The O.J. Verdict
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"a horrible human event" by jeffrey toobin

In this New Yorker article published Oct. 23, 1995, and reprinted here with permission, Jeffrey Toobin looks back at his experience covering the Simpson trial from seat B-11, second row. From his controversial pre-trial scoop that Detective Fuhrman might become an issue, to his post-verdict lunch with Marcia Clark, Toobin offers his anecdotes and perspective on the courtroom battles, and what he learned from getting to know and observe the lawyers on both sides.

When I left Judge Lance A. Ito's courtroom at noon on Friday, September 29th, and stood before the steam tables in the cafeteria of the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Building, I had only one thought: Praise be -- the last lunch. Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor in the double-murder trial of O.J. Simpson, had begun her rebuttal summation in the morning, and she clearly intended to conclude it later that day. As Clark addressed the jury, racing to rebut each of the defense team's arcane claims about the scientific evidence in the case, she looked the way everyone in that courtroom felt -- exhausted, haggard, fed up, and desperate for a glimpse of the outside world. Once she had paused at the lunch break, I ordered my umpteenth chicken burrito and staggered to a table with Sally Ann Stewart, a reporter for USA Today, and we chatted about the impending finish of this all-consuming ordeal and the resumption of our normal lives.

The cafeteria covers almost the entire western third of the ground floor of the glass-walled C.C.B. The food is ladled out in the middle, and you can take your tray to either of two seating areas -- one facing Temple Street and the other looking out on a parking lot and the Los Angeles Times building beyond. Sally and I had turned left, toward the parking lot, where the room was uncharacteristically deserted for that time of day. A few moments later, though, three of Simpson's eleven defense lawyers arrived: Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr.; Carl Douglas; and Barry Scheck. (Lawrence Schiller, the collaborator on the defendant's best-selling book, "I Want to Tell You," was with them.) They set their trays down at a centrally located table, and six bodyguards from the Fruit of Islam, dressed in their trademark bow ties, formed a circle with their backs to Cochran's table and their eyes trained warily outward.

The guards had first appeared in the courthouse at the beginning of the week, and had added a new level of unease and mistrust to an environment that was already extraordinarily charged. By that point, of course, racial tensions had been festering in the Simpson trial for months, yet Cochran had managed to engineer a couple of final ratchets upward for the dénouement. The weekend before summations, he travelled to Washington and spoke to an adoring crowd at the annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus. In his speech there, he listed the trial in Los Angeles as the latest landmark in the long civil-rights struggle of African-Americans -- a procession that, as he summarized it, included Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, the Rodney King trial, and, "yes, even the Simpson case." Now, as the case was about to go to the jury, he had imported into the courthouse the very symbols of strident black nationalism. At that Friday lunch, however, the presence of the grim-faced sentries seemed merely ludicrous, for they had only two reporters and Rose, the cashier, to monitor for false moves.

A few minutes later, Robert Shapiro arrived. There had been a moment -- around the time Simpson was arrested -- when Shapiro was probably the most famous lawyer in America. He dominated the case by spinning reporters and promoting himself. In January of 1993, almost a year and a half before the murders on Bundy Drive, Shapiro had written a casually revealing article in The Champion, a trade publication for criminal defense lawyers. Entitled "Using the Media to Your Advantage," it offered a step-by-step guide for attorneys handling high-profile cases. The article combined sensible advice -- be truthful, be courteous, be prompt -- with unctuous preening. Shapiro said, for example, that lawyers should avoid using clichés in talks with the press. "Referring to a case as a tragedy or to a client as being framed does not convey a thoughtful message," he wrote. "To describe an unfortunate death situation, I use the term 'a horrible human event.' "

By this final Friday, however, Shapiro's voluble, visible role had been usurped. He had brought both Cochran and F. Lee Bailey into the case, and then had had to watch as Cochran inexorably claimed the lead courtroom role for himself. In January, just before the opening statements in the trial, Shapiro had a very public falling out with Bailey, who was the godfather of one of his sons and had been a close friend. Shapiro claimed that Bailey was leaking disparaging information about him to reporters, and though both remained on the defense team, Shapiro was on his way to becoming the odd man out. As the trial proceeded, the other defense lawyers usually came and went together, but Shapiro arrived and left by himself. He often appeared in the cafeteria alone as well, and on Friday he paid Rose, took a long look at his colleagues and their sentinels, and after this ostentatious pause took a seat by himself at a small table nearby.

