O.J. Simpson: From MVP to Murderer
The trial of O.J. Simpson was the criminal trial in which former football superstar Orenthal James Simpson, nicknamed “The Juice”, was tried for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994. Known as “the trial of the century”, approximately 150 million people watched it through their television screens and it became the most publicised criminal trial in history. This story became so popular that it was even adapted into a 10-episode Netflix series that recounts the happenings of the trial as well as the defense and prosecution’s perspectives, starring Cuba Gooding Jr (O.J Simpson)., Sterling K. Brown (Christopher Darden), Sarah Paulson (Marcia Clark), John Travolta (Robert Shapiro) and many more.
No one knows for a fact whether he committed the murders or not, but what we do know is certainly spine-chilling.
It all began on the morning of June 13th, 1994, when both Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman’s stabbed bodies were found outside Nicole’s townhouse in Brentwood, California. O.J. Simpson quickly became the prime suspect for the crime. At the time, Nicole and O.J. were divorced and living separately in the Brentwood area. According to the official timeline of the case, at 10:15pm on June 12th (night of the murders), neighbors reported hearing a dog barking from Nicole’s residence. This went on for a couple hours. At 10:25 pm on the same night, a limousine driver who O.J. had scheduled to take him to the airport for his flight showed up to his house. The driver reported buzzing O.J. 's intercom several times across a time-period of about half an hour, but no one answered. At about 11:00pm, the driver then sees a tall, shadowy figure walking across O.J. ‘s driveway and a few minutes later tries to buzz the intercom once again. This time O.J. answers and tells the driver he was in the shower. O.J. then leaves for his flight at 11:45 p.m, which brings us back to 12:10am, when the bodies were discovered by Nicole’s neighbors.
When detectives called O.J. to tell him what had happened to his wife, his first response was: “Who killed her?”. Not “How did she die?”, “What happened?”, but instead: “Who killed her?”. Not the reaction you expect from a man who had just lost the mother of his children.
O.J. Simpson and ex-wife Nicole Brown in 1994
Evidence found at the crime scene included a blood-stained glove, a knitted hat, and a bloody footprint, all containing O.J.’s DNA. Upon being questioned for three hours by the LAPD, rather than surrendering to the police when they notified him of impending charges, O.J. decides to hide in the back of a white Ford Bronco driven by his friend Al Cowlings and is declared a fugitive. Thus began the infamous Bronco chase, which consisted of police chasing down O.J. who had a gun to his head in the backseat, for around 45 minutes. The attempted escape was televised nationally and was viewed by nearly 95 million people. Finally, police were able to arrest O.J. at his home and took him into custody. Simpson pleaded not-guilty on July 22nd 1994, and his trial began on January 24th, 1995.
In the case, Marcia Clark was the main prosecutor supported by Christopher Darden, representing the state. Clark tried convincing the jury beyond reasonable doubt that O.J. Simpson had murdered Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. Her main role in the trial was presenting evidence which had been collected at the crime scene and examined by forensic scientists. Among the DNA evidence presented during court, a glove containing blood matching both Nicole and Ronald, as well as O.J. , was found at the crime scene. Further damning was the fact that this glove matched a glove found in O.J.’s estate. Moreover, the knitted hat found at the scene contained hairs that were proven to be O.J. 's by the FBI Hair and Fiber Analysis Laboratory. It was also shown that Simpson had purchased a knife prior to the night of the crime, matching the type that the coroners predicted was used by the killer, however this knife was never found.
Going back to the timeline of events, the prosecution suggested that since the continuous dog barking (which was believed to have been caused by the dogs hearing screams and seeing their owner’s dead body) occurred around 10:15pm , that would give O.J. enough time to commit the murder, clean himself up, and come back to his house at 11:00pm, when he answered the intercom. A strong argument also made by the prosecution was Simpson’s previous domestic abuse towards Nicole. Clark pointed out that on several occasions prior to her death, he had severely beaten her and that she was afraid that he would murder her one day.
The motive the prosecution came up with for the murders was that O.J. was jealous of his ex-wife’s close friendship with Ronald Goldman and in a fit of rage, killed them both.
Now, having a clear motive, means and several pieces of DNA evidence that prove Simpson’s guilt would be where most people draw the line. However, the attorneys representing O.J. , known as the “Dream Team” were not prepared to give up. The “Dream Team” consisted of lawyers: F. Lee Bailey, Robert Shapiro, Alan Dershowitz, Robert Blasier, Shawn Chapman Holley and finally Johnnie Cochran, who would become the defense’s lead attorney. The defense was based largely on the grounds that the evidence has been mishandled and manipulated by members of the LAPD. A strong argument made by the defense was that the LAPD, specifically detective Mark Fuhrman, was a racist. Fuhrman allegedly found the bloody leather glove at Simpson’s home and the defense argued that this glove was planted by him and it could not have been Simpson’s since it was too small for his hand. This instigated the famous glove scene where O.J. tried on the glove from the evidence in the courtroom. This generated the famous quote by Johnnie Cochran: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”.
Lawyers Robert Shapiro (left) and Johnnie O.J. Simpson trying on gloves
Cochran with O.J. Simpson.
Race and racism played a key role in the defense’s strategy towards the jury and gaining public sympathy, due to the events that surrounded the trial.The defense strategically used law enforcement racism as a reason for O.J. 's charges. This was strategic because a few years before, the LAPD committed a senseless and horrific beating of a black man named Rodney King, a beating for which the assaulting officers were acquitted of all charges. The involvement of detective Mark Fuhrman in the case was crucial to the defense’s arguments. During the trial, the defense played for the jury an audio tape in which detective Fuhrman was recorded using racial slurs over 40 times in recorded sitting. This is significant because detective Fuhrman was the first man to step into Simpson’s home after the crime was committed, and he did it by jumping over the wall of his estate. This is a critical detail because according to Fuhrman’s own testimony, it was during this time that he jumped the wall that he alone found the matching bloody glove on the ground. This information led the defense to suggest that he planted the glove, and that other evidence could have been tampered with and mishandled, compromising the evidence regardless of whether or not it was true.
Several cable television networks dedicated a long period of time to speculating about the case and to public opinion of it. Believing in Simpson’s innocence or guilt became divided largely along racial lines, with most African Americans in support of Simpson, and most white Americans believing he was guilty.
On October 2nd, 1995, the jury (that was made up of 8 black people, 1 hispanic person, 1 white person and 2 people of mixed race) finally began deliberating and reached a verdict in less than four hours. However, the presiding judge Lance Ito decided to delay the announcement to the following day. On October 3rd, Simpson was found not guilty of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
Still, after the verdict, polls of public opinion continued to break down along racial lines. White Americans were alarmed at the jury’s decision, while African Americans saw Simpson’s acquittal as a victory in a legal system that systematically discriminated against blacks.
What about you? Do you believe O.J. did it, or didn’t do it?