The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story

This TV series was so good that I watched it twice. Then I read the book it was based on — Jeffrey Toobin’s The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson.

Toobin writes:

* Treating Simpson as the equal of his lawyers fit nicely with the paternalistic approach many mainstream journalists take in writing about race. According to these informal standards, white reporters can write with candor about the intellectual limitations of their fellow whites, but not blacks. Absurdly, black sensibilities are thought to be too tender for the truth. Indeed, it is thought to be flirting with a charge of racism to draw attention to the intellectual limitations of any African-American, especially a prominent one like Simpson. So accepting the idea of Simpson as the peer of his attorneys relieved the mainstream press of confronting the obvious truth about him—that he was an uneducated, semiliterate ex-athlete who could barely understand much about the legal proceedings against him.

* Nicole described herself as a ‘party animal’ and said her personal goals were “to raise my kids as best I can; beyond that I haven’t thought about me.” She added, “I’m sure I will get a goal someday.” It wasn’t until Nicole was in her mid-thirties and divorced that she began to consider entering the business world.

* What was less known — or at least less commented upon in the media — was that most of [high-profile] cases had been lost by women prosecutors with pugnacious demeanors, among them Lael Rubin in McMartin Preschool; Lea D’Agostino in Twilight Zone; and Pamela Bozanich in Menendez. All of these prosecutors came across as aggressive and outspoken, just as Marcia Clark did at her post-arraignment press conference.

* … [B]ecause he could turn anything into a racial issue. Cochran knew that a black defendant could scarcely go wrong crying racism in the downtown Criminal Courts Building, and he exploited that phenomenon with singular determination and success.

* A history professor in Afro-American studies, Gloria Alibaruho, had become a mentor to him. Darden later wrote that when he studied the world of his ancestors, “my eyes opened like slipped blinds and all of a sudden my own life was explained to me. Martin Luther King had taught me what was fair; the Black Panther newspapers screamed at me what was unjust; but it was Gloria Alibaruho who taught me who I was. It was like discovering gravity. It explained the universe to me. So, this is why people treat me the way they do. This is why women grab their handbags when I get on an elevator.”

* A young Russian émigré named Pinchas Kleks arrived on the shores of what was known as Palestine in 1918. At the beginning, he made his living delivering kerosene by donkey. From that modest start, Kleks came to open a gas station, and then he devoted his professional life to running a modest chain of service stations in what would become the nation of Israel. In 1930, Pinchas and his wife had a son, Abraham.

A tall and strapping sabra, Abraham Kleks came of age with the young nation. He graduated from high school and went straight into the Israeli army, where he served as a seventeen-year-old lieutenant in the War for Independence. Shortly after that war was won in 1948, Abraham decided to see the world a little and followed some friends to the University of California at Berkeley. At the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, Abraham met and fell in love with a girl from Brooklyn. Abraham and Roslyn married, settled in the United States, and a year later, on August 31, 1953, had their first child, Marcia.

Abraham was promptly drafted into the U.S. Army for the Korean War. Thus began nearly two decades of extraordinarily peripatetic family life. Abraham had studied microbiology at Berkeley, and he pursued this interest in assignments at army medical laboratories in Texas and later Washington State. From the army, Abraham joined the Food and Drug Administration, where he moved up the career ladder with jobs across the nation: five years in Los Angeles, four near San Francisco, one in Detroit, one near Washington, D.C., and two in New York City. During that last tour, young Marcia completed her high school requirements at Susan Wagner High School in Staten Island. By this point she also had a brother, Jonathan, six years her junior.

Marcia was a quick-minded, good-natured girl with an extraordinary talent for languages. She mastered Spanish and, after just two months in Israel one summer, gained a fluent command of Hebrew as well. Notwithstanding the frequent moves (or perhaps because of them), she became a great joiner of activities-cheer-leading, school plays, and the like. Her home life was neither especially contentious nor highly religious. To her mother, at least, it seemed that they quarreled no more than most adolescent children and their parents.

A rift between Marcia and her parents began when they moved from New York back to Los Angeles-their final relocation-in 1970. The family bought a house in the San Fernando Valley, and Abraham served as the district director of the FDA until he retired in 1985, while Roslyn worked for a county supervisor. Marcia had little to do in that first year back west. The local high schools required a year’s residency before they would give her a degree, but she had already fulfilled all her course requirements. Marcia wanted badly to get out of the house, but she couldn’t go to college without a high school degree. Amid the tension at home and frustration about school, Marcia developed bulimia, an affliction she would battle on and off for more than twenty years.

