Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder Trial of O.J. Simpson

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 "A jury is twelve people of average ignorance."

— Quotation attributed to an English barrister

There was another "mountain of evidence" the prosecution chose not to offer in their case against Simpson. Perhaps prosecutors felt confident that their forensic data alone would nail him. What they could have offered the jury was:

The testimony of Jill Shively who had witnessed the near collision between Simpson in his Ford Bronco and a light gray Nissan two-door at the intersection of San Vicente Boulevard and South Bundy just before 11:00 p.m. on the night of the murder.

The prosecution declined to offer this because they felt it would have opened up his statement of innocence and would have allowed him to deny guilt without having to testify.

The evidence of the Bronco chase. Although it seemed obvious that Simpson was attempting to flee justice, packing along a disguise kit, his passport and over $8,000 in cash, the prosecution felt that the emotional issues that would arise from this evidence, his suicidal state of mind, the frantic telephone calls he made, would outweigh any true benefits to their case.

The knife with a blade similar to the one identified by the coroner as the murder weapon purchased by Simpson at Ross Cutlery in downtown Los Angeles. They did not produce this in evidence when they discovered that National Enquirer had paid employees at the store $12,500 for telling them their story about the sale of the stiletto knife to Simpson.  

The testimony from Sojourn, a shelter for battered women, which four days before the murder had received a telephone call from Nicole seeking help and advice, complaining that her ex-husband was stalking her and had told her if he caught her with another man, he would kill her. The prosecution, however, was certain that Judge Ito would rule the testimony inadmissible on the grounds of hearsay.

Similar conversations with her friends Faye Resnick and Cynthia Shahian who said, "Nicole knew her life would end. She told me repeatedly at various points... during their relationship... that he would kill her if he ever found her with another man."

Then there was the evidence regarding Rosey Grier.

Following Simpson's arrest, Grier had been a regular visitor at the Los Angeles County Jail. A giant, African-American former NFL defensive lineman, Grier had become an ordained minister.

On November 13th, 1994, a Sunday afternoon at about 4:30 p.m., he and Simpson were talking by telephone, separated by a glass partition. A deputy called Jeff Stuart was sitting close by and heard Simpson yell, and slam down his telephone, shouting: "I didn't mean to do it. I'm sorry." Grier leaned forward and yelled back: "O.J., you gotta come clean. You gotta tell somebody!"

Simpson then buried his face in his hands, looking distraught. They talked for another few minutes and then Grier left.

Although both Stuart and Grier gave testimony to Judge Ito regarding the overheard conversation, and the judge ruled that Simpson had waived any right to "clergyman-penitent privilege," he nevertheless disallowed the prosecution from presenting the guard's testimony.

By the time the closing arguments began in Department 103 at the Superior Court, the trial had already broken the long distance record set by the Charles Manson case as the longest jury trial in California history. The jury was by now exhausted after having been sequestered over nine months. Judge Ito was under attack for allowing the trial to drag on and on and for his seeming inability to keep the lawyers under control.

Clark and Darden did their best to do damage control on Fuhrman, accepting him as a racist and the worst that the LAPD had to offer, but begging the jury not to use this as a reason to find Simpson not guilty.

"You have a wealth of evidence," Clark told the jurors, "and all of it is pointing to one person, the defendant."

Christopher Darden, taking the jury step by step through the murder, the Bronco chase and the arrest, ridiculed the idea that the police had banded together to frame Simpson. "If this was a rush to judgment," he said, "why did the police go eight times to Simpson's house before citing him for his attack on Nicole in 1989? Why did they wait five days to arrest him for these murders?"

He pleaded with the jury, "Weigh the evidence, and do the right thing."

