The O.J. Verdict
Written, produced and directed by Ofra Bikel
NEWSCASTER: We are outside the criminal courts building, and we're giving you a kind of a bird's-eye view of what's going on here. This is the crowd of camera crews–
ANNOUNCER: The verdict was to be announced on October 3, 1995, 10:00 AM, California time.
NEWSCASTER: I am telling you, I have never been in a place where there were so many cameras and reporters.
ANNOUNCER: It was an extraordinary day.
NEWSCASTER: They need crowd control just for the reporters.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, Simpson Defense Team: The Supreme Court Justices had notes passed to them. People lost hours of work. I mean, this was the most watched event in the history of television.
Judge LANCE ITO: If there is any disruption during the reading of the verdicts–
JEFFREY TOOBIN, The New Yorker: Essentially, the whole country stopped. Long distance phone calls dropped during that period. Trading on the stock exchange dropped. Everything simply stopped for the announcement of the verdict because that's how much the country was interested.
Judge LANCE ITO: All right. Mr. Cochran and Mr. Simpson, would you please stand and face the jury.
ANNOUNCER: An estimated audience of 150 million Americans, the largest in history, was watching.
COURT CLERK: In the matter of the people of the State of California versus Orenthal James Simpson, case number BA097211, we the jury in the above entitled action find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder–
[crowds cheer or scream]
COURT CLERK: –find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder in violation of penal code–
WILLIAM HODGMAN, L.A. District Attorney's Office: My first reaction, quite frankly, was I went numb. I literally felt like I lost all feeling and almost had what you might call an out-of-body experience.
COURT CLERK: Juror number one, as to count two, is this your verdict?
COURT CLERK: Juror number two, as to count two, is this your verdict?
SHAWN CHAPMAN-HOLLEY, Simpson defense Team: The moment of the verdict, it was just too much to bear. I mean, I hate looking at the videotape of me because I'm just sobbing just because of the weight of it. It was very, very heavy.
COURT CLERK: Juror number eight, as to count two, is this your verdict?
WILLIAM HODGMAN: Did I just hear that, or did I imagine that? And I realized, you know, it's true. They– they've walked O.J. Simpson. And that's when I knew.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, the verdict that challenged many of our beliefs, that cast doubt on the concept of our justice system and became the event that, more than any other in recent history, measured the difference between being white and black in America.
NARRATOR: Right from the start, it was on television, a double homicide on June 12th, 1994.
NEWSCASTER: Two dead– one male, the other female.
NARRATOR: It was reported that the victims, Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, were brutally murdered. Nicole was somewhat of a celebrity, having been formerly married to a sports hero who was a B-movie actor and a television personality. His name was Orenthal James Simpson.
HERTZ TELEVISION COMMERCIAL: Go, O.J., go!
NEWSCASTER: Simpson told police he was in Chicago at the time of the killings. He arrived at the home 12 hours after the bodies were discovered. Police–
NARRATOR: When Simpson returned from Chicago, followed by TV cameras, he was handcuffed, then questioned by the police and was temporarily released.
LARRY KING, CNN Larry King Live: OK, I'm going to have to interrupt this call. I understand we're going to go to a live picture in Los Angeles.
NARRATOR: Then it became a media mega-story.
LARRY KING: OK, this is interstate 5 and–
NARRATOR: Station after station interrupted their regular programs to go live to Los Angeles freeways, where Simpson was fleeing in his white Bronco, pursued by the police and cheered on by his fans.
GIL GARCETTI, Los Angeles District Attorney: Mr. Simpson is a fugitive of justice right now.
NARRATOR: There were rumors that O.J. was about to kill himself.
AL COWLINGS, Simpson Friend: [911 call] –but you've got to tell the police just to back off. He's still alive, but he's got a gun to his head.
HIGHWAY ONLOOKERS: O.J.! O.J.! O.J.!
NARRATOR: It was mesmerizing. The country was hooked.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, Simpson Defense Team: Everything came together– race, celebrity, beauty, wealth, perjury, tape recordings, the chase of the car, the media focus. It was the perfect storm.
HARD COPY ANNOUNCER: O.J. Simpson, in the search for evidence, the search for justice, the search for the truth–
NARRATOR: Almost at once, after O.J. pled not guilty and months before the trial, the media went wall to wall with the story.
HARD COPY ANNOUNCER: –the source for breaking news in the O.J. Simpson case.
A gripping look at life with O.J.–
O.J.'S COUSIN: O.J. said, "I did not do it." That's good enough for me.
HARD COPY ANNOUNCER: "My Cousin O.J."–
Prof. GERALD UELMAN, Simpson Defense Team: [class lecture] I can tell you, getting into the O.J. case– you know, they called us the "dream team," but the dream team–
NARRATOR: Professor Gerald Uelman was one of the lawyers on the defense team and a former dean of the Santa Clara law school. He still teaches there.
Prof. GERALD UELMAN: You know, being a law professor, I was thinking, "Boy, this trial's going to be a wonderful opportunity to educate the American people and teach them how our justice system really operates." It took me about two weeks to realize that this wasn't about educating anybody, this was entertainment.
NEWSCASTER: –the players in the most watched courtroom drama of the decade. And wait till you hear what we've learned about prosecutor Marcia Clark's tragic past!
GERALDO RIVERA, Rivera Live: Hi, everybody. I'm Geraldo Rivera. Sitting alongside me is Denise Brown. She is the lovely sister of Nicole Brown Simpson and–
NARRATOR: More seriously, there were future witnesses appearing on television, months before the trial, to air their grievances.
GERALDO RIVERA: After you got over the initial shock of hearing that Nicole, your sister, had been so brutally murdered, what was your first reaction?
