The O.J. Verdict
  • home
  • watch online
  • interviews
  • analysis
  • discussion

charles j. ogletree jr.
Charles J. Ogletree Jr.

A former criminal defense lawyer, Charles Ogletree is the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. He watched the Simpson trial from beginning to end and believes one of its key lessons is "the public misunderstands what the criminal justice system is all about." He explains why the trial was "a classic example" of the system working, why Johnnie Cochran was the real reason blacks celebrated, and why the media should get a failing grade for its coverage. And, 10 years on, Ogletree assesses the legacy."One of the permanent ramifications is that no minds will be changed about what happened because people are so deeply committed to their views about what happened and who did it. That's the unfortunate result of the case, but it's a necessary result, because people deeply feel that they have it right, even if they disagree with what the evidence produced and what the jury decided is the appropriate verdict." This interview was conducted on April 12, 2005.

What is the significance of the O.J. trial today?

To me, the O.J. Simpson trial was the trial of the century. It had all the elements of a major event in America's history. It had race, violence, privilege, the grit of California politics, and it was for me a public display of the most obvious example of the embedded tension between blacks and whites and how they see the criminal justice system. Views were made up before the O.J. Simpson case; they were crystallized in the O.J. Simpson case. And we still have a deeply divided America on the issue of race, and the Simpson case brought that to the front.

Even until today, 10 years later?

The one thing that's amazing about the Simpson case ... [is that] no one's mind has changed in a decade. The whites who thought he was guilty haven't budged an inch, and the blacks who thought he was not guilty haven't budged an inch. They both saw the same program played out on American television, and they both had very different views about it.

And in both cases, their views were influenced by their experiences with race and their experience with the criminal justice system. Whites assume that if there were enough accusations that Simpson would be convicted. Blacks assume that here's another black man drawn into the criminal justice system. But this time he had Johnnie Cochran; this time he had resources; this time he had experts like [criminalist] Dr. Henry Lee and [forensic pathologist] Michael Baden. This time he was somebody who could fight back to a system that is frequently unfair, and to make it show its many flaws.

So the views about race didn't budge one inch, and unfortunately, it reflects a deep-seated chasm in this country in the way people view race and the criminal justice system.

Why was the white community so angry?

The rage in this case toward O.J. Simpson was a result of people having watched some of the evidence, having understood the vicious and unspeakable harm that was done to the two victims, [and believing] that someone should be held accountable. And the most likely person was the person who had a motive and who had an opportunity. That was O.J. Simpson. So in their minds, they saw it unfold that a person with great legal support, a person with incredible expert testimony, a person with all of the benefits of the criminal justice system was able to get a jury to say he was not guilty.

And other people saw another trial unfold, saying that with all of these doubts, we can't convict a man unless we're certain of his guilt. And I think the jury, working through this evidence, working through the contradictory testimony, looking at [Detective] Mark Fuhrman, whose credibility they had to believe at the beginning, and then looking at his credibility that they had to doubt at the end, that this jury didn't have a very difficult job, in my mind, of saying, based on the evidence presented in court, under oath, from these witnesses, fully examined, there is no doubt in their mind that O.J. Simpson is not guilty.

One of the troubling things about our criminal justice system is that people make up their minds very early based on TV, based on innuendo, based on all forms of racism, whether it¹s conscious or unconscious racism.

I'm not saying he's innocent. There's an important difference. They're saying based on the trial that was presented in this courtroom over these many, many weeks, he is not guilty, and that the government failed to meet its burden, and they have an obligation in the system of justice to say he's not guilty, even if they have questions about whether or not he was the person involved in some way in this horrible death of these two innocent people.

Do people understand the system worked? ...

... This is a classic example of the criminal justice system working. And the reason there's been so much negative reaction, particularly among whites, is that their view about the system is influenced by their view about justice and fairness.

And it was evident if you watched the case from beginning to end -- which I did -- that there is not only a reasonable doubt, but there are many reasonable doubts: the police collection of evidence; the tainted evidence; the expertise of Dr. Henry Lee as a defense witness -- Dr. Lee has sent more people to jail than Gandhi ever freed, because he is a person who speaks frankly about facts; Mark Fuhrman's questionable testimony; Detective [Philip] Vannatter's testimony about what happened; the evidence presented about the DNA. At every significant point in this case, the government presented evidence, and the defense rebutted it with overwhelming evidence to the contrary. When you have that, even though there is an assumption of guilt, even though there is a suspicion of guilt, even though there is a deep-seated feeling of guilt, the system says if you don't have an abiding conviction that the person is guilty, you have to find them not guilty.

