Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder Trial of O.J. Simpson

Let the Circus Begin

"If you can't convince them, confuse them."

— Harry S. Truman

The trial known as "People of the State of California, Plaintiff, versus Orenthal James Simpson, Defendant, Case Number #BAO97211, Los Angeles County Superior Court," began on Monday, January 23rd, 1995. It was exactly ten years to the day since O.J. Simpson had become the first Heisman Trophy winner to be elected to the pro footballers Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

In their opening statements on January 24th, Marcia Clark and Chris Darden put their case before the jury.

Simpson had been unable to reconcile himself to a life without Nicole. She, however, had moved on with her life, forming relationships with other men. Unable to control her any longer and after being rejected by her and her family late that afternoon at Sydney's musical recital, Simpson had decided to kill her. Ronald Goldman had simply been  in the wrong place at the wrong time, but had to be eliminated. According to the coroner's report, the murderer had killed both of his victims from behind, thus minimizing the amount of their blood that would have splattered onto himself. The murder of Nicole Brown was the final act in an abusive 17-year relationship, triggered by her leaving Simpson in February 1992 and filing for divorce.

He had no alibi from the time he returned from his trip to the McDonald's in Santa Monica with Kato Kaelin at about 9:40 p.m. until he appeared at the front door of the house on Rockingham Avenue at about 10:55 p.m. to be picked up by Allan Park, the limousine driver. The prosecution claimed the murders were carried out about 10:15 p.m., when Nicole's neighbors first heard the white Akita barking.

Marcia Clark
Marcia Clark

Deputy District Attorney Marcia Clark then described the evidence against Simpson, saying there was a path of "blood where there should be no blood," leading from Nicole Brown's condominium to Simpson's home. "That trail of blood from Bundy through his own Ford Bronco and into his house in Rockingham is devastating proof of his guilt," she told the jury. There was the hair found on the knit cap that matched Simpson's hair, the socks in his bedroom that contained traces of the victims' blood, the cut on Simpson's hand. The "mountain of evidence" grew and grew as the case proceeded.

The next day, O.J. Simpson's lawyer Johnnie Cochran told the jurors that the former football legend was an innocent man, wrongfully accused by a prosecution that wanted to win the case at any cost. He began his address by quoting from Martin Luther King Jr., "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." He then went on to remind the largely black jury that they were the conscience of their community and that when the trial was over they had to return there.

The central theme of Johnnie Cochran's opening remarks was the prosecution's rush to judgment. "This case is about a rush to judgment, an obsession to win at any costs," he told the jury. Cochran said that Simpson had accepted the end of his marriage. He was friendly and sociable the evening of the musical recital for his daughter. He was no where near South Bundy the time the murders occurred and had shown no signs of stress or panic on his flight to Chicago, even signing autographs.

Cochran said police ignored at least two witnesses who offered information that could clear Simpson. The witnesses included a woman called Mary Anne Gerchas, a jewelery store owner, who said as she walking near the murder scene the night of June 12th, where she saw four men, wearing knit caps run from the crime scene and speed off in an unmarked vehicle. Another woman called Rosa Lopez, who worked as a housekeeper for one of Simpson's neighbors, claimed she saw Simpson's car at home that night at the time of the murders. Subsequently both these witnesses turned out to be totally unreliable and were never called by the defense.

At the end of his presentation, Simpson stood up and slowly hobbled over to the jury box to show off his scarred and battered knees, presumably to indicate that the former football star was in no condition to kill anyone.

Under the rules of California's reciprocal discovery law, both prosecution and defense were bound to disclose all information relating to witnesses they intended to call. The defense had blatantly ignored this ruling, introducing 26 separate discovery violations in an attempt to unsettle the prosecution. William Hodgman pleaded with the judge to stop what he called this "trial by ambush." But in an example of his limp-wristed management of the case, Ito allowed Cochran to roll over the bench and continue his preamble to the jury.

However by January 30th, Judge Lance Ito had rethought his approach to this problem and reprimanded the defense for mentioning previously undisclosed potential witnesses during its opening statements. The judge said the defense had intentionally withheld from the prosecution the names of 14 new witnesses it mentioned in its statement. He said he would instruct the jury to ignore comments made about six of the witnesses. He denied a prosecution request for a 30-day delay in the trial but ruled the state could re-open its opening statement.

Following the ruling, Johnnie Cochran resumed his opening statement. Cochran told jurors that the evidence collected in the case was "contaminated, compromised and ultimately corrupted." He also told jurors that Simpson, that evening, was practicing his golf swing in his front yard, specifically, "chipping" — in his front yard at 10:10 p.m., five minutes before the prosecution has argued the victims were killed, packing and showering ready for his trip to Chicago.

He also countered the trail of blood that prosecutors said implicated Simpson. He argued that police carried a vial of Simpson's blood around with them for several hours rather than immediately bringing it to a police lab. As a result, he said, some of the blood sample was missing. He strongly suggested it had been used to contaminate a pair of socks found at the foot of Simpson's bed.

The 'Dream Team' was laying down the foundation that would support the cornerstone of its strategy. Their client was not only innocent, he had been framed for this murder.

On January 31st, the prosecution called its first witnesses after taking advantage of a rare opportunity to re-open its opening statement, following the Judge Ito's finding on the defense team's negligence regarding disclosure.

The first witness in the case was Sharyn Gilbert, an emergency 911 dispatcher for the Los Angeles Police Department. Gilbert testified that she was on duty the night of Jan. 1st, 1989, when Nicole Brown Simpson called police pleading for protection from Simpson. Under cross-examination by defense attorney Cochran, Gilbert acknowledged that she never spoke to anyone at the Brentwood estate but drew her conclusions from listening in for three to four minutes on an open line after receiving the call.    

The second witness was police detective John Edwards, who responded to the 911 call. He testified that a severely beaten Nicole Brown Simpson ran from the bushes grabbing hold of the police officer and screaming, "He's going to kill me, he's going to kill me," referring to O.J. Simpson. Her face was badly beaten with a cut lip, swollen and blackened left eye and cheek; the policeman could see a hand imprint on her neck. According to a statement made by Nicole, this was the eighth time the police had been called out to attend a spousal abuse complaint at Rockingham Avenue.

Late in the afternoon of Wednesday, January 25th, William Hodgman had collapsed in an office in the Criminal Courts Building and was rushed to hospital. The stress from the trial and the eighteen-hour days he was working finally caught up on him. He would effectively be out of the trial and Christopher Darden would assume his responsibility, backing up Marcia Clark. He had a heavy burden to bear. A black man brought in to help prosecute another black man, in front of a largely black jury. Many saw it as very symbolic.

To more than a few observers, it seemed that Darden would be the only attorney on the prosecution team who would be able to fight off any secret race messages that the defense team would signal to the jury. But according to his own account of the trial, despite his heroic efforts, he was unable to rescue justice from the insidious assault of Cochran and his team.

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