DENISE BROWN, Nicole's Sister: He did it. That was my first reaction, is he murdered my sister.
NARRATOR: Just a few days after the crime, the police released Nicole Simpson's desperate 911 calls. They were broadcast nationwide.
NICOLE BROWN SIMPSON: [911 call] He broke the back door down to get in before–
911 OPERATOR: Wait a minute. What's your name?
NICOLE BROWN SIMPSON: Nicole Simpson.
911 OPERATOR: OK. Is he the sportscaster or–
NARRATOR: Then, while the jury was being selected, a book written by Nicole's friend, Faye Resnick, was published and nationally publicized.
FAYE RESNICK: ["Hard Copy"] When I tell you about this last time, you will know why I believe that O.J. killed my best friend.
NARRATOR: A worried Judge Ito then stopped the proceedings in order to assess the damage, making the Faye Resnick book an instant best seller.
Prof. CHARLES OGLETREE, Harvard Law School: It was a case where the government knew that they had flaws, but they had no choice. To the extent I'm critiquing them, I can't blame them. They had to try the case that they were given. They lost evidence because of the media. Witnesses were tainted. Witnesses were compromised because they were paid to do interviews. Family members were compromised because they gave interviews before the case went to trial.
So the government had many– the government was literally handcuffed in what they were not able to present and what they lost, and that's unfortunate. I don't know if it would have changed the outcome, but it would have let them put on a much more thorough case.
NARRATOR: Whatever flaws the prosecution case had, the choices they made, as they later admitted, did little to improve their chances. First they moved the trial from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles, where most of the jury pool was likely to be composed of minorities. In fact, the final jury included nine African-Americans, one Hispanic and two whites. Ten were women.
Judge LANCE ITO: All right. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
NARRATOR: The prosecution's tactic was to start by attacking the reputation of O.J. Simpson and establishing a motive for the murder.
CHRISTOPHER DARDEN, Prosecution Team: What we've been seeing, ladies and gentlemen, is the public face, the public persona, the face of the athlete, the face of the actor. It is not the actor who is on trial here today, ladies and gentlemen, it is his other face, and that is the face we will expose to you in this trial.
WILLIAM HODGMAN, Deputy District Attorney, Los Angeles: Strategically, we led with the history of domestic violence, the history of O.J. Simpson battering Nicole Brown. And part of that strategy was to attempt to knock O.J. Simpson off that pedestal, that celebrated pedestal where so many people had placed him and had such a positive public image of him. And the thought was, "Let's lead with the history of domestic violence because not only would it serve to knock Simpson off that pedestal, hopefully, but also serve to establish a framework that this was a murder that happened in the course of a history of domestic violence."
CHRISTOPHER DARDEN: And the evidence will show that the face you will see will be the face of a batterer, a wife-beater–
NARRATOR: They would soon find out, to their dismay, that the strategy wasn't working.
WILLIAM HODGMAN: It did not impress the jury. And we knew that even midstream in trial, where after several jurors were excused for a variety of reasons, they were interviewed, and their reports became known in the press and in the media that they didn't understand why the prosecution spent all that time proving up the history of domestic violence. They felt it had nothing to do with the murder case. It had everything to do with the murder case, but the jury didn't get it.
NARRATOR: After the trial, a juror confirmed this view at a press conference.
BRENDA MORAN, Simpson Juror: Domestic abuse– to me, that was a waste of time. This is a murder trial, not domestic abuse.
CHRISTOPHER DARDEN: He killed her out of jealousy.
NARRATOR: Even if they wanted to, it was too late for the prosecution to change directions.
WILLIAM HODGMAN: You have to soldier on. You're in the midst of trial, and you're not– you don't have time to sulk and think about "What if." You have to move on. You have to prepare for the next day. You are hopeful that you're going to succeed, in the end, in persuading the jury that your side of the case is the right side of the case.
NARRATOR: So they soldiered on.
MARCIA CLARK, Prosecution Team: You analyze the DNA and you see, "Can I exclude the suspect? Can I rule him out?"
NARRATOR: Marcia Clark handled the physical evidence. Most important was the blood trail. Drops of blood that matched the defendant's were found in his car–
MARCIA CLARK: –matches the defendant–
NARRATOR: –at the crime scene–
MARCIA CLARK: –matches the defendant–
NARRATOR: –and at his home.
MARCIA CLARK: –matches the defendant, matches the defendant–
NARRATOR: One of their most incriminating pieces of evidence was a man's bloody glove found at the murder scene, while a matching one, also soaked with blood, was found on Mr. Simpson's property.
MARCIA CLARK: When they saw that glove, they realized that it looked like the mate to the glove that you already saw at the Bundy scene, underneath the plant at the foot of the body of Ron Goldman.
JOHNNIE COCHRAN, Simpson Defense Team: The evidence in this case we believe will show that O.J. Simpson is an innocent man.
NARRATOR: The defense strategy was to poke holes in the prosecution's theory. They knew that the bloody glove, which was found in Mr. Simpson's yard, was obtained in a search which was conducted without a warrant.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, Simpson Defense Team: The police found out there had been a double murder, immediately suspected O.J. Simpson. You always suspect the husband. They go to his house. They could have tried to get a warrant by telephone. They knew no judge would grant a warrant, so they made up a story. The story was that they had to climb over the wall in order to protect O.J. Simpson from the possible killer. Of course, what they wanted to do was find O.J. Simpson there before he had gotten lawyered up, so that they could use their magic and try to get him to confess his crime.
