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.