The People VS. OJ. Simpson: 25 Years of Infamy

The Murders

Twenty-five years ago last week, on June 12, 1994, the bodies of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were found outside her Brentwood residence, each of them bleeding from several stab wounds.  Dead.  Estimates said the victims had been murdered about two hours before their bodies were found.  The chief suspect in the case was Nicole Brown’s husband, OJ Simpson.  He had been a famed athlete, and he had even found fame in Hollywood.  But behind his athletic build and prowess, behind that flashy smile there was a jealous rage that many believe on this night consumed him and leaving behind the bodies of two innocent people.  Before the murders, OJ Simpson had been investigated multiple times for domestic violence, and in 1989 he pleaded no contest to spousal abuse.

The prosecution failed.

Despite the pattern of abuse and the record he left behind, OJ was found innocent by a jury of his peer.  The jury would admit that they didn’t think he wasn’t guilty so much as that he was not guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.  The trial, which lasted 134 days, would become a case study in what not to do for the prosecution.

But back to the night of June 12, when the idyllic calm of the upscale Brentwood neighborhood was shattered by grisly murder.  The bodies were found at 12:10 AM outside Brown’s Bundy Drive condominium.

Nicole Brown had been stabbed multiple times in the head and neck.  She had defensive wounds on her hands as if she had been trying to protect herself from an attacker. Her larynx could be seen through the gaping wound in her neck.  Indeed, her head remained barely attached to the body. One of the first two officers on the scene, Robert Riske, found a single bloody glove, among other evidence.

Detectives went to Simpson’s Brentwood estate to inform him that his ex-wife had been murdered, but no one answered. Mark Fuhrman climbed over an external wall and unlocked the gate, he said he did so to allow the other three detectives to enter. The detectives argued that they entered without a search warrant because they feared Simpson might have also been injured.  At the time, he was not a suspect.

Simpson had taken a flight to Chicago late the previous night, June 11, and he was not home. Detectives briefly interviewed Kato Kaelin, who was staying in Simpson’s guest house. In a walk-around of the premises, Fuhrman discovered a second bloody glove; it was later determined to be the match of the glove Robert Riskey found at the murder scene.  DNA testing on this glove and the blood on the glove found at the crime scene determined that the blood came from both victims, and this, along with other evidence collected at both scenes, gave the authorities probable cause to issue an arrest warrant for OJ.

These names bring back a flood of memories.  Mark Fuhrman was the LAPD police officer who was found to have Nazi memorabilia at his home.  Because of his use of the n-word in his previous history on the LAPD, he was branded a racist.  If it was inevitable that race would come into play during the trial, it was because of Fuhrman that it did so.  The defense, then led by lightning-rod attorney, Johnnie Cochrane, argued that the LAPD was trying to frame OJ.

Kato Kaelin would become the world’s most famous house guest, and something of a joke.

Beavis and Butt-Head would describe him as looking like “the ass end of a dolphin.”  Whatever your thoughts on his description, his face remained burned in our memory.  So much so I recognized him immediately when I saw him at a casual dining restaurant at which I used to work.

In the few days after Brown and Goldman were murdered, OJ hired Robert Shapiro as his lawyer.  During this time, it is speculated OJ may have handed to Robert Kardashian, the patriarch of the Kardashian family, a duffle bag which may have contained the clothes he wore to murder Brown-Simpson and Goldman.  None of it can be proven, but there is video from news crews outside OJ’s residence that suggests this could have happened.

Finally, the LAPD issued an arrest warrant for OJ Simpson.  Shapiro argued with he LAPD on OJ’s behalf.  He did not want a perp walk for OJ, did not want OJ to be paraded in front of the cameras with his hands behind his back, shackled in handcuffs.  Shapiro reached a deal with the LAPD – OJ will turn himself in on Friday, June 17, 1994.

Scheduled to air that night was Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets.  I was just out of my first year of college and had just gotten a job delivering pizza in Las Vegas for Pizza Hut.  I had trained earlier in the week, and this was my first night flying solo.  We were already a little over-staffed because of the NBA, but nothing could have prepared us for what happened next that evening.  We were busy beyond our wildest expectations.

In the first season of American Crime Story, the show covers the OJ Simpson trial, and in the second episode, titled “The Run of His Life,” there is a moment in which a Pizza Hut runs out of cheese.  That moment spoke to me.  It rang true.

OJ did not turn himself in at 11 AM.  Nor had he turned himself in by 12, or 1, or 2, which is when the LAPD issued an APB for him.  At 5, Robert Kardashian read a letter written by Simpson to the media. “First everyone understand I had nothing to do with Nicole’s murder … Don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve had a great life.”

Some interpreted it as a suicide letter, and the next few hours would captivate not just the city of Los Angeles, but the entire nation.

The Chase

When OJ’s mom heard the note, she collapsed.  OJ’s psychiatrist agreed that it was a suicide note.  Shapiro, who was present as Kardashian read OJ’s note, pleaded with OJ to turn himself in.

