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June 12, 2019

Anniversary of a Tragedy

Patricia A. Kelly

Today, June 12, 2019, is the 25th anniversary of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Coincidentally, I recently read Christopher Darden’s book “Contempt” about the murder trial. Mr. Darden, along with Marcia Clark, was a prosecutor in the trial that followed these gruesome murders.


Lasting more than a year, the first trial was televised live. It pre-empted all normal programming on some channels. I have friends who watched it every day.


Nicole was the ex-wife of the famous football star and actor, Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson. She was very young when they married, a waitress at the time of their first meeting. Their marriage was turbulent and abusive from the beginning. O.J. was deeply loved by his fans and friends, with good looks, an incredible football career, and moderate success as an actor.


Extremely jealous of Nicole, even obsessed, he stalked her after their marriage ended. He told her he would kill her if he caught her with another man. She believed him.


Ron Goldman, Nicole’s friend and – by all accounts – a fine young man, was almost 10 years younger than Nicole. His bad luck was to arrive at her home as she was being attacked. His attempt to defend her cost him his life.


The murders were brutal. Always terrified of knives, Nicole was stabbed multiple times. Her throat was cut so deeply that her head was nearly severed. Ron was also stabbed multiple times, with many defensive wounds on his hands.


O.J. who left a blood trail in his car and home, was charged with murder. High melodrama gripped the nation as he, driven by his good friend Al Cowlings, led the police on a long chase along Los Angeles freeways in his now-infamous, blood-stained white bronco. O.J. said he was going to Nicole’s grave to commit suicide. However, he had a new passport and Al was carrying $9,000 in cash in his pocket.


The trial was a circus, presided over by Judge Lance Ito. O.J. was represented by a “dream team” of prominent lawyers, who took every shot at the compelling body of evidence.


Unfortunately, the police officer, Mark Fuhrman, who found O.J.’s second bloody glove behind his house, the first having been dropped at the murder scene, was a Nazi-loving racist who lied about his personal life on the stand. That, along with a few minor evidence processing errors, gave Johnny Cochran, lead attorney, his best opportunity to turn this from a murder trial into a trial about racism in America.


In the end, after being coached in Cochran’s closing arguments to fight for justice for African Americans, the jury of nine African Americans and three Caucasians, acquitted OJ.


Later O.J. was convicted in civil court, and now, with interest, owes the Goldman family $70,000,000 in damages. O.J. did end up in jail for nine years on kidnapping and armed robbery charges and was recently released to live in comfort in his Las Vegas area home.


The Goldmans continue seeking the money. Marcia Clark continued her law career, has written 10 books, one about the Simpson trial, and got her own show on A&E, “The First 48: Marcia Clark investigates.”  Johnny Cochran died of a brain tumor, although his law firm continues. Robert Shapiro, angry with Cochran for twisting the defense to racism, has remained active, as have other “dream team” members. Judge Ito continued to serve as a judge, retiring 20 years later.


Christopher Darden ended his prosecutorial career immediately after the trial. As an African American who fought for individual justice regardless of race or income, he was devastated to conclude that this was not available in our system. He became a law professor, and, of course, wrote “Contempt.”


Darden’s conclusions are the most compelling from the trial. Often subject to racism himself, he speaks of the need in America for both African Americans and Caucasians to abandon their racism and deal with each other as individuals. Nine black jurors, aware of police abuse, such as the contemporary Rodney King police beating which led to the Los Angeles riots, instead chose O.J. Simpson, a black hero, over justice.


The lesson – in a time when race relations in the United States have deteriorated again – is that both sides, black and white, must give it up.


Rest in peace, Ron and Nicole. Your deaths will have meaning if we learn this lesson.


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