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Murder of his ex-wife and trial
On June 12, 1994 his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson (who divorced him in 1992 after an abusive relationship) and her friend Ronald Goldman were found dead outside Brown's Brentwood area condominium in Los Angeles, California with the Simpson children sleeping in an upstairs bedroom. Evidence found and reportedly collected at the scene suggested that Simpson might be the killer. Faced with murder charges, his lawyers convinced the Los Angeles Police Department to allow Simpson to turn himself in at 11 a.m. on June 17 even though the double murder charge meant no bail and a possible death penalty verdict if convicted.
Simpson, looking emotionally broken and lost at his first court arraignment on June 20, pleaded "not guilty" to the murders. A hastily assembled grand jury was formed to see whether to indict him for the two murders. But two days later on June 22, the grand jury was dismissed as a result of the excessive media coverage which might influence the grand jury’s ability. After a week-long court hearing, a California court superior judge ruled that there was ample evidence to try Simpson for the murders. At his second court appearance, on July 22, a confident looking Simpson pled in a confident and defiant tone: "absolutely, 100% not guilty."
What followed in 1995 was 133 days of televised testimony in a racially-charged criminal trial. Many figures in the trial became unwitting celebrities due to this exposure including judge Lance Ito, who was parodied by many comedians including Tonight Show host Jay Leno (Leno featured a troupe of Asian men in black robes called the "Dancing Itos").
The trial began on January 29, 1995, where the prosecutorial team led by Marcia Clark argued that Simpson killed his ex-wife in a jealous rage. The prosecution opened its case by playing a 9-1-1 call Nicole Brown Simpson had made in 1989 in which she expressed fear that Simpson would physically harm her. The prosecution also presented dozens of expert witnesses on subjects ranging from DNA fingerprinting to shoe print analysis that they contended placed Simpson at the scene of the crime.
Simpson hired a team of expensive ($4 million), high-profile lawyers, including F. Lee Bailey, Robert Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran, who argued that Simpson was the victim of police fraud and sloppy internal procedures that contaminated the DNA evidence. Simpson's defense team (dubbed the "Dream Team" by reporters) had argued that LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman (whom they painted as a racist) had planted evidence at the crime scene. In all, 150 witnesses gave testimony during the eight-month-long trial.
In March, Fuhrman denied on the stand that he was a racist or had ever used the word "nigger" to describe black people. But months later, the defense found audio tapes of Fuhrman using the word. These notorious Fuhrman tapes became one of the cornerstones of the defense's case that Fuhrman's testimony lacked credibility, and may have led to Simpson's acquittal. Fuhrman was recalled to the stand in September, but pleaded the 5th. It should be pointed out, however, that Fuhrman had a very fine record with the police department and was highly regarded by his fellow officers. He was even commended for his dedication to duty and professionalism by a number of his black colleagues. Fuhrman later wrote a book about the case called Murder In Brentwood.
At one point during the trial on June 15, 1995, assistant prosecutor Christopher Darden asked Simpson to put on a leather glove that was found at the scene of the crime. The glove was too tight for Simpson to put on over his latex-gloved hand, which inspired Cochran to quip in his closing arguments, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." . (Here, "it" refers not only to the leather glove, but the prosecution's argument as a whole.) The prosecutors tried to perform damage control by explaining that the blood-soaked glove shrank when it dried. Also prosecutors contended that O.J.'s blood found at the crime scene was the result of blood dripping from cuts on the middle finger of Simpson's left hand that police saw on June 13 and that they asserted were suffered during the fatal attack on Ronald Goldman. However none of the gloves found had any cuts. While there was blood on the glove at the crime scene, there was none on the glove found on Simpson's property.
The prosecutorial team was confident that they presented a solid case and fully expected a conviction. In polls, a large percentage of African Americans across the nation were largely unconvinced or felt that Simpson had not committed the crime, and that to convict would be to give a green light to police misconduct. Most white Americans, in the same polls, thought the case against Simpson was solid. Racial tensions grew through the trial and officials feared a repeat of the 1992 civil unrest in Los Angeles if Simpson received a guilty verdict.
At 10 a.m. on October 3, 1995 after three hours of deliberation and in front of an estimated 150 million American television viewers, a verdict of "not guilty" was announced. The verdict appeared to shock the prosecutorial team and likewise shocked many in white America (though even one of Simpson's lawyers feared at first that the quick verdict might mean conviction). At the same time, many African Americans around the country reacted in what has been described as a cathartic celebration that showed a very real racial divide with the case. Several television commentators concluded that the verdict demonstrated the effects money can have on the judicial system. In post-trial interviews with the jurors, a few said that they believe Simpson probably committed the murder, but that the prosecution bungled the case.
