O.J. Simpson: Trial and Error

O.J. Simpson is standing trial for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. Again. The mini-series, The People v. O.J. Simpson is taking us all back to the “Trial of the (20th) Century” and purports to show us what “really” happened. Sadly, a generation too young to have experienced the national obsession first-hand may view the multi-part prime-time drama as a documentary. It isn’t. I spent much of first episode yelling at my television. I wasn’t alone. Members of both victim’s families, witnesses, prosecutors and detectives on the case, none of whom were consulted or even notified of the series production, attacked the show for factual flaws and inconsistencies. That’s the nature of such “based on a true” story docu-dramas. Ask Oliver Stone about reaction to his movie, JFK.

I don’t pretend to be the definitive expert on the Simpson trial but I am a well-informed observer. I was the main anchor for CNN’s gavel to gavel coverage of the trial. I spent more than 1,000 hours on live television watching, analyzing and dissecting each and every nuance of the case, much of which the jurors never saw. Were mistakes made? Of course there were, both in the investigation and the prosecution of the case. Co-lead detective Tom Lange, who along with his partner, had more than fifty years investigating homicides told me recently, in an interview for Inside Edition, that this case was like a turkey shoot. In most investigations, he said, there is exculpatory evidence pointing to someone else. In this case, there was none. Everything pointed to O.J.

The opening scene of the film depicting the Rodney King beating and the Los Angeles riots which followed the verdict acquitting the police officers involved, implies a common thread flowing from that incident, through the Simpson case, leading to today’s #BlackLivesMatter movement. While evidence of decades-long institutional anti-black bias is clear, the fact that Simpson would be the beneficiary of anti-police sentiment and payback is ironic. Cops loved him. They revered him. The LAPD was called eight times for allegations of domestic violence against O.J.’s ex-wife Nicole. He was never arrested. The thought of framing Simpson for a crime sounds absurd. All previous evidence against him was ignored.

Was LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman a racist? Perhaps. Did he plant evidence to frame O.J. Simpson? To hear Detective Lange tell it, “absolutely not.” Fuhrman would have needed the cooperation of more than a dozen other cops to take a bloody glove from the crime scene and place it at Simpson’s home. The glove discovered behind Simpson’s guest house conforms to house guest Kato Kaelin’s testimony that he heard a loud thump against his bungalow wall, initially making him think there had been an earthquake. Presumably, that thump was Simpson, sneaking back onto his property following the crime and dropping a glove when he bumped into an air conditioner in the wall.

The Simpson trial was the first de facto reality show. Daytime viewers abandoned their beloved soap actors for real people and real drama — a double murder, sex, jealousy, drugs, racism, police misconduct and more. Now, twenty years later we revisit and relive the case in prime time. I wonder if O.J. will get away with murder. Again.

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