No trial in history has been as heavily covered, as widely followed or as intensely analyzed as The People vs. Orenthal James Simpson.” – Marcia Clark, lead prosecutor in the OJ Simpson murder trial.
Twenty-three years ago, on October 3rd, 1994 OJ Simpson was found not-guilty of the gruesome double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and waiter, Ron Goldman. Every court session of the trial was broadcasted on television which both captivated and divided the world. The story stirred a maelstrom of controversies – race, celebrity, domestic violence and the impact of media coverage.
Orenthal James ‘OJ’ Simpson, known as ‘the Juice’, was born 9th July 1947 in San Francisco, California. He attended Southern California University where he played American Football for the USC Trojans and won the Heisman trophy in 1968. Then in 1969, he played professionally as running back for 11 seasons in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills until 1977. He then played for the San Francisco 49ers up to his retirement from football in 1979. He was added to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
At the age of 19, OJ married his high school girlfriend, 18 year old Marguerite Whitley, in June 1967. The couple had three children: Arnelle, Jason and Aaren. Simpson divorced his wife in early 1979. Not long after, tragedy struck Simpson and his family when his daughter, Aaren, drowned in the family swimming pool just before the age of two. By then, Simpson had already began dating a young blonde waitress named Nicole, and within a year, they were living together.
Despite stopping football at the end of 1979, OJ was never away from the camera, with his charisma and good looks, he continued as a celebrity personality, constantly transcending race and class, as well as sports. He worked as a sportscaster and appeared in a variety of movies including the successful ‘Naked Gun’ series. He and Nicole Brown married in 1985, and had two children; Sydney and Justin.
With a marriage that was so public, it was no secret whenever problems arose. Police were called to the couple’s residence on several occasions, including one incident where Nicole came running to the police crying that “he was going to kill her”. Records show that Simpson beat his wife so badly that she needed hospital treatment. Photographs taken from that time and later were used at Simpson’s murder trial and show Brown-Simpson’s badly bruised face. According to an arrest report, Simpson told responding officers, ‘The police have been out here eight times before, and now you’re going to arrest me for this?’ OJ pleaded no contest to spousal battery, but then later said that he was advised to do so for the sake of his privacy, citing: ‘I did not plead no contest for any other reason but to protect our privacy, and was advised it would end the press hype.’. The couple then divorced in 1992, after seven years of marriage, but the pair remained in contact. During the civil trial in 1997, Simpson acknowledged there were instances where he hurt Nicole, saying “I take total responsibility.”
Before the murders in mid June 1994, he was one of the few African-American men who could boast such popularity. He was one of the most celebrated football players of all time and widely loved for his acting; however he was not appreciated by all. To many, Simpson seemed to get successful, earn his riches and leave his heritage as an African-American immigrant behind – moving to Brentwood, Los Angeles, a notoriously white neighbourhood. He became friends with white people in power such as the LAPD, who were well known for discriminating against black people. This upset lots of people because they felt that once he had made a name for himself, he alienated himself from his culture as much as he could.
Murders in brentwood
On 12th June 1994, OJ Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown and restaurant waiter, Ronald Goldman were found dead at a gory crime scene outside of Brown’s house in Bundy Drove, Brentwood, Los Angeles. The Simpson’s two children were still asleep in their rooms on the property when their mother was found just after midnight by a neighbour walking his dog. This neighbour came across Brown’s dog barking at its owner’s body sprawled across the steps leading up to the front porch with Goldman’s lying several feet away in the shrubbery. The police were then contacted and arrived at around 1am.
“Sharp-force injuries” are suspected to be the main cause of death and police confirmed that there were signs of a struggle; however no evidence proving that there was a robbery. Evidence found at the crime scene included a blood stained glove; left by the suspected killer, a knitted hat and a bloody footprint. After the bodies were identified, the police headed over to the other side of Brentwood, where OJ lived, to inform him that the mother of his children had died – unaware that he would soon become a suspect.
The police arrived at Simpson’s property just 2 miles away from the crime scene and rung his gate – to no answer. It was then when they found small, but significant blood stains on Simpson’s famous white Ford Bronco. After noticing the blood, Detective Mark Fuhrman jumped over the security gate into the estate and up to the front door. Once on the grounds, the detectives awaken OJ’s daughter, Arnelle who was staying in a guest house, she takes the detectives inside where they contact Simpson’s assistant and Detective Vannatter declares the property a crime scene and sends for a warrant to search the house.