In a big trial, month after month in close proximity fosters a certain intimacy between reporters and lawyers: the two groups can't share meals, elevators, bathrooms, and gossip and maintain a formal distance. So Sally and I, feeling a little sorry for Shapiro -- and always eager to chat with an insider -- asked him to sit with us. He picked up his tray, sidled over, and joined in our reveries of life after O.J. His own fantasy, he said, would be to take a month off and join Oscar De La Hoya's training camp at Big Bear Lake. A serious and skilled amateur boxer at the age of fifty-three, Shapiro couldn't wait to tear into the heavy bag. He also told us that he had been appalled when Cochran brought the Fruit of Islam into his entourage and that he had been disappointed by Cochran's summation the previous day. "It was nothing but race, race, race," he said. "And why am I not reading that in the paper? All I hear is how great his summation was. Why do I keep reading this?" The fact was that many reporters had excoriated Cochran's naked appeal for an acquittal based on racial solidarity, but Shapiro's bitterness was such that he apparently had registered only the favorable words about his colleague.

And, of course, "race, race, race" had been central to the defense strategy almost since the day of Simpson's arrest. As it happened, one of the first race cards had been dealt to me. In an article in the July 25, 1994, issue of this magazine entitled "An Incendiary Defense," I noted that at Simpson's preliminary hearing on murder charges Shapiro "could not explain away the most damaging evidence against his client -- matching bloody gloves," especially the glove found by Detective Mark Fuhrman on a pathway at the rear of Simpson's property. But, as I discovered in conversations with defense lawyers, they had seized upon Fuhrman as "a rogue cop who, rather than solving the crime, framed an innocent man," and they said they intended to depict Fuhrman as a racist. Given the history of poisonous relations between the Los Angeles Police Department and the city's black community -- a history symbolized by the beating of Rodney King only three years earlier -- this was bound to be an inflammatory accusation. The foundation for the defense assault on Fuhrman was a disability claim that Fuhrman had filed against the city in the early nineteen-eighties, in which he said that the stress of patrolling the inner city had left him psychologically scarred. "I have this urge to kill people that upset me," Fuhrman had told a psychiatrist who examined him. Fuhrman had lost the case and consequently remained with the L.A.P.D., but the file on his claim lay buried in public court files, and that explosive detonated around the time Simpson's lawyers began talking to me.

Thus did Mark Fuhrman become the indispensable bogeyman in the defense team's strategy. At the time of my article not even Simpson's lawyers knew how lucky they were in having come up with the vain-glorious, hate-filled Fuhrman. A superior had noted in an evaluation of him that Fuhrman was obsessively intent upon making "the big arrest," and, as we now know, Fuhrman's ego eventually drove him to spin his unforgettable tales of bigoted braggadocio for the tape recorder of the aspiring screenwriter Laura Hart McKinny. It is astonishing in itself that Fuhrman would boast to McKinny about beating suspects, hating "niggers," concocting evidence, and the like. That he would do so on tape suggests a special, twisted vanity. (It is odd, too, that Fuhrman, knowing that the McKinny tapes existed, would sue me and this magazine for libel after the publication of my original story. His lead lawyer in that case dropped him when the tapes became public, and Fuhrman withdrew the suit altogether during the week of the verdict.)

However, it required a certain kind of lawyer to exploit the Fuhrman issue to full effect. Raising a provocative theory with a reporter is one thing; focusing an entire courtroom defense strategy in a nationally televised trial on the racism of an L.A. police officer is another. For that task, the defense brought on Cochran, whose record of success in Los Angeles is probably unparalleled. He has made a handsome living over several decades by representing well-heeled black men accused of crimes and by suing the City of Los Angeles on behalf of black people mistreated by the L.A.P.D. However, to judge by many of Cochran's press clippings, he is a quasi-ecclesiastical figure, doing God's bidding as much as his clients'. When the Los Angeles Times ran an article on Cochran in its Sunday magazine on January 29, 1995, the cover headline read, "WHY DID JOHNNIE COCHRAN PRAY BEFORE HE TOOK ON THE O.J. SIMPSON CASE?" In any event, Cochran had no qualms about going for the jugular. Indeed, he took an almost unseemly delight in the Fuhrman issue. Though he claimed to have been appalled at the contents of the McKinny tapes, at one point he told Judge Ito that the tapes were "like Lay's potato chips -- you can't put them down, and you can't eat just one."

