Back in June, I wrote a piece here on O J Simpson. Further research and the viewing of a brilliant 5 part TV special titled OJ: Made in America have led me to pen a few brief notes on the principals involved in his 1995 trial, what has become of them since that time, and how they impacted individually on the outcome back then.
Judge Lance Ito (1995)
Judge Ito walked into jurisprudence history when he chose to allow the OJ Simpson trial to be telecast live to the nation. He also allowed the Fuhrman tapes to be played in the courtroom; the jury to visit Simpson’s home and walk through it in a conducted tour; and was conspicuous by his silence throughout defense attorney Cochran’s deplorable summation in which he focused almost entirely on racial issues, even comparing Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler for a considerable time and scarcely mentioning the crime at all. Little wonder that Judge Ito kept a low profile after the trial before retiring in 2015.
Prosecutor Marcia Clark (1995)
And 20 years later
Marcia Clark felt ‘such guilt’ over Simpson’s acquittal that she ceased working as a special trials lawyer and focused on offering legal analysis to news outlets. She had become a national celebrity because of the TV coverage of the trial. The tabloids obsessed over her make-up, hairstyle, everything about her life. The National Enquirer even went so far as to publish topless photographs taken of her at a beach. Later, she wrote a memoir of the trial titled Without a Doubt. Today, she writes fiction and has published four novels.
Prosecutor Chris Darden (1995)
When Darden asked Simpson to try on the once blood-soaked gloves used in the murders he made the classic rookie attorney mistake. He more or less asked a question that he did not (for certain) know the answer to. He knew Simpson was guilty, but he could not be 100% certain the gloves would still fit after such a length of time. Marcia Clark was dead against the idea and said so, but Darden had been taking a beating from his fellow African-American opponent Cochrane, and he desperately wanted his ‘moment in the sun’. What he could not know was that the gloves had marginally shrunk over the months, that Simpson had been deliberately working weights to strengthen and ‘bulk up’ his hands, that he had (on the advice of counsel) ceased to take his rheumatism tablets for two weeks prior to the ‘fitting’, and hence his hands had swollen considerably. On top of these issues he was required to wear latex gloves before trying on the killer’s gloves over them. Twenty years later Darden accused the now deceased Cochrane of tampering with the gloves, tearing the lining so Simpson’s fingers would not fit. It was a shabby accusation not worthy of him and it was seen as such by persons on both sides of the issue.
Defender Johnnie Cochran (1995)
Prior to his death in 2005 at 67
Cochran led Simpson’s ‘Dream Team’ of lawyers, blatantly and unashamedly playing ‘the racism card’ for all he was worth throughout the trial. His summation, in which he compared Detective Mark Fuhrman with Hitler was nothing short of a disgrace, yet he was allowed to do so by the presiding judge Lance Ito. His closing statement also contained his now famous catch-cry regarding the glove that Simpson was unable to don – ‘If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.’ The acquittal catapulted Cochrane to fame. He guested on several TV shows and defended celebrities, among them Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs, Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg. Unapologetic to the end, he believed his defense of Simpson ‘made a difference’ in the nation. A brain tumor claimed him at 67 in 2005.
Defender Robert Shapiro (1995)
Originally named as defense team leader, Shapiro was pushed aside for Cochrane when it was decided that race would have to play an integral part of the defense strategy, which may have been Shapiro’s idea in the first place anyway. After the trial, however, he publicly distanced himself from the outrageous use of race to determine the outcome. He knew, as did most thinking Americans, that the trial was no longer about the innocence or guilt of OJ Simpson. It was, in the end, about 400 years of white injustice against black Americans. The irony of all this was the defendant himself. As a defender and champion of black rights he was a joke. He traveled in the company of whites, his friends (mostly) were white; the pictures on his walls at home were of OJ and white friends and acquaintances.
When Judge Ito, to the astonishment of the prosecution, agreed to let the jury be taken on a tour of Simpson’s home during the trial, even though it had nothing to do with the crime scene at Nicole’s home, the defense had already preceded them and switched all the pictures on the walls, replacing them with shots of OJ and his family and his black friends. And the TV cameras went right along with them. Already the ‘Dream Team’ was laying the foundation for making Simpson a champion of the black cause. Shapiro has since written several bestselling legal books and founded a website called LegalZoom.com.