They also wanted to conduct a search that they probably would not have been able to conduct, had they sought a warrant. And they were prepared, as police often are in certain circumstances, to lie about the level of doubt they had.
NARRATOR: What's more, both gloves were found by a detective named Mark Fuhrman, who had confessed in the past to hating African-Americans, and especially interracial couples. In fact, he had found the first glove with one other detective before being asked to leave the crime scene. He then went on to find the matching glove on Mr. Simpson's property. The defense speculated: Could Fuhrman have found a pair of gloves at the crime scene and planted one in Mr. Simpson's yard?
MARK FUHRMAN, LAPD Homicide Detective: [on witness stand] It appeared to be somewhat moist or sticky
NARRATOR: F. Lee Bailey, one of Simpson's attorneys, would cross-examine him.
F. LEE BAILEY, Simpson Defense Team: Without anyone's encouragement, Fuhrman hopped the fence into O.J.'s yard. He found a glove that matched one at the scene. He said he found this glove right next to O.J.'s house. in an alley that no one would have used. It made no sense, except that by doing so, he managed to stay in the case as a focal witness, one that the police were very unhappy about, but it was too late to choose.
SCOTT TUROW, Author/Attorney: One of the things that every law student ought to be taught about the Simpson case is that, you know, initial decisions can carry enormous consequences because once Fuhrman goes into the Simpson house and is involved in taking those statements from O.J., he's in the case. If you're going to– if you're going to use the statements or the evidence that's gleaned as a result, he's in your case. He's your case.
F. LEE BAILEY: I want you to assume that perhaps at some time since 1985 or Ś86 you addressed a member of the African-American race as a nigger. Is it possible that you have forgotten that act on your part?
Det. MARK FUHRMAN: No, it's not possible.
F. LEE BAILEY: Are you therefore saying that you have not used that word in the past 10 years, Detective Fuhrman?
Det. MARK FUHRMAN: Yes, that's what I'm saying.-
NARRATOR: Then, explosive news.
TOM BROKAW, Anchor, NBC Nightly News: Good evening. The O.J. Simpson trial is in chaos tonight, and today's free-for-all could very well decide the ultimate outcome.
NBC CORRESPONDENT: The Furhman tapes, a ticking time bomb in the Simpson trial, blew up today. Johnnie Cochran claimed that on tape, Fuhrman says, "You see a nigger in a Porsche and he doesn't have a $100 suit on, then you stop him because he's probably stolen the car."
Judge LANCE ITO: All right. Detective Fuhrman, would you resume the witness stand, please.
NARRATOR: When recalled to the stand, Fuhrman invoked the 5th Amendment so as not to incriminate himself.
Prof. GERALD UELMAN, Simpson Defense Team: Have you ever falsified a police report?
Det. MARK FUHRMAN: I wish to assert my 5th Amendment privilege.
Prof. GERALD UELMAN: Did you plant or manufacture any evidence in this case?
Det. MARK FUHRMAN: I assert my 5th Amendment privilege.
NARRATOR: Months before, Professor Uelman fought hard to suppress the glove evidence, which, the defense claimed, was found as a result of an illegal search. His motion was denied. The glove was entered into evidence, and with it entered Mark Fuhrman.
Prof. GERALD UELMAN: The ironic thing is that if the judge had granted that motion and thrown out the glove, I think the result in the O.J. case would have been different. Mark Fuhrman would have been out of the case. They had a pretty compelling case without the glove. The glove kind of opened the door to all of the questions about Mark Fuhrman's credibility and his racism. And when he then became such an important witness in the trial, that then opened the door to all of the problems that Mark Fuhrman created for their case.
[www.pbs.org: Read Uelman's extended interview]
SCOTT TUROW: I'm one of those people, for example, who thinks that in light of Fuhrman's track record on the witness stand, it is certainly not an unreasonable hypothesis to think that that glove, that bloody glove which was found outside the house– you know, it's– it's certainly reasonable to say that maybe that glove wasn't dropped there by O.J. Simpson, but in point of fact, somebody perhaps who had found it at the scene of the crime and decided to bring it there, and in the parlance of some of my friends, Chicago police officers, just tighten up the case a little bit.
Now, I'm– of course, I'm not saying that's what happened. I don't know, but–
INTERVIEWER: It could have happened?
SCOTT TUROW: It could have happened. And I think people watching that suddenly came to realize what the consequences are when the cops walk a little bit over the line. All of a sudden, you can't believe in anything.
NARRATOR: That was, in fact, the defense's main argument. Peter Arenella, a professor at UCLA Law School, was a commentator for ABC News during the Simpson trial.
Prof. PETER ARENELLA, UCLA Law School: The defense essentially was, "You can't trust the messenger because the messenger has lied to you, and that means that you really can't trust the message they're presenting to you. So if you have police officers that are lying to you, that aren't testifying to you truthfully, there's no reason for you to believe that all of the physical evidence that they've collected and presented is as reliable as they suggest. There's reason for you to fear incompetence, and worse, corruption of the physical evidence. And you certainly can't trust the story they're telling about Mr. Simpson."
NARRATOR: Barry Scheck, one of the best-known experts in DNA evidence, questioned LAPD chief criminalist Dennis Fung.
BARRY SCHECK, Simpson Defense Team: Could that, in your expert opinion, be a source of secondary transfer of his hair to the crime scene?
DENNIS FUNG, Criminalist: It's possible.
BARRY SCHECK: Possible?
DENNIS FUNG: Yes.
BARRY SCHECK: Did you, when you left–
NARRATOR: Scheck kept criminalist Fung on the stand for six days and got him to admit that there could have been contamination–
DENNIS FUNG: Possibly.