The Simpson team began exploiting racial tensions in Los Angeles while Shapiro was running Simpson's defense, but Shapiro apparently grew increasingly uncomfortable with the tactic over time -- a reflection, perhaps, as much of his displeasure at Cochran's mastery in the courtroom as of his growing unease with the team's strategy. At the defense table in Judge Ito's courtroom, Shapiro looked for months like a man caught in a Thanksgiving from Hell -- trapped with fellow guests he can neither abide nor escape. By the end, Shapiro's alienation was so profound that his joy at his client's stunning acquittal appeared to range from modest to downright imperceptible. When Judge Ito closed the proceedings moments after the verdict was announced, and the television camera went off, Cochran, Douglas, and all the other defense lawyers except Shapiro joined Simpson's family in a fist-pumping, back-slapping explosion of delight. Shapiro did not even smile; instead, he walked over to the prosecution table and offered his hand in consolation. That night, which was Yom Kippur, Shapiro skipped the defense team's victory parry, at the Georgia restaurant, on Melrose Avenue, and later that week, in interviews with Barbara Walters and Larry King, he conveyed his disgust at Cochran's use of the race card.

In spinning his reaction to Cochran, Shapiro may simply have been positioning himself for life after the case. He has joined a large law firm -- he was in private to practice for himself before the Simpson case -- and he has an interest in not offending prospective white clients. Still, by nature, and even by legal training, Shapiro is a conciliator, and he turned out to be ill suited for the racial brawl that the case became. He has an unusual quality for a successful lawyer -- a strong aversion to conflict. He is a diplomat, a dealmaker. Plea bargains please him; both sides win. Early in his career, after a brief stint as a prosecutor, Shapiro learned the criminal defense business as the protégé of Harry Weiss, a legendary figure in Los Angeles legal circles. Still elegant and vigorous at age seventy-nine, Weiss, a onetime child star of the vaudeville stage, who wears a trademark monocle, remains a familiar sight in courtrooms around the city. He has long had many clients in Los Angeles's gay community, and in the days when Shapiro worked with him -- in the nineteen seventies and eighties -- the police were still routinely arresting men for having sex with one another. "Bob handled many of these cases -- vag lewds, we called them," Weiss told me recently. "The cops always had these guys dead bang, and no one ever wanted to go to trial. In those days, the men couldn't stand the embarrassment of fighting it in public, and, anyway, judges never came down too hard on them. So you had to make deals, and Bob made deals. That's the way you've got to do it. He learned."

Nevertheless, Shapiro is a superb trial lawyer, and his examinations were some of the most pointed and effective of the Simpson trial. His cross-examination of Detective Philip Vannatter was a textbook example of zealous, ethical advocacy. Shapiro pointed out that Vannatter had made inaccurate statements to a magistrate in support of a search warrant for Simpson's home the day after the murders; worse, Vannatter had implied that Simpson had fled to Chicago suddenly, though the trip had long been planned. Shapiro also dwelled on Vannatter's peculiar decision to transport Simpson's blood sample all the way from police headquarters to the defendant's house, in Brentwood, when it could easily have been delivered to a nearby site downtown. In a case where the defense was claiming that blood was planted, Shapiro made the detective look foolish at best and sinister at worst.

As always, though, Shapiro couldn't resist hedging his bets. As he conducted his cross-examination of Vannatter, he wore a blue ribbon, symbolizing support for the L.A.P.D., even though the blue ribbon had been revived as an emblem of defiance against the Simpson defense team's attacks. Nor did Shapiro exactly eschew the race card. His clumsy, if genial, use of it turned out to be one of the most unintentionally hilarious episodes of the trial. It came on August 10th, when, as part of the defense case, Shapiro called Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner of New York City, to testify about how the results of the autopsies of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson might suggest that someone other than O. J. Simpson had killed them.

Curly-haired and loquacious, Baden practically raced to the familiar blue chair when Shapiro summoned him. As with any expert witness, Shapiro began by eliciting Baden's qualifications, which are considerable. The jury learned that Baden had graduated from the City College of New York in 1955 and from the New York University School of Medicine in 1959. Shapiro asked Baden what awards he had received at City College. "I was senior-class president," Baden reported. "Phi Beta Kappa, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, and I was essentially the valedictorian. I spoke at the commencement for the students."