At last Marcia escaped to UCLA. She was still an undergraduate when she met her first husband, a dashing and handsome young man, Gaby Horowitz, like her father an immigrant from Israel. As Gaby used to tell the story, he was driving his Mercedes around the campus when he saw this gorgeous woman-Marcia-and decided then and there he had to meet her. The courtship was brief but intense, and they married shortly after she graduated, without even telling Marcia’s parents first.

Gaby Horowitz made his living as a professional backgammon player while Marcia started law school. The late 1970s were boom years for the game, and for a while Horowitz thrived in the epicenter of the craze. He played occasionally at Pips, a glitzy club founded by Hugh Hefner and frequented by many modest celebrities of the era (including, now and then, O.J. Simpson). But mostly Horowitz frequented the Cavendish West, a haven for serious backgammon and bridge players on the Sunset Strip. Marcia Horowitz became an unlikely regular at the Cavendish, too. She rarely played the game, and instead studied her law books at unoccupied gaming tables. “She was around all the time, a quiet girl,” Buddy Berke, a Cavendish regular, said later. “She was attractive, she was sweet, always very cordial, a lot better with the social graces than Gaby was.”

Gaby was, in fact, a controversial figure in the backgammon world. According to Danny Kleinman, who self-publishes books about backgammon and bridge in Los Angeles, “Gaby was a fine player but, more importantly, a flashy, spectacular player. He looked like Jean-Claude Van Damme, about six-three, and he kept himself in good shape. He was a health-food nut.

“He was a very good player, but he used to cheat. In one case, I saw him move pieces on the board when his opponent’s head was turned. I walked out of the club with him and asked him why he had done it. He gave me his rationale. He said he was a much better player than his opponent, and the only way he might lose was through luck. So he felt he had a right to win and a right to cheat.”

Though Marcia was often present at the club, no one ever suspected her of being involved in Gaby’s cheating. “Everything that I know about Marcia is that she was honest and straightforward,” Kleinman said.

Marcia prodded Gaby to develop a career interest beyond backgammon, and he decided to learn about real estate. He didn’t have much confidence in his English in a professional setting, so a friend of his-a backgammon-playing dentist named Bruce Roman-asked Gaby to join him at Scientology meetings. Marcia never joined the church herself, but she did tag along with Gaby and Bruce on occasion. In 1979, she told her parents she was divorcing Gaby. About a month later, she announced she was marrying Gordon Clark, whom she had met at the Scientology meetings. At twenty-two, he was five years her junior, and an administrator with the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles. Bruce Roman, who was also a lay minister in the church, performed their Scientology wedding ceremony. (Marcia didn’t invite her parents to that wedding, either.)

Gaby’s fortunes went south with the end of both his marriage and the backgammon craze. According to Kleinman, “His cheating became much more extensive and elaborate. He used a variety of methods-manipulation of dice, magnetic dice, electromagnetic boards.” In the spring of 1989, Gaby Horowitz was accidentally shot in the head while he and a friend were examining a gun. In a bizarre coincidence, the friend was Bruce Roman. In the investigation of the shooting, which ended without any charges being filed, Roman’s lawyer was Robert Shapiro. Several people who have seen Gaby Horowitz since his accident say he can no longer walk or talk. Shortly before the Simpson trial, Horowitz moved to Israel. (The Cavendish did not prosper, either. In 1987, the police raided it as part of an investigation for illegal gambling; however, no charges were ever filed against its owner, who was also represented by Robert Shapiro. Nevertheless, the club closed for good in 1994.)

The years Marcia and Gordon Clark lived together were the time that Marcia came of age as a prosecutor. Gordon stopped working for the Church of Scientology, returned to college, and became a modestly successful computer programmer. They had two sons. One day, a few years before the Simpson case, Marcia’s grandfather, Pinchas Kleks, who was visiting from Israel, spent an afternoon on a spectator bench in one of Marcia’s trials. Though he spoke little English and thus could not understand precisely what was going on, the experience of watching Marcia in court ranked as one of the great thrills of Pinchas’s long life.

At the end of 1993, a few months after her fortieth birthday, Marcia Clark made several dramatic changes in her life. She told Bill Hodgman that she didn’t like her administrative job and wanted to return to the courtroom, even if it meant a cut in pay. In December, during a long drive north to the Bay Area to visit friends, Marcia told Gordon that she wanted a divorce. To both Gordon and her parents, she was cryptic about her reasons. “He’s not for me,” she told her father in Hebrew. And then about a month after she split with Gordon, Marcia told her parents that she never wanted to speak to them again. She said they had been icy and unsupportive, and she wanted nothing more to do with them. At just about the same time, Jonathan Kleks, an engineer in Northern California, told his parents that he, too, wished never to speak to them again.

