By: Robert Patton
For those too young to have experienced the O.J. Simpson courtroom circus first hand, new opportunities are here. First, of course, is the FX miniseries that premiered on February 2. And, soon the powers that be may see fit to televise the trial of Bill Cosby, which has all the features desired by the media giants. Like Simpson, Cosby is a highly admired African-American celebrity. Cosby is currently free on a million-dollar bail; Simpson was housed by the state of California during the lengthy proceedings. And Simpson’s alleged victims were not African American.
O.J. Simpson, known as The Juice, was a football star, a Heisman Trophy winner, who made the transition to film and advertising, becoming very famous and very rich. He was sometimes criticized as someone who turned his back on his African-American roots, having divorced his first wife and marrying Nicole Brown, a blonde with whom he had two children before they divorced. That star-studded life ended when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were found, both brutally murdered near Nicole’s condo.
In many respects, the Simpson trial was a mockery of justice and more of a media extravaganza than an example of American jurisprudence. If Simpson had been an anonymous gangbanger dwelling in South Central LA, does anyone think that the trial would have been televised? Then there was the length and cost of the trial. The cost to California taxpayers was well-in the seven-figure range- and the media profits were enormous.
Have you noticed that the logo on your computer, before you open it, is upside down? You owe this interesting fact to O.J. Simpson, his prosecutors, and the well-heeled promoters of the trial. IBM provided a computer for Judge Lance Ito’s use during the trial. Of course, IBM did not want millions of TV viewers to spend hundreds of hours looking at an upside down IBM logo. So they fixed it and all computer makers have followed IBM’s example ever since.
Judge Ito was married to Margaret Ann York, an L.A. police detective. One might think that reason enough for Ito to recuse himself from a trial, that predictably depended heavily on the testimony of his wife’s colleagues. But seriously, can you imagine him passing up the opportunity to move from relative obscurity to international fame? The desire to use this trial to bootstrap careers to higher levels was apparent in the behavior of the prosecution team. Marcia Clark, up to that time, had been a reasonably competent prosecutor with an excellent track record. But, this case was different. Now Ms. Clark had to address newer, more important issues. Hair style for one. Because of the high visibility of the case Marcia requested additional funds for wardrobe expenses.
Now 62 years old, Marcia Clark recently told Entertainment Weekly that, “the whole experience of that trial was a nightmare. It tore me up… I watched justice get thwarted from almost day one.” Not only did Marcia witness the failure of justice, she played a key role in making it happen.
The evidence that Simpson was responsible for the killing of his ex-wife and the young man who had the ill luck to have arrived at the wrong time, is pretty convincing. There was blood evidence found both at the crime scene and on a glove found on Simpson’s property that was a match for its mate found on the crime scene. There was also testimony that placed Simpson away from his home at time of the crime and back home at pretty much the time you’d expect if he’d jumped into his Bronco and headed home right after the foul deed was done. Shortly thereafter he left home again to catch a flight to a meeting in Chicago.
Not only that, but Simpson was known to have been insanely jealous of his wife before and even after their divorce. He also devoted a lot of energy to spying on her leading to several previous 911 calls. And on at least one occasion, he beat her up badly. Of course, being O.J. Simpson, he paid for that crime with community service.
Do you get it. It was pretty much of a slam dunk. It’s easy to picture Simpson showing up, as he had on several previous occasions, and this time finding that his ex-wife was not alone. Ron Goldman, a young man, who was a waiter at the restaurant where Nicole Brown Simpson, O.J.’s ex wife, had dined earlier, had just arrived. He was ostensibly just returning a pair of glasses she had left at the restaurant but, come on, how often does a young male waiter go out of his way to return some small thing to an elderly male customer? And why did he change clothes before heading for Nicole’s place?
There you have the scene. A beautiful woman, her very strong, athletic, possessive ex husband and a young man with romantic interests. Of course the young man needs to appear strong and brave in front of the woman that attracts him. If you can picture that scene, you can picture what probably transpired. There was no way Ron Goldman would excuse himself and quietly leave. More likely he would act in knightly defense of the young woman. With bloody and fatal consequences.
The jury could see that too. If, that is, they had been presented with that picture along with convincing blood evidence, testimony about the murder weapon, and the incriminating gloves. But what I’ve just described was never presented to the jury.
Instead, Marcia Clark and her African-American sidekick Christopher Darden went for the home run: Murder One. They spent weeks presenting largely irrelevant evidence about what a bad husband Simpson had been. Wives often divorce bad husbands, too many are victims of domestic violence, but few are murdered by ex husbands in a cold contemplative manner. But this is what Clark wanted the jury to believe. That O.J. Simpson had donned his expensive gloves, slipped an expensive knife into his pocket, wore the expensive shoes that would leave bloody footprints at the crime scene, and then driven to the home of his ex-wife with the intention of killing her, Because she was not alone, he had to kill the young waiter as well. Not out of jealousy of course. Only to leave no living witness to his premeditated crime.
In addition to presenting such an implausible scenario to the jury Clark & Company had the convincing evidence, the forensic stuff, presented by a blatantly racist detective who in the process of presenting the evidence ended his career on the LAPD and was prosecuted for perjury. The crowning folly of the prosecution’s case was allowing O.J. to try on the evidence, the bloody glove, now dry, over a surgical glove. Of course the glove didn’t fit, How could it with its cargo of dried human blood, a surgical glove to maximize frictional resistance and an unwilling hand that would tense as needed to maximize the difficulty of putting on the glove.
Anyone who witnesses that scene will never forget the defense summation chant: ‘If it does not fit, you must acquit.”
You won’t learn much of this from the FX miniseries. The actress that plays Marcia admits, or rather brags, about the great admiration she has for the failed prosecutor she portrays in the film version of the trial. O.J. ended up with a long prison sentence that he richly deserved through actions of his own making long after the famous trial.
Marcia Clark, however she may complain about her experience as the lead prosecutor in the trial, parlayed that experience into a multimillion dollar book deal and has since pursued a lucrative career in media, publishing, and creative writing. Darden also claims to be pissed off at the results of the trial (although not accepting any responsibility for its outcome) and he too ended his career as a prosecutor.
Judge Ito, who was responsible for the presence of television cameras in his courtroom enjoyed a long and successful career on the bench. The big losers were the taxpayers who picked up the tab and anyone interested in justice.
There are lessons to be learned from all this. Let’s hope that the judge and prosecutor in the Bill Cosby case don’t see this upcoming trial as a gold-plated opportunity for career advancement at the expense of Pennsylvania taxpayers.