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Claus von Bulow, socialite convicted and then acquitted of trying to kill wife, dead at 92

A man who made international headlines in the 1980s after he was convicted and then later acquitted of trying to murder his wealthy wife is dead.

The New York Times reports that Claus von Bulow has died at the age of 92.

Prosecutors twice charged von Bulow with attempted murder of his wife, Martha “Sunny” von Bulow; one case led to a conviction, while another led to an acquittal.

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Authorities alleged that Claus von Bulow used insulin to cause hypoglycemia in Sunny, who went into a coma in December 1980 and remained in a vegetative state until she died in 2008; she had previously experienced a temporary coma that started in December 1979.

In 1982, a jury convicted von Bulow of attempted murder and sentenced him to 30 years in prison. But von Bulow maintained his innocence and he was given a second trial in which jurors acquitted him.

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz had came to the defense of von Bulow and wrote a major book about the case, “Reversal of Fortune.”

Children of the couple were divided by the case, according to CBS News. Sunny von Bulow’s children from a former marriage accused von Bulow of trying to kill their mother, while the couple’s daughter believed in her father’s innocence.

In 1966, von Bulow married Sunny Crawford von Auersperg, whose last name came from a previous marriage. Her father was George Crawford, founder of the Columbia Gas and Electric Company.

The couple lived in extravagant homes, including a 5th Avenue apartment in New York City that had a dozen rooms and a 10-acre compound in Newport, Rhode Island.

Claus von Bulow walks with his daughter, Cosima, as he heads for Superior Court in Providence, R.I., April 9, 1985 after lunch break. Von Bulow is in court on the first day of jury selection in his second trial on charges that he attempted to murder his wife, Martha “Sunny” von Bulow. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

But despite their affluence, authorities alleged that the marriage was unhappy. Prosecutors claimed von Bulow had tried to kill his wife so he could inherit her money and wed a mistress, who later testified against him at trial. Divorce wasn’t an option, prosecutors said, because von Bulow would have lost out on a $14 million inheritance from his wife’s will.

von Bulow’s defense team portrayed Sunny as a drunk and drug addict who put herself in a coma. A maid for the family testified that she found a bag full of syringes, and that Claus would not let her seek help when Sunny went into a coma.

After jurors found von Bulow guilty in 1982, the Rhode Island Supreme Court reversed the conviction.

Dershowitz told the Associated Press that it was the first time a criminal appeal was covered on television.

“It was the first really highly publicized case in the new age of widespread media coverage,” Dershowitz told the newswire. “It was a prelude in many ways to the O.J. Simpson case, but it was a decade earlier.”

Prosecutors re-filed charges against von Bulow and held a second trial in 1985, but he was acquitted after his defense team poked holes in the state’s theory that Sunny’s coma was caused by insulin injections.

von Bulow’s stepchildren later sued him and he agreed as part of settlement not to oversee their mother’s medical care and to give up the inheritance, which then went to his daughter. He also agreed to leave the United States, not speak publicly about the case and forfeit any profits from it.

A movie about the case and based on the book by Dershowitz was later filmed.

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[Feature Photo: Claus Von Bulow via AP/Mark Lennihan]