Born in Queens, New York City, on September 19, 1949, Barry Scheck earned his law degree in 1974 and soon began doing legal work centered on social justice. He never shied away from high-profile work and defended O.J. Simpson in the famous 1995 murder trial. Scheck’s interest in forensics led him to co-found the Innocence Project, whose use of DNA-evidence has overturned hundreds of convictions.
American lawyer Barry Scheck was born September 19, 1949, in New York City, New York. His father, George, carved out a successful career as a manager of musicians. The elder Scheck’s story of raising himself out of childhood poverty and the relationships he forged with a number of African American singers in his career, impacted his son.
Like his parents, Scheck was drawn to the civil rights movement and later participated in antiwar demonstrations. By the time he reached Yale University in the fall of 1967, Scheck, who studied economic history and city planning, was primed to delve more deeply into social justice issues.
On campus he became an even louder critic of the Vietnam War and fought to abolish deferments because, as he saw it, the war would only end when upper-middle-class white parents had to weather the death of their children in Southeast Asia.
Scheck graduated Yale in 1971 and three years later earned a law degree from University of California at Berkeley.
Scheck continued to bring the fight into his law career. He worked to expose grand jury abuse, and later spent five years in the Bronx as a Legal Aid Society attorney, where he worked with and befriended fellow attorney Peter Neufeld. The two eventually became law partners.
Scheck’s big break came when he landed a clinical law professor position at New York’s Cardozo School of Law. As a result, Scheck had the freedom to pursue work that was truly important to him.
Throughout his career, Scheck has never shied away from high-profile cases. One of the earliest came in 1988, when he represented Hedda Nussbaum, whose adopted daughter, Lisa Steinberg, had been murdered. Paid only $25 an hour, Scheck brilliantly recast the case so that Nussbaum could avoid conviction for her daughter’s death by pinning the murder on her partner, Joel Steinberg, and convincing a jury that she, too, had been a victim of his abuse.
People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson
Scheck went from prominent New York attorney to international figure in 1995 as a part of the O.J. Simpson defense team, which also included Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, Robert Kardashian and Robert Shapiro. Often cited as the hardest working member of the group, Scheck’s meticulous attack of the prosecution led by Marcia Clark, especially the DNA evidence presented, is often credited as one of the biggest reasons why Simpson avoided conviction.
It’s been written that the destruction of criminalist Dennis Fung was perhaps the greatest cross-examination since the Scopes trial. Scheck's name even became a part of legal lexicon, as in “to Scheck” or “Schecktify” a witness or expert.
"Indeed, because every one of us is human and all of us are actors in a fact-finding mission, if just one of us makes an error, jumps to a conclusion, or acts on a false assumption, an innocent man can be condemned to a guilty man's fate." — Barry Scheck
Despite Scheck’s dismantling of the DNA evidence in the Simpson trial, Scheck is considered one of the early experts on the use of forensics in the courtroom.
In 1992, Scheck and Neufeld co-founded the Innocence Project, a nonprofit foundation whose use of DNA-based evidence has helped overturn the convictions of hundreds of wrongly accused people.
Awards & Honors
While Scheck’s association with Simpson team stained his reputation to a certain degree, much of his career has been built around the pursuit of worthy causes, including helping those who need it most.
Widely considered one of the world’s preeminent criminal defense attorneys, he’s served as past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and has taught trial practice, legal ethics and forensic science to judges, attorneys and law students.
He is a 2012 recipient of the National Trial Lawyers Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2013 earned the New York State Bar Association gold medal. He holds numerous honorary degrees and has consistently been named one of the 100 Best Lawyers in America.
Barry Scheck lives with his wife, Dorothy Rick, in New York City. The couple has one daughter, actress Olivia Morgan Scheck.
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