The Kleks were thunderstruck, heartbroken. They had become very close to Marcia and Gordon’s older child, who was four at the time his parents separated. They had less of a chance to know the Clark’s second boy, who was just a baby. They figured the crisis-whatever its mysterious origin-would blow over. It never did. Abraham took to making surreptitious visits to the older boy’s nursery school to spend a little time with him. Once he brought Roslyn with him. When Marcia learned of it, she denounced the school director in front of a roomful of people. Abraham called Marcia to tell her that her mother was undergoing major surgery in September 1994, the time of jury selection in the Simpson case. Marcia never called back.

Gordon was shocked and bitter about the separation. When the Simpson trial began, Marcia’s sudden celebrity gave Gordon the opportunity to take a very public form of revenge. By coincidence, on February 24, the same day Marcia said she had to leave court during Rosa Lopez’s testimony, Gordon filed a motion in their divorce case to change their custody arrangements. The actual adjustment he sought was rather minor and reasonable: increased visitation while Marcia was working late on the case. But in his accompanying affidavit, Gordon portrayed Marcia as a workaholic and a neglectful parent. “I have personal knowledge that on most nights she does not arrive home until 10 P.M. and even when she is home, she is working,” Gordon wrote in the document, which his lawyers knew would quickly become public. In contrast to Marcia, Gordon said, he always made it home by 6:15 P.M. “While I commend [Marcia’s] brilliance, her legal ability and her tremendous competence as an attorney, I do not want our children to suffer because she is never home and never has any time to be with them.” It was this affidavit-made public just after she said she had to leave court to be with her children during Lopez’s testimony-that made Marcia’s personal life a matter of public controversy.

Professionally powerful, Marcia was personally fragile. Gordon thought she drank too much. She smoked more than she wanted to-long greedy pulls on strong European cigarettes. The years of bulimia had exacted a painful price. Extreme tooth decay is a common side effect of bulimia, and in her original divorce petition with Gordon, Marcia said, “Within the last two years I have suffered a medical/dental catastrophe for which I initially borrowed $16,000.00, $14,000.00 of which is still unpaid. In addition, it was necessary to withdraw $26,000 from my pension plan, in order to finish my dental work.” Money stresses compounded the ugliness of the divorce. At the time of their separation, Gordon’s earnings amounted to a little more than half of Marcia’s $96,829 yearly salary, so he could not be counted on for major support.

The shattered relationship with her parents caused Marcia additional worry. She knew that her parents were actually supporting their son-in-law’s efforts to obtain more time with their grandchildren. (Since the spring of 1994, all of the Kleks’ contact with the children had been through Gordon.) An acute student of public relations, Marcia knew that a public disavowal by her own parents would greatly compromise her image as a heroic working mother. Throughout the trial, in addition to all her other anxieties, she feared above all a public denunciation from her parents.

At times, the compounded stresses of ending a long marriage, trying the Simpson case, and enduring the indignities of unsought celebrity nearly drove Clark to the breaking point. At the supermarket one day, as she bought some Tampax, the grocery bagger quipped, “I guess the defense is really in for it this week.” At another time, during Denise Brown’s testimony, the National Enquirer published topless photographs of Clark from when she had been on vacation years earlier with Gaby Horowitz. She was so humiliated that one day she actually began sobbing quietly at the counsel table in Judge Ito’s court. She scribbled a note to Scott Gordon, the prosecutor who was seated next to her. “I’m losing it,” Clark wrote. Darden noticed her distress and subtly shifted his position so that the courtroom camera would be directed away from Marcia. Thinking fast, the roly-poly Gordon jotted Clark a response: “The Enquirer was going to run the same pictures of me, but Greenpeace wouldn’t let them do it.” Clark smiled, and that crisis, at least, passed unnoticed by the public.

* Purdy went on to say that shortly after he married a Jewish woman a few years before, Fuhrman had painted swastikas on Purdy’s locker.

* Through all the jury controversies, the one constant was the prosecution wanting to shed black jurors, the defense seeking to evict whites.

* This, to Cochran, was evidence of a racist conspiracy against O.J. Simpson. That Cochran would make this absurd claim in an environment in which, according to Harris, information from the press was leaking through to jurors shows just how calculated a gesture it was. From the Todd Bridges trial to the Michael Jackson investigation—from the O.J. Simpson case to the civil suit filed by the white trucker Reginald Denny—Cochran found a handy white vendetta to denounce in every case. Dreading, as always, the ordeal endured by Time magazine when it ran its darkened photo of Simpson on the cover—that is, being called racist—the mainstream press mostly reported Cochran’s denunciations without comment…

But Ito felt he had to follow up, so after bringing Harris back in to flesh out her allegations, he decided to interview the remaining jurors in his chambers, one by one. For the lawyers, this was an extraordinary (and rare) opportunity to get a glimpse of the jurors and their state of mind in the middle of a trial.