CNN official timeline for 12th – 13th June 1994
6:30pm ~ Nicole Brown-Simpson, her children, mother and other family members go to dinner at the Mezzaluna restaurant.
8pm ~ Nicole Brown-Simpson and her children leave Mezzaluna, and stop for ice cream on their way home.
9:15pm ~ One of Nicole’s sisters phones Mezzaluna to say that Nicole’s mother had left her glasses at the restaurant. Ronald Goldman volunteers to return the glasses.
9 – 9:30pm ~ Brian Kaelin, a friend staying in a guest house at OJ Simpson’s home, and Simpson go to McDonald’s for dinner.
9:45pm ~ Kaelin and Simpson return home.
9:48pm – 9:50pm ~ Goldman leaves Mezzaluna with a white envelope containing the glasses.
10:15pm ~ While watching television. Pablo Fenjves, a neighbour of Nicole Brown-Simpson, hears cries and constant barking of a dog.
10:25pm – Limousine driver, Allan Park arrives at Simpson’s home.
10:40pm – Kaelin hears three loud thumps on an outside wall of his room
10:40pm – 10:50pm ~ Park buzzes intercom several times but does not get any response.
10:55pm ~ Park calls his boss and tells him Simpson is not home. He is told to wait until 11:15 since Simpson is, reportedly, always late.
Just before 11pm ~ Park sees a black person, six-feet, 200 pounds, walking across the driveway towards the house.
About 11pm ~ Park again buzzes the intercom and Simpson answers. He says he had overslept and just gotten out of the shower.
11 – 11:15pm ~ Simpson puts his bags in limousine and leaves for Los Angeles Airport.
11:35pm ~ Limousine arrives at airport.
11:45pm ~ Simpson leaves on an American Airlines flight to Chicago.
12:10am ~ The bodies of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Goldman are discovered outside her townhouse.
About 5am ~ Detectives Mark Fuhrman and Philip Vannatter arrive at Simpson’s house.
5:15 – 5:30am ~ The detectives examine an apparent bloodstain on Simpson’s Ford Bronco.
5:40 – 5:50am ~ Fuhrman jumps gate onto estate where he awakens Simpson’s daughter and they contact Simpson’s assistant.
7 – 7:30am ~ Detective Vannatter declared the area a crime scene and goes to get a warrant to search the house.
The investigation & the slow speed car chase
Once the police had discovered that Simpson was not at his estate, they decided to find out what time he had left Brentwood to see if he was a to be a person of interest or not. When OJ had gone to Chicago was not quite clear, although Howard Weitzman, his lawyer at the time said his client took a flight, sometime in the “late evening” on Sunday. Detectives Fuhrman and Vannatter contacted the O’Hare Plaza Hotel, a hotel near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport where a general manager said the football star checked into the hotel at 6:15 on the morning of June 13th, Chicago time, indicating that Simpson could have taken any of at least three flights that left L.A after 11:30pm, Pacific Day Time, Sunday.
Los Angeles police said that they telephoned Simpson later that morning to say that his ex-wife had been killed. His response to the news was reported by Vannatter as “unusual” as when informed of NIcole’s death, he simply asked who killed her as opposed to how she died – this, to the LAPD, was another piece of evidence to put Simpson as a person of interest.
That evening Simpson flew back in to LA from Chicago on the next flight. Shortly after Simpson reached his luxury home in Brentwood, police went to his house. By this time, the media had already surrounded Simpson’s Rockingham estate. To be confronted by the police, Simpson takes detectives into his garden, away from the press, where he is handcuffed briefly before his attorney intervenes stating that Simpson is a widely respected football star, who should not be viewed as a villain by the public in such a delicate situation, as at this point he is not a suspect. He is then uncuffed and taken away for three hours of questioning; no arrest was made. However, it is too late, as a reporter from CNN had broken into Simpson’s garden and taken a photo of Simpson in handcuffs, which was released to the world in an article later that day – revealing to the world that the beloved OJ Simpson, was a person of interest.
