20 years after acquittal, O.J. Simpson case still fascinates

By Amy R. Connolly   |   Oct. 3, 2015 at 3:00 AM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- Twenty years after the "trial of the century" ended in an acquittal of O.J. Simpson in the murder of his ex-wife and her friend, the case lives on in made-for-TV movies and in key details that have become ingrained in American lexicon.

White Broncos. Gloves that don't fit. Clueless house guests. A verdict that divided the nation.

Meanwhile, Simpson finds himself in prison anyway -- convicted in 2008 of armed robbery and kidnapping for a crime involving memorabilia from his star athlete past.

For 133 days, the nation, perhaps the world, was gripped by the trial, now considered a watershed for America's legal system and the nation's social and racial history. Oct. 3 marks the 20th anniversary of Simpson's acquittal.

The white Ford Bronco chase

The story began unfolding on June 13, 1994, when Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, 35, and Ron Goldman, 25, were found slashed to death in front of her condo in Brentwood, Calif. Four days later, after questioning by police, NFL Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson was charged with the murders.

That's when the local homicide investigation turned into a nationwide spectacle. Hours after declaring Simpson a fugitive, a cavalcade of police cars followed Simpson in the Bronco, driven by friend and former teammate Al Cowlings. Simpson was in the back seat and reportedly had a gun.

The 60-mile, low-speed chase, with TV helicopters above live broadcasting, ended some two hours later with Simpson insisting he wasn't running. Earlier that evening, longtime friend and attorney Robert Kardashian read a letter from Simpson that many interpreted as a suicide note.

"I'm proud of how I lived. My mama taught me to do unto other. I treated people the way I wanted to be treated. I'm sorry for the Goldman family. I know how much it hurts," he wrote. "'Don't feel sorry for me. I've had a great life, great friends. Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person. Thanks for making my life special, I hope I helped yours."

After pleading "absolutely, 100 percent not guilty" on July 22, the case was assigned to Superior Court Judge Lance Ito. About the same time, Simpson offered a $500,000 reward for information leading to the "real killer or killers." A picture of a jealous Simpson who stalked his ex-wife began emerging.

The prosecution's case

Following weeks of jury selection, the seated jury -- a predominately black group of four men and eight women -- settled in for the trial that began Jan. 24, 1995.

In opening statements, defense attorney Johnnie Cochran indicated Simpson was hobbled by arthritis from decades of football so he couldn't have pulled off the double murder, adding the defense would prove the evidence was "contaminated, compromised and ultimately corrupted."

In the coming weeks and months, jurors listened as prosecutor Marcia Clark and Simpson's "Dream Team" of high-priced attorneys -- Cochran, Robert Kardashian, F. Lee Bailey, Robert Shapiro and Alan Dershowitz -- wrangled.

In the early part of the prosecution's case, the jury heard from witnesses that included Denise Brown, Nicole's sister, testifying he was abusive. The jury toured the Simpson's estate, the crime scene, Goldman's apartment building and other locations. Prosecutors contended Simpson had a history of abuse toward his ex-wife.

Defense attorneys dispute findings

By March, defense attorneys focused on discrediting former Los Angeles Police Detective Mark Fuhrman -- the prosecution's star witness -- saying he was a racist who planted a leather glove to implicate Simpson. Fuhrman vehemently denied the allegations, later invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked if he planted evidence, used racist epithets, was racist or falsified police reports. Jurors also heard famed Simpson house guest Brian "Kato" Kaelin describe three thumps he heard from Simpson's estate the night of the killings.

On June 15, at the prosecution's request, Simpson tried to slip on leather gloves linked to the killings. Barely squeezing into them, he proclaimed, "They don't fit," holding his hands up to show jurors.

After the prosecution rested in early July, jurors heard from Simpson's defense, including his physician, who confirmed Simpson had debilitating football injuries, and a microbiologist who proclaimed the L.A. crime lab was "by far" the most contaminated ever seen. Forensic expert Henry Lee testified shoe prints at the scene didn't match Simpson's Bruno Maglis.

During the trial, DNA experts on both sides argued over the new and emerging science. As the trial entered the eight month, both sides took to bickering, most notably when neither side could stipulate when a syringe was a syringe. Ito stormed off the bench, chiding attorneys for "petty bickering."

Simpson's acquittal

On Sept. 27, Cochran wrapped up closing arguments with his now famous quote about the glove -- "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit" -- while Clark blasted Fuhrman, her former star witness, as a racist but warned that didn't mean he planted a glove.

Shortly after 10 a.m. on Oct. 3, as the nation breathlessly watched, the jury found Simpson not guilty on both counts of murder. Reaction to the verdict was largely split along racial lines.

Despite his criminal acquittal, a civil jury in 1997 found Simpson liable for the two deaths. He was ordered to pay $25 million in punitive damages.

After moving to Florida with his two children in 2000, his legal troubles didn't end. He had a few run-ins with law enforcement, including a court judgment that found he pirated satellite television.

In 2008, Simpson was found guilty on 12 charges, including kidnapping and armed robbery in a confrontation over sports memorabilia. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with parole possible by 2017.

The verdict came 13 years to the day Simpson was acquitted of killing his ex-wife and Goldman.

20 years later

Today, the world remains fascinated by Simpson and the case. Two television documentaries aired on sister networks A&E and LMN, highlighting purportedly new information about the case. Actress Selma Blair was also cast as Kris Jenner -- who was Kardashian's wife at the time -- in an upcoming American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson on FX.

Kardashian died in 2003. Many of the other major players in the case -- including Clark, Cochran and Bailey -- and even some minor ones -- such as reporters Dan Abrams, now a legal commentator, went on to illustrious careers. Harvey Levin, a TV reporter who covered the case, later founded the celebrity Website TMZ.

Simpson continues to deny any involvement in the deaths.

Public opinion, however, has evolved over the years. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows the racial gap is closing. A majority of black and white Americans now agree that Simpson was at least "probably" guilty.

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