Merely conducting these inquiries unsettled the prosecution, because the judge’s questions might raise the racial issue to jurors who may not have been affected by it. But as the jurors trooped through Ito’s chambers during the third week in April, it was clear that they had done plenty of thinking about race without Ito’s help.

The white jurors reacted to the racial issues with some hesitancy. Asked about racial tensions, Anise Aschenbach, a sixty-year-old white woman, said, “Well, I don’t know. Nothing has been said that I could pinpoint where that really is a problem, so I don’t know.” And several black jurors detected no animosity from anyone. (Cochran never let up on his charm offensive, though, especially in the intimate setting of Ito’s small office. One black juror took the opportunity in chambers to ask if the judge could get the jurors a copy of the movie Bad Boys, a thriller starring a pair of handsome young black actors. “Good movie,” Cochran volunteered.)

The real news of these sessions was that several African-American jurors were furious, especially the men. That the black men were suffering was hardly surprising. Though it was not well known outside of Southern California, the Los Angeles sheriffs had a reputation for racism that matched that of the LAPD. Worse, the training for all deputy sheriffs involved a peculiar procedure that required new recruits, as their first assignment, to spend two years as guards at the L.A. county jail. According to a widespread belief in Los Angeles, the sheriffs then spent the rest of their careers treating civilians like inmates. Since African-American men were disproportionately represented among the residents of the county jail, it is probably understandable that the black men on the jury chafed at the deputies’ attitude at the hotel. Willie Cravin, one of the black jurors, told Ito simply that “some of the black jurors are treated like convicts.”

But Cravin was a happy camper compared to Lon Cryer, a forty-three-year-old black telephone company employee. Cryer said he had been enraged one time when a female deputy had told him to get off the patio of the hotel when she allowed several white jurors to remain. As a result, Cryer said, “I’m to the point where I don’t really trust anybody involved here. I mean, no disrespect to you, Your Honor, I don’t even trust you, sir. I mean, I don’t trust anybody.” The experience with the deputy, Cryer said, reminded him of some other things.

“Tell me about that,” Ito prompted.

“About police and—well, I—you know, I have no problems with police officers myself, but it kind of reminds me of why so many black men in America have such a problem with being confronted with white police officers in situations like when they are operating their cars, and they become very defensive about it, and it just kind of made me realize that those situations do exist, and you don’t really have to be doing anything for them to take it upon themself to be harassing toward you.”

One can scarcely imagine a monologue more likely to alienate the prosecutors in the case. But Clark and Darden made no effort to remove Cryer, and Ito completed his examination of the jurors without finding reason to dismiss any more of them. In the end, the notion of a prosecution conspiracy to eliminate hostile jurors was absurd. If anything, the prosecution probably should have been more aggressive in ferreting out the biases of potential and sitting jurors in the case. (After all, several months later, on the day the verdict came in, it was Lon Cryer who showed his support for the defendant in the most dramatic way.).

* Most of the jurors dissolved into tears when they arrived back in the deliberation room. They hugged and wept and clung to one another for support. After a few minutes, a pair of deputies came to escort them up to the lounge on the eleventh floor, where they had done most of their waiting over the course of the trial. There the tears mostly stopped, and the jurors sat in shell-shocked silence on the couches and easy chairs. Carrie Bess said something to no one in particular: “We’ve got to protect our own.”

* As soon as word leaked out to the public that Larry King was even considering participating in a pay-per-view interview with Simpson, executives at CNN’s parent company announced that no such project would take place. Simpson’s prospects for any pay-per-view appearance vanished completely when cable-system operators across the country said they would refuse to distribute any broadcast that would enrich the former defendant. The darkly comic notion of “O.J. Simpson Boys Clubs” never materialized.

All of these projects fell victim to the enormous backlash against the verdict in mainstream—that is, white—America. Because of television, the announcement of the verdict became a nationally shared experience—one on par, incredibly, with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In the days immediately after the end of the case in court, televised images of the verdict itself yielded to images of people watching the verdict. The pictures revealed many scenes of African-Americans cheering the verdict, from college campuses to battered women’s shelters. White viewers, by contrast, watched in stunned, generally appalled, silence. Reaction to the verdict was promptly replaced by reaction to the reaction, and then reaction to that reaction and so on, which is to say, as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., observed, “black indignation at white anger at black jubilation at Simpson’s acquittal.” The passing months did not so much heal the wounds in race relations as witness the growth of an ugly scar.

Assessing the “meaning” of the Simpson case became, and remains, a cottage industry. But in evaluating that legacy, it is useful, even necessary, to return to the underlying events—that is, to what happened outside Nicole Brown Simpson’s condominium on the night of June 12, 1994. The Simpson case was never some free-floating set of ideas ripe for any number of equally valid interpretations. The case emerged from a set of facts, and those facts matter.

As to the central fact in the case, it is my view that Simpson murdered his ex-wife and her friend on June 12. Any rational analysis of the events and evidence in question leads to that conclusion. This is true whether one considers evidence not presented to the jury—such as the results of Simpson’s polygraph examination and his flight with Al Cowlings on June 17—or just the evidence established in court. Notwithstanding the prosecution’s many errors, the evidence against Simpson at the trial was overwhelming. Simpson had a violent relationship with his ex-wife, and tensions between them were growing in the weeks leading up to the murders. Simpson had no alibi for the time of the murders, nor was his Bronco parked at his home during that time. Simpson had a cut on his left hand on the day after the murders, and DNA tests showed conclusively that it was Simpson’s blood to the left of the shoe prints leaving the scene. Nicole’s blood was found on a sock in his bedroom, and Goldman’s blood—as well as Simpson’s—was found in the Bronco. Hair consistent with Simpson’s was found on the killer’s cap and on Goldman’s shirt. The gloves that Nicole bought for Simpson in 1990 were almost certainly the ones used by her killer.

It is theoretically possible, of course, that Simpson killed the two victims and that the police also planted evidence against him—that he was guilty and framed. But I am convinced that did not happen, and that it could not have happened. In their summations, Cochran and Scheck suggested that the police, in their effort to frame Simpson, 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 found in his bedroom; (4) Simpson’s blood on the same sock; and (5) the infamous glove at Rockingham, which had, as Clark put it in her summation, “all of the evidence on it: Ron Goldman’s fibers from his shirt; Ron Goldman’s hair; Nicole’s hair; the defendant’s blood; Ron Goldman’s blood; Nicole’s blood; and the Bronco fiber.” The defense never spelled out how all this nefarious activity took place, but pulling it off 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. To me, this possibility is simply not believable, even taking into consideration Fuhrman’s repugnant racial views.

The other police conspirators (conspicuously unnamed by the defense) would have had to be equally adept and even more determined. Many of the police officers at the crime scene noticed the blood on the back gate at Bundy; someone would have had to wipe that off and apply Simpson’s. The autopsies, where blood samples were taken from the victims, were not performed until June 14, more than a full day 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. (When Vannatter took his notorious trip to Brentwood with the blood vial, he only had Simpson’s sample, not Nicole’s, with him.) 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 9 percent of the population, happened to share Simpson’s shoe size, twelve.

In their comments after the trial, the jurors gamely tried to defend their verdict, insisting that it was based on the evidence, not mere racial solidarity. Brenda Moran and Yolanda Crawford believed that the glove demonstration doomed the government’s case. “In plain English, the glove didn’t fit,” Moran said. Gina Rosborough said, “I believed from the beginning that he was innocent,” and the course of the trial confirmed her view. Sheila Woods decried the sloppy lab procedures of the LAPD. Lon Cryer was concerned about evidence contamination and rejected Allan Park’s testimony because he was mistaken about the number of cars in the driveway. As for why he gave Simpson a raised-fist salute at the end of the trial, Cryer said, “It was like a ‘Right on to you, Mr. Simpson. Get on with your life. Get your kids. Be happy. Get some closure in your life.’ ” The three jurors who wrote a joint book about the case—Armanda Cooley, Carrie Bess, and Marsha Rubin-Jackson—attributed the decision to a combination of these factors. Anise Aschenbach, the white juror who initially voted for a conviction, asserted with some sadness that she might have fought on if she had felt any possibility of support from her colleagues. In any event, Aschenbach was deeply troubled by the testimony of Mark Fuhrman and the evidence of his racial views.

All the black jurors denied that race played any role at all in their deliberations or their decision. To me, this is implausible. The perfunctory review of nine months’ worth of evidence; the focus on tangential, if not actually irrelevant, parts of that evidence; the simply incorrect view of other evidence; and the constant focus on racial issues both inside and outside the courtroom—all these factors lead me to conclude that race played a far larger role in the verdict than the jurors conceded. As Carrie Bess indicated in her unguarded words after the verdict, they were protecting their own. This is not especially unusual. For better or worse, American jurors have a long and still-flourishing tradition of both taking race into account in making their decisions and denying that they are doing any such thing. The ten whites, one Asian, and one Latino in Simi Valley who in 1992 acquitted the LAPD officers in the Rodney King case denied that race factored into their decisions; so did the ten black and two white jurors who in 1990 acquitted Washington mayor Marion Barry of all but one of the fourteen narcotics charges against him. In 1955, the two white men charged with murdering Emmett Till were acquitted by an all-white Mississippi jury after about an hour of deliberations. A spokesman for the jurors attributed their decision to “the belief that there had been no identification of the dead body as that of Emmett Till.” Nor is this phenomenon limited to celebrated cases. In the borough of the Bronx in New York City, where juries are more than 80 percent black and Hispanic, black defendants are acquitted in felony cases 47.6 percent of the time, which is about three times the national acquittal rate of 17 percent for defendants of all races. In these cases, among these jurors, race mattered—and so it was with the Simpson jurors, too.

