In terms of popular culture, it was a perfect storm. The OJ Simpson murder case was tailor-made for mass media coverage. The defendant was a beloved celebrity and sports icon. The victims, Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, both brutally slain, were young and attractive. There were allegations of jealousy, drugs, revenge, racism, police misconduct and a cover-up. And there was a chase. It all began with that slow-speed chase, crisscrossing Los Angeles freeways. and ending in a dramatic climax at O.J. Simpson's home. That event alone was witnessed live by an estimated 95 million Americans as it unfolded on television. It was just the beginning.
The Simpson chase, the preliminary hearing and the more than eight month-long murder trial that followed unofficially ushered in a new era in American television -- reality programming. It was unscripted, raw, and unedited with plenty of twists, turns and surprises. The genre began modestly enough two years before on MTV's The Real World. The O.J. trial now provided a daily fix of courtroom drama for millions of viewers. I anchored all the gavel-to-gavel coverage of the criminal trial for CNN, more than 1,000 hours on air. CNN and CourtTV were the only two networks covering the case nationally wall-to-wall. FoxNews and MSNBC had not yet been launched. Smartphones were still years away, as was the explosion of the Internet. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no streaming media content. For eight hours a day, cable television offered the only place to see an honest, real-life soap opera. The fact that this wasn't a scripted drama but was, in fact, real life, seemed only to heighten the appeal for viewers. The case divided the nation along racial lines and became a national obsession. We knew the players on a first name basis as if they were characters in our favorite show. In many ways that's what they were: OJ, Nicole, Ron, Kato, Johnnie and Marcia. Except this wasn't fictional. It was a horrible crime, with horrible consequences for two victims and their families.
I never shared my personal views on Simpson's guilt or innocence, on the air or off, throughout the criminal and civil trials. As a journalist and lawyer, I sought to remain dispassionate and maintain an objective presence and an open mind. I watched all the evidence, weighed facts the jurors never had a chance to consider and I've had the perspective of 20 years of reflection. I recall the physical evidence. There was the "trail of blood" left at the murder scene and Simpson's home matching O.J.'s. There was the infamous bloody glove found at the crime scene and its mate discovered behind Simpson's guest house. Remember the prints of the size 12 Bruno Magli shoe prints left outside Nicole's condo? (Simpson denied owning what he described as "ugly ass" shoes.) There were those cuts on Simpson's left hand and audio tapes of previous 911 calls made by Nicole alleging domestic violence at the hands of O.J. These facts and more led prosecutors to the conclusion that they had their man. Now, with no legal ramifications and no ethical issues forcing me to maintain my silence, I can finally share the one thing that has remained constant over the past two decades -- my personal opinion about Simpson's involvement in that double murder: He did it.
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