NARRATOR: –that his staff was inexperienced–
BARRY SCHECK: Entry level? How about that?
DENNIS FUNG: Yes.
NARRATOR: –that the chain of custody was compromised and that there were blood drops in places where they did not seem to have existed right after the murder.
DENNIS FUNG: That's correct.
BARRY SCHECK: That's a terrible mistake from the point of view of a criminalist, isn't it.
DENNIS FUNG: Yes.
NARRATOR: Ten years later, Professor Paul Rothstein of Georgetown University Law School still uses the O.J. trial in his classes.
Prof. PAUL ROTHSTEIN: [in classroom] What exactly is it that the O.J. team, the defense team, was challenging about this evidence, about the DNA evidence? Yes?
1st STUDENT: I think they were mostly challenging the pre-testing procedure, whether or not it was intentional or incidental. They were questioning what happened to the DNA before it went to the lab.
Prof. PAUL ROTHSTEIN: Were they challenging the science of DNA? Yes?
2nd STUDENT: Well, no, they weren't challenging DNA at all. They actually seemed to acknowledge that, properly done, DNA testing is accurate. What they were questioning was what the evidence actually showed. The DNA that Cellmark tested may have, in fact, come from O.J. Simpson. The problem was the prosecution couldn't connect that to the actual crime scene. It wasn't clear that it had actually come from his body at the time of the crime.
Prof. PAUL ROTHSTEIN: Yeah?
3rd STUDENT: Well, all of the time which the prosecution just spent giving us all these probabilities is irrelevant, if something was screwed up in the lab and the wrong blood ended up on– in someone else's sample. So yes, that very well might have been the blood of Nicole Brown Simpson on that sock, but that's irrelevant if that blood was planted.
TOM BROKAW: Time now for our nightly closer look at the O.J. Simpson trial–
BRIAN WILLIAMS, CNBC Anchor: We have the latest now on the Simpson trial. Today was the–
NARRATOR: In the 372 days that the trial lasted, there was nothing that hadn't been recorded, discussed and analyzed on television.
NEWSCASTER: Why didn't the gloves appear to fit Simpson's hands yesterday? Defense attorney Johnnie Cochran arrived this morning beaming.
JOHNNIE COCHRAN: The glove didn't fit!
Prof. PETER ARENELLA, ABC News Commentator: Outside of Perry Mason, what could be more dramatic than O.J. Simpson showing the jury that the killer's gloves don't fit?
NARRATOR: For others, the prosecution had as good as won the case.
DOMINICK DUNNE, Vanity Fair, CBS News Analyst: Well, Dan, it looks as if the defense should have rested after the Simpson ladies were on the stand because it's been downhill ever since.
DAN RATHER, Anchor, CBS Evening News: Dominick Dunne, thank you very much.
NARRATOR: It wasn't just television that participated in the feeding frenzy. Newspapers and magazines from all over the country kept pouring out stories about the rise and fall of O.J. Simpson. Surprisingly, the one which won the most accolades was The National Enquirer, cited in The New York Times as "required reading in the Simpson case."
TED KOPPEL, ABC Nightline: I mean, one of the great ironies of the trial was that The National Enquirer reminded us what good, basic journalism is about, Which is shoe leather. Go and interview the doorman at the hotel. Go and interview the bartender. Go and interview the waitress. Go and interview anyone who knows anything and put all that information together. And lo and behold, The National Enquirer scored one scoop after another. And they were right. They got the stories right.
DAVID PEREL, Executive VP, American Media: This was the first time that The Enquirer had gone up against many of these news outlets one on one, basically, on a major news story.
NARRATOR: David Perel was the general editor of The Enquirer in those years.
DAVID PEREL: The Enquirer already had a lot of sources in place because Los Angeles is such a key battleground for us in our week-to-week coverage. So we had a great source network, we threw a lot of resources at it, and we were very focused. We did not have to worry about, like a daily newspaper, oh, covering the local news or what's going on in Washington. We could basically throw everything we had at this story. We had talented reporters. We had talented editors. We had as much money to spend as we needed. And we had complete and total focus.
NARRATOR: As for Nightline, one of the most prestigious news programs on television, they aired their O.J. Simpson programs once a week.
[ABC News "Nightline"]
ANNOUNCER: January 11th–
TED KOPPEL: Prosecution evidence released today–
ANNOUNCER: January 25th–
TED KOPPEL: Yesterday, he was depicted as an obsessed stalker–
ANNOUNCER: February 1st–
TED KOPPEL: We were going to try tonight to avoid the subject of the O.J. Simpson trial. It is not–
You know, I felt– I felt a certain amount of embarrassment about doing it on a regular basis. As I say, I think we did it– at certain times, we certainly did it once a week. Was it really worth that kind of coverage? Probably not. Probably not.
Tonight, the State versus O.J. Simpson–
Every time we did O.J., the ratings went up 10 percent. We could see it in the overnight ratings the next morning. And if we had done it every night, Lord knows what would have happened.
ALEX JONES, Dir., Shorenstein Ctr., Harvard Univ.: They were embarrassed. Yeah. I'm not– yeah, I'm sure it's true. Koppel would have been one of the people most embarrassed by feeling like his network had– you know, had been ridiculous in the way they covered the story.
INTERVIEWER: But they covered it.
ALEX JONES: Of course. They were competing, and they were competing with people who were giving it a huge amount of coverage and getting a huge amount of audience response. This was not something done in a vacuum, this was something that America was clamoring for.
ANNOUNCER: The O.J. Simpson trial, the most compelling murder trial, ever. If you can't watch the trial all day, don't worry, you can see what you've missed tonight on 4 New York at 11.