That race continues to count for so much with African-American jurors should come as no great surprise. Racism in law enforcement has persisted through many decades of American life, and black citizens, and thus black jurors, have stored too many insults for too long. The police in general, and the LAPD in particular, reap what they sow. But the genuine grievances that have led to a tradition of black hostility to officialdom have, in turn, fostered a mode of conspiratorial thinking that outstrips reality. An Emory University study of 1,000 black churchgoers in five major cities in 1990 found that more than a third believed that HIV was a form of genocide propagated by white scientists, a theory shared by 40 percent of African-American college students in Washington, D.C. Understanding the roots of these beliefs should not mean endorsing them. To do so is merely patronizing, a condescending pat on the head to those incapable of recognizing reality. Better, rather, to hold everyone to the same standards, and better, likewise, to speak the truth: Whites didn’t concoct HIV—and O.J. Simpson wasn’t innocent.

The backlash against both the jury and Simpson himself was accelerated by Robert Shapiro, who, as was his custom, put his interests ahead of his client’s in the immediate aftermath of the verdict. Shapiro left the courthouse on October 3 and traveled to an ABC studio, where he gave a long-promised interview to Barbara Walters. In their conversation, an obviously bitter and angry Shapiro said of the defense effort in the case, “Not only did we play the race card, we dealt it from the bottom of the deck.” He remarked further that henceforth, he would neither speak to Bailey nor work with Cochran. Shapiro’s remark about the race card was featured prominently in the following day’s news stories about the verdict.

Shapiro’s conduct was shameful on several levels. His disgust about the “race card” was, first, intellectually dishonest, because it was Shapiro himself who had constructed Simpson’s race-based courtroom and media defense in the first place. Second, his statement helped cement the public impression that his client was acquitted because of the jurors’ racial sympathies, not because of his innocence, thus virtually guaranteeing that Simpson would have no chance to reestablish anything like his normal life. In my view, Shapiro’s analysis of the case was more or less correct, but Simpson had a right to expect that his own lawyer would not portray the case, in substance, as the story of a murderer who got away with it. Finally, Shapiro trivialized the work of his colleagues Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, who had constructed a serious forensic and nonracial defense in the case.

* Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld returned to New York after the Simpson trial. They found that their celebrity from the case had not translated into financial support for their Innocence Project, which uses DNA testing to free wrongfully convicted prisoners. When they mentioned to Shapiro the possibility of a Los Angeles fund-raiser for the project, he told them glumly, and probably accurately, “No Jew will give you a dime in this town.”

* Lance Ito conducted his next criminal trial the week after the Simpson case ended. He has never commented publicly on the verdict, but friends report that he knows the Simpson trial did not enhance his reputation. His second most noteworthy trial had a sour postscript as well. On April 4, 1996, a federal judge in Los Angeles overturned the state conviction of financier Charles Keating on the ground that Ito had erroneously instructed the jury.

* On November 12, 1995, her father left a message on Marcia’s answering machine that her ninety-five-year-old grandfather, Pinchas Kleks, had died in Israel. She did not return the call.

Here are some other excellent selections from Jeffrey Toobin’s book:

* Crowds began forming in Compton, a small, heavily black city just south of Los Angeles. The numbers were small at first, just a few dozen people drawn to the spectacle by what they had seen on television. Cowlings turned off the Artesia, traveling less than a mile south on the Harbor Freeway, and then west on I-405, the San Diego Freeway. These moves confirmed what Cowlings had told the police; though he still had a good thirty miles to go, he was en route to Simpson’s house in Brentwood. The San Diego Freeway took Simpson through Torrance, a community not at all like nearby Compton. Mark Fuhrman, in his distinctive style, once explained the difference. His taped interviews with aspiring screenwriter Laura Hart McKinny contained the following description: “Westwood is gone, the niggers have discovered it… Torrance is considered the last white middle-class society.” The reaction to the Bronco was different in “the last white middle-class society.” No supporters lined the highway, and O.J. and his helicopter entourage passed through without fanfare. In Inglewood and at the edge of Watts, the largely African-American communities to the north, the spectators returned. They were shouting encouragement at this point. “Go, O.J.!” many screamed. “Save the Juice!”
The helicopters had to pull back briefly when the Bronco, curving gently north along the contour of the Pacific Ocean, passed by Los Angeles International Airport. The scene on television became even stranger for a moment when the cameras from the choppers showed several jetliners landing beneath them. Their airspace clear, the helicopters then resumed the chase as the Bronco moved into the densely populated West Side. Hundreds of people lined the overpass at Venice Boulevard, another area with a heavy minority population. Several people held up encouraging signs, and many were yelling in support of O.J.
Knowledgeable television broadcasters had been speculating for some time that Cowlings would leave the San Diego Freeway at the Sunset Boulevard exit, since it was the most direct route to Simpson’s home in Brentwood. Yet notwithstanding the advance notice, the crowd of people at the Sunset exit was modest, perhaps a couple of dozen. That area, of course, is the edge of Bel-Air, perhaps the wealthiest and whitest community in all of Los Angeles. Only a handful of the people there turned out to cheer for O.J.

* Local reporters broadcasting live from Sunset found a stark racial division at the scene. The whites, a minority of the revelers, were curiosity seekers-“looky loos” in the LAPD phrase-who had come simply to experience the bizarre scene. The African-Americans, on the other hand, had mostly come to show solidarity, and their chants and shouts made their feelings clear. “Free O.J.!” they repeated again and again. Interviewed on KCBS, one of them said, “I feel that the black people ought to come together. They’re trying to make us extinct.” A woman then added, “First it was Michael [Jackson] and Mike Tyson and Rodney King. I’m calling for the unification of the black race!”

* The grand jury met in the downtown Criminal Courts Building-a fact of considerable significance in one of the biggest controversies of the case. Since the murders had occurred in Brentwood, prosecutors theoretically had the right to try the case in the Santa Monica branch of superior court-and thus to have access to that court’s substantially white jury pool. The differences in the jury pool between Santa Monica and downtown were dramatic: in Santa Monica, 80 percent white and 7 percent black; downtown, 30 percent white and 31 percent black. (Latinos and Asians accounted for most of the remainder in both areas.) Why, it has long been asked, did prosecutors choose to try a popular black celebrity in front of a heavily black jury pool?

…It was Gil Garcetti who muddied the waters on the downtown versus Santa Monica issue. Shortly after Simpson’s arrest, Garcetti told several reporters that he wanted the Simpson trial held downtown because a verdict rendered there would have more “credibility” than one in Santa Monica. He said a downtown jury would contribute to the “perception of justice” surrounding the case. These remarks were typical of the elliptical way the participants in the case discussed race in its early stages, but Garcetti’s message was clear: A downtown jury would have substantial African-American representation, and its judgment on a black American hero would be respected. In addition, as a Democrat elected with substantial African-American support, Garcetti had to pay homage to his base, and trying the case downtown was one way to do it. Even more important, Garcetti lacked the stomach for the kind of fight an effort to conduct the trial in Santa Monica would have provoked. He would have had to argue that he wanted to be in Santa Monica because he wanted white jurors-a politically unpalatable prospect, especially on a issue where he was probably doomed to lose anyway. Garcetti’s coded remarks about “credibility” and the “perception of justice” came at a time of, and as a result of, the prosecution’s first blush of confidence after the Bronco chase. At that point the D.A. and the prosecutors on the case had no doubt about their ability to win the case, wherever it was tried. There seemed little harm in the district attorney’s boasting about his concern for the sensitivities of a crucial constituency.
In fact, Garcetti’s remarks would backfire dramatically. Once the case began to turn against the prosecution and racial issues emerged at the center of the trial, reporters began pestering Garcetti with questions about why he had decided to have the case tried downtown-i.e., why he had given up the opportunity for a much “whiter” jury. (Of course, if he had tried to keep the trial in Santa Monica, these same reporters would have demanded to know whether his attempt to keep the case away from downtown was “racist.”) In answering these questions long after the original decision to go downtown, Garcetti fell back on the truth: that the earthquake damage to the Santa Monica courthouse and other factors had tied his hands. But because Garcetti’s past remarks suggested that he had made a choice to go downtown, the issue dogged him. It was a classic example of the phenomenon of a lawyer’s “spin” returning to haunt him. But Garcetti’s answer-his last answer, anyway-was the truth: The Simpson case could never have been tried anywhere except the dreary and decaying Criminal Courts Building in the civic heart of downtown Los Angeles.

* Dershowitz was just completing a book called The Abuse Excuse-and Other Cop-Outs, Sob Stories, and Evasions of Responsibility. In it, he wrote that a whole series of excuses-such as the “battered-woman syndrome,” the “abused-child syndrome,” and the like-were “quickly becoming a license to kill.” Some of these excuses, Dershowitz wrote with disdain, reflected “politically correct” sentiments that sought to apply different criteria of culpability to people from disadvantaged groups. “In effect,” he wrote, “these abuse excuse defenses, by emphasizing historical discrimination suffered by particular groups, seek to introduce some degree of affirmative action into our criminal-justice system.” The Simpson case seemed to fit right in. On Monday, June 20, 1994-the day the haggard Simpson mumbled his not-guilty plea in court-Dershowitz expounded on this thesis when he appeared in his legal-expert persona on public television’s Charlie Rose. On the broadcast, Dershowitz speculated that the Simpson case “may end up not with a bang but a whimper. I mean, this may end up in something like a hung jury. It may end up in a plea bargain.” Indeed, Dershowitz went on, the Simpson case might wind up having sinister implications. “It may end up with a terrible message. It may end up with a Menendez- or Bobbitt-type verdict, which will send a message out, ‘Gee, you can get away with this kind of stuff.’”

…No law, or even any ethical rule, prevented Dershowitz from accepting the assignment. (Shamelessness is a moral, rather than a legal, concept.) As Dershowitz himself cheerfully noted in his memoir The Best Defense, “Almost all of my own clients have been guilty.” In the Simpson case, Dershowitz was an observer one day, an advocate the next-a shift that reflected, as Anthony Kronman, the dean of Yale Law School, once aptly put it, “the indifference to truth that all advocacy entails.” Lawyers live by such distinctions, even as they fuel public cynicism about their profession.

* In 1970, Fuhrman joined the marines, then served in Vietnam as a machine gunner. He thrived in the service until his last six months there. As Fuhrman later explained to Dr. Ronald R. Koegler, a psychiatrist, he stopped enjoying his military service because “there were these Mexicans and niggers, volunteers, and they would tell me they weren’t going to do something.” As a result of these problems, in 1975 Fuhrman left the marines and went almost directly to the Los Angeles Police Academy.
Fuhrman excelled at the academy, finishing second in his class, and his career at the LAPD had a promising start. His early personnel ratings were high. One superior wrote, “His progress is excellent and with continued field experience he would progress into an outstanding officer.” But in 1977, Fuhrman’s assignment was changed to East L.A., and his evaluators began to show some reservations. “He is enthusiastic and demonstrates a lot of initiative in making arrests,” a superior wrote at the time. “However, his overall production is unbalanced at this point because of the greater proportion of time spent trying to make the ‘big arrest.’ ” Dr. Koegler wrote, “After a while he began to dislike his work, especially the ‘low-class’ people he was dealing with. He bragged about violence he used in subduing suspects, including chokeholds, and said he would break their hands or face or arms or legs, if necessary.”
Fuhrman was moved into the pursuit of street gangs in late 1977, and while his job ratings remained high, he reported that the strains of the job affected him. “Those people disgust me, and the public puts up with it,” he told Dr. John Hochman, another psychiatrist, referring to his gang work. Fuhrman said that he was in a fight “at least every other day” and that he had to be “violent just to exist.” In just one year, he said, he was involved in at least twenty-five altercations while on duty. “They shoot little kids and they shoot other people,” he told Dr. Hochman. “We’d catch them and beat them, and we’d get sued or suspended… This job has damaged me mentally. I can’t even go anywhere without a gun.” Fuhrman explained, “I have this urge to kill people that upset me.”
The stress of police work took such a toll that in the early 1980s, Fuhrman sought to leave the force. His lawyers asserted that in the course of his work, Fuhrman “sustained seriously disabling psychiatric symptomatology” and as a result should receive a disability pension from the city. To get that pension, Fuhrman waged a protracted legal battle. The extensive case file documenting his efforts, replete with detailed psychiatric evaluations of the officer, was paradoxical. In all of Fuhrman’s own briefs, he was portrayed as a dangerously unbalanced man; as one of them put it, Fuhrman was “substantially incapacitated for the performance of his regular and customary duties as a policeman.” In the city’s answers, however, he was called a competent officer, albeit one involved in an elaborate ruse to win a pension. Dr. Hochman observed, “There is some suggestion here that the patient was trying to feign the presence of severe psychopathology. This suggests a conscious attempt to look bad and an exaggeration of problems which could be a cry for help and/or overdramatization by a narcissistic, self-indulgent, emotionally unstable person who expects immediate attention and pity.” In either case-whether Fuhrman was a psychotic or a malingerer-the picture of him was an unattractive one. Fuhrman lost his case and, as a result, remained on the force.

* For a time, only O.J. demurred. He liked Cochran, had even talked to him several times since the murders, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted him as his lawyer. It is one of the richer and more revealing ironies of the case that only O.J. Simpson-“I’m not black. I’m O.J.”-failed to understand the preeminent place of race in his own defense. Simpson was himself so alienated from the world of his fellow black Angelenos that he alone failed to recognize what was obvious to whites and blacks alike: that Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr., had been waiting his whole life for this case, and this case had been waiting for Johnnie Cochran as well.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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