It was billed as the trial of the century, and “The People of the State of California vs. Orenthal James Simpson” certainly lived up to the hype. From the slow-speed, suicide note-prompted car chase down a Los Angeles highway to the highest-rated verdict in courtroom history, the trial of OJ Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Goldman captivated and enthralled like no other courtroom drama in US history.
Here are ten fascinating facts from the trial of the (20th) century.
(If) He Did It
First-person literary journalism or alt-history fiction? A book co-authored by OJ Simpson more than a decade after the trial leaves readers guessing in one of the most disturbing – and to many, offensive – books in recent memory. In “if I Did It,” Simpson pens a detailed, gruesome and supposedly hypothetical account of the double murder. Eerily, the book’s cover shows the last three words – “I Did It” – in large, blood-red block letters with the first word – “If” – barely visible.
The book includes a detailed, first-person narration of the night in question, in which Simpson claims the knife-brandishing excursion to his ex-wife’s house was intended to scare rather than slaughter, and that events escalated unintentionally. Newsweek’s book review said it employs “the classic language of a wife abuser.”
Two years before the double murder, another high-profile court case captivated both Los Angeles and the country: the trial of four police officers in the beating of Rodney King. After being pulled over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, King was repeatedly clubbed with nightsticks by four white officers. Captured on video, the March 1991 incident circulated on news broadcasts across the country, and is considered among the first “viral” footage of racist law enforcement practices.
In April of 1992, all four officers were acquitted of assault, and only one found to have used excessive force. The verdict sparked widespread riots that left 64 dead, hundreds of burned buildings and large-scale looting.
Jurors for the OJ Simpson trial were sequestered for an ungodly 265 days. To prevent media bias penetration, those eight-plus months were spent holed up in a hotel with the televisions removed and newspaper service suspended. Entertainment options – sitcom reruns, old magazines – were strictly pre-screened, and contact with family and friends severely limited.
And then the dismissals started. In persistent, often brazenly transparent attempts to remove jurors they thought likely to rule against them, both the prosecution and defense engaged in ongoing efforts to disqualify jurors for any number of minute reasons. This whittling down process is common in the pre-trials stage, but these were occurring throughout the proceedings.
For many, the Simpson trial represented the first in-depth exposure to the then-nascent crime science of DNA analysis. Though it was first used in court in the mid-1980s, few were familiar with its intricacies – and how exacting it can be in pointing to someone’s innocence or guilt.
It was against that landscape the prosecution’s forensics experts reported that less than one person in 170 million has the genetic characteristics of a blood drop found near the bodies of Brown-Simpson and Goldman… and that OJ Simpson was one of those people. Considering the world’s population in 1994 – 5.6 billion – that meant OJ was, scientifically, one of less than two dozen people on the entire planet whose DNA matched the crime scene.
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Big-time Blunder #2: The Gloves Gambit
The second enormous error was Chris Darden’s doing, one that Marcia Clark urged strongly against committing: having Simpson try on the notorious blood-stained gloves found at his property.
At first glance, Darden’s decision may seem sound. The prosecution had information suggesting Nicole Brown-Simpson bought the gloves for her then-husband OJ in 1990, at an upscale department store. The designer gloves were so chic that only about 300 pairs matching the color and size – brown, extra-large – were available there.
Still, several factors pointed to the stupidity of having Simpson try them on in front of jurors. For one, Simpson was a huge man with huge hands – after all, he’d been a Hall-of-Fame American football running back. Even size XL gloves are likely to be snug, at best, on someone that large.
Big-time Blunder #1: Mark “Der Fuhrer” Fuhrman
Headed up by Lead Prosecutor Marcia Clark and co-prosecutor Christopher Darden, the team tasked with convicting OJ Simpson made two of the highest-profile errors in courtroom history.
The first mistake was Mark Fuhrman, an LA police officer who had found the infamous bloody glove at Simpson’s house in the hours following the double murder. Despite having a record as a good cop, Fuhrman also had a record as a racist. Darden, who is black, warned Clark not to have Fuhrman testify – that they had plenty of evidence without him. But despite a lengthy piece (written, coincidentally, by legal expert and Zoom masturbation enthusiast Jeffrey Toobin) alleging Fuhrman’s anti-black sentiments published pre-trial, Clark steamed forward.