20 years ago today, the OJ Simpson trial was entering its third week. It was a trial that captivated the nations for months. The verdict of the OJ Simpson trial was watched live by approximately 150 million viewers, more people watched the OJ verdict than watched the Superbowl this year. It was a horrific crime. Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were viciously murdered outside Brown’s apartment on the night of June 12, 1994. Shortly after the murders, Brown’s ex-husband, OJ Simpson, became the prime suspect. Simpson, an NFL Hall of Fame running back, had become one of the most marketable former athletes in the country. In 1994, he had a successful career as an actor and was known for his “upbeat, everyman smile.” The nation was shocked when the LAPD announced an arrest warrant had been issued for the arrest of Simpson. The slow speed Bronco chase that glued Americans to their television sets was just the beginning of a drama that would play out in the court room and in homes across the nation.
After two decades, many people are still wondering how the jury reached a not guilty verdict. The cast of characters who took part in the investigation and eventual courtroom drama may be the key to understanding the verdict. OJ hired his dream team very early on in the investigation. His friend Robert Kardashian (father of reality TV star Kim, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian) began advising him almost immediately. Kardashian negotiated what was supposed to be OJ’s surrender to the authorities on June 17, 1994 but what ended in the infamous police chase. Johnnie Cochran, Jr. was launched into the national spotlight and became the public face of “The Dream Team.” Cochran was able to convince jurors that the evidence against Simpson was unreliable, because it had been mishandled by police and lab technicians or had been outright planted by a racist cop heading a racist police department.
Perhaps the most iconic moment of the trial was when OJ tried on the glove and it did not fit. Later, in his closing statement, Cochran would utter the phrase that would cement his rise to fame, “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” The prosecution thought the pair of gloves were a smoking gun directly linking OJ to the scene where the grisly murders took place. One of the gloves was found at the crime scene and its mate was found outside the guest house on Simpson’s property. Brown had purchased two pairs of the same gloves for Simpson a few years before her murder. DNA on the gloves matched Brown, Simpson, and Goldman. Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Darden was advised not to ask Simpson to try on the glove, because it had been soaked in blood and frozen and unfrozen several times. The smoking gun for the prosecution had become one of the best pieces of evidence for the defense.
The lead investigator on the case, Mark Fuhrman, was responsible for finding the glove at the home of Simpson, but soon after the trial started, Fuhrman became a symbol of the LAPD’s alleged racist policies. Simpson’s team accused Fuhrman of planting the glove in a racially motivated plot to frame OJ for the murders. The defense further accused Fuhrman of using the N-word while consulting on a screenplay. While Fuhrman staunchly denied being a racist or using the derogatory word, recordings subsequently revealed he did in fact use the word on multiple occasions while working on the screenplay. The narrative persuaded the jury that the bloody glove and evidence could have been planted at the scene.
Kato Kaelin was somewhat of a professional house guest and in 1994, he was living in the Simpson’s guest house. He testified that on the night in question he heard approximately three loud thumps on the side of the guest house. When he went out to investigate, he testified to seeing a black male of about OJ’s height and build entering the main house. A few minutes after seeing the mystery man entering the house, Kaelin testified an agitated OJ exited the house and the two men loaded OJ’s luggage into a waiting limo. Kaelin also testified that the limo driver and an employee had been trying to reach OJ unsuccessfully at the time the murders took place. However, airport attendants and the flight crew would testify that OJ’s demeanor when he arrived at the airport and throughout the flight was completely normal. Conflicting testimony likely played an important role in Simpson’s acquittal.
The OJ trial had a lasting impact on the media landscape and the criminal justice system. Before the tragic murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, CNN was in its early teens and while it had a steady viewership, it was not yet appointment viewing. In 1994, Court TV was just a start up network whose audience consisted primarily of legal die-hards. The Simpson drama changed everything. Millions of Americans tuned in to CNN and Court TV each day to watch the trials. Lunch rooms were filled with employees glued to the TV on the east coast and live broadcasting interrupted many regularly scheduled programming throughout the 16 month trial. People could not tear themselves away from the drama unfolding before them on live television. The 24-hour news cycle and reality television can trace their roots back to the OJ trial.
Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, two members of the dream team, had founded the Innocence Project to help exonerate wrongfully convicted inmates through DNA evidence. Before Simpson’s trial, the science behind DNA evidence was perceived by many as confusing and expensive, but the media surrounding the trial showed that DNA evidence could be used effectively by anyone. In total, the Innocence Project has overturned 316 convictions.
If you need a lawyer for a criminal or Federal case, call Attorney W. Joseph Edwards (614-309-0243) who has over 25 years experience representing clients in these legal matters.