When did people make up their mind that O.J. was guilty?

I think people made up their mind that O.J. was guilty the moment that the two deaths were reported and O.J. Simpson was on his way out of town. That was a sense that here's a guilty man running. That was reinforced when Simpson came back to Los Angeles and [in] the dramatic white Bronco drive when he talked about suicide. They made up their mind even more so when they saw the evidence of these people being murdered and all of the evidence that never came out in trial, when witnesses were saying that he was lurking there that night, when they described clothing that belonged to him. So before a single witness had any evidence examined in court, they were convinced that he was guilty.

Why do you think the jury was able to come to a decision so quickly?

When you watch the case, the doubts about the case emerged as the evidence was presented. So the jury could have deliberated for days, but what were they deliberating about? They had Mark Fuhrman, which raised reasonable doubt. They had Dr. Henry Lee, which raised a reasonable doubt. They had the glove that didn't fit, which raised a reasonable doubt. They had witnesses who were contradicting themselves, which raised a reasonable doubt. And the point was, who in this room is convinced right now that he's guilty?

They can't make up evidence; they can't assume evidence. They have to evaluate the evidence that was presented to them, and having done that, having seen the examination by [defense attorney] Barry Scheck of the DNA evidence, having seen the cross-examination by Johnnie Cochran of police witnesses, having seen the cross-examination of Mark Fuhrman by F. Lee Bailey, they had plenty of doubt about what happened, and all they had to do was to go in and take a poll. And I think it wasn't a hard job to do.

Johnnie Cochran -- O.J. was at his memorial service this past year.

I had a chance to speak at Johnnie Cochran's memorial in April in Los Angeles at West Angeles Cathedral church, and it was an amazing event. Michael Jackson was there; Magic Johnson was there; O.J. Simpson was there; F. Lee Bailey; many of the lawyers on the team. And it was interesting to see for the first time what many of us felt for a long time: that this case was not about O.J. Simpson; it was about Johnnie Cochran. And when Rev. Al Sharpton spoke, and he said, "Black America applauded the acquittal. It was not about you, brother O.J.; it was about Johnnie Cochran" -- and that's exactly right. That same community that applauded that line was saying that Johnnie Cochran has been doing this for 40 years. ...

Johnnie Cochran was always there when the people needed him. From the 1960s through 1970s to the 1980s and 1990s and into the 21st century, Johnnie Cochran was there to make the justice system work.

What people were able to see for the first time ever on television was not some klutzy African American lawyer, not some Uncle Tom, not some person bowing to the system. They saw an African American lawyer who was articulate, energetic, well prepared, defiant. And they saw Johnnie Cochran as the reflection of what the system is all about. When you're in trouble, Johnnie Cochran is there to help you.

And most people misunderstood the black celebration. ... The applause was not, "Oh, we are so glad that a guilty man may be free." The applause was: "We're so glad that somebody can finally stand up to the system and show it is flawed, and that the allegations that were made a year ago, in 1994, can't be proved here in a courtroom under the microscope, under the watchful eye of the nation. They can't be proven."

It was a celebration of a lawyer defending his client. It was not in any way a reflection of lack of concern about these victims who were viciously murdered, or about a system that was deeply flawed. It was a celebration of the justice system finally letting somebody get through it when so many people have failed in that endeavor.

... Everybody thinks that O.J. Simpson and that case created Johnnie Cochran. Johnnie Cochran had been a liberator for three decades. Johnnie Cochran had been helping mothers, whose sons were dying from chokeholds, have a day in court. That had never happened before. Johnnie Cochran was able to free after 27 years in jail [former Black Panther] Geronimo Pratt for a murder he did not commit. Johnnie Cochran was there whenever the community called.

Did O.J. know that?

O.J. Simpson clearly understood what this was about, because O.J. Simpson had several lawyers before Johnnie Cochran, and he finally realized: "I'm in Los Angeles. I'm on trial for a double murder. I need the best lawyer money can buy -- not the best black lawyer, not the best California lawyer, but the best lawyer money can buy if I'm going to have any chance of saving my life."

Did the civil trial change anything?

The difference between the criminal trial and the civil trial -- in the criminal trial he was found not guilty; in the civil trial he was found liable. It's a much lower standard of proof in the civil trial. He was required to testify in the civil trial, and the evidence that had been excluded in the criminal trial was brought in in the civil trial. For some people, that was a vindication that he was finally found responsible.

