It was a sobering moment for the nation. Americans were divided almost exclusively along racial lines over a case that, based on the physical evidence, had nothing at all to do with race. After more than eight months of testimony, objections, sidebars and posturing for the omnipresent cameras in the courtroom, it took the jurors just three hours to find the defendant, O.J. Simpson, not guilty of the brutal first degree murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown and her friend, Ron Goldman.
It was a stunning defeat for the prosecutors, who believed, as did many legal observers, that they had a slam dunk victory on their hands. The stinging defeat for lead prosecutor Marcia Clark may have been blunted only somewhat by the reported $4.2 million she received for the publication of her book Without A Doubt.The blow must have been especially upsetting for Deputy DA Chris Darden, who was widely blamed for allowing Simpson to try on that infamous bloody glove in court. That single moment where Simpson appeared to struggle with the glove, while wearing a latex glove underneath, sealed the fate of the case. In closing arguments, lead defense attorney Johnnie Cochran told the jurors "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." They agreed.
The so-called "Dream team" celebrated a legal victory but individually they endured personal tragedies following the trial. Famed attorney F. Lee Bailey was disbarred in Florida and Massachusetts in 2001 and 2003 respectively, for misconduct on a different case. Robert Kardashian, who had been Simpson's friend and confidante along with joining his legal defense team, died of esophageal cancer in September, 2003 just eight weeks after being diagnosed. Johnnie Cochran died in March, 2005 from a brain tumor. Robert Shapiro suffered the loss of a son to a drug overdose in October of that same year. This series of misfortunes prompted many to speculate that the dream team had actually been cursed for defending Simpson.
Defense tactics effectively shifted the case from a murder trial to a race trial and Detective Mark Furhman was portrayed as the real villain by Simpson's attorneys. Judge Lance Ito allowed evidence to be presented to the jurors that marked the death knell for the case as surely as the failed glove fiasco. While the case was built on physical evidence, including O.J.'s blood at the crime scene and his own home, a bloody glove found near the bodies and it's mate behind Simpson's guest house, footprints matching shoes allegedly worn by Simpson at the scene and much more, the case shifted focus onto an allegedly racist cop. The defense narrative turned from murder to the sinister framing of the once loved sport icon and a police cover-up. Despite launching a successful career as a crime novelist, Fuhrman will forever be tainted as that alleged racist rogue cop.
Unlike most trials, the jurors in the O.J. Simpson case were sequestered from the start. They spent virtually as much time in custody as Simpson himself. They were prisoners in their hotel, guarded and monitored by Sheriff's deputies around the clock, unable to freely see their families, watch television, or listen to radio or even read newspapers. Their speedy deliberations may have reflected their anger and frustration over their months of being sequestered as it was a rejection of the prosecution's case.
Simpson himself appeared stunned by the verdict. To much of the country, this most famous criminal defendant had just gotten away with murder. Two of them . But his victory was short-lived. He was found liable for $33.5 million in the civil case which immediately followed the criminal trial. He was branded a pariah in the Brentwood community which had once embraced him. On October 3, 2008, 13 years after his acquittal on double murder charges, Simpson was convicted of 12 counts of robbery, burglary and kidnapping in attempting to take back memorabilia which he claimed had been stolen from him. He was sentenced to 33 years, the harshest penalty of any of his fellow defendants and he remains in prison for at least the next four years when he will become eligible for parole.
The Goldman and Brown families surely took the verdict hardest of all. Their loved ones had been stabbed viciously and repeatedly by their attacker. For the parents and siblings of Ron and Nicole the man they believed responsible was walking from the courtroom a free man. Even if Simpson were to confess to the killings, the courts could never punish him for the crime.
For all the drama, hype, obsession and controversy, the outcome of the trial never shook my faith in the system. I continue to support cameras in the courtroom because I believe that only with transparency can we maintain confidence in our judicial process. While I personally disagree with their conclusion, I fully support the jury's decision. Still, I suggest that with the verdict in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, nobody won.