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How 8 Famous Acquitted Defendants Spent The Rest of Their Lives

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Yesterday’s not guilty verdict for Casey Anthony ended her highly publicized trial. Here’s how life shook out for a few other acquitted defendants in high-profile trials.

1. Lizzie Borden

Although 32-year-old Lizzie Borden was never convicted of the 1892 ax murder of her father and stepmother, her highly publicized trial followed her for the remaining 34 years of her life. Borden became close friends with actress Nance O’Neill, but she lived out the rest of her life as a recluse. Although Borden remained largely out of public sight, mourners at her 1927 funeral remembered her as a quiet source of charitable donations. Her will certainly demonstrated her charitable streak; the largest earmark from her substantial estate was a $30,000 donation to the local Animal Rescue League.

2. Fatty Arbuckle

Silent film actor and comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was one of the biggest stars in the medium’s early days, but his career flew off the rails in 1921. Actress Virginia Rappe fell ill at a party thrown by Arbuckle and died several days later, and the rotund funnyman found himself facing accusations of raping and killing the young woman. Arbuckle weathered two mistrials for manslaughter before being found not guilty in a third trial.


The trial may have legally cleared Arbuckle’s name, but the scandal all but destroyed his Hollywood career. Hollywood briefly blacklisted Arbuckle entirely, but even after the ban was ostensibly lifted he couldn’t find work. Meanwhile, his existing films were rarely shown. (Many prints of Arbuckle’s films have been lost.) Arbuckle eventually found work directing comedy shorts under a pseudonym before making an acting comeback with Warner Brothers in 1932. In 1933 he signed a contract to make a new feature film, but he died in his sleep the very same night.

3. Sam Sheppard

Sheppard, a Cleveland-area physician, was convicted of the 1954 murder of his pregnant wife in their suburban home.

Sheppard spent nearly a decade behind bars before a 1966 retrial acquitted him. After a brief attempt to return to medicine following his release from prison, Sheppard found an unlikely second career as a professional wrestler who went by the name The Killer before his death in 1970.

4. Claus von Bulow

In 1982 British socialite von Bulow was convicted of attempting to murder his heiress wife, Sunny, with an insulin overdose. However, this conviction was later overturned, and he was found not guilty in a 1985 retrial. (Jeremy Irons won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of von Bulow in 1990’s Reversal of Fortune.) In 1991 von Bulow returned to London, where he worked as an art and theatre critic. British newspaper The Telegraph ran his blog posts as recently as last spring.

5. William Kennedy Smith

© Lannis Waters/Sygma/Corbis

The physician nephew of John F. Kennedy was accused of rape in 1991, but a jury acquitted him after a hugely hyped trial. Kennedy still practices medicine; he founded the Center for International Rehabilitation and works with patients who have been disabled by landmines.

6. O.J. Simpson

The beneficiary of one of history’s most famous not-guilty verdicts saw his legal luck run out after a 2007 armed robbery in Las Vegas. Simpson was convicted on 10 charges related to an attempt to regain some of his sports memorabilia, and he’s currently serving a 33-year sentence in Nevada’s Lovelock Correctional Center.

7. Robert Blake

The Baretta star was acquitted for the 2001 murder of his wife in 2005, but like Simpson, he was found liable for the death in a civil trial. The 2005 civil verdict awarded $30 million to his wife’s children, and in 2006 he filed for bankruptcy listing the eight-figure judgment as his biggest liability. Blake hasn’t yet returned to acting to fill out his bank balances, but as of earlier this year he was making autograph-signing appearances at memorabilia shows.

8. John T. Scopes

Scopes, the Tennessee schoolteacher who famously went to trial in 1925, was initially convicted of violating the state’s prohibition of the teaching of evolution and fined $100. However, his conviction was later overruled because the trial judge had set the fine rather than the jury. Following this decision, Scopes left Tennessee to pursue graduate studies in geology at the University of Chicago. He spent the rest of his life working as a geologist for oil and gas companies.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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