By the next day, news reports indicated that the blood stains found on Simpson’s vehicle and driveway matched the types discovered at the crime scene. Rumours also spread across the country that Simpson had a glove in his residence that matched the one found at the murders – this lead to Weitzman withdrawing from his position as Simpson’s attorney, citing his close and personal friendship with his client. Robert Shapiro, a high-profile lawyer who was vey used to living in the public eye and very concerned with his appearance in the media makes official remarks to the press saying: “At the time that this murder took place, O.J. was at home waiting to get into a limousine to take him to the airport on a trip that had been planned well in advance for a promotional event in Chicago.” Police were still yet to confirm whether or not Simpson was a suspect.
Not two days later, the football star was charged with two counts of murder and special circumstances, as Shapiro receives a call from the LAPD officials telling him to surrender. Shapiro heads over to Robert Kardashian’s house, a close friend of Simpson, to inform him that OJ must turn himself in by 11am. The murder charges are filed against Simpson in the slaying of Nicole Brown – Simpson and Ronald Goldman; to which an arraignment is scheduled for the afternoon. 11 o’clock comes and goes and OJ has not turned himself over to the police. Shapiro then receives another call from the LAPD stating that they have to announce that Simpson is a fugitive. Hearing this, Shapiro gives the police directions to Kardashian’s San Fernando Valley house, where they can arrest OJ in privacy.
The police arrive at the home and head upstairs to arrest Simpson, whilst Shapiro, Kardashian and Simpson’s family reside downstairs. The officers quickly return downstairs again without OJ and report that he is not there, sending everyone into a state of panic. When rushed outside, it is revealed that Al, AC, Cowlings, a former college and pro football teammate of Simpson who had been with the family, had left the house. LAPD commodore, David Gascon, announces that Simpson has not surrendered for arraignment as scheduled and is now a fugitive. District attorney, Gil Garcetti, adds at a separate press conference that anyone helping Simpson to flee will be prosecuted as a felon – ‘We will find Mr. Simpson and bring him to justice.’ Leading to the police issuing an arrest for Cowlings.
Later that evening, with still no sign of Simpson, Shapiro holds a press conference of his own, where Kardashian reads a supposed suicide letter from Simpson: “Don’t feel sorry for me,” ends the note. ‘I’ve had a great life, great friends. Please think of the real OJ. and not this lost person. Thanks for making my life special. I hope I helped yours. Peace and love. OJ.’
Not long after, Simpson reportedly makes a 911 call form a cellular phone in Cowlings’ Ford Bronco. His location is traced to the Santa Ana Freeway in Orange County near where Nicole had been buried the previous Thursday; the California Highway Patrol begin their pursuit.
Cowlings remained on the phone with the police for the majority of the chase, repeatedly stating that Simpson was sat in the back of the vehicle with a gun to his head, clutching a photo of his children. Cowlings reported that he was saying that all he had ever done was love Nicole and that he wanted to be taken to his mother. The chase progressed onto the early evening where AC moved onto the Artesia Freeway, encountering crowds standing on the roadway and overpasses. Within the hour, Simpson and Cowlings arrive at the Brentwood estate where SWAT is lying in wait in preparation for Simpson. He gets out of the car without struggle where he is greeted with a phone call from his mother, and then begins the negotiation for his surrender. He is then arrested and taken to Parker Center in police custody where he is jailed without bail.
The slow speed chase dominated all television networks and cable news channels aired two hours of nonstop coverage of the event. It is considered one of the most memorable moments in television history. The Bronco chase, as it was known, dominated sports coverage on a major day of sports. Sports channel put major sports events including the NBA finals, the US Open and the World Cup opening on small screens to cover the chase. Not only were records broken for television, but for Domino’s Pizza; reported record sales of pizza delivery were made during the chase, this is most likely because people were so glued to their screens in one of TV’s most tense moments recorded live, that they didn’t want to go anywhere where they couldn’t see what was going to happen.
The trial of the century
On the 20th June, 1994, Simpson was brought before a court where he pleaded not guilty to both murders. The following day, a grand jury, a group of diverse citizens, was called to determine whether or not they should indict him. Two days later, the grand jury was dismissed as a result of excessive media coverage, which could have caused a bias in the jurors.
On January 24, 1995, the trial began; with Lance Ito as judge. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, led by Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden, focused most of their case around the domestic violence in Simpson and Brown’s relationship both prior and after the divorce. They hypothesized that Darden started off the trial with opening statements by portraying Simpson as an abusive husband and using that as a motive for murder. They played a phone call between Nicole and 911 phone operator in which Nicole cites that her husband, OJ Simpson, “is going to kill her”. They also used witnesses such as Nicole’s sister who had witnessed examples of abuse, and a man who had found Brown in a bush and had had a similar conversation to that of the 911 call.
