Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder Trial of O.J. Simpson

Cop Under Siege

Detective Mark Fuhrman became a major target for the defense team when evidence surfaced of his racial attitude over the years he served with the LAPD. Many observers of the trial considered that Judge Ito had seriously erred in allowing the defense to ask the detective whether he had used the word "nigger" in the previous ten years. By doing so, Ito essentially changed the complexion of the case. The relevance of Fuhrman using a racial epithet within the last ten years really had no bearing whatsoever on the investigation.

Mark Fuhrman became the means by which the defense team intended to lever their client out of a seemingly un-winable case.

It was obvious that Fuhrman could not have seized a second glove at South Bundy (at least 17 other police officers had viewed the death scene and all had only spotted the one glove near the bodies,) and transported it to Rockingham Avenue, and thus framed Simpson for the murder. The defense based its whole case around two related items, turning the interrogation away from Simpson and aiming it at Fuhrman's supposed racial intolerance, combining that with its assault on the blood evidence, the way it was collected and presented by the prosecution.

As Ronald Goldman's father, Fred said in a courthouse news conference, "This is now the Fuhrman trial... the defense has got the trial so far off base, it's pitiable.... To let them get away with this is murderous in itself."  

Patrick James McKenna was a private detective hired to assist the other investigators working with Simpson's defense team. Through a contact, he discovered the existence of tape recordings held by a woman called Laura Hart McKinney, who worked as a professor at the North Carolina School of Arts.

The recordings had been made over a period of six months, ten years previously, when McKinney lived and worked in Los Angeles. There, she had done a lot of journalistic work revealing racism and sexism in the LAPD. She had met Mark Fuhrman one evening at Alice's Restaurant in Westwood and struck up a friendship with him. She was intending to use the tapes as a basis for a screenplay she was writing called Men Against Women.

According to Fuhrman, the tapes were purely a work of fiction, in which he was assuming a character for the screenplay. On at least 41 occasions throughout the tapes, Fuhrman had used the word "nigger." Although Judge Ito ruled that only two excerpts would be played from the tapes in front of the jury, on August 29th, he decided to play all 61 excerpts that the defense team sought to have heard by the jury, but in open court, outside the jury's presence.

Judge Ito claimed he did not want to be accused of "suppressing information of vital public interest," but in fact all he did was inflame the black community. In a further act of  misplaced rationality, Judge Ito denied the defense the right to include all other statements of alleged misconduct made by Fuhrman on the tapes on the grounds "that the underlying assumption that Fuhrman planted the Rockingham glove for the purpose of incriminating Simpson in the brutal and savage murders, required a leap in both logic and law too broad to be made based on the evidence before the jury."

But it was hard to figure out why if Fuhrman's statements, inflammatory as they were, didn't mean he tried to frame Simpson, why his use of the word "nigger" meant he did.

In the year following the trial, the Los Angeles Police Department's internal affairs division investigated Detective Fuhrman, who by this time had retired from the force. It failed to substantiate any claims Fuhrman made in the series of controversial tape-recorded discussions with McKinney.

On the tapes, Fuhrman claimed to have engaged in a number of activities that seemed to bolster charges by O.J. Simpson's lawyers that he was a racist, rogue police officer, often taking the law into his own hands.

The LAPD's internal affairs division spent six months interviewing people who were arrested by Fuhrman, as well as current and former prosecutors who handled the cases. Many of those interviewed were minorities, and many had nothing but praise for the way Fuhrman had acted. The internal investigation carried out by the police was launched to determine whether Fuhrman's claims were true or exaggerations intended to impress his interviewer, Laura McKinney. They found nothing to substantiate any of the statements he had made on the tapes.

But in the courtroom, the damage had been well and truly done. The defense had made a huge issue of the allegation that Detective Fuhrman was a dangerous police officer with a propensity to create false information against African-American defendants. Among other evidence, they offered an affidavit from a former real estate agent who had claimed that Fuhrman had told her that "if I had my way, they would take all the niggers, put them together in a big group and burn them."

In an inflamed and emotional speech before the jury, Cochran, in his closing arguments before the jury demanded that they bring in a verdict that would not only exonerate Simpson but use Fuhrman as their excuse, comparing his actions to those of Adolf Hitler. Cochran urged the jury to take a stand against a "lying, genocidal racist cop," a police department that had covered up for him, and prosecutors who were seeking to win at any cost. He directed the jury, "You are empowered to say this is wrong. Stop this cover-up! Stop this cover-up!"

Outraged, Fred Goldman railed against Cochran's manipulation of Fuhrman's alleged racism. He said, "We have seen a man who is the worst kind of racist himself. This man is the worst kind of human being imaginable. He suggests that racism ought to be the most important thing that any one of us ought to listen to, and it's because of racism we should put aside all other thoughts, all other reasons, and set his murdering client free. He's a sick man. He ought to be put away."

Cochran simply said, "I'm just here doing my job."

During his closing argument, Christopher Darden showed the jury a large photograph of Nicole Brown. Her hands clasped under her chin, her long, blonde hair brushed casually away from her face, she looked like a gorgeous model for a cosmetic advertisement. He tried in vain to remind the jury that she was the only N-word that should have meant anything in the case.

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