Johnnie Cochran's summation for the defense added more controversy to an already very controversial trial. Robert Shapiro later condemned Cochran's closing for not only playing the race card, but also playing it from the bottom of the pack. Cochran hammered away at Fuhrman and the prosecution's case, arguing a similarity of views between the outlaw detective and Adolf Hitler in advocating the mass burning, shooting and bombing of blacks, especially those involved in interracial marriages. He referred to Fuhrman as "a genocidal racist, a perjurer, America's worst nightmare and the personification of evil."

It seemed to the courtroom spectators that Cochran's vitriolic attack was helping to set the seal on the verdict. However, according to jurist Marsha Rubin-Jackson, "After we got out, I was surprised to learn that everybody thought we had bought all of that showboating from Johnnie Cochran... Let's set the record straight... The only thing Mr. Cochran did for me in his closing argument was help me recollect a lot of things... He didn't impress me at all. It was just too flamboyant for me."

Whatever.

Late in the afternoon of Friday September 29th, Judge Ito issued his instructions to the jury, sending them back to their hotel, telling them not to begin their actual deliberation until Monday, October 2nd.

Having selected #230 Armanda Cooley as their foreperson, the jury sat down at 9:16 a.m. in the deliberation room at the Superior Court building and began its review of the trial. At 2:28 p.m., jurors notified Judge Ito that a verdict had been reached. He announced to the court that he would disclose it the following morning at 10:00 a.m.

On the day of the verdict, news helicopters swarmed over and around the courthouse, police squad cars cruised the streets of downtown Los Angeles and barricades blocked off traffic in front of the Criminal Courts Building.

A swelling crowd was moved on and out of the area by a police sweep at 8:00 a.m. Hundreds of extra police were on the streets. The Justice Department had a contingency plan coordinating federal law enforcement resources should state and local officials in Los Angeles request them after the verdict. President Clinton had been briefed on the possibility of assisting the authorities in California.

It seemed as though a simple murder trial had somehow turned itself into a full-scale emergency that could possibly result yet again in Los Angeles ripping itself apart and being laid waste by rampaging looters and rioters.

By 9:45 a.m. that morning, the courtroom was full; everyone still and quiet as the jury was seated. The judge ruled the court was in session and asked the foreperson to give the verdict to court clerk Deirdre Robertson.

Nervously, her voice faltering as she scanned the verdict, she read out: "Supreme Court of California, County of Los Angeles in the matter of the State of California versus Orenthal James Simpson, case number BA 097211. We the jury, in the above-entitled action, find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder."

There was a well-predicted reaction to the verdict. Black people across America threw up their arms in jubilation and white people threw theirs down in despair.

If the trial was an unprecedented media circus in the United States, it was also big news in other parts of the world.

In Britain, Independent Television Network editor, Michael Jeremy said, "I think a lot of people have looked at American society through the prism of the O.J. Simpson case, seen the racial division, seen the issues of access to the judicial system having been helped by extreme wealth and perhaps conclusions have been drawn about the American social system."

A drinker in a London pub was a bit more direct. "It's a very bad reflection on the American justice system," he said. "I think the justice system over there stinks."

A reporter for a British newspaper, Barry Wigmore, told CNN News, "Its like a three-ring circus. There's more show biz than there is search for the truth and for justice." He said his paper would be running a five-page spread on the story under the headline, "What a Farce."

In Italy, La Stampa, a national newspaper stated, "Italians have difficulty understanding the American justice system. You have Susan Smith not getting the death penalty in South Carolina, the Menendez brothers walking, O.J. Simpson walking, the Rodney King beaters walking, it's incredible for us... how the American system works or not works."

In Brazil, a television commentator said, "What's really on trial is racism in the United States."

Most commentators and observers of the long, drawn out litigation, agreed on that one.

In due course, a spokesperson for the District Attorney announced that Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden would receive a "hard-time duty award" for their time and effort on presenting the prosecution case. It amounted to $14,330 for Clark and $10,747 for Darden. This was paid on top of their annual salaries of $96,828. Some of the so-called "expert" defense witnesses earned more than that for one week's work.

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