The case against Simpson seemed pretty straight-forward considering there was a substantial amount of evidence that could convict him. In order to have even a chance of freedom, he needed the best lawyers in the country. He hired 5 of the best and most expensive lawyers in the US. The were controversially known as “the Dream Team” and consisted of F. Lee Bailey, Robert Blasier, Shawn Chapman Holley, Robert Shapiro and Alan Dershowitz. Johnnie Cochran later joined the defense team and became the lead attorney. Simpson’s defense case was largely based around evidence being mishandled. The defendants made an example of the black leather glove that was found at the crime scene. They stated that this had been planted by detective Mark Fuhrman in order to frame Simpson. OJ’s team then proved that this glove had never been owned by Simpson as it was far too small, this was done by having him try it on in front of the jury. They also made example of the LAPD and their all-too-common incidents where their reactions to a crime had been dictated by one’s race. This had impacted detective Mark Fuhrman worst, as the defendants had played a tape in which Fuhrman made several extremely offensive comments against African-Americans. Seeing as the jury was made up of 8 African-Americans, this had some serious impacts on the case.
The trial last 8 long months, ending in October and what had once been a seemingly simple open and shut murder case, had been twisted and manipulated into a racist case. On October 2nd, 1994, the jurors were sent away to make decide on the final verdict, it took them less than 4 hours to reach their decision, which worried both sides of the case. Seeing as there was such an enormous amount of evidence to consider, it was alarming that they would have a conclusion so quickly. Judge Ito made the decision to delay the announcement to the next. On October 3rd, OJ Simpson was found not guilty of murdering Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Goldman. The verdict was watched by over 150 million people worldwide, and public reactions were mainly broken down along racial lines: white people felt confused and upset by the jury’s decision and felt Nicole and Ronald deserved justice, whereas black people felt that Simpson’s acquittal was a victory for African-Americans after years of discrimination by the legal system.
The main reason black people, especially, were so elated by the not-guilty verdict was because they felt that the Los Angeles Police Department had been publicly shamed for their treatment of black people. For years and years, African-Americans had been on the receiving end of the US justice system and had been portrayed violent and dangerous by the enforcers and the media – this had stapled an image into the mind of every citizen and officer. Due to this reputation, white people in particular were very wary of black people, as they were labeled unsafe, hence leading to police officers being much more willing to assault an African-American as every one had been trademarked as a threat. This lead to hundreds of cases of unjust police brutality.
One of the most significant cases was that of Rodney King. Born in Sacramento, California, 1965, Rodney King was caught by the LAPD in a high speed car chase on March 3rd, 1991, just 3 years before Simpson’s case. He was pulled over to the side of the road where the officers pulled him out of that car and he was brutally beaten by four officers, leaving him with a fracture skull and cheekbone, whilst amature camera man got it all on video. All four officers were indicted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force by a police officer. The case was taken to court and after the 3 month trial with a majority white jury, all of the officers were acquitted, causing outrage in citizens and triggering the violent 1992 Los Angeles Riots.
The riots came from years of rising racial tensions in the Los Angeles area and were ignited by the King case, instantly causing an aggressive outburst of people appalled by the verdict. It lead to several days of widespread violence and looting throughout LA. Within 4 days, thousands of federal troops and national guardsmen had managed to restrain most of the uprising, leaving more than 60 people dead and $1 billion in damages.
OJ: Racial division
Twenty three years since the People vs. Orenthal James Simpson began and people still use the case as a way to show the racial divide. The trial displayed Simpson’s back and forth relationship between the white and the black people of America and showed how he used his influences to climb to the top of the media.
At the peak of Simpson’s career, he was loved by white people across America, he’d broken records with his stellar football career, his famous Hertz commercials were loved by all and he had starred in one of the funniest movies of all time, the Naked Gun. OJ’s life couldn’t have been better as he had successfully managed to escape racial profiling that all his black friends and family were so accustomed to. Seeing as he no longer experienced any grief surrounding his race, Simpson would constantly reject any opportunity given to uplift black America through direct action of his own. The famous quote “I’m not black, I’m OJ” came from an interview from civil rights leader, Harry Edwards, when he tried to get OJ to protest against social inequalities. These constant refusals to engage on the issue made him unpopular with fellow black figures at the time – comedian, Steve Harvey, gave his opinion on his programme, Showtime at the Apollo, saying “OJ hasn’t been black since he won that Heisman trophy!”
Along with all of this fame, OJ was accused by some African Americans of believing that he was “beyond blackness”, that he was so accepted in mainstream society that discrimination in relation to his life as a black man never mattered because he was so successful. Similar criticisms had also been directed at other black people who came from poverty, in the past; once they manage to find success, they abandon their black heritage as “blackness” is viewed as an inherently negative thing. Phrases that come out of these mindsets such as “Let’s not talk about race”, only serves a larger narrative of dismissing the consequences and long-standing effects of the racial divides that have already been built up and are perpetuated because so many Americans have refused to take on the ramifications of slavery, Jim Crowe and cutting off African-Americans from certain jobs and living opportunities based on their race throughout the 21st century.
So after all these efforts that Simpson had made to become a member of white society as opposed to black, when he was put up for trial, white people began to dissociate with Simpson. Examples of this include the infamous incident where the New York Times newspaper darkened his skin tone on the tabloids front cover, which was speculated to be their way of trying to convince people that he was guilty, arguing that darkening the photo played on America’s perspective of darker people. The situation regarding Simpson’s allegiance with either race demonstrated that superstar status will divorce you from the racial tensions of America; however once under suspicion of wrongdoing, it is easy to be dragged back into the discussion of race.
Once the verdict of the trial was reached and announced, it was clear to see the different reactions of either race. White people were shocked and disgusted that he had managed to get away with such an obvious crime, whereas black people celebrated, not so much for Simpson himself, but more because they had classed it as a victory against the LAPD. This reaction highlights how many African-Americans were really thinking at the time – if a black person was convicted of a crime, it was almost certain that they would be unfairly railed against in court and regarded as automatically guilty. This is because, at the time, one’s race was a definer in how dangerous they were and whether or not an audience should show pity or sympathy. But because Simpson had enough money and power, he was capable of doing something just as a bad as a white man with equal amounts money and power and get off with the same effects. After the case was all over with and Simpson, although found not guilty had been left with little to his name, he had also realised that his rejection of black solidarity had finally caught up with him. His white audience were no longer interested in someone they believed had killed his wife and he had alienated himself from his black lifestyle for so long that black people didn’t want to associate with him either.
The topics of Simpson’s race were discussed in the song “the Story of OJ” by rapper, Jay-Z. The song talks about black solidarity, how OJ abandoned it and how this eventually caught up with him. It talks about how Simpson got famous and appreciated by white people and left black culture as soon as he got the chance. As a consequence, when things fell through, he wasn’t accepted into either culture. This is shown when Jay-Z quotes Simpson, saying, “I’m not black, I’m OJ” which was followed by a sarcastic “okay…” because he knows that Simpson saying that and separating himself from his black heritage is inevitably going to haunt him in his future. Jay-Z tries to tell his listeners that in order to achieve overall strength, as a collective, one must accumulate generational wealth, money that isn’t there to show off and amaze the public, but money that can be passed down through families; because trying to reach fame and wealth alone in order to reach white acceptance as a quick and easy way to get escape discrimination is not as important as working within your community to achieve black financial solidarity. Overall the song teaches that when you’re famous, people eventually get bored, move on and when the audience doesn’t love you anymore, the consensus will be taken away and they won’t have anything to fall back on if they haven’t managed to invest and support themselves, just like OJ, in that when he lost everyones support he was thrown right back into the all the hate and discrimination, only he was left with the support of no one.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a neurodegenerative pathology, found in the brain of individuals who have suffered from repetitive, traumatic brain injuries, most of which are either concussions or sub-concussive hits to the head. It has been mainly categorized in professional athletes, particularly boxers, american football and rugby players. It is a progressive disease, meaning symptoms won’t begin until years after the injuries take place and often gets worse over time. I symptoms include mood-swings, depression, violent tendencies and criminal behaviour
When your head gets hit, nerve cells are damaged and a protein called Tau gets released, the more hits to the head, equates to more Tau being released. When the nerve cells are damaged the Tau is released and starts to clump up and get tangled, if enough is built up over time, it starts to kill brain cells. High levels of Tau in brain fluid are linked to poor recovery from brain trauma.