His family was no stranger to headlines, but William Kennedy Smith, the nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, found himself in his own media storm after a woman named Patricia Bowman accused him of raping her at the Kennedy family compound on March 30, 1991 in Miami. The ensuing high-profile attracted intense media attention.
The alleged incident began on the evening of Good Friday, March 29, 1991, when Smith went to a trendy bar with his uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy, and his cousin Patrick J. Kennedy in West Palm Beach, FLA.
Bowman alleged that they all went back to the house at 3 a.m., and that she went for a walk on the beach with Kennedy Smith, then a fourth-year medical student at Georgetown. She alleges that Kennedy Smith asked if she wanted to go for a swim and she said she didn’t think that was appropriate and then turned to leave, he ran after her, tackled her and raped her.
Eventually Kennedy Smith was arrested, charged and brought to trial. If found guilty, Smith was facing four and half years in prison. A key factor in the trial was Judge Mary Lupo’s critical ruling not to allow the testimony of three other women, a doctor, a medical student, and a law student who at the time was the girlfriend of Smith’s cousin Matthew Maxwell Kennedy, who claimed they were sexually assaulted by Smith between 1983 and 1988.
Represented by Miami-based criminal defense attorney Roy Black, Smith took the stand in his own defense and testified he had sex with the woman but that it was consensual. During the trial, Bowman’s character was called into question, informing the jury that Bowman used cocaine and had three abortions.
Millions of viewers watched the television coverage of the trial, however, Bowman’s identity was electronically obscured with a large blue dot over her face to protect her privacy. Following the trial, Bowman came forward.
On Dec. 11, 1991, the six-member jury acquitted Smith on all charges. They deliberated for 77 minutes. In 1992, writer Dominick Dunn wrote an article for Vanity Fair, in which he wrote: “They had asked for no testimony to be read back, no evidence to ponder; they had no questions for Judge Lupo. Nor did they feel any constraints of propriety to sit around for three hours, or perhaps even overnight, to make their decision seem more carefully arrived at.”
Sidenote: Smith’s lead defense attorney, Roy Black, later married Lisa Haller, one of the jurors, in 1995. Haller went on to star in The Real Housewives of Miami.
Following the trial, Kennedy Smith went on to become a doctor, specializing in working with victims of landmines.
In 2004, a former employee of the Center for International Rehabilitation alleged that Smith had sexually assaulted her in 1999, and brought a civil action against him. Kennedy Smith said the charges were “outrageous” and a judge eventually dismissed the case in 2005. Later that same year, Smith settled with another employee who accused him of sexual harassment.
In March 2019, Kennedy Smith’s trial was featured on Fox News Channel’s “Scandalous: The Trial of William Kennedy Smith.”