O.J. was guilty: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Evoking the certitude of the beginning lines of “A Christmas Carol” is appropriate, for just as Marley’s true status as “dead as a door-nail” is crucial to what befalls Scrooge, O.J.’s guilt is essential to understanding how this awful, episode in American history damaged the nation and the culture generally, and race relations particularly. Looking back, it is clear that all that has followed oozed from this catalyst: a sociopathic celebrity athlete who could not accept that his wife was moving on from the abusive relationship he inflicted on her, so he brutally slayed her and a male friend he didn’t know. Then, because he was rich, he bought the best legal defense team any murder has ever had, and they brilliant exploited racial distrust in Los Angeles and the U.S. to win an acquittal, with no more concern for the long-term damage they were doing than they had qualms about allowing a double murderer to escape justice.
At the end of an ugly trial filled with incompetence and ethics violations, Simpson was acquitted of the brutal 1994 double murder of his estranged wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Simpson’s lawyers convinced a jury that Simpson’s guilt had not been proved “beyond a reasonable doubt,” though it had been; the problem was that it had not been proved beyond an emotional doubt, which as the all-star defense team well-knew, can be more important. The scenes of black Americans rejoicing because a black man was getting away with a brutal murder of two whites expressed a level of racial hatred that most white Americans didn’t suspect existed. It also should have been an epic teaching moment about the power of confirmation bias. Blacks really believed, surveys showed, that O.J was innocent. It was an early sighting of the “Facts Don’t Matter” contagion that has fueled the Black Lives Matter, “1619” Project and critical race theory wounds inflicted on U.S. society in recent years.
On the night of June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the front yard of Mrs. Simpson’s condominium in Brentwood, Los Angeles. It took five days for police to gather more than enough evidence, later aptly described as a “mountain,” to charge Simpson First Degree Murders.
The former football superstar had no alibi. Forty minutes after the murders were committed, a limousine driver sent to take Simpson to the airport saw a man in dark clothing hurrying up the drive to O.J.’s Rockingham estate. A few minutes later, Simpson spoke to the driver though the gate phone and let him in. During the previous 25 minutes, the driver had repeatedly called the house and received no answer.
A leather glove found outside Simpson’s home matched a glove found at the crime scene. DNA tests showed that blood found on the glove was Simpson’s and that of Nicole and Goldman. Simpson had a cut on his hand, and his blood was a DNA match to drops found at the Brentwood crime scene. Nicole Brown Simpson’s blood was discovered on a pair of socks found at the Rockingham estate, and in O.J.’s vehicle.He had recently purchased a knife of the type that the coroner believed was used by the killer in the murders. Shoe prints in the blood at Brentwood matched Simpson’s shoe size and later were shown to match a type of shoe he had owned.
Simpson also ran, in his infamous, slow-motion, televised car-chase using a white Ford Bronco driven by his friend, former teammate Al Cowlings. In the vehicle, police found a travel bag containing Simpson’s passport, a disguise kit, and a revolver.
How in the world did O.J. get acquitted? “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” available on Netflix, nicely explains how a jaw-dropping collision of bad luck, prosecutoral incompetence and naivete, juror bias, an inept judge and spectacularly skillful, if often ethically questionable, work by lawyers who defended their client zealously as their creed demands (O.J. got what he paid for) produced a verdict that should have been impossible. I watched the entire trial from beginning to end, and have written about various legal ethics problems that appeared during the trial. But I never connected it all to the 1992 Rodney King riots and the residual anger in the black community for the beating of King by four police officers and their subsequent acquittal at trial.
Simpson’s lawyers, particularly the brilliant Johnny Cochran, was more astute. He and his team painted Simpson as yet another African-American victim of a racist judicial system. Essentially, he weaved a narrative that white racism itself, aided and abetted by police, created automatic “reasonable doubt.” Whites and their police thugs couldn’t be trusted, because they were out to harm blacks, and a successful black man like O.J. was an obvious target. The fact that a conspiracy to plant all of the DNA evidence that was found would be impossible was ignored by the jury. It certainly helped considerably that the lead detective on the case, Mark Furmin, had managed to have himself taped while spouting astoundingly racist rhetoric and describing with relish how a cop could—and should—deprive black suspects of their civil rights.
