‘Trial of the Century’ Hits 15-Year Mark

Earlier today I saw a CNN report about the O.J. Simpson case—15 years ago the verdict was announced and the entire country was tuning in to hear the result.   The case was all over the news for a year—first the shocking news of the murder of Simpson’s former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, then the televised “white Bronco chase” around Los Angeles, then Simpson’s defense  attorney “Dream Team” and prosecutor Marcia Clark’s life and looks, and then, at last, the verdict. 

White America had a hard time accepting the fact that the police would lie about their actions (at one point early on, the police testified that they invaded Simpson’s estate because they were concerned about his “safety”—instead of admitting that they were tracking a suspect and trying to gather evidence). 

Black America had a hard time explaining away the evidence of Simpson’s guilt.  As I discussed in a 2003 Reason article, here are three examples of the incriminating evidence:

First, after the nationally televised slow-speed chase, the police recovered a “To Whom It May Concern” note written by Simpson’s own hand after he was charged with the murder, but before he was arrested. Defense attorney Robert Shapiro said he had little doubt that it was a suicide note. But an innocent person would very likely be outraged about being charged with a murder and eager to find the real killer. Prosecutors never presented the note to the jury.

Second, after the chase, the police also recovered several key pieces of incriminating evidence, but the prosecutors failed to use them during the trial. Officers found a fake mustache, a fake goatee, and, most damning, a receipt that showed the items were purchased two weeks before the murders — yet the prosecutors never asked jurors to consider why Simpson would need the elements of a disguise just prior to the murder of his wife and Ron Goldman.

Third, detectives tape-recorded an interview with Simpson just a day after the murders. Simpson, asked about a wound on his hand, admitted that he had cut himself the previous night and that instead of immediately applying a bandage, he dripped blood around his estate. When a detective asked him the cause of the cut, Simpson’s reply — again, on audiotape — was, “I have no idea, man.” Unbelievably, the jury never heard this audiotape or his bizarre admission that he was bleeding all over the place right around the time of his wife’s murder. Instead, prosecutors took weeks to present DNA evidence — and then, in response to the defense claim of a police frame-up, offered up a lame, “Yes, racist cops exist in the LAPD, but this case is not a frame-up.”

When the trial was over, the lead defense attorney, the late Johnnie Cochran, was hailed as a miracle worker, but the truth was that the prosecutors did an incredibly lousy job.

The blunders  that are recounted above are just a few those that are set forth in the best book about the case, Outrage, by the legendary trial attorney Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted Charles Manson. Bugliosi concludes that a competent prosecution would have very likely secured a conviction.  More here.

Simpson was later sued by Goldman’s family for wrongful death and was found liable by the jury.  The civil attorneys found more evidence of Simpson’s guilt, such as photographs of  Simpson wearing Bruno Magli shoes matching shoe tracks at the crime scene.  Simpson was nonetheless able to avoid paying any money to the Goldmans and is now in prison for other crimes.

A good Frontline documentary about the criminal case can be viewed online.