Famed prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi (who had handled the Manson trial) seemed to share this opinion, writing a book called Outrage: The Five Reasons O. J. Simpson Got Away With Murder. Bugliosi was very critical of Clark and Darden and pointed out many glaring mistakes that they had made during the trial. He faulted them, for example, for not introducing the note that Simpson had written before trying to flee. Bugliosi said that the note "reeked" of guilt and that the jury should have been allowed to see it. He also pointed out that there was a change of clothing, a large amount of cash, a passport and a disguise kit found in the Bronco that the jury was never informed of. Simpson had made a very incriminating statement to police about cutting his finger the night of the murders. Bugliosi once again took Clark and Darden to task for not allowing the jury to see the tape of this statement. Bugliosi also said the prosecutors should have gone into more detail about Simpson's abuse of his wife. He said it should have been pointed out to the mostly African-American jury that Simpson had little impact in the black community and had done nothing to help those blacks less fortunate than he.
Many legal experts think that the jury selection phase of the trial was crucial to the outcome. Polls and surveys at the time indicated that the public's opinion of whether Simpson was the murderer was split along racial lines. But rather than try the crime in mostly white Santa Monica, California, the prosecution decided to have the trial in Los Angeles; Bugliosi also criticized this decision in his book. During the jury selection process, the defense made it very difficult for the prosecution to challenge potential black jurors on the grounds that it is illegal to dismiss someone from the jury for racially motivated reasons. According to media reports, prosecutor Marcia Clark thought that women, regardless of race, would sympathize with the domestic violence aspect of the case and connect with her personally. On the other hand, the defense's research suggested that women generally were more likely to acquit, that jurors did not respond well to Clark's style, and that black women would not be as sympathetic to the victim: a white woman. As a result, both sides accepted a disproportionate number of female jurors. From an original jury pool of 40% white, 28% black, 17% Hispanic, and 15% Asian, the final jury for the trial had 10 women and 2 men, of which there were 8 blacks, 2 Hispanics, 1 half-Native American, half-white, and 1 white female.
Polls after the trial show that the racial divide may have been overemphasized. The typical respondent who agreed with the "not guilty" verdict was white, since the lower percentage of whites who agreed with the verdict still outnumbered the total black population. One state witness, Mark Fuhrman, plead no contest to one count of perjury after the trial. No other state witnesses were charged with perjury, even though at least three or four others had their testimony contradicted by video tape or other evidence.
In the February 1998 issue of Esquire Magazine Simpson was quoted as saying, "Let's say I committed this crime.... Even if I did this, it would have to have been because I loved her very much, right?" O.J. said that he would look for the real murderer, who he believed was a hitman. When the news media filmed Simpson playing golf, comedians joked about his lack of effort to find the murderer.
On February 4, 1997 a civil jury in Santa Monica, California found Simpson liable for the wrongful death of Ronald Goldman, battery against Ronald Goldman, and battery against Nicole Brown. Attorney for plaintiff Fred Goldman (father of Ronald Goldman) was Daniel Petrocelli. Simpson was ordered to pay $33,500,000 in damages. However, California law protects pensions from being used to satisfy judgments, so Simpson was able to continue much of his lifestyle based on his NFL pension. Since these trials, Simpson has been largely regarded as a pariah by many in the entertainment industry and elsewhere, and he has been unable to continue his acting or any other career as a result. In 2000, O.J. won custody of his children in high profile cases against the Brown family. He moved from California with his children to Miami, Florida. In Florida a person's residence cannot be seized to collect a debt under most circumstances.
After the trials
Even after his two trials Simpson was never far from the news. He seemed to have a knack for appearing in news stories that often had nothing directly to do with him. He was accused of illegally accessing signals from DirecTV. In 1998 at the end of an interview conducted by Ruby Wax for BBC1, Simpson mimed stabbing her with a banana while mimicking the theme music from Psycho. Prior to the 2004 Orange Bowl football game featuring Simpson's USC Trojans, the former football star showed up unannounced at a USC practice. Much to the shock of many, the Southern California coach Pete Carroll allowed Simpson to come onto the field and mingle with the players and pose for pictures. Carroll responded to the criticism by proclaiming "we respect our Heisman Trophy winners." Simpson had planned a long series of news appearances to mark the tenth anniversary, in June 2004, of the killings, but ended up being shoved aside when another news story took over the airwaves -- the death and funeral of former President Reagan.