The jury, meanwhile, had been sequestered for 252 days. If there were any jurors on the mostly-black, pro-O.J. jury who might have been inclined to argue for a guilty verdict, the desire to get home overcame the urge. The verdict was decided upon so quickly, there couldn’t have been much discussion, if any.
In February 1997, Simpson was found liable for the murders in a civil trial, where the standard is “preponderance of the evidence” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That’s because he was, in fact, guilty. The jury awarded $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages to the victims’ families, but Simpson protected his assets to avoid paying anything. He promised to spend the rest of his days searching for “the real killer,” then looked in the mirror, and didn’t have to search any more. There has never been a hint nor a theory, that anyone else killed Nicole and Ron Goldman. At one point, like the shameless sociopath he is, Simpson peddled a book titled “If I Did It.”
Suruure, there’s reasonable doubt that O.J. was guilty.
The trial and the surrounding circus ripped the white and black races in the U.S. apart, and the breach, as we have seen, has if anything grown larger. Respect for the jury system and jurors has nosedived. And the image of black Americans rejoicing at the acquittal of the brutal murderer of an innocent white couple lingers.
Res ipsa loquitur.
15 thoughts on “The O.J. Simpson Ethics Train Wreck Rolled Out Of The Station On This Date In 1995”
I never understood why the prosecution didn’t suggest somehow that the blood soaked glove O.J. so preposterously struggled to get onto his hand hadn’t been rendered less flexible and perhaps even shrunk due to its having been, you know, soaked in blood.
And then there was his, “I’d never wear a pair of such ugly-ass shoes.”
And Marcia Clark set back women lawyers in the court room about fifty years at least. Why didn’t LA County bring in some ringers?
I had forgotten that Clark had a lead attorney on the case who became ill mid-trial, which is how she ended up with poor, insecure Chris Darden—who fell for the glove act.
They thought the trial would be easy. They never read Sun Tzu.
Keating prosecutor William Hodgman collapsed right after opening statements. Of all the probably several hundred attorneys in that office to pick to take his place, Chris Darden, who saw Johnny Cochran as a mentor figure, was probably one of the worst choices for Gil Garcetti to make.
But hey, at least the prosecution was diverse!
You left out one other nightmare the trial loosed upon the world: The Kardashian/Jenner clan and the entire modern celebrity for nothing culture.
(I still think if Robert Kardashian had survived, he’d have reined in the entire goat rodeo before his widow took it global.)
It’s unclear if Nicole and Ron were a “couple” or not. He denied it, and his friends denied it. Even if they were, he was 10 years younger than her and just a waiter waiting to get picked up by a modeling agency. That wasn’t going to last.
Anyhu, one detail that never seems to pop up in these discussions is that Mark Fuhrman, racist and bully that he might have been, was the 17th police officer on the murder scene. There were also reporters when he arrived on the scene. The idea that he could have planted evidence and gotten away with it is preposterous. Unfortunately, the jury chose to look past that.
I think I mentioned in the past that the principal speaker when I graduated law school was now-Senior Second Circuit Judge and legal scholar Guido Calabresi, actually new to the Circuit then. I don’t remember much of the speech, but I do remember him saying that one decision to break the law has a domino effect. He specifically used the Rodney King example, saying Rodney King decided he would break the law and speed while drugged up, then the officers decided they would break the law and beat him, then the jurors decided they would break the law and acquit those officers, and then the black community decided they would break the law and riot. I guess this acquittal was also part of that ripple effect. It should come as no surprise that the gap between the races has since become a Bible-sized great gulf.
For me, it provided a learning experience. You see, I was still in high school when this situation played out, to be more specific, I had Biology at this time. I also had an excellent science teacher. He said OJ would get away with it because they didn’t understand the DNA scientific evidence presented to them (race was simply not mentioned nor did it occur to me) and that’s exactly what happened. In class we did a version of DNA testing and cloned carrots, we studied DNA sequencing in detail, read Jurassic Park, and listened to the not guilty verdict on the radio. My mother was glued to the trial. As a teen I thought it was a huge international embarrassment that we in the US were so obsessed with it. Anyways, I will counter your “race played a role” with the idea that lack of scientific understanding by the jury played a bigger role and the key role. That trial pulled DNA evidence into light and I would say even 2-5 years past this trial, the outcome would have been much different because of the public understanding and acceptance of the DNA evidence.