[www.pbs.org: Explore the legacy of O.J. on the media]
NARRATOR: As the media saturated the airwaves with the story, public opinion polls showed that the audience was polarized along racial lines.
Prof. PETER ARENELLA, UCLA Law School: Public opinion polls made it quite clear that most white Americans believed Simpson was obviously guilty before the trial ever started. Most white Americans feared that the defense would do something unethical and use racism to get a black jury, predominantly African-American jury, to acquit an obviously guilty defendant. That was the frame of public discourse before the trial ever started. Everything was fit into that frame in terms of how the media covered the trial.
NARRATOR: In fact, The New Yorker magazine came out as early as July 1994 with a cartoon of O.J.'s face in a television set on the cover. An article written by Jeffrey Toobin entitled "An Incendiary Defense" suggested that O.J. Simpson's defense team, in desperation, would use what he called "the race card," which meant a monstrous strategy in which they would accuse Detective Fuhrman of racism in order to win their case.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, The New Yorker: What made the theory so incendiary was it wasn't simply the monstrous allegation, if false, that a cop had framed an innocent man. It was– in this city, where people had just rioted because of the verdict in the Rodney King case, it was an attempt by the defense to inject the exact same kind of issues with, who knew, potentially the same consequences.
NARRATOR: Kimberle Crenshaw is a professor of law at both Columbia University and UCLA Law School
Prof. KIMBERLE CRENSHAW, Columbia Univ. and UCLA Law School: Let's think about it. What was monstrous about a defense that suggested that one of the key officers that found key evidence linking the defendant to the case was an officer who had manifested racial bias, particularly against interracial relationships, had claimed on more than one occasion that he did manufacture evidence, and had subscribed to a whole range of extra-legal punishments that he thought would be appropriate for African-Americans? It would be– it would be malpractice not to introduce evidence to undermine the credibility of this officer.
Yet to a lawyer like Jeffrey Toobin and to many middle-of-the-road, thinking people, that's just off limits. Well, in whose world, in what game, in what play, in what narrative is it off limits to talk about racial bias? White. It's a white perspective. It– color blindness is not color blindness, it's the world the way we see it, the way we want to see it.
And we don't want to talk about race. We don't want race to be relevant, so we're going to act as though it isn't relevant. And when you keep telling us it is relevant, we're going to call you the racists. We're going to say you're playing the race card. We're going to call you the monster for making us confront the monstrosity that is racism in American society.
[www.pbs.org: Read Crenshaw's extended interview]
NARRATOR: Whoever first introduced the so-called race card, there's no question that it became a huge and controversial factor in the trial.
JOHNNIE COCHRAN: [in court] Fuhrman wants to take all black people and burn them. That's genocidal racism! Maybe this is one of the reasons we're all gathered together here this day. Maybe there's a reason for your purpose. Maybe this is why you were selected. There's something in your background, in your character, that helps you understand this is wrong! Maybe you're the right people at the right time at the right place to say "No more!"
NARRATOR: Fred Goldman, Ron's father, was enraged.
FRED GOLDMAN: [press conference] He suggests that racism ought to be the most important thing that any one of us ought to listen to in this court, that any one of us in this nation should be listening to, and it's because of racism we should put aside all other thought, all other reason, and set his murdering client free!
INTERVIEWER: How much was it about race, as far as you're concerned?
MARC WATTS, Former CNN Correspondent: The trial, everything's about race. Black people deal with race every day.
NARRATOR: Marc Watts was one of the few African-American reporters covering the trial.
MARC WATTS: Whites who said it's not a trial about race speak that way because they haven't been on the receiving end of injustices at the hands of a white person. So they don't think it's about race. They block it out of their minds. They don't get it. It was about race from day one.
DAVID PEREL, Executive VP, American Media: I don't think it fully dawned on the white media what a big factor race was in this trial until Mark Fuhrman was torn apart on the stand by the defense and when they had the tapes with him using the "N" word as effortlessly and easily and casually as other people say hello. That's when the white media started to get the shock of, "My God," you know, "this is a huge element here." I think that was a revelatory moment for the white media and more of a head-nodding moment for black people in this country, who were basically saying, "Yes, we told you all along race is a factor."
DAVID MARGOLICK, Former Reporter, The New York Times: I think that white America has always underestimated the racial divide.
INTERVIEWER: Including you?
DAVID MARGOLICK: Including me. And I've written a lot about it. I've written a lot about it, and I think I've come to understand it more profoundly in the course of my writing. But it's a problem that we would just as soon ignore, or overlook, and we're quite content to think that because there's been superficial progress, the matter has gone away.
NARRATOR: Most reporters who covered the trial were white.
DAVID MARGOLICK: There were very few black correspondents covering this case, and I don't remember much discussion ever between us and them on the racial issues underlying it. And maybe it was just sort of a taboo. You just didn't talk about it. And– and we didn't.
NARRATOR: Marc Watts now heads a media talent agency in Chicago.
MARC WATTS: I grew up in southern California. I was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department. So I can process all this suspicion of the Los Angeles Police Department and all this mistrust in all the incompetence and all the frustration that people in Los Angeles of color have towards the Los Angeles Police Department. And I can see the– I can see the trial through that prism. I mean, I knew where they were going with Mark Fuhrman long before it even came out.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever talk about it?
MARC WATTS: No, because I didn't ever want to be accused of siding with one side or the other. I didn't ever want to be accused of siding with the defense team. I didn't– you try hard when you're sitting there in "Camp O.J." just to report the facts.
[CNN] Good morning, Leon. Simpson is expected back in the courtroom in about one-and-a-half hours. A number of issues–
DAVID MARGOLICK: I don't remember talking much about the underlying issue of whether he was guilty or innocent with other reporters, and I suspect it's because we just all assumed he was guilty.
MARC WATTS: Did I– did I think he was guilty personally? I'm not going to say really what I thought. I can't– I've never spoken and admitted whether I thought he was innocent or guilty. I will tell you this, though, based on the nine or ten months of trial that I saw, based on all the evidence and all the cross-examination, the jury rendered the right verdict. There was enough shadow of doubt. There was enough reasonable doubt. It would have been hard for me as a jury member, having heard all the evidence, to do anything else but "not guilty."
JEFFREY TOOBIN, The New Yorker: Not only don't I think there's reasonable doubt in this case, I don't think there's any doubt. I mean, I just don't think there's a shred of doubt that O.J. Simpson killed these people.
COURT CLERK: In the matter of the people of the state of California vs. Orenthal James Simpson, case number–
NARRATOR: Whatever feelings about race simmered beneath the surface while the trial went on, they exploded with the verdict all over television.
COURT CLERK: –Simpson not guilty of the crime–
WHITE ONLOOKERS: [screams] Oh! Oh, my word!
WHITE POLICEWOMAN: I felt it was disgusting and a total miscarriage of justice.
WHITE MAN IN BAR: I think it's outrageous. O.J. killed those people.
WHITE WOMAN IN STORE: He got away with murder. Period. He got away with murder.
NARRATOR: Two images were indelibly etched: Ron Goldman's father comforting his daughter while people were cheering outside.
ROBERT BALL, Attorney: It was– it was so divisive that you could not imagine. I mean, it– it's almost as though when you walked past a white person that day, they looked at you with some sort of disdain. And if you smiled, you know you, you had to be smiling and you had to be happy about the fact that, you know, O.J. got free. I mean, that was the only thing that people talked about, you know, that day and– and really, for months.
KERMAN MADDOX, Businessman: It was a life-changing experience. It was an eye-opening experience. It was a reminder to me – and I don't have to be reminded a lot – that no matter what environment you're in, at some point, people like to remind you that you're different from us. You can be a businessman, you can be as educated as we are, you can even be on TV, but at the end of the day, you really are an African-American, and in our minds, you're different from us.
And that was just a reminder. I get reminded about that periodically, but on that day, those couple days, the day of the verdict and immediately thereafter, I think I was reminded of that more often than in any other sequence.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, Simpson Defense Team: This was taken personally by whites in America in a way that no other case ever affected them. This was somehow a legitimation of the pent-up racism that I think Americans had to have– had to hold back since the 1950s.
The letters I got were unbelievable, from people of every background. I got racist letters from Jews accusing me of essentially abandoning my heritage to defend an African-American. I got letters from liberals. I got letters from people on every part of the political spectrum saying this was the worst verdict in American history, forgetting about the fact that they all grew up with the notion, "Better 10 guilty go free than one innocent be wrongly convicted." This case somehow became personal.
F. LEE BAILEY, Simpson Defense Team: I used to go to everybody's house in Santa Monica throughout the trial, kind of like a prize pig. I would get invited to dinner, and we'd all sit around and talk. And everybody kind of gave me condolences. "We know you're doing your very best, and of course, you don't have a shot because we read the papers." And I'd keep telling these people, "You don't know what you're talking about. You're going to get a very ugly surprise, if that's the way you feel."
They did. I never got another invitation in Santa Monica or Hollywood or Beverly Hills.
Prof. GERALD UELMAN, Simpson Defense Team: I certainly got my share of hate mail, you know, even from alumni of this law school that really shocked me. I mean, you would think, God, if anybody should understand what the role of the defense lawyer is and how our system is supposed to operate, it should be somebody who went to law school. So that really surprised me.
Prof. PETER ARENELLA: Tragically, the American public doesn't seem to understand the role of the criminal defense counsel. Even my first-year students ask me frequently, "How can you, as a criminal defense attorney, when you were one, represent a guilty person in good conscience?" The point of an adversarial system is for the defense to force the prosecution to persuade a jury beyond a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt. And a defense counsel's ethical role is to make the prosecution satisfy that burden of proof by challenging the credibility and persuasiveness of the prosecution's evidence.
NARRATOR: The jury bore the brunt of the anger.
Prof. KIMBERLE CRENSHAW, Columbia Law School, UCLA Law School: They were made into an all-black jury, although it was a multi-racial jury. And then the jury was framed in stereotypes. They were ignorant. They didn't pay attention. They were swooning. All of the worst stereotypes that you could think that might apply to black women got rolled out to explain this jury verdict.
JEFFREY TOOBIN: I think if you asked the jury why they reached their verdict, as I did, they'll say, "Well, there was reasonable doubt." I think the reason they thought there was reasonable doubt was it fit into their conceptions of how the LAPD acts towards black people, you know, which I think is true in general. I think it is not true specifically in the case of O.J. Simpson. But I mean, I– look, I don't– I believe the jury was sincere. I don't– I don't think they were, like, faking. But I think they're just wrong.
INTERVIEWER: What if the jury was white?
JEFFREY TOOBIN: He would have been convicted, period. I mean, a white jury would have convicted him in almost as little time as a black jury acquitted him. And it pains me to say that because I don't like to think that we live in that kind of country, but this case told me we do. And the civil case, though the evidence was somewhat different and the standard of proof was different, the mostly white jury in that case had just about as easy a time with it as the black jury did with the criminal case.
Prof. PAUL ROTHSTEIN: Was that a prejudicial reaction?
NARRATOR: The law students at Georgetown University are still grappling with this question.
Prof. PAUL ROTHSTEIN: Is reasonable doubt culturally dependent? Yes?
1st STUDENT: I think that what the racial make-up of the jury allowed them to do was, frankly, to be a lot more skeptical of scientific evidence than a group that was– perhaps had more faith in the police would have.
2nd STUDENT: The defense would not have been able to make its case if you had had 12 white jurors sitting on that jury. They could not get away with the same argument.
Prof. PAUL ROTHSTEIN: So who's right? Is this jury wrong and the white jury would be right?
3rd STUDENT: Listen, they played the race card during the O.J. Simpson trial, and we're playing the race card during this class. I don't think it matters whether you're white or whether you're black, but every reasonable juror would probably come to the same conclusion, which is that the LA police framed a guilty man.
Prof. PAUL ROTHSTEIN: And what should be the result?
[www.pbs.org: More analysis of what the jury saw]
Judge LANCE ITO: All right. Mr. Cochran and Mr. Simpson, would you please stand and face the jury.
COURT CLERK: We the jury in the above in the above entitled action find the defendant Orenthal James Simpson not guilty of the crime of murder–
NARRATOR: The images of joyful African-Americans, which were flashed all over television, sent waves of shock in the white community. It was a celebration, many felt, of a man who got away with double murder.
Prof. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, Author: I don't think we should make the mistake of believing that black people who celebrated, A, thought O.J. was innocent, or B, were even concerned most about O.J., as opposed to their Uncle Charlie or Bubba or their sister Shenaynay or their Aunt Jackie who had been screwed by a system that never paid attention to them.
O.J. was beyond his body. "O.J." was a term that represented every black person that got beat up by the criminal justice system. And now we have found some vindication. And guess what, white America? It was with a black man that you loved. It was with a black man that you said was better than us. It was with a black man that you said wasn't like us. He was different than we are. He wasn't a troublemaker. He didn't cause racial consternation or he wasn't controversial. Ha, ha, ha! The very guy you thought was so perfect turns out to be the one who turned the tables on you. That was a delicious irony of the victory, as well.
Prof. CHARLES OGLETREE, Harvard University: It was not in any way a reflection of lack of concern about these victims who were viciously murdered. It was a celebration of the many black men who had gone through that justice system, who didn't have good lawyers, who found themselves going to jail, rather than going home.
Prof. TODD BOYD, University of Southern California: They were applauding the fact that the system itself was finally dealt an even response, that someone finally got over on the system.
NARRATOR: That someone, many felt, was Johnnie Cochran.
ROBERT BALL, Attorney: He was the shining knight. He was the person who basically extracted justice from a system wherein there had been no justice before.
Prof. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: We did it by playing by your rules, playing the game the way you said we should play it. Many white people were upset with Johnnie Cochran, outraged at Johnnie Cochran. Why be upset with Johnnie? He's taking your rules, playing by them, and he won. And that's why black people were so happy, I would suggest, that day.
NARRATOR: It was Reverend Al Sharpton who summed it up at the Cochran memorial service in April 2005.
Rev. AL SHARPTON: In all due respect to you, Brother Simpson, we didn't clap when the acquittal of Simpson came for O.J., we were clapping for Johnnie.
Prof. CHARLES OGLETREE: What people were able to see for the first time ever on television was not Stepin Fetchit, was not some Uncle Tom. They saw an African-American lawyer who was articulate, who was energetic, who was well-prepared, who was defiant.
JOHNNIE COCHRAN: But this statement about whether somebody sounds black or white is racist, and I resent it!
I am now, on behalf of my client, prepared to rest.
Prof. CHARLES OGLETREE: And they saw Johnnie Cochran as the reflection of what the system is all about.
JOHNNIE COCHRAN: This is a blockbuster! This is a bombshell!
Prof. CHARLES OGLETREE: Here was a black man with skills, making the system work.
JOHNNIE COCHRAN: It's no disguise. It's no disguise. It makes no sense. It doesn't fit. If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.
SHAWN CHAPMAN-HOLLEY, Managing Partner, The Cochran Firm Johnnie Cochran commanding that courtroom, coming here on TV, a black, brilliant attorney winning the case against all the odds– that's what the black people were cheering about.
NARRATOR: Not all blacks were cheering out loud.
1st SOUTH CENTRAL ACTIVIST: I was pleased. I didn't jump up and down and scream and yell, but I just said– [gives thumbs up]
2nd SOUTH CENTRAL ACTIVIST: It took– I was really shocked. It took me back for a minute, yeah. I just– I was really shocked.
INTERVIEWER: Did anybody think that O.J. was guilty?
KERMAN MADDOX: [raises hand]
INTERVIEWER: A minority of one.
KERMAN MADDOX: I have been a minority of one for a long time, within my family–
NARRATOR: Kerman Maddox heads a group of community activists in South Central Los Angeles.
KERMAN MADDOX: One, I thought he did it, but I never thought he'd be convicted. And I always thought the trial was more about a system that has treated us unfairly for years, rather than the actual situation of O.J. Simpson himself.
Prof. JESSICA CRENSHAW: It was a black man murdering a white woman. That's what I thought it was about. And that's why the media was so interested in it. If it was a black man killing a black woman, we wouldn't be talking about it now.
ACTIVIST: Or a black man killing a black man.
KERMAN MADDOX: The reason you're talking to us is because it's 10 years after the fact, O.J. is black, the wife he killed is white and she was a blonde. She just wasn't white, she was a blonde, the forbidden fruit for everybody, but especially for African-Americans.