News helicopters searched the city for OJ’s now infamous white Ford Bronco.  At 6:20 PM, an Orange County motorist called the CHP.  The motorist believed he had seen someone resembling OJ in the white Ford Bronco being driven by OJ’s long time friend, Al “AC” Cowlings, headed north on the 5.  At 6:45, an LAPD officer, Ruth Dixon, spotted the Bronco headed north on the 405.  When she caught up to it, Cowlings yelled to her that OJ was sitting in the back with a gun to his head.  Dixon backed off, slowing to 35 mph.  Behind her, another 20 police cars did the same.

More than nine news helicopters joined the chase.  One news helicopter even ran out of fuel.  The images of OJ leading what looked like a slow-moving parade through he freeways and streets of LA would immediately be ingrained in popular culture, and it wouldn’t be long before the “it” show of the 90s, Seinfeld, lampooned the slow-speed chase, substituting Kramer for OJ in the Bronco.

As the chase wore on, ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC (FOX was not around yet) all switched away from their regularly scheduled program to show the chase on TV.  Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters covered the chase on their respective stations.  It was a night in which people could not look away from their televisions.  Indeed, the chase would draw more than 95 million viewers.  By comparison, that year’s Super Bowl had only been watched by 90 million people.  Domino’s Pizza would later report it did just as much business as it did on Super Bowl Sunday.

I can tell you the scene was exactly the same at Pizza Hut.

As OJ led the police from freeway to freeway, the overpasses were crowded with spectators and onlookers.   It was as if all those onlookers, and all the onlookers watching from home on their television, were suddenly engaged in a communal emotional event.  People wondered if OJ would escape, if he would take his own life or if he would be drawn into a final, violent confrontation with the police.

Sports Illustrated would later comment that the chase and all its hoopla was “The Sugarland Express meets The Fugitive.”

At last, the chase drew to a close.  OJ led the police to his Brentwood home about 8:00 PM.  He was surrounded by 27 SWAT officers.  OJ wanted to speak to his mom before he turned himself in, and his son, Jason, ran out of the house, gesticulating wildly at the SWAT team.  After sitting inside the Bronco for 45 minutes, OJ was aloud to go inside, talk to his mother and drink a glass of orange juice.

At once, this immediately illustrates the stark contrast between the way the haves and the have-nots are treated by the police.  OJ definitely had money.  Anyone who did not have his wealth or his fame, would not have been allowed to go inside.  They probably would not have been allowed to sit inside their vehicle for 45 minutes.  And there is even a chance they may not have survived the chase at all.

Shapiro arrived at OJ’s house, and OJ surrendered a few minutes later.  In the Bronco, police would find $8,000 dollars in cash, a change of clothing, a loaded 357 Magnum, a passport, family pictures, and a fake goatee and mustache.  It seems as though OJ had been intent on escaping the country, maybe taking the 5 all the way to Mexico.  If this is true, it would seem to be an admission of guilt.  Why couldn’t the prosecution prosecute him then?

None of those items would be allowed to be shown as evidence at the trial, and neither would the footage of the freeway chase.

The Trial

It would first be referred to as ‘The Trial of the Century,” and then, as it wore on and on, it would be called “The Trial that Lasted a Century.

OJ was arraigned on June 20, 1994, the Monday following his arrest.  He, of course, plead not guilty.

As the prosecution prepared its case, perhaps the first of many blunders made was made by District Attorney Gil Garcetti, who elected to hold the trial in Los Angeles instead of Santa Monica.  Santa Monica would have included a much more affluent jury pool, which may have led to a more favorable verdict.  LA had a much more blue-collar jury pool, whose sympathies may lay with OJ regardless of his guilt, and, well, we know how that turned out.

Deputy District Attorney, Marcia Clark, was designated as the lead prosecutor, and fellow Deputy District Attorney Christopher Darden, became her co-counsel. 

In October 1994, Judge Lance Ito, who had been chosen to preside over the case, began to interview 304 prospective jurors, each of whom had to fill out a 75-page questionnaire.  Three months later, in January 1995, the jury had finally been selected – twelve jurors with twelve alternates.  On January 24, 1995, the trial at last began.

Throughout it all, it seemed to be a trial made more of spectacle than substance.  At times, Ito seemed to be more concerned with the cameras in the courtroom than he did with the proceedings in the courtroom.  When The Late Show with Jay Leno introduced a recurring skit featuring The Dancing Itos, it seemed a sure sign that as much as the nation had been gripped by the chase on June 17, 1994, they were quickly losing interest in it, and now “The OJ Trial,” as it was referred to, was simply fodder for jokes.

We remember countless hours about DNA testimonials from the trial.    We remember Kato Kaelin good-naturedly, if inappropriately, joking and smiling and laughing on the witness stand.  We remember Marcia Clark’s constantly changing hairstyle.  And of course we remember the glove, and we remember Johnnie Cochrane saying, “If the glove does not fit, you must acquit.”  (And this would become another moment mocked by Seinfeld.)

