Remembering the shameful and frightening O.J. Simpson trial
The tragic web of circumstances surrounding the “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius and the death of his girlfriend, Reeve Steenkamp, invoke distant comparisons to the “Trial of the Century” (TTOTC) involving O.J. Simpson. Of course, those circumstances are markedly different, but in the final analysis, both involved a high-profile athlete and accusations of murder.
However, unlike the summer of 1994, the availability of information via the Internet regarding the Pistorius case will arrive a hell of a lot faster than waiting for Court TV and CNN, as I did nearly 20 years ago. Back in those days, Geraldo Rivera was The Anchor Man, and the career of Greta Van Susteren was launched before female anchors were required to look like runway models.
Having been married only a month when it all started, we settled in each night to listen to Geraldo and Greta update us on the most trivial developments in the case. The dance began the night of the murders on June 13, 1994, but the TTOTC didn’t begin until opening statements were given on January 24, 1995, all the while, O.J. cooled his heels in jail.
We soaked up the O.J. deluge every night from arrest to verdict to the exclusion of nearly everything else. And the verdict was not the end of our quest for knowledge. We bought books by Christopher Darden (when I glanced at it in my library, I remembered he’d autographed it), Marcia Clark, and Vincent Bugliosi, among others.
But, long before those books hit the shelves, I scrutinized every utterance of every witness, of every D.A., and every defense attorney. Before the verdict was read, I would have bet the house that O.J would be convicted in about 10 minutes. Of course, I was wrong, and like millions of other O.J. addicts, I learned the difference between Not Guilty and Innocent. The former is a legal term, the second is more substantive. We learned that the burden of proof in a criminal trial is far greater than in a civil trial, as exemplified by the fact O.J. was convicted of causing the deaths of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman in a civil court, and was sued to the bejeepers. Though causing monetary hardship, his $400K+ NFL pension couldn’t be touched in the settlement. But, in the end, it was money that did O.J. in. We’ll come to that later.
So, bizarre was the scene when I stood in a conference room at a customer site and watched the verdict read on closed-circuit TV. One moment, faces appeared on the screen of people looking as though their dog had just been taken by coyotes. The next moment, another group appeared in the throes of wild jubilation as though Mardi Gras has just started. Many of you may not remember that there was once a Kardashian that wasn’t a reality TV star. Robert Kardashian, father of Kim, Khloe, among others, was a member of the defense team, and was standing next to O.J. when the verdict was read — his jaw dropping to the floor in amazement.
As did mine.
What trial were these people watching?
Sure, I listened to Barry Scheck performing the deepest of dives regarding DNA. I was there when Dr. Henry Lee presented his cockamamie argument how blood could not have been spattered in the pattern that appeared on O.J.’s socks — inferring it had been planted. I laughed heartily at the bumbling, rambling surfer boy responses from O.J. errand boy Kato Kaelin, and winced at the incompetence of Judge Lance Ito and several prosecutors.
However, the relentless barrage of the Dream Team members Johnnie Cochran, Alan Dershowitz, Robert Shapiro, and Barry Scheck was overshadowed by their star anchorman, the legendary attorney, F. Lee Bailey who dissected Officer Mark Fuhrman on the witness stand. Bailey asked if Fuhrman was a racist, and whether he’d ever uttered a particularly offensive racial epithet. Of course, Bailey, like any decent lawyer, already knew the answer to the question (Fuhrman most certainly uttered the word) and was waiting for Fuhrman to deny it. He did, Fuhrman was caught lying (and later pleaded no contest to perjury), thus mortaring another brick in the wall of the defense. Then, the fiasco involving O.J. trying on one of the gloves found on the murder scene while wearing latex gloves so as not to contaminate the evidence was the coup de gras. O.J. struggled mightily with the glove, and (in my opinion) made every effort to spread his fingers and prevent the glove from fitting. In his closing argument, superstar defense attorney Johnny Cochran, in a fit of brilliance, drilled a now-famous nursery rhyme into the brains of the jury: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
And they did acquit.
What trial were they watching? There is a far greater chance that I was born on the planet Krypton and love the light of a yellow sun than O.J. being innocent of those murders. He just wasn’t guilty.
Exhibit A, your Honor –
One glove was found at the murder scene while another was found at O.J.’s house just outside the bedroom window where Kato Kaelin slept. That glove had Nicole Simpson’s blood on it, as well as Ron Goldman’s and O.J. Simpson’s (the latter, it was alleged by the defense, could have been “planted” on the glove, or the lack of a good LIMS led to a poor chain of custody or sample mix-up/contamination). Nicole Simpson bought a pair of those exact gloves at Bloomingdales in NYC and gave them to O.J. Only 300 pairs of these gloves were made. Numerous shots from O.J.’s NFL sideline reporting showed him wearing very similar gloves, not to mention the Bruno Magli shoes whose bloody tracks appeared at the murder scene — shoes he denied ever owning, as he also denied owning the gloves.
Experts testified that, after measuring the gloves, they’d shrunk a full size since they were entered into evidence — presumably from moisture. When O.J. was asked to try on a new pair of the gloves of the exact same size, they fit perfectly. Too late: you can’t un-ring a bell.
Remember Mark Fuhrman? He was one of the first responders to the Nicole Brown/Ron Goldman murders. The inference by the defense was that, as an alleged racist, Fuhrman planted the bloody glove at O.J.’s house.
Randy’s take — This contention is unadulterated B.S. Let’s assume Fuhrman was a flaming racist and was waiting his entire life to frame a prominent African American. So, when he was called to the crime scene, we’re to believe Fuhrman somehow learned that Nicole Brown was O.J.’s ex-wife — that’s believable, I guess. But, let’s say he made a snap judgment to pick up the glove, risking his career, and likely jail time, to go throw this glove on O.J.’s property later that night. Just one problem. O.J. was a known gadfly about L.A. This is a man who never knew a party he didn’t like, and had hundreds of friends and sycophants. In order for Fuhrman to make this work, he needed to take a calculated risk that O.J. had no alibi at the time of the murder. Why? Because if Fuhrman took the bloody glove and tossed it on O.J.’s lawn, and it was later discovered O.J. was with one or more friends at the time of the murder, Fuhrman, or any other cop that arrived at the murder scene, would be immediately investigated for evidence tampering.
Exhibit B, your Honor –
O.J. contends he was asleep at his Brentwood home at the time of the murders.
Randy’s take — Also B.S. Limo driver Allan Park pulled up to take O.J. to the airport. The house was dark. He rang the intercom at the gate numerous times but there was no answer. He called his boss and asked what to do. His boss said to wait a bit longer. Keep in mind Park testified there were no cars parked on either road adjoining O.J.’s home. Suddenly, a white Bronco pulled up. A large, apparently African American man, walked across the front lawn 15 feet away, entered through the front door, and the lights came on.
Park tried the intercom again and O.J. answered. He said he’d been asleep (he later said he’d been hitting golf balls in the back yard).
Of all the testimony in the trial, the testimony scrutinized by the jury was Park’s.
It’s simple. Park arrived and there were no cars. A white Bronco pulls up, a man fitting O.J.’s description walks from it to the house, and goes in. O.J. never took the stand, but he later told his attorneys that Park must have seen him just putting his luggage out on the porch prior to leaving for the airport.
Sheesh. Did the defense ever dispute that Park saw a White Bronco pull up? No. Did the defense ever present a theory who the man walking across the driveway and into the house was if not O.J.? No. And the jury bought this?
Exhibit C, your Honor –
- Blood on the gate at Nicole’s: O.J.
- Blood in the white Bronco: O.J., Nicole Brown, Ron Goldman.
- Blood on O.J.’s socks: O.J., Nicole Brown.
- Blood on the glove: O.J., Nicole Brown, Ron Goldman.
- Bloody hand: well, O.J.’s hand was cut badly when he was interviewed by police.
The defense again alleged poor sample handling, tampering, planting of blood.
Randy’s take — You’re kidding, right? We have to believe the blood was mishandled and malevolent forces contaminated the sample or salted away a few vials to plant about Nicole’s place, the Bronco, the gloves, etcetera. Again, the defense never said who did the stealing/planting/framing, they just said it could have happened.
So, let’s string all this together. For O.J. to have been innocent:
- Detective Fuhrman planted the glove on O.J.’s property.
- Someone carelessly handled the glove, or deliberately planted O.J.’s blood on it.
- Someone planted Nicole’s blood on O.J’s sock.
- Someone planted Nicole Brown’s blood and Ron Goldman’s blood in O.J.’s Bronco.
- Someone planted Nicole Brown’s blood and Ron Goldman’s blood on the glove.
- Someone planted O.J.’s blood on the gate at Nicole Brown’s condo.
- Allan Park and Rosa Lopez missed seeing a white Bronco at O.J.’s house that must have been there all along.
- O.J. was sleeping in his house or hitting golf balls.
- O.J. unfortunately cut his hand in an accident at home.
So, for O.J. to even be arrested, he had to be the most statistically unlucky person on Earth. On that one night, he happened to have no verifiable alibi. On that one night, a duck-sucking evil detective stole crime scene property and tossed it on O.J.s property — after contaminating it with stolen blood. On that night, someone collected numerous vials of O.J.’s blood to sprinkle like fairy dust on all the places disadvantageous to O.J. or possibly on that night (or soon thereafter) lab technicians so bungled handling of blood samples that they cross-contaminated each other so no one could be sure what blood was found where. On that night, two people hallucinated about not seeing a White Bronco and then seeing it at O.J.’s. On that night, O.J. accidently cut his hand.
The bungling and evidence handling catalyzed an overhaul of evidence handling and tagging. LIMS for the forensics industry are in high demand, and fewer criminals are turned loose due to garden variety screw-ups.
O.J.? Well, those believers of Karma got their wish. On the night of September 13, 2007, O.J. and a few thugs burst into a hotel room with guns drawn to reclaim sports memorabilia he claims was stolen from him. He claimed not to have guns; he claims he didn’t break into the room. Different crime, different jury, different verdict. A decision rendered on October 8, 2008, ensured O.J. is vacationing in Nevada at an expense-paid, all inclusive resort, but it ain’t the Bellagio or the Venetian. His 33 year sentence allows for parole after nine years, so we may see O.J. roaming the streets again as early as 2017. How will he cherish the gift of freedom should it be granted?
So, returning to The Trial of the Century; O.J. got a hall pass on October 3, 1995, due to “reasonable doubt”…doubt raised by some very expensive legal help, but doubt nonetheless.
He wasn’t guilty, but he sure as hell wasn’t innocent.
Randy Hice is Director, Strategic Consulting at STARLIMS. He may be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.