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O. J. Simpson

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Orenthal James Simpson (born July 9, 1947), known by the initials O.J. and nicknamed The Juice, is a former professional football player and film actor. Simpson is perhaps now most famous for being accused of the 1994 killing of his wife and his acquittal in criminal court in 1995 after a lengthy and highly publicized trial.

His college football career was dynamic and highly charged, earning him the Heisman Trophy[?], the nickname "The Juice," and entry into the the NFL. In 1973 Simpson ran for a then record 2,003 yards and was voted Most Valuable Player. He later became All-Pro 5 times and rushed for 11,236 yards in his career. Simpson retired from the NFL in 1979 and on January 23, 1985 Simpson became the first Heisman Trophy winner elected to the Football Hall of Fame.

Table of contents

The death 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, California condo with the Simpson children sleeping in an upstairs bedroom. Evidence found and reportedly collected at the scene indicated that Simpson could be the killer. Faced with murder charges his lawyers convinced the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to allow Simpson to turn himself in at 11 AM on June 17 even though the double murder charge meant no bail and a possible death penalty verdict.

The low-speed chase

Over a thousand reporters waited for Simpson to arrive into police custody and then give an 11:45 AM statement to the media after booking. When he failed to show, confusion set-in and an all-points-bulletin was issued by the police at 2 PM. Robert Kardashian, a Simpson friend, then read a rambling letter by Simpson to the collected media. In the letter Simpson said, "First everyone understand I had nothing to do with Nicole's murder.... Don't feel sorry for me. I've had a great life." To many this sounded like a suicide note and the reporters then actively joined the search for "OJ."

At 6:45 PM a sheriff's patrol car saw Simpson's 1993 white Ford Bronco[?] going north on Interstate 5. When the officer approached the Bronco the driver and Simpson friend, Al Cowlings[?], yelled that Simpson had a gun to his head. The officer then backed off and one of the most bizarre and slowest chases in history began.

For some time a KCBS[?] news helicopter had exclusive coverage of the chase but by the end of the chase they had been joined by about a dozen others as news agencies from around the country tried to charter every available helicopter in the city.

Numerous spectators and on-lookers packed overpasses in front of the procession; some of them had signs encouraging OJ to flee and many more were caught up in a festival like atmosphere. Cowlings eventually drove the Bronco back to Simpson's Brentwood home at 360 North Rockingham Avenue and arrived at 8 PM. Simpson, however, did not emerge from the vehicle for another 45 minutes - increasing fears of a suicide or a shoot-out with police. When he did surrender, police confiscated $8,000, family pictures, a fake goatee[?] and mustache[?], a passport, and a loaded .357 Magnum by Smith and Wesson from Simpson.

It was later estimated that close to 95 million people, in the United States alone, watched at least part of the chase live that night.

The criminal trial

What followed was 133 days of televised testimony in a racially-charged criminal trial that seemed to pit white and black America against each other. 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 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's lawyers, including Johnny Cochran[?], 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 (who they painted as a racist) had planted evidence at the crime scene[?]. In all, 150 witnesses gave testimony during the eight month long trial.

At one point during the trial, 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 Johnny Cochran to quip in his closing arguments, "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit." The prosecutors tried to perform damage control by explaining that the blood-soaked glove shrunk when it dried.

The prosecutorial team was confident that they presented a solid case and fully expected a conviction. Polled African Americans across the nation were largely unconvinced while 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.

Nevertheless at 10 a.m. on October 3, 1995 after just three hours of deliberation and in front of an estimated 100 million television viewers, Ito's clerk Deidre Robertson announced the verdict: "We the jury in the above entitled action find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder." The verdict noticeably shocked the prosecutorial team and likewise shocked much of white America. At the same time many African Americans around the country reacted in a what has been described as a cathartic celebration that underscored a very real racial divide.

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 split along racial lines, but rather than try the crime in the mostly white Santa Monica, California, the prosecution decided to have the trial in Los Angeles. 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 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. As a result, both sides accepted a disportionate 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.

The civil trial

However, 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. 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 this trial Simpson has been largely regarded as a pariah or persona non grata by many in the entertainment industry and elsewhere and has not been able to continue his acting career.

Filmography

Reference

  • Joe Garner, Stay Tuned: Television's Unforgettable Moments (Andrews McMeel Publishing; 2002) ISBN 0-7407-2693-5



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