But here are some moments we don’t remember, because the prosecution was not allowed to present them for various reasons:

  • In the early stages of the trial, there was a grand jury hearing (which was quickly dismissed), and at the June 1994 grand jury hearing, a knife shop provided store receipts indicating Simpson has bought a 12-inch stiletto knife.  The knife was determined to be similar to the one the coroner said caused the stab wounds. But when the salesman offered the story to the National Enquirer for $12,000, the prosecution declined to use him as a witness as he was no longer credible.  It could be said he was paid to say those words.
  • Said knife was later collected from OJ’s residence by his attorneys.  The police searched his property three times and couldn’t find it.  OJ told his attorneys exactly where it would be found, and they immediately got it.  The knife was given to Ito sealed in a manilla envelope, however it would later be proven not to be the murder weapon as it had an oil on it indicating it had never been used.
  • One of OJ’s neighbors testified to the grand jury that she saw the white Ford Bronco speeding away from Bundy Drive in such a hurry she almost crashed into it.  But she talked to the TV show “Hard Copy” and they paid her $5,000 fo the story, and the prosecution declined to use her story for the same reason as the knife salesman.
  • A women’s shelter got a call from Brown four days before she was murdered.  She was afraid of her ex-husband, who she thought was stalking her.  The prosecution thought the judge would rule the evidence to be hearsay and didn’t try to present it.
  • Additionally, some of Brown’s friends said Brown was afraid because OJ had told her he would kill her if he ever found her with another man.
  • A former NFL player and pastor visited the county jail in the days following the murders.  A guard testified to Ito that he heard OJ yell he “didn’t mean to do it” after which the pastor urged OJ to come clean.  Ito ruled the evidence was hearsay and wouldn’t allow it in court.
  • As stated, the events of the Bronco chase and all the materials inside the Bronco, nor the apparent suicide, were presented to the jury by the prosecution.
  • A few months before the murders, OJ starred in a TV pilot for a show called Frogmen, in which he played the leader for a group of former Navy SEALS.  Though OJ received a “fair amount” of military training – including how to use a knife – and even had to hold a knife the throat of a woman for one scene, the prosecution did not introduce it.

Once the prosecution and the defense rested and gave their closing arguments, it was expected the jury would deliberate for some time.  Instead, the jury deliberated for only four hours.  At 10:07 AM on October 3, 1995, the verdict was read.  OJ had been found not guilty.

The LAPD had been put on high alert.  The memories of the Rodney King Riots in 1992 were still fresh on everyone’s mind.  Luckily, there were no riots, and OJ walked free, much to the heartache of the Brown and Goldman families.  Later, the Goldman’s would sue OJ in a civil suit, and though they would win, OJ declared bankruptcy and the Goldman’s would never see any money from him.

Post-Trial

In November 2006, OJ released a book called If I Did It, which contained a hypothetical version of how he would have committed the murders.  As he was still in debt to the Goldman’s from their civil suit, they were awarded the rights to the book.  As such, they changed the tile to If I Did It: Confessions of The Killer, and they placed they “f” very inside the ‘i” so that unless the buyer looked very closely, it appeared to read “I Did It.”

If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer

Though he did not serve time for killing Brown-Simpson and Goldman, he would serve time for another crime.  On September 13, 2007, Simpson and some other men entered a room at a Las Vegas casino and took sports memorabilia at gunpoint.  Simpson maintained the stuff had been stolen from him.  It was enough for the LVMPD, and he along with the three other men, were charged with multiple felony counts, including criminal conspiracy, kidnapping, assault, robbery, and using a deadly weapon.

While the three other men plea-bargained their way out of the charges, On November 29, Simpson plead guilty to all the charges, and in December 2008, he was sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison with the possibility of parole after nine years.  He served his sentence at the Lovelock Correctional Center where his inmate ID number was #1027820.

Perhaps it was not the crime for which he should have gone to prison, but you can almost be sure the Browns and the Goldmans took some solace in this sentence.

One October 1, 2017, after having been granted parole in July of that year, OJ walked free after having served almost nine years.

Because of who he was, OJ Simpson will never be forgotten.  Because of the way the trial captured the attention of the nation, the murders will never be forgotten either.  And that’s good.  They shouldn’t be.  OJ might not be forgotten, but he will never escape this shadow of the past.  Good.

Nicole Brown would have been 60 on May 19, but instead her life was cut short at 35.  Ron Goldman would have turned 50 on July 2 this year.  His life was cut short at 25.

Most of us remember the chase on TV as they man accused of killing them tried to escape the law.  As time goes on, though, let us not remember him.  Let us remember Nicole and Ron instead.  Twenty-five years ago they were robbed of their lives, and as their accused killer made a mockery of the justice system, we sat enthralled as a nation.  Some rooted for him. Others rooted against him.  No matter which outcome we wanted, though, one thing is for sure: we would never forget it.

Tagged with: