Gunning for Justice - My Life and Trials (Doubleday 1982) ISBN 9780385177030
  • Of Murder and Madness: A True Story of Insanity and the Law (Doubleday 1983) ISBN 978-0385188012
  • Trial by Fire: The True Story of a Woman's Ordeal at the Hands of the Law (William Morrow 1986) ISBN 9780688060756
  • With Justice for None: Destroying an American Myth (Times Books 1989) ISBN 9780140133257
  • From Freedom to Slavery: The Rebirth of Tyranny in America (St. Martin's Press 1993) ISBN 978-0312143428
  • How to Argue & Win Every Time: At Home, At Work, In Court, Everywhere, Everyday (St. Martin's Press 1995) ISBN 0-312-14477-6
  • The Making of a Country Lawyer (St. Martin's Press 1996) ISBN 978-0312146733
  • O.J.: The Last Word (St. Martin's Press 1997) ISBN 978-0312180096
  • Give Me Liberty: Freeing Ourselves in the Twenty-First Century (St. Martin's Press 1998) ISBN 0312245637
  • A Boy's Summer: Fathers and Sons Together (St. Martin's Press June 1, 2000) ISBN 978-0312202828
  • Gerry Spence's Wyoming: The Landscape (St. Martin's Press October 19, 2000) ISBN 978-0312207762
  • Half Moon and Empty Stars (Scribner, 2001) ISBN 0-7432-0276-7
  • Seven Simple Steps to Personal Freedom: An Owner's Manual for Life (St. Martin's Griffin November 1, 2002) ISBN 978-0312303112
  • The Smoking Gun: Day by Day Through a Shocking Murder Trial (Scribner 2003) ISBN 978-0743246965
  • Win Your Case: How to Present, Persuade, and Prevail--Every Place, Every Time (St. Martin's Press 2006) ISBN 0-312-36067-3
  • Bloodthirsty Bitches and Pious Pimps of Power: The Rise and Risks of the New Conservative Hate Culture (St. Martin’s Press 2006) ISBN 978-0312361532
  • The Lost Frontier: Images and Narrative (Gibbs Smith October 1, 2013) ISBN 978-1423632900
  • Police State: How America's Cops Get Away with Murder (St. Martin’s Press Sept 8, 2015) ISBN 978-1250073457


  1. [1] Archived October 23, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  2. [2] Archived December 31, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  3. 3.0 3.1 Spence's No Loss Record Stands With Fieger Acquittal, ABA Journal.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  5. Silkwood Case Laid To Rest, August 30, 1986, Science News.
  6. Spence, Gerry, The Smoking Gun
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  9. Spence, Gerry. The Smoking Gun. ISBN 0-7434-7052-4
  10. Associated Press, "Ice Cream Maker Wins Suit on Oral Contract", The New York Times, 22 Jan 1984.
  11. Chris Merrill, "In new 'retirement,' Wyoming's most famous attorney laments 'demonizing' of trial lawyers", Star-Tribune Casper Wyoming, 21 Dec 2008.
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  13. [3] Archived August 28, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
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  15. Bugliosi, Vincent (2007). Reclaiming History (1st ed). New York: W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 978-0-393-04525-3
  16. Daryl L. Hunter, "Tort Reform", Greater Yellowstone Resource Guide, June 2006. Supporters of Amendment D cited Spence as spearheading its defeat.
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  21. [4][dead link]
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Further reading

External links