And yet it seems to me at most a pyrrhic victory, because he's not going to jail; he's never going to pay the multimillion-dollar judgment against him; and it really doesn't put the taint of a criminal conviction over his name.

So for some it's a vindication. For some it's some closure. But the reality is that O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of a double murder, and that will never change, and the fact that he's found liable in the civil case for a substantial sum is in many senses a modest consolation prize. The real prize would have been a conviction. That didn't happen, so this is a consolation prize, and that's all it is.

Can you talk about the media frenzy?

The most disappointing aspect of this entire trial to me was the role of the media. The press went at this case like a bee going after honey. They were just obsessed with it to the point that facts didn't matter; tainting evidence didn't matter; undermining the criminal justice system didn't matter. It was gotcha journalism. It was "If it bleeds, it leads." It was "Anybody who has anything to say, we want to hear it, whether or not we believe it's credible." And I think it was, in a sense, an embarrassment to the First Amendment in the sense that you want to make sure there's free opportunity for expression.

But on the other hand, what the media did was feed the public an image of this trial that was deeply skewed, deeply flawed and ultimately untenable. The press made many, many mistakes, and I think it cost the prosecution losing witnesses, losing evidence and giving the public a perception of guilt without giving them all of the reasonable doubts that were clearly developed during the course of this very lengthy trial.

How do you assess the coverage of the case by the National Enquirer?

The irony is that the press that had the most significant and relevant and tangible evidence turned out to be the National Enquirer.

... The National Enquirer was very effective at saying: "We're going to go to the source. We're not going to do this behind our desk. We're not even going to do it by phone. We're going to go out and saturate the community." They went to places where knives were sold; they followed every rumor; they talked to every witness; and they were able to bring in things in a very significant way that other journalists had just missed. Most journalists were focused on what was going on in the courtroom, and the National Enquirer was focused on what happened outside the courtroom, where evidence is collected and created and preserved.

What mark would you give the media overall?

If I had to grade the media on their performance in the case from start to finish, they would receive a failing grade. ... I think the most significant thing that makes this a D rather than an F is the fact that the trial was shown gavel to gavel to the nation and helped solidify in people's mind some of the reasonable doubts that we would never have imagined if we didn't see it. So that is the only thing that saves it from an F.

But in terms of the way it covered the case pretrial, the way it had these pundits discussing facts about what's in a lawyer's mind, what's in a witness's mind, when they didn't know and had no ability to know, was a failure; their ability to use these graphics that were suggestions about what happened but weren't fact; their reports about ice cream being found on the scene when it didn't happen; their reports about eyewitnesses that didn't exist; their reports about weapons being found that weren't found; their reports on timelines that were inconsistent --

There were so many errors in this -- "Let's get it first" rather than "Let's get it right" -- that led it to [become] a sensational trial, and the only good news beyond the fact that it was televised was that it didn't lead to the sort of rush to judgment that we saw on cases like the Lindbergh [baby kidnapping] case.

What about how the white media covered it compared to the African American press?

Two different pictures. The Amsterdam News, the Afro-American News, the Los Angeles Sentinel, the Chicago Defender -- these black newspapers painted a very different picture because they understood from all too many experiences African Americans [being] wrongfully convicted. They understood police officers who fabricate evidence, who tell lies. They understood that sometimes evidence can be tainted, and they understood that all too often African American men in particular have been convicted.

So we had two different visions of this trial, one through the lens of the Afro-American press and one through the lens of the white press. And they saw the same case and saw it in radically different ways. White press convicted him when the evidence didn't support that, and the black press said here is a reasonable doubt, and we're not going to let this happen.

It is a remarkable sense of the two Americas. The same way blacks and whites saw it differently, black and white journalists saw it differently.

Was it a watershed case? If so, why?

This case was a watershed case in an important respect: It placed the issue of race and justice squarely before the American public, and we had to confront the ugly underbelly of the criminal justice system.

It was a watershed case for African Americans because it helped them celebrate the fact that when there's a doubt in the system, people will be found not guilty. It was a watershed case for whites because it led to remarkably short-sighted and dangerous suggestions about revamping the criminal justice system because one man was found not guilty; that we would give up hundreds of years of justice and a jury system that worked, hundreds of years of a jury system [that] became more representative because people of color and women could finally serve in it -- to give up all the benefits of a system because one man was found not guilty.

And thank God that, ultimately, justice prevailed. The system remains intact, and the reactions that followed the verdict didn't allow us to make a terrible mistake to try to adjust a system because one person was able to get the benefit of a doubt in a major criminal case.