"And where," Shapiro continued seamlessly, "was that college located?" Baden was suddenly struck dumb, clearly puzzled by how the location of City College might edify these jurors on any issue relevant to the guilt or innocence of Shapiro's client. Baden stumbled as he began his answer. "It is located in upper Manhattan, New York City," he said. Then he caught on, and hastily completed his response with "Harlem area of New York City." Having informed the nine African-American jurors that this white defense expert came of age in the unofficial capital of black America, Shapiro was off and running.

In example after shameless example, Shapiro sought to turn Baden into a sort of Abraham Lincoln of the autopsy table. Did he serve on any state commissions? "Yes," he replied. "The New York State commission that investigates all deaths that occur in prisons and police custody in New York State" -- an entity that Baden said had been set up "after the Attica deaths." Had he served on any federal commissions? Yes, he said, on the congressional committee "formed to investigate the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King." Shapiro then elicited from Baden a lengthy exegesis on "the purpose of the examination of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King." Asked for any "highlights" of his efforts on behalf of prosecutors over the years, Baden replied, "I was recently a witness for … a prosecutor of Jackson, Mississippi, in the reinvestigation of the death of Medgar Evers, who had been a civil-rights leader who had been killed in 1963." Had he ever investigated cases for the Los Angeles District Attorney's office? Indeed he had. "I was involved in the investigation -- re-autopsy -- of a death of a young athlete, a football player in Los Angeles County, Ron Settles, who died in a police precinct in Signal Hill. … Initially I was called by the attorney for the family, Mr. Cochran, Johnnie Cochran."

At the cafeteria on that final Friday of the trial, Henry Weinstein, the legal-affairs writer for the Los Angeles Times, approached Cochran's table and requested a word with him. Weinstein felt that he had been shoved by one of Cochran's guards a few moments earlier, and he wanted to register a protest. Cochran replied in typical fashion. He rose from the table and listened hard to what Weinstein had to say, and then put both of his hands on Weinstein's shoulders, looked the reporter in the eye, and apologized for the incident, which he said would not happen again. There was no further confrontation, and the matter ended there.

All of us covering the case had had similar encounters with Cochran. By the end of the trial, either Dan Abrams, a correspondent for Court TV, or I was commenting on the case almost every day on NBC's "Today" show. Cochran apparently watched the program regularly, for he seemed to catch many of our appearances. During the trial, about two dozen reporters gathered every morning outside Judge Ito's courtroom, on the ninth floor. Shortly before nine, the lawyers would drift in, and you could sometimes catch a word with one of them. But when Cochran had seen Abrams or me on "Today" he would make a beeline for us. Ignoring our colleagues, he would put both hands on our shoulders and offer a critique. Cochran understood the inherent limitations of our bite-size analyses, and, though he might needle us a little or claim that we had missed the day's important development, he was never harsh. One day near the end of the trial, I said on "Today" that prosecutors were preparing to prove that the gloves found at the murder scene and at Simpson's home were the same pair that Nicole Brown Simpson had bought as a gift for her husband in 1990. As it turned out, the prosecution established only that they were probably the same pair. Cochran remembered my commentary a day later and stopped me in the men's room on the ninth floor. "You see, Jeffrey, that's what you get for listening to them," he told me benevolently as he washed his hands. "They say they're going to prove things, and they don't. Not your fault, but you gotta be careful, Jeffrey." Being singled out that way was flattering -- and effective. As Abrams and I made our predawn tips to NBC in Burbank, it was hard not to think, What will Johnnie say?

Even though both Shapiro and Cochran cultivated the press, they received strikingly dissimilar treatment. Shapiro was widely mocked for his perceived hunger for media attention and for his appearances at L.A. society events: Shapiro "goes to the opening of every (bleep)-ing door," said an "eye-rolling publicist" quoted by the Los Angeles Times on December 25, 1994. Yet Cochran made Shapiro look like a wallflower. Shapiro did not give a single television interview until after the trial; Cochran gave dozens. Cochran travelled to Washington to attend the Congressional Black Caucus event the weekend before his summation and to Florida to receive an honorary doctorate the weekend before that; Shapiro never spent a full weekend away. (The L.A. Times made only one reference to the fact that Cochran's first wife, during their divorce proceedings, had charged him with beating her.) In all, the press gave Cochran almost every break, perhaps fearing the consequences of taking on a prominent African-American.

