Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder Trial of O.J. Simpson

Chasing Moonbeams

"Laws are like spiders' webs: if some light or powerless thing falls into them, it is caught,
but a bigger one can break through and get away."

Solon, quoted by Diogenes Laertius in Lives of the Philosophers

On a bright, sunny Sunday morning, February 12th, Judge Ito led his court off on a sight-seeing tour of the homes of the rich and famous, the not so rich and famous and the place where the rich and famous sometimes ate.

In a cavalcade of vans, busses and cars, the judge, jury and both legal teams headed off to Brentwood, up the same 405 freeway that Simpson and Al Cowling had hijacked that night in June. Guarded by LAPD and Californian Highway Patrol cars, fussed over by a SWAT team and the LAPD air patrol in helicopters, and followed by the media in an assortment of ground and air vehicles, the convoy made its way north from the downtown area. Parts of the highway and overhead ramps were sealed off from the public and the whole thing had a carnival-like atmosphere about it.

The procession stopped first at the apartment rented by Ronald Goldman, then moved on a couple of blocks down San Vicente Boulevard to the Mezzaluna restaurant, and then to South Bundy. From there, it moved to Rockingham Avenue. Although the legal ruling was that both crime scenes had to remain as close to their conditions on the night of the murder as possible, the defense had worked hard to create the right atmosphere for their client.

At Simpson's home, all the pictures of scantily-clad white females, including the naked photo of Paula Barbierri, Simpson's girlfriend at the time of the killings, and those of his white golfing buddies had been replaced by decorous images — photographs of his mother and Martin Luther King and a print of a famous school integration painting by Norman Rockwell. There was even a Holy Bible gracing the bedside table in Simpson's bedroom. 

What benefit the trip had is hard to quantify. The only book so far published by members of the sitting jury makes no mention of it. Chris Darden believed they simply used it as a day off, a break from the boring reality of their sequestration. They must have found it hard to believe what they were seeing — a 6,200-square-ft home with seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms, a tennis court and an Olympic-sized pool, surrounded by waterfalls. Simpson had bought it in 1977 for $650,000 and spent another $2 million over the years upgrading the property. It was a far cry from the homes of the jurists, who were basically unskilled or semi-skilled working class people, living in the less salubrious suburbs of Los Angeles.  

The lead detectives had never seen anything like the trip, and wondered why the judge hadn't scheduled the visits for after dark, when there would have been less traffic around, especially since the murders occurred at night. But the judge was a law unto himself, and both the prosecution and defense would find that out as the months ahead unfolded.

Faye Resnick
Faye Resnick

On February 17th, Detective Tom Lange was called to the stand to begin the first of eight days of testimony. He had been chosen by the prosecution to act as a guide to the court, leading them through the crime-scene evidence.

On cross-examination by Johnnie Cochran, the detective's competence and integrity were questioned over and over again. Cochran made much of Lange's humanitarian gesture in covering Nicole's body with a blanket to shield it from the media vultures lurking across South Bundy with their cameras and telescopic lenses trained on the crime scene. However, LAPD/SID analysis of her body and clothing disclosed no foreign hairs or fibers. There was no contamination as a result of covering the corpse.

Among other issues, Cochran zeroed in on why bloodstains found on the back gate of Nicole's condominium were not collected until July 3rd, twenty days after the murder. Lange had left instructions with Dennis Fung, the criminalist, to collect and record all the evidence he had pointed out to him, then to close down the crime-scene, as Lange himself went off downtown to meet his partner Phil Vannatter and interview Simpson. No one could explain why this one blood spot had remained uncollected until Bill Hodgman noticed it again as he was walked through the area on July 3rd.

It would certainly confuse the jury when they came to consider it.

Cochran also grilled Lange as to why the LAPD had not investigated the possibility that the murders were drug related, connecting Nicole and a friend of hers called Faye Resnick, who was involved with drugs, and potential killers linked in with drug dealers.

Resnick, a 27-year-old Beverly Hills socialite, was born in Chicago. She had been married to a vacuum cleaner salesman and to a drug dealer before marrying her already five-time married husband, Beverly Hills businessman, Paul Resnick. She had become a close personal friend of Nicole and had observed O.J. Simpson as a "violent, controlling, obsessed character whose happy public face could transform itself into a terrifying, sweat-drenched mask of naked hate."

Cochran's premise was that Nicole and Goldman may have been killed by drug dealers bent on scaring Resnick into paying off her drug debts.

The LAPD had received 518 different leads to follow up in the case, including 50, which involved suspects other than Simpson. All were checked out and under the state's discovery law; all details were handed over to the defense team, who employed former LAPD officer Bill Pavelic to investigate them. The defense could never make any connection between the deaths and drug dealers and neither could the police. It was, like so many of the defense's tactics, a red herring, but one whose flavor was ultimately acceptable to a jury that would need to be convinced beyond more than a reasonable doubt.

As February moved into March, the evidence continued to be presented by the prosecution, building blocks into the wall of guilt that they were trying to erect around Simpson. The defense began an all out assault, telescoping into the two areas they would target to prove their client's innocence. One would be based around the racist attitude of a policeman; the other around their contention that the blood and DNA samples were corrupted by the criminalist team authorized to collect them, or worse, deliberately mishandled and in some cases illegally manipulated to form a pattern of guilt leading to their client.

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