So I think when Al talks about the winning, you had this incredible divide in the country, but especially in L.A., African-Americans on one side, white America on the other side. And I think when we got the verdict, a lot of us felt, whether we thought he was guilty or not, "We finally won one," because we generally don't win in that game.
INTERVIEWER: You did, too?
KERMAN MADDOX: Oh yeah. I'm a black man. [laughter] I mean, come on. If you're black and if you've lived in this town, you've had some sort of run-in with law enforcement, LAPD, the sheriff. It's just the nature of us being black men.
INTERVIEWER: But you thought he was guilty.
KERMAN MADDOX: Yeah, but I like the verdict! [laughter]
NARRATOR: Ten years later, the African-American reaction to the verdict seems more complex than it did at the time. Tolliver's Barber Shop is located in South Central Los Angeles.
BARBER: How many here believe that O.J. is innocent, he was not involved in the murder at all? Raise your hands. [no response]
1st CUSTOMER: You've got to be a little bit more clear. [crosstalk]
BARBER: OK, OK, OK. Let me ask you this, then. How many believe that O.J. had something to do with it and that he was found not guilty, but you believe he had something to do with it? Raise your hands. [all raise hand]
1st CUSTOMER: I think he knew someone that did it.
BARBER: But the majority of us in here believe that he either killed her or he had something to do with it.
2nd CUSTOMER: Right. They just did not have enough evidence to prove that he did it.
BARBER: Well, what it was, was they framed a guilty man? That's all that was.
3rd CUSTOMER: They planted evidence. If the man was guilty already, why you had to plant evidence?
4th CUSTOMER: Those stupid police! If they had investigated things properly, understanding that we got this Negro, they would have found out who was involved, everybody who was involved.
5th CUSTOMER: I feel within my heart that the Negro killed her. Ain't no question that I– you know what I mean? And I think it was a wake-up call to him because all these white folks that loved him and pretended that they liked him because he had money, they kicked his ass to the curb. He ran, came right back home, just like Michael Jackson and every other Negro when he abandons his people to run and suck up behind white people.
And as soon as you get in trouble, white people abandon you, kick you to the curb, you have to come back home. And I would hope that Negroes learn that no matter how high you ascend in terms of how much money you make or how white the woman is, you still a nigger in America.
5th CUSTOMER: That's just real. You still a nigger in America!
BARBER: What if you're Michael Jackson and– and–
5th CUSTOMER: You still a nigger in America!
BARBER: But what if I'm Michael Jackson, and I put some bleach and I turn myself– _[crosstalk] And I get my nose fixed–
5th CUSTOMER: You still a nigger!
BARBER: –and I make my hair straight–
5th CUSTOMER: You still a nigger in America, and you will always be a nigger in America!
BARBER: I can't change?
5th CUSTOMER: You cannot change! White folks will not let you change because white people call rich black people what?
5th CUSTOMER: Hello! [laughter]
NARRATOR: Ten years ago, at the time of the trial, Shawn Chapman-Holley was a young lawyer assisting Johnnie Cochran. Today she is a managing partner of the Cochran firm in Los Angeles.
SHAWN CHAPMAN-HOLLEY: It is of importance everywhere I go. If anybody finds out that I was associated with the defense team in the O.J. Simpson case, they immediately sit up. They're upset. I mean, they have real passion. It's not just an opportunity for them to talk about it with somebody who may know something about it more, it's their– there's a visceral response. And I just continue to see it 10 years later.
Judge LANCE ITO: All right. Mr. Cochran and Mr. Simpson, would you please stand and face the jury.
Prof. CHARLES OGLETREE, Harvard University: He was someone that white people loved. They loved to see him run touchdowns at USC. They loved to see him run through airports for Hertz Rental Car. They loved to see him in B-movies. He was accepted in one way. But the moment that Time magazine darkened his face, the moment that he was accused of murdering two people, he lost his license as that African-American who was accepted in the white community and it was revoked.
Prof. TODD BOYD, Univ. of Southern California: Do I think that O.J. murdered those two people? Yes. Do I think he got off for it? Yes. Do I think he's the first person to get away with murder in America? No. He got the same breaks that a rich white man would get, because he could buy them, and that's the bottom line.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, The New Yorker: The only reason that we will care about O.J. Simpson 10 years after, 20 years after, is what it told us about race in this country. The man himself has disappeared. Who cares what O.J. Simpson thinks or does or says? It's what the case represented, it's not the person.
The O.J. Verdict
PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY
Michael H. Amundson
ABC News Videosource
BBC Motion Gallery
Washington Observer-Reporter; Curtis Wachter
WGBH Media Library and Archives
Michael H. Amundson
WEBSITE EDITORIAL RESEARCH ASSISTANTS
OF NEW MEDIA
OF BRAND STRATEGY
Louis Wiley Jr.
A FRONTLINE co-production with Ofra Bikel Productions
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FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.
ANNOUNCER: This report continues on our Web site, where you'll find interviews with the defense, prosecution and with journalists, a roundtable on how African-American women viewed the trial, analysis of key issues and truths that emerged from the Simpson case, a talk with producer Ofra Bikel on why the racial divide has figured so prominently in her films, tips on how to start your own PBS Program Club, and the chance to watch this program again on line. Then join the discussion at pbs.org.
Next time on FRONTLINE: The pictures shocked the world.
SPEAKER: It was certainly not authorized. It was Animal House on the night shift.
ANNOUNCER: But was Abu Ghraib an isolated incident?
SPEAKER: There is a direct connection between the abuses and decisions at the top of the Pentagon.
NARRATOR: And did the Bush administration create an atmosphere that led to torture? The Torture Question in two weeks on FRONTLINE.
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