In the courtroom, Cochran's strategy was simple: impugn the credibility of the evidence by hammering away at the incompetence and racism of the L.A.P.D., personified by the horrifying figure of Mark Fuhrman. Prosecutors tried responding in several ways, none especially successful. At first, before the McKinny tapes rendered Fuhrman indefensible, Marcia Clark tried to defend the L.A.P.D. before the jury, nine of whose members were African-American. Then, once Fuhrman had been damaged beyond repair, she retreated to a yes-but position: yes, he is a racist, but the evidence establishes that he couldn't have planted evidence and that Simpson must be the killer. At the heart of Clark's strategy was a relentess but small-bore response to every single defense claim about the evidence. At times, she was brilliant. Her examination of Allan Park, the limousine driver who took Simpson from his home to the airport shortly after the murders, was a masterpiece. Shifting smoothly between Park's cellular-phone records and his precise recollections, Clark established convincingly that neither Simpson nor his Bronco was at his home at the time of the murders. It is difficult to imagine how else Clark might have tried her case, and in an ordinary trial this method might have worked. Her strategy bespoke an almost ingenuous confidence in the jurors: if only she could show them all the little things that added up to the government's case, those facts would trump the big thing -- race -- that formed the heart of the defense.

Clark's partner, Christopher Darden, seemed to know better. His position throughout the trial was an excruciating one, and it exacted a considerable emotional toll -- most noticeable when he broke down at the prosecutors' post-verdict news conference. Clearly, those tears were a long time in coming. I frequently found myself in the elevator with him, and I was struck by the dramatic fluctuations in his demeanor -- friendly one day, taciturn the next. As the black prosecutor having to deny time and again that he was an Uncle Tom, he spent the entire trial on the defensive. It was scandalous, of course, that any black man should have been forced into such an undignified posture under such circumstances, but that Darden, of all people, should have had to endure it is a rich and disturbing irony.

Darden spent six of his fifteen years as a deputy district attorney prosecuting corrupt police officers. During that assignment, his biggest case involved a police raid, on August 1, 1988, of apartment units at Thirty-ninth street and Dalton Avenue, a predominantly black part of the city. "This was supposedly a small-time drug den, and they sent about eighty officers to the scene," said Ira Reiner, who was the District Attorney at the time. "And they basically wrecked the place, used a battering ram, pulled out the plumbing, even tore off the outside stairways." Darden headed the investigation. "The first thing that we did was go after the rank-and-file cops," Reiner explained. "But Chris felt very strongly that we needed to hold the command level responsible, and at that point Daryl Gates got involved." Gates, of course, was the longtime police chief in Los Angeles, who had notoriously poor relations with the city's black community. Reiner went on to say, "Gates wrote me this letter claiming that Chris was pushing too hard against the cops, being too aggressive, in his investigation. Anyone else would have laughed it off, but not Chris. He wanted to fire back a letter. This was a classic case of police misconduct, and of course we went ahead with it, and Chris handled it with commitment and emotion. That's just the way he operates." (Of the four officers charged in the case, one defendant pleaded guilty; the others were acquitted after trial.)

In the Simpson case, Darden had recognized Cochran's tactic from the outset. In a pretrial legal argument in January over whether the defense could elicit the information that Fuhrman had used the word "nigger," Darden warned Judge Ito of the consequences of allowing such inflammatory material to be introduced. The evidence would be cast aside, he warned, and the question for the jury would become a very different one from whether O. J. Simpson murdered his ex-wife and her friend. "The test will be whose side are you on," Darden told the judge. "The side of the white prosecutors and the white policemen or the side of the black defendant and his very prominent black lawyer? That is what it is going to do. Either you are with the Man or you are with the Brothers." And, nine months later, that is exactly what happened.

Like Clark, however, Darden was hard pressed to do anything about Cochran's strategy. An astonishing exchange that took place on July 12th, as the heart of Simpson's defense case was being presented, shows just how far Cochran was willing to go to keep the case focused on race. Cochran had called a man named Robert Heidstra, who lived near Nicole Brown Simpson, to testify about what he saw and heard on the night of the murders. Meek and middle-aged, the French-born Heidstra had testified on direct examination that while he was walking his dogs at around ten-forty on June 12th of last year he heard a commotion near Nicole Brown Simpson's condo -- two voices, one clear, saying, "Hey, hey, hey!" and the other indistinct. Heidstra initially appeared to be a good defense witness, since placing the murders at around ten-forty made it seem difficult for the defendant to return to his home and catch his limousine ride by five minutes to eleven. But Heidstra fell apart during Darden's cross-examination. Heidstra admitted that he usually walked his dogs at ten o'clock, which, if he had done so on the night of the murders, would have put the killings at precisely the time the prosecution claimed. Heidstra said, further, that he saw a white car that could have been a Bronco leaving the scene-another fact that was consistent with the government's case. Finally, Darden pursued him with the statement "The second voice that you heard sounded like the voice of a black man, is that correct?"

Cochran nearly vaulted out of his chair. "Objected to, Your Honor," he sputtered. "I object." The defense caused such a commotion that Judge Ito excused the jury and told Heidstra to step outside for a moment. Darden patiently recounted to the judge that an acquaintance of Heidstra's, Patricia Baret, had told Detective Tom Lange that Heidstra told her that "he heard the very angry screaming of an older man who sounded black." Thus, Darden explained to Ito, he had every right to ask the question.

But Cochran was not to be mollified. "I resent that statement," he thundered. "You can't tell by somebody's voice whether they sounded black. I don't know who made that statement, Baret or Lange, and I resent that [as] a racist statement." His tirade continued, "This statement about whether he sounds black or white is racist and I resent it, and that is why I stood and objected. And I think it is totally improper that in America, at this time in 1995, we have to hear this and endure this."

Darden looked stricken. In their many confrontations during the trial, the physical contrast between Cochran and Darden was notable. Cochran is all chest, invariably clad in a sleek double-breasted suit, and he exudes a booming, strutting vitality. Darden still has the body of the college runner he used to be -- reedy and lean. He wore double-breasted suits, too, but his jacket was often left unbuttoned, and his chest seemed to disappear behind the fabric. Darden never shouted back, never tried to match Cochran in volume. Instead, on this day, as on other occasions, he merely did his characteristic stooped, duck-toed little pace behind the podium as Cochran thundered on. When Cochran finished, Darden replied evenly that he was simply questioning Heidstra about a statement the witness himself had allegedly made earlier. Then he came as close as he ever did to lashing back, and addressed Cochran with quiet dignity: "That is what created a lot of problems for myself and my family, statements that you make about me and race, Mr. Cochran."

Ito called a recess, tempers cooled, and the entire bizarre exchange provoked little comment in the media. Cochran's statement was outrageous. Whether one, sometimes can tell if a speaker is African-American on the basis of his or her speech is inarguable. (In his magazine four weeks ago, for example, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., quoted Julian Bond describing Colin Powell as "verbally not black" and Powell himself saying, "I speak reasonably well, like a white person.") Cochran's outburst was a transparent courtroom trick. How better to stop an effective cross-examination than to do so by throwing a stink bomb of racial grievance into the middle of the courtroom?

Cochran never seemed to miss an opportunity to play racial politics in Ito's court. In cross-examining Detective Lange, Cochran pointed out no fewer than three times that the detective lived in Simi Valley -- the site of the acquittals of the police officers who beat Rodney King. On September, 11th, in the midst of the Fuhrman controversy, Cochran arranged for the entire defense team to wear African kente-cloth ties in front of the jury. These antics brought hoots from the reporters watching the trial on the closed-circuit feed into the media compound, on the twelfth floor of the courthouse, but when it came to actual reporting on the trial we all turned into a remarkably timorous crew. The reporters were an overwhelmingly white group, and, as far as I could tell, no one ever worried that their treatment of the defense was unduly favorable.

Fear of being called racist transcended everything in that newsroom. This extended, I think, even to discussions of the evidence. The safe course for those of us covering the case was to nitpick along with the defense attorneys. Sure, Simpson cut his left hand on the night of the murders, and DNA tests showed conclusively that it was Simpson's blood to the left of the footprints leaving the scene, but could those blood samples have been contaminated? It was likewise settled that Nicole's blood was on a sock found in Simpson's bedroom, and that Ron Goldman's blood was found in Simpson's Bronco, but perhaps both those samples had been planted? Hair consistent with Simpson's was found in the knit cap at the murder scene and on Ron Goldman's shirt, but hair matches are not one-hundred-per-cent dispositive. The gloves that Nicole bought for Simpson in 1990 were almost certainly the ones used by her killer, but maybe -- somehow -- not. Our caution and fear, however, misled. The case against Simpson was simply overwhelming. When we said otherwise, we lied to the audience that trusted us.

By contrast, it would have been no exaggeration to say that the defense's case against the police was absurd. In their summations, Cochran and Scheck suggested that the police, in their effort to frame Simpson, had planted at least the following items: (1) Simpson's blood on the rear gate at Bundy; (2) Goldman's blood in Simpson's Bronco; (3) Nicole's blood on the sock (which was found in his bedroom); and (4) the infamous glove at Rockingham, which had, as Clark put it in her summation, "all of the evidence on it: Ron Goldman, fibres from his shirt; Ron Goldman's hair; Nicole's hair; the defendant's blood; Ron Goldman's blood; Nicole's blood; and the Bronco fibre." (Last Wednesday, Simpson understandably decided to forgo a detailed discussion of this evidence when he cancelled his ballyhooed interview with NBC.) The defense never spelled out how all this nefarious activity took place, but to do so would have required more or less the following. The core of the defense case was, of course, that Fuhrman surreptitiously took that glove from the murder scene to the defendant's home. Not only would he have had to transport the glove with its residue of the crime scene, but he would also have had to find some of Simpson's blood (from sources unknown) to deposit upon it and then wipe the glove on the inside of Simpson's locked car (by means unknown) -- all the while not knowing whether Simpson had an ironclad alibi for the time of the murders. The other conspirators (conspicuously unnamed) would have had to be equally adept and even more determined. In his contemporaneous notes from the crime scene, Fuhrman wrote that there was blood on the gate at Bundy; someone would have had to wipe that off and apply Simpson's. The autopsies, where blood samples from the victims were taken, were not performed until June 14th, two days after the murders. Someone would have had to take some of Goldman's blood and put it in the Bronco, which was then in police custody. And someone (the same person? another?) would have had to take some of Nicole's blood and dab it on the sock, which was then in a police evidence lab. All of these illegal actions by the police would have had to take place at a time when everyone involved in the case was under the most relentless media scrutiny in American legal history -- and all for the benefit of an unknown killer who, like only nine per cent of the population, happened to share Simpson's shoe size, 12.

In the months leading up to the verdict, I was asked approximately ten thousand times how I thought the case would end. Of course, the real answer was that I didn't know, but generally I did my duty in the sound-bite culture into which I had willingly propelled myself: Braves in five; Jets with the points; and (my usual guess) Simpson in a hung jury or an acquittal. The jurors' single request to re-hear testimony did throw me. It was after listening to a read-back of the testimony of the limousine driver, Allan Park -- which to me was some of the most incriminating evidence in the entire case -- that the jurors announced they had reached a verdict. Perhaps, I speculated the night before the verdict was announced, the jury had been watching the same trial that I had after all. In the "Today" panel of experts on the morning of the verdict, two of us (including me) predicted conviction, two bet on acquittal.

At ten on Tuesday morning, October 3rd, Judge Ito started court with uncharacteristic promptness. I was in my usual seat -- B-11, in the second row, just behind Ron Goldman's sister, Kim. I didn't realize how nervous I would be; I couldn't look at her. It was one thing to do blithe handicapping on a morning news show, but it was another, I then realized, to comment what was before me. Of course, I had talked about an acquittal almost until the end, but, as we sat there waiting for the verdict, it did not occur to me that O. J. Simpson might actually be going home that afternoon. I couldn't believe it. I saw Judge Ito study the verdict forms before he handed them to his clerk, Dierdre Robertson, to read to the public. I noticed that Ito took a long time studying them: it must be a complicated verdict, I inferred -- one first-degree conviction, say, and one second-degree. When Robertson first looked at the forms, I thought that her grim demeanor, too, suggested a conviction in the works. The words when they came -- "Not guilty" -- went straight into my sinuses. I tried to be a reporter, and look at Simpson for his reaction, but I don't remember seeing anything at all. After Robertson intoned her second "Not guilty," Kim Goldman, her father, Fred, and her stepmother, Patti, rocked forward in front of me and howled. I thought how rarely life is like this -- a single moment when everything changes. I urged myself to seize it, capture it, write something profound in my notebook. And yet all I could think of was that I knew and understood a lot less than I'd thought I did.

