The OJ Simpson Trial--13 Years Later
Bill Long 7/4/08
Returning to the "Trial of the Century"
On this Independence Day, when we celebrated the 232nd anniversary of our country's separation from England, I decided to probe a completely different topic--the Oct. 1995 acquittal of football legend OJ Simpson for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. I hadn't followed the trial very closely in 1995--my personal life was to unsettled at the time. Now, with the aid of a legal education and 13 years of distance, I thought I would look at this trial that reinforced racial gulfs in America, gave birth to Court TV as a cable TV force, made figures as different as Johnny Cochran and Kato Kaelin household words, helped give visibiity to Barry Scheck's newly-christened "Innocence Project" and confirmed all of our suspicions that there is good reason the celebrity world of Los Angeles is called "la-la land."
As I looked at the facts and allegations in the case, I recognized a lesson I learned in law school and taught to my law students: that is that there is a great deal of difference between a "sense" that a person is guilty and putting on a convincing case to prove guilt. This distinction runs right through the middle of the Simpson case. There is good reason to suspect that he did the murders, but one can also make the case that the prosecution was so outmatched by Simpson's "dream team" that they really had little chance to convict him. All the defense needed was one or two big "breaks" to inflame the jury's passions in their favor, and in this case it was the discovery that LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman had used the "N-word" 40+ times in a series of interviews in the late 1980s-early 1990s in describing the challenges faced by female police officers. And this was after Fuhrman denied making any racist remarks in the decade prior to the 1995 trial.
But before leaping to this conclusion, some care should be taken to lay out some of the facts and issues in the case. The easiest way to get a grasp of the basic facts of this case is to massage the "time window" in which the murders of Nicole and Goldman occurred and when OJ wasn't seen by anyone.
The Time Window
The prosecution placed the murders of Nicole and Goldman at about 10:15 p.m. on Saturday night June 12, 1994. The murders happened in front of Nicole's condominium at 875 South Bundy, in the affluent Brentwood area of Los Angeles. OJ Simpson lived approximately two miles north, at 360 N Rockingham Ave, at the corner of Ashford St. in Brentwood. You can check out these places on mapquest.com. OJ had returned from dinner with Kato Kaelin, who originally had met Nicole in 1992 and had lived in a cabin on her property before being told by OJ not to live in the same place as she. Kato, the compliant long-haired come-what-may drifter who seemed always to land on his feet, thus lived in one of the cabins on the back on the Rockingham property. They enjoyed a "high-priced meal" at the Santa Monica McDonalds and returned to OJ's home at 9:37 p.m. Then, the next person to see Simpson was limo driver Allan Park, at 10:55 p.m. Park was hired to drive Simpson to LAX for his midnight or later flight to Chicago for a Hertz conference. As you may recall, OJ was a pitchman for Hertz rent-a-car in the days after he retired from the NFL in 1979. So, what did OJ do in these 78 minutes? That is the mystery.
Probing These 78 Minutes
But we can take it further than this. Simpson contended that he spent the 78 minutes in his home, taking a nap and then was wakened by Park's call to him shortly after 10:55 to take him to the airport. But there is reason to believe that this isn't really the right story. Park stated that he, who was not OJ's regular limosine driver, arrived at the Brentwood home at 10:22 p.m. (he was told to show up by 10:45). Guess he wanted to make sure he wasn't late. He drove north on Rockingham Ave. by the gate of 360 and noted that there really wasn't any room for him to pull the car to a stop at that gate, because he would be too exposed on Rockingham to traffic. Thus, he pulled up to Ashford, took a right turn and waited at the Ashford St. entrance to Simpson's estate. He said he was pretty sure that there was no car at the Rockingham entrance (OJ's Bronco would be found there, parked at a strange angle, the next morning). In addition, a neighbor who walked his dog between 9:30 and 9:45 p.m. testified also that there was no car at the Rockingham entrance at this hour either.
At 10:55, according to Park's testimony, he saw a large man dressed in dark clothing enter through the front door of the home. Shortly thereafter he called the house again, and OJ answered the phone, saying that he had fallen asleep and was showering and would be ready in a moment. Around that time (and the chronology isn't crystal clear here), Kato Kaelin, who was on the phone with a woman-friend, was startled by three loud bangings on his cabin wall; he said at first he thought it was an earthquake (we are in la-la land, aren't we?). Was this OJ trying to rouse him to help him get ready to depart? By the way, a map of the property is here; you can see the location not just of Kato's room but also the place where the right glove of a matching pair was found (the left glove was found at the murder scene). On the back pathway leading to Kato's cabin/room was found one of the blood-stained gloves. The defense was forced to argue conspiracy by the LAPD and planting of evidence in order to dodge the bullet of one of OJ's gloves at the murder scene and one, with blood of Goldman, at his home.
There were also about 8 drops of blood leading from the Bronco, now parked on Rockingham, into the front entrance of the home. What confuses me about this scenario, however, is that if OJ did drop the glove (inadvertently?) on his property, why were there no drops of blood along the back walkway near Kato's room? Had he sort of "cleaned himself up" before walking towards Kato's place and banging on it to roust him, inadvertently dropping the glove there?
The limousine driver testified that OJ was sweating quite a bit when he finally got into the car and they departed for LAX at around 11:15 p.m. In those 15 or 20 minutes between arriving home and climbing in the limo, OJ had changed clothes (showered?), and carried off a knapsack containing something (the prosecution said it was his clothes and the murder weapon) along with his luggage. This line of thinking then has him discard the knapsack into a garbage can at LAX when he got there.
This all makes it look pretty bleak for OJ at this point, especially when one of the prosecution witnesses says that it would have taken him no more than a minute or two to dispatch of Goldman at Nicole's condo. One witness the prosecution wanted to call said that she almost plowed into Simpson's car while he hurriedly was heading back towards his Rockingham home just north of Nicole's condo "about 11 p.m." She ultimately didn't testify because he lied to the prosecutors about those to whom she had actually told/sold her story.
The next (and final) essay tells why I think the prosecution's case fell apart...