Simpson’s friend (C) Robert Kardashian
as part of the defense team in 1995
Robert Kardashian was an old friend of Simpson and it was to his home that OJ fled after the murders. Days later Simpson fled again, this time from the Kardashian residence, and became involved in the famous ‘slow-speed car chase’ that ended with his apprehension. The day after the murders Kardashian was seen emerging from Simpson’s home with OJ’s Louis Vuitton garment bag. Prosecutors believed it contained the defendant’s bloody clothes and possibly the murder weapon, but they were unable to prove it. Robert said he handed the bag to police nine months later, but nothing came of it. He also admitted he was on ‘the Dream Team’ more or less as a ‘shoulder for OJ to cry on’, not having practiced law for almost 20 years. Kardashian’s first wife, Kris, and four children, Kim, Khloe, Kourtney and Robert became celebrities via their TV show Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Robert Kardashian later admitted that he had doubts about his friend’s innocence. ‘The blood evidence is the biggest thorn in my side’, he said, ‘that causes me the greatest problem.’ He died in 2003 at the age of 59.
LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman
on the stand (1995)
It was Mark Fuhrman who foolishly testified that he had never referred to African-Americans as ‘niggers’ during his 10 years as a detective with the LAPD, a statement that was easily refuted by several witnesses and a series of audio tapes he made for a writer in which he used the word over 40 times. On the same tapes he also described the LAPD as willing to falsify evidence, plant evidence and contaminate evidence in order to secure convictions of African-Americans.
When confronted with this on his second visit to the stand, he pled the Fifth Amendment to every question put to him. Unfortunately, he also pled the Fifth when asked if he had planted the right-handed glove in Simpson’s yard. Having stood on the Fifth to every other question, a simple, ‘I did not’, would surely have had an impact, but the man chose not to do the right thing. Jurors and Simpson supporters immediately equated a police officer pleading the Fifth with a guilty response. It was a crucial moment in the trial in that it allowed the defense to play the ‘race card’ for all they were worth.
Polls taken across America after his second time on the stand showed 78% of black Americans thought Simpson was innocent and 72% of white Americans thought him guilty. Mark Fuhrman had polarized the nation. The defense had been given a ‘get out of jail free’ card. They would be given another when Simpson was asked to try on the murder gloves. Today, Fuhrman is a successful New York Times author, TV analyst, and forensic expert for Fox News. If only he had been an ‘expert’ detective when it truly counted.
Fred Goldman with daughter Kim
at the trial
Fred Goldman was especially scathing of the jury that allowed his son’s killer to go free, and with monumental justification. When the judge asked the 12 men and women to go and deliberate over the evidence, he was expecting them to examine all that had been presented over the 247 days of the trial. During that time more than 100 witnesses had testified, over 1,100 pieces of evidence had been presented and 45,000 pages of transcript recorded. The standard rule of thumb pertaining to juries is approximately one day’s deliberation for every week of the trial, so it would not have surprised had the jury taken nearly a month to arrive at a verdict. Instead, it took just three and a half hours to return a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict. It was nothing short of a disgrace and Fred said so on national television. Even the 2007 civil suit ‘Guilty’ verdict, accompanied by a $33.5 million ruling against Simpson did little to assuage his anger and frustration. ‘He has never paid one single penny’, he said. ‘He vowed never to pay.’
Behind bars today
In 2006 Simpson tried to publish a book, a hypothetical look at the murders, titled If I Did It, but it was cancelled. A year later it surfaced. That same year he was informed that a heap of his own merchandise was being sold from a hotel room in Las Vegas. He, along with several men (one of whom was armed), broke into the room, held the occupants at gunpoint, and told them ‘no-one was to leave’. Those words alone made it a kidnapping rap. The memorabilia in the room belonged to someone else. Simpson and his crew were arrested and arraigned. Because a gun had been shoved in the face of the victim, and because he testified that Simpson was ‘clearly in charge’, OJ was convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping. Legal experts generally agree that it was partially a case of ‘mistaken identity’ and all-round stupidity on Simpson’s part, and that anyone else would probably have copped a maximum of two years. But the lady judge who sentenced him was in no mood to be lenient. She applied the maximum penalty right down the line and, in 2008, Simpson was sentenced to 33 years at Lovelock Correctional Centre in Nevada. He is eligible for parole in October 2017.
Everything points to Simpson having murdered Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. His bloodied footprints and the bloodspots dripping from his left hand finger wound that accompanied them, prove beyond doubt that he was there at the murder scene. The blood found in his Bronco also proves it. If he did not commit these crimes, there can be only one other explanation. He arrived there just after it happened, saw who did it, and has since been diverting attention away from the killer and onto himself. In other words, he is covering for someone close to him. Given OJ’s lifelong love affair with himself, it stretches the realms of possibility to breaking point to imagine him being so heroically selfless, but that is the only alternative to him being a vicious killer. I wonder how many people today still believe he is innocent. Not me.