Do people understand the criminal justice system, what it means to have a trial?

I've tried so many murder cases and rape cases and drug cases and other cases in my life as a public defender and a criminal defense lawyer, and it always amazes me that people misunderstand what the criminal justice system is all about. It's not truly a search for the truth. We can't do that in the system. If it was a search for the truth, we'd bring in everything about a person's background. We'd let all their past records come in.

It's a search for justice, and justice means that it's fair. It doesn't mean that it's perfect. Justice means that we're trying to make human decisions, not decisions made by a calculator or a computer. And justice means that it may be flawed, but it's better than each and every other nation in the world. So justice and perfection are different things. We have a just criminal justice system; we don't have a perfect criminal justice system. That was reflected in this verdict.

But people want the truth?

People say they wanted the truth, but I don't think they can really appreciate the truth. What is the truth? The truth is that unless O.J. Simpson stands up and says, "I did it," the only way you're ever going to prove this case is through evidence and witnesses and reasonable inferences. And in this case, the evidence and witnesses and reasonable inferences from that evidence led to the right result, not guilty.

And people have to live with that, because what we don't want is the truth that we thought we saw in the state of Illinois. Five years after the O.J. Simpson case, we found 25 people convicted and sentenced to death. On re-examination of those 25 cases, 13 of those people were completely innocent. ... They had lawyers; there were prosecutors; there were judges; there were juries; there were appeals, and they were sentenced to death. We thought we had the truth, but we had a very flawed system. Thank God none of those people were executed in Illinois, and they were able to be freed. That's what justice is about: getting the right result, no matter how long it takes, rather than seeking truth, which may lead to a conviction of somebody who is truly innocent.

I still believe it is better, as we've always said in federal law, that 10 guilty people go free than one innocent person be convicted. That's what makes America a different place, a different legal system, and a different set of values that are cherished throughout the world.

Doesn't the O.J. case prove Americans don't believe in that?

I think the American criminal justice system still believes in the principle that innocent people should not be convicted -- that hasn't changed -- and that even if they're mistakenly convicted that they should have another chance.

I think those values haven't changed. It might have been reduced -- we don't want 10 guilty people to go free; maybe one, not 10 -- but we haven't changed from our system of values, because what we might think in the barbershop, what we might think sitting around a coffee table, what we might think watching the ball game about the system where we will convict people on hunches and assumptions is not what we do when we take that sobering responsibility on jury.

Juries still understand that if we don't have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, we have to acquit. So I think people still believe that if you can't prove innocence, that's not my burden. If you can't prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, it's my obligation to say not guilty. I don't think the system has changed, even though people are occasionally unhappy with the results that it produced.

What are the ramifications of O.J.?

One is that we've seen a significant increase in students who are interested in the law, from both points of view: defense, prosecution, people who wanted to affect the system.

The second is that it vindicates the African American community's view that unless you're paying attention and watching very carefully, the system can be unfair.

The third, it reinforces the sense that juries may decide cases under standards of law, but people will always make up their own judgment based on their own experiences and views about it. And I think that one of the permanent ramifications of the Simpson case is that no minds will be changed about what happened because people are so deeply committed to their views about what happened and who did it. That's the unfortunate result of the Simpson case, but it's a necessary result, because people deeply feel that they have it right, even if they disagree with what the evidence produced and what the jury decided is the appropriate verdict.

Why won't people change their mind?

One of the troubling things about our criminal justice system is that people make up their minds very early based on television, based on innuendo, based on all forms of racism, whether it's conscious or unconscious racism. They make judgments based on what they see, not based on what they actually know.

And so in the Simpson case, African Americans saw a prominent black man being drawn into a trial and a case where they were convinced that his guilt could not be proven based on what was in the case. Whites, on the other hand, saw the O.J. Simpson who they cherished and loved and saw him in a very different light and were convinced that he was guilty. And nothing changed those minds because it's everything about people's experiences, their life views, their views about race that came into that trial and never left.

Everyone brought something with them into that trial, and they left with something-- their perspective ... notwithstanding the evidence. Their perspective was not going to change no matter what was proven or not proven, and that's the travesty of the case: that people didn't give themselves a chance to be persuaded because they were convinced before the first word of testimony as to Simpson's guilt or his innocence.

Some say that O.J. had always been a guest in the white world.

One of the interesting ironies of this entire trial, [one] that isn't lost on the African American community in particular, is that O.J. Simpson was a guest in the white community. He was welcome in the gated community. He was loved from being a great athlete in college and professionally, a pitch man running through airports, and it was clear that the moment he was accused of this, his privilege of whiteness, his privilege of being accepted in the white community, was revoked, and he had never been and will never be accepted in that community again.

Now, [by] the same token, O.J. Simpson was raceless. He was not a person who spent time in African American communities. He was not a person who was deeply committed to African American values. In fact, he talked more about being an American than an African American. And yet the African American community has accepted him not as an athlete or a hero, but as someone in the criminal justice system who, like them, would have been railroaded, they would say, if he had not had a Johnnie Cochran there to rescue him.

And so his privilege of membership in the gated communities of white America has been revoked permanently, and he now is a persona non grata. That will never change. He's lost that view of being raceless. Before he was the prince, and now he's just a nigger.

In the end, is the case a tragedy?

The question is what to make of this case. What's tragic is the death of two innocent people, and what's tragic is the inability of people to accept the system as having worked. I'm not sure it's tragic that O.J. Simpson has lost his revocable license to be in the white community. I think it just shows you how precarious these situations can be. ...

What about the article in The New Yorker [by Jeffrey Toobin]saying the defense was playing the so-called race card in challenging Mark Fuhrman's character and credibility?

It's really amazing when you think about Mark Fuhrman's impact on this trial. White America and black America saw two Mark Fuhrmans. Juries should be skeptical of any person's testimony until it's proven to be true. Mark Fuhrman presented well on direct examination. He saw the glove; he saw the evidence. He didn't violate any laws, and people nodded with appreciation.

African Americans from Los Angeles had seen that story too many times of an honest-appearing police officer telling the truth. But on close examination, it turned out that Mark Fuhrman was a liar. He was a liar under oath, and he was a liar under oath in the O.J. Simpson case.

When African Americans saw that, it was vindication. When whites saw that, it was rage that they'd lost their best witness. And indeed, this was what the system was about. If you're going to pretend to be someone who you aren't, a good lawyer has an obligation to disclose that, and that was in many respects the high watermark of this trial, because it proved that even people who were trusted to protect and serve our citizens sometimes lie, sometimes cheat, sometimes tamper with evidence and sometimes undermine our criminal justice system.

And so each and every aspect of Mark Fuhrman's life became relevant because he put his credibility and his character at issue -- not the defense; he did. And once he said, "Believe me," and he turned out to be a liar, the government could not un-ring that bell. They could not remove that taint. They could not in any way portray Mark Fuhrman as anything other than a repugnant law enforcement officer who undermined every fair and just police officer by getting on the witness stand in this most important case and lying through his teeth.

Could the defense have ignored Fuhrman's racism?

When you talk about a case where race is right there, you have two white victims, you have an African American defendant, you've got someone who is so notorious with a career, and you've got a police officer who is central to the case who happens to be white and who the defense believes has a vendetta for O.J. Simpson.

It's not just the glove; it's not just Fuhrman's testimony before. But Fuhrman had a history of views about African Americans and about the justice system. How could you not bring that in? That tells you who he is. And it was extremely relevant to what he had to say, because on direct examination, he seemed like a typical officer just telling what he knows. In reality, there was a deep-seated sense, a deep passion about race that was ugly and brutal, and that ugliness had to be brought out in this courtroom, and it was.

And for African Americans ... it was a vindication, because they've seen people like that before. And for whites it had to be a shock, because they'd never realized that there were two Mark Fuhrmans, one that they wanted to believe and a second one that they had to believe. The one they had to believe was deeply flawed, not credible, and ultimately the death knell of the government's case.

What were the mistakes the prosecution made?

There are a lot of mistakes that the government made in this prosecution. I think -- and everyone is Monday morning quarterbacking -- but one of the interesting parts was just the way the case was presented. I'm not sure it made sense to put on the evidence of spousal abuse at the beginning when they had cold and calculated evidence of a crime. When that didn't work, everything was viewed with skepticism, to the extent that you had some evidence about the crime -- present that -- and then evidence about the criminal -- present that to follow up. That was one mistake.

The second mistake, I think they were paying too much attention to the press as well, giving interviews, worried about their dress, worried about hairstyle, makeup, things like that, worried about images. And they were talking as much to the people in middle America when they had the microphone as they were to the 12 jurors who they needed to be convinced.

A [third] was that the scrutiny of their evidence -- all these flaws were known. How can you put on this DNA evidence when you know it's going to be seriously challenged by experts? How can you put on this forensic evidence when Dr. Henry Lee, the most noteworthy criminologist [sic] of his time, had grave doubts about it? How could you put on Mark Fuhrman as a credible, central eyewitness to critical details in the case, critical details, when you knew that he had many flaws in the way that he thought, his views about African Americans and his conduct in many years in law enforcement?

So 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 paid to do interviews. Family members were compromised because they gave interviews before the case went to trial. So 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 if things outside the courtroom had not compromised what went on inside the courtroom.

What are your thoughts on Christopher Darden and his position?

Chris Darden is a terrific prosecutor. I consider him a friend. Many people have been highly critical of him in this trial. He did what every prosecutor is supposed to do: Present your evidence to convict the person if you believe the person is guilty, and Chris Darden believed that.

It is unfortunate and regrettable that so many African Americans hated him for doing his job. That's just wrong. Just as Johnnie Cochran had an obligation to defend O.J. Simpson with every legal means available to him, Chris Darden had an obligation with every legal means available to him to convict him. He is not the bad guy in this case; he is a person who has an obligation to put on evidence and to convict. And he did his best.

And it's unfortunate that he will forever be tainted as the black man who tried to bring O.J. Simpson down as opposed to being defined as the public prosecutor who did his best to present his case in trial, to let the jury decide. He didn't have a vote; he wasn't trying to have a vote. So Chris Darden has taken unmitigated abuse for doing what the constitution requires: to throw hard but fair blows. He should be viewed as somebody who fought the good fight even though he didn't prevail.

Defense lawyers feel they suffered because of the verdict. Do you agree?

There is this urban legend that this Simpson verdict in some way damaged defense lawyers. I completely disagree with that, for a number of reasons. What you've seen since the Simpson case is the same rate of acquittals as before. What you've seen since the Simpson case are juries who are carefully weighing evidence and deciding whether a person is guilty or innocent. What you've seen since the Simpson case is a sense that lawyers have an obligation to defend their clients and to defend them as aggressively as they can within the bounds of the law. So there was no black eye on defense lawyers. There is no black eye on the jury system. There was a black eye on the perception of guilt that was not proven in a courtroom by witnesses under oath and evidence that was admissible.

Have you changed your mind at all?

Nothing has really changed for me. From all the evidence, I had a reasonable doubt. From the way it was presented, I questioned the government's judgment. ...

If there's one thing that I wish had changed over a decade, it's that people would say we may not like what happened, but the system did work. When we do a dispassionate, objective examination of not what we know, but what we saw in a courtroom under oath and through admissible evidence, there was a reasonable doubt as to O.J. Simpson's guilt. That's all. If people would do that, this would be a major accomplishment.

But I'm afraid that for my lifetime that many people will never change their minds, even though the evidence left, in my view, a reasonable doubt as to O.J. Simpson's guilt.

And the black community -- have they changed their minds?

It's interesting. I think what you're seeing is that African Americans aren't monolithic -- that's number one -- and whites aren't monolithic. An overwhelming majority of whites thought he was guilty, overwhelming majority of blacks thought he was innocent, but they still were mixed.

I think that there are probably African Americans now who still believe the system worked, but since no one else has been found, since there is no evidence leading to another suspect, I'm sure the conversation is -- I've heard it in the barbershop or heard it over coffee table or heard it after a church service -- that people are saying, "Hmm, I wonder if O.J. Simpson did it." That question can be asked to infinity, and it won't change anything, and I think the fact that people are asking about it a decade later is good, but I think the fact that people understand how the justice system worked, and it worked in this case, is even more important.

So in the end, it comes down to reasonable doubt?

Right. And if you have reasonable doubt in a case like this, what else is there to know? Is he innocent? Who knows? Only O.J. Simpson knows. Is he guilty? Not by the evidence that was presented in that courtroom in 1995. He's not guilty in '95; he's not guilty in 2000; he's not guilty in 2005.

We can go over it again and again and again. We can try to taint it; we can try to marginalize it; we can try to package it. But what we saw in that courtroom in that very lengthy trial, with substantial evidence from the government exceptionally scrutinized by the defense, we saw a jury do its job and say, "Based on what you presented over these many months, we have a reasonable doubt as to O.J. Simpson's guilt." Nothing more, nothing less. And I think that has to ultimately be where America has to accept the finality of it, get over it, and move on.

home | introduction | interviews | analysis | watch online | whites and blacks
special video | discussion | readings & links | teacher's guide
credits | tapes & transcript | press reaction | privacy policy
FRONTLINE home | wgbh | pbs

posted oct. 4, 2005

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
photo copyright ©2005 corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS