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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The O. J. Simpson Murders: A "Crime of the Century"

     In America, the combination of celebrity worship and the fascination with violent crime has produced a dozen or so "crimes of the century." Obscure people, by virtue of their willingness to commit outrageous mayhem, can become instant celebrities. In the 20th century, unknown people like Bruno Richard Hauptmann, Mark Chapman, David Berkowitz, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Kaczinski, because of who or how many people they murdered, propelled themselves into the history books. Assassins Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, and Sirhan Sirhan committed acts of violence that changed the direction of history.

     In Kansas, the 1959 Clutter family killers, Richard Hickok and Perry Smith, destined to remain relatively obscure despite their mass murder, were immortalized by celebrity author Truman Capote whose book In Cold Blood became a bestseller, a movie, and as a "nonfiction novel," a literary classic. Charles Manson, Erik and Lyle Menendez, Ted Bundy, and other convicted killers of the 20th Century, were regularly seen on TV as celebrity criminals being interviewed by celebrity reporters.

     In my opinion, the 20th century saw three "crimes of the century:" The Lindbergh Kidnapping; The John F. Kennedy Assassination; and the O. J. Simpson case. Charles A. Lindbergh was brought down by an unemployed illegal alien who abducted and murdered his 20-month-old son; President Kennedy by a deranged lone wolf; and O. J. Simpson by himself. These three cases rose above the rest because they involved two famous victims, and a famous defendant, all of whom were heroes to millions of people.

     There have been dozens of books written about the Lindbergh and Simpson crimes, and more than 500 books on the Kennedy assassination. In the Lindbergh and Kennedy cases, many of these works feature revisionist history by crime writing hacks. Notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence of his guilt, there have been authors who have made literary cases for O. J. Simpson's innocence.

The O. J. Simpson Case and its Aftermath

     From the June 1994 day in Los Angeles when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were viciously stabbed and slashed to death outside of O. J. Simpson's ex-wife's condo, to Simpson's October 1995 murder acquittal, the O. J. Simpson case dominated the news in the United States and abroad. His acquittal at the hands of a stupid jury shocked the nation. In February 1997, a civil jury found Simpson liable for the wrongful deaths of his ex-wife and her friend, awarding the plaintiffs $8.5 million in compensatory damages. The civil court judge also ordered Simpson to turn over his 1968 Heisman Trophy, an Andy Warhol painting, his golf clubs, and other personal assets.

     In September 2007, O. J. and a group of his associates entered a room at the Palace Station hotel-casino in Las Vegas where they stole, at gunpoint, sports memorabilia from a dealer in that kind of stuff. O. J.'s accomplices, upon arrest, quickly agreed to plead guilty and testify against Simpson. A year later, after being found guilty of robbery, assault, and kidnapping, Simpson was on his way to prison where he would have to serve at least nine years before being eligible for parole. He was now 65, and serving his time at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada.

     The O. J. Simpson case, involving DNA analysis, blood spatter interpretation, shoe print identification, and forensic pathology, popularized forensic science. The not guilty verdict also introduced the public to the concept of jury nullification.

     The infamous double murder turned police detectives, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and the trial judge into instant celebrities. Several of the major players in the case cashed-in with lucrative book deals. A few became television personalities. The case put CNN on the map, and elevated the careers of more than a few talking-heads. In that respect, the effects of the Simpson case are still visible.

The Post-Conviction Lives of Key Simpson Figures

     The chief prosecutor, Marcia Clark, left the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office in 1997 just before the publication of her book (with Teresa Carpenter) Without a Doubt. Clark received a publisher's advance of $4.2 million. (An insane amount for a true crime book, and a much better deal for Clark than the publisher.) Clark, although criticized by many legal scholars and commentators for her handling of the case, parlayed it into a media career. A special correspondent for "Entertainment Tonight," Clark commented on the Casey Anthony trial for Headline News. She is now 61.

     Johnny Cochran, the chief defense attorney, was already known as a celebrity trial attorney before taking on O. J. Simpson as a client. In 1993, he had defended Michael Jackson against accusations of child molestation. At the Simpson trial, regarding the bloody crime scene glove, Cochran issued the now famous quote: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." He retired from his legal practice in 2002, and on March 29, 2005, died of an inoperable brain tumor. He was 67.

     Judge Lance Ito, the man who presided over the 9-month trial, was severely criticized by legal scholars for letting the proceeding degenerate into a media circus and television soap opera. In his book, Outrage, Vincent Bugliosi, the man who prosecuted Charles Manson and his crew (Helter Skelter), accuses Ito of judicial incompetence in the case. Ito, now 63, retired recently as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.

     After the Simpson trial, Marcia Clark's assistant, Christopher Darden, worked as a legal commentator for CNN, Court TV, and NBC. His book on the case is called In Contempt. Darden has since written several other books, including a crime thriller with writer Dick Lochte. He is 58 and practices law in southern California.

     If the Simpson case produced a law enforcement villain, it was Mark Fuhrman. The Los Angeles police detective was accused of planting the bloody crime scene glove. Convicted of perjury, Fuhrman was sentenced to three years probation. (There was never solid proof that Detective Fuhrman planted any evidence in the case.) The former Marine, in the years since the Simpson trial, rehabilitated his image by becoming a successful author of nonfiction crime books. In addition to his book on the Simpson case, Murder in Brentwood, Fuhrman has written Murder in Greenwich, a bestseller about the Martha Moxley case. He was also a regular crime commentator on Fox News. He is 62

     In May 2017, O. J. Simpson came up for parole in the Las Vegas robbery case. The parole board denied his request for early release.  

2 comments:

  1. His wife is the one they wanted dead. Otherwise, they would have murdered Mr. Simpson.

    ReplyDelete