Marcia Clark suggested that she and I and a friend of hers meet for lunch at noon on the Friday after the verdict -- which was, as it happened, a week to the moment after I had eaten with Shapiro in the C.C.B. cafeteria. She chose an old haunt of hers -- the Hamburger Hamlet, on Bonner Drive, in West Hollywood. When I arrived there, with Clark's fellow deputy district attorney Lynn Reed Baragona, we found that the restaurant had been sold -- four months before, it turned out -- and was undergoing renovations. "Marcia hasn't been getting out a lot lately," Baragona said, laughing. Clark pulled up a few minutes later. She wore a gray T-shirt, black leggings, and a roomy, black sweatshirt that flopped over her painfully thin frame. Since the verdict on Tuesday, she'd spent a couple of days relaxing with friends and her kids. On Thursday, she and Baragona had prowled the outlet malls in Oxnard and had bought Halloween decorations for their kids at a discount card shop. The toll taken by the months of her exhausting efforts was still apparent. The dark circles under her eyes, which had been so pronounced during her summation, remained very much in evidence. With the Hamburger Hamlet gone, we decided to walk a block west to the considerably more upscale Ivy for lunch. "Time to live it up, eh?" Clark said.

The previous day, CNN had quoted Clark as saying "a majority black jury won't bring a conviction in a case like this." She was furious about that quote. "l didn't say it," she told me, "and I don't believe it." Clark asserts that the reporter garbled a brief off-camera, off-the-record telephone conversation. (CNN stands by the story.) So if the racial composition of the jury wasn't the key issue in the case, I asked her, what was?

Clark paused a long time, and then said, "I haven't sorted it all out, and I don't think it's all that simple." The astonishing brevity of the jury's deliberation seems to have provided a peculiar kind of comfort to her. There appears to have been no one thing the prosecution could have done -- or undone -- that would have changed the result in the case. She recalled that shortly after the verdict her boss, Gil Garcetti, the District Attorney, had asked her what she thought the turning point in the trial was. "I told him there wasn't one," she said. The result, it now seems, was preordained. She has watched the frenzied aftermath of the trial -- the juror interviews, the defense-lawyer squabbles -- with some detachment. (As for the assertion by various defense lawyers that one or another off their number had discussed the possibility Simpson's pleading guilty to lesser charges, Clark is emphatic. "I never heard from any of the defense lawyers about a plea bargain," she told me.)

The racial divisions spawned by the case trouble Clark deeply. She is especially rankled by the CNN report, because she believes it may exacerbate these tensions. Now forty-two years old, she came of age in the a years of the civil-rights movement, and she remains a political liberal. It astonishes and appalls her that she finds herself a representative of her race in a black-white confrontation. But she is coming to terms with the fact that heightened racial animosity may be the principal legacy of her great moment in the public eye.

I asked Clark what she was going to do next in her life.

"I honestly don't know," she said. "I might stay in the D.A.'s office, and I might not." As it happened, the day before our lunch the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, facing a fiscal crisis, had unilaterally cut the pay of all county employees, including Clark and Baragona, by five percent. (The board has since reconsidered.) Clark is a divorced parent of two young children. According to press reports, she has signed on as a client of Norman Brokaw, the chairman and chief executive of the William Morris Agency, for help in weighing her options about writing a book, working in television, or otherwise capitalizing on her renown. (Darden has signed on with William Morris as well.)

By the time we left the restaurant, it was apparent that even in these jaded environs Clark has become an enormous celebrity. When we finished lunch, about a dozen customers left their tables to follow Clark into the street -- seeking handshakes, autographs, and brief words. An especially persistent face-lifted matron subjected Clark to a lengthy and mysterious harangue. After the woman was safely out of earshot, a measure of Clark's frustration surfaced. Brentwood, after all, was her Waterloo. Rolling her eyes, amused rather than despondent, Clark told Baragona, "I've had enough of West L.A."

For several years before the Simpson case, Clark and Baragona had made weekly pilgrimages to this neighborhood to have lunch and visit the Mysterious Bookshop, an L.A. landmark. The two women read and swap the novels they buy there, with their tales of tidy mayhem, and they wanted to resume this ritual. I had to catch my plane for New York and couldn't join them, but I did ask Clark what she wanted to read. She was full of enthusiasm, as eager to browse in the store as to get on to the next chapter in her life. She reeled off a string of authors who were unfamiliar to me -- chroniclers of maniacal serial murderers, wily medical examiners, and the like. As I walked away, she added that, as was her custom, she would be avoiding one part of the store. "No true crime," Clark said. "I only want fake crime these days, thanks."

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posted oct. 4, 2005

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