Well, this isn’t anything profound but there were two times during my 30 year engineering career when I came upon some co-workers setting up a portable TV during work hours. The first was the O.J. Simpson verdict; the second was the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.
Orf course they did not have any concerns for long-term damage.
They were not supposed to.
Their only concern in that context was the interests of their client.
Ethan couch’s lawyers similarly had no concern for drunk driving nor road safety.
Nikolas Cruz’s lawyers should have no concern for school safety nor gang violence, at least when representing theIr client.
If General Mark Milley is court-martialed for treason, his lawyers should have no concern about military subordination to civil power nor the chain of command nor anything else except their client’s interests.
That is how it should be.
Was DNA testing that fast back then, in 1994?
By contrast, Scott Peterson certainly was not arrested for his wife’s murder on December 29, 2002.
I wonder why.
Now, THAT’S not true: a lawyer is not obligated to undertake a scorched earth defense that harms third parties and employs ruthless tactics. Lawyers can, and do, tell clients that there are some extremes they consider revolting and imprudent, and they won’t do it. The client can then decide to get a new lawyer. Similarly, a lawyer isn’t obligated to violate ethics rules that he knows he can get away with violating—like Cochran referring to witnesses in his opening that he never called, and never had any intention of calling.
Then they are not good lawyers.
Having generals like that is why America loses wars.
Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Scheller is facing court-martial.
If half of the panel are outraged that the military leadership was not relieved- let alone court-martialed- for the disaster of the Afghanistan withdrawal, feel that General Mark Milley should be drawn and quartered for treason, Colonel Scheller’s attorneys should and must exploit these feelings and prejudices.
Their client’s freedom is on the line.
Similarly, if General Milley is court-martialed for treason, and half of that panel believes President Trump was a Russian puppet and white nationalist who tried to overthrow the government on January 6th, that the Russians stole the 2016 election for him, his attorneys must exploit these prejudices and feelings. His attorneys must pull all stops to keep him away from the shower rooms in Leavenworth, let alone the gallows.
If they are unwilling to ” undertake a scorched earth defense that harms third parties and employs ruthless tactics”, they should surrender their law license.
That’s not the position of the ABA or any jurisdiction. Zealous representation doesn’t require doing everything that might be permitted—or that the lawyer might get away with— to defend a client. Deliberately inflaming a juror’s biases and causing juries to ignore or misconstrue the facts is unethical lawyering. I have dozens of examples, hypothetical and real life. The ends don’t justify the means. Sure, OJ’s lawyers had to use Furmin to discredit the police’s motives and use the ill-fitting gloves to the max, even though they knew it was nonsense. But pushing a false narrative that Simpson was a victim of a racist police conspiracy knowing that the jury was already biased in that direction, and trying the case using that distraction—which was not evidence— in the press and news media, is an abuse of process. I think it was grounds for a mistrial.
In what way?
Explain how it was abusive.
1. It violates the spirit and sometimes that letter of the Rules. it is why the Rules specifically prohibit using the media to influence the jury pool. Gamesmanship is a slippery slope. Cochran deliberately tried to triiger Darden by impugning his “blackness” and competence, knowing the lawyer would crack. Well, cases aren’t supposed to hinge on personal psychological warfare. All the “great” lawyers respect no boundaries—this is what makes them successful and famous, and also why most of them get disbarred or come close.
2. Because the justice system is designed to seek fairness, evidence, and truth. Employing bias as a weapon undermines that.
Good points Michael. I wonder if it is fair to lay the consequences of unfair justice at the feet of the OJ jury and defense team. One has to suspect that the long term damage to the justice system occurred long before the OJ trial. I for one don’t have a great deal of faith in it when judges appear to be partisans or lean in a particular direction on a given matter.
We have seen this with Ethan Couch not getting any prison time for killing four people.
We have had a judge refuse to accept a dismissal of criminal charges against Michael Flynn.
Are we certain that if Nikolas Cruz is convicted of seventeen murders, he would be sentenced to any prison time?
One of my longtime Usenet allies made this point about military justice.
– Christopher Charles Morton, dba Deanimator