I can just barely recall seeing the White Bronco crawl down that LA freeway with what looked to be a police escort. I was around 10 years old (my fellow Open Field compatriots were probably still learning how to talk; let’s just move on) at the time. I had no idea what was going on or what it meant; zero notion of the vast underlying racial issues and evil that the trial of O.J. Simpson would come to embody.
I recently finished the five-part O.J.: Made in America documentary series, produced by ESPN (I know, I’m way late too the party). It is extremely well done. I often found myself, while watching, in awe of the infinite number of hours it surely took to put the eight-plus hour series together. All the video, all the court reports, all the interviews with those involved. To cobble it together in such a gripping and informative way is beyond anything I can comprehend. It will win an Oscar.
Having said that, it begins rather slowly. The first installment gives a ton a background: not just on O.J. and his childhood and playing career, but also on the racial tension, and occasional violent explosions, in LA and around the country. The fruit of this research was clearly realized when analysis of the trial began.
O.J. stated countless times that he was not a representative of his race, that he was just The Juice and everything he did was for him and his close-knit group of friends and family. And yet, Johnnie Cochran and his crew ultimately swung the jury in their favor by linking their defendant with all of the horrible racial injustices of the time – the Rodney King beating, and subsequent acquittal of the officers involved, was still very much on the minds of the African American community.
Hero- and celebrity-worship also played a large part in the proceedings. How could such a high-profile and charismatic star athlete and film star do such a thing as this? Especially the charming O.J.? Friends, fans, and the public could not believe he was capable when news broke. That is, until the facts started to come out.
The most damning thing, besides the mountain of physical evidence, was O.J.’s history of physical abuse against Nicole Brown. The police had been called to their Rockingham Avenue home in Brentwood, California at least eight times. There were pictures of Nicole with bruises all over her body, most notably of her face. She went so far as to keep some of the pictures in a lock box at a bank, along with her will. The domestic violence was so well-known that when the Brown’s received the phone call informing them of Nicole’s death, one of her sisters can be heard in the background screaming “He did it! He killed her! I knew he was going to kill her!”
There were all kinds of various indiscretions between the two: affairs, jealousy, the aforementioned abuse. The makers of the documentary wove these in and out of the narrative, calling up videos and pictures and interviews and phone calls at just the right time. It always seemed to be headed for a tragic ending. I guess in hindsight it was simple to give everything leading up to the murders of Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman – who was unlucky enough to be at the house when the killer showed up – a heavy dose of despair and foreboding.
In the end, Marcia Clark and her team made three key mistakes in the O.J. Simpson trial: 1) not moving the trial out of downtown LA, where they may have found a more impartial jury; 2) calling Mark Fuhrman to the stand (although it was practically impossible not to since he found the bloody glove at Rockingham); 3) allowing Chris Darden to go ahead with his plan to have O.J. try on the gloves. The last two were certainly the most damning.
After it was established that Fuhrman was, at the very least, comfortable dropping racial slurs at the drop of the hat, and detailing how the cops treated black people out on the street (those tapes were insane), anything he said on the witness stand would be immediately discredited by the members of the mostly black jury.
As far as the glove fiasco, the revelation that O.J. quit taking his arthritis pills two weeks prior to trying on the gloves was breath taking. In the scene, you can tell that he was still a bit apprehensive. And then he began to put on the gloves. As soon as it was clear they were not going to fit, O.J. went into full actor-mode, standing up and worrying with the gloves; holding his hands up so the jury could see they didn’t fit. As one interviewee said, a child would’ve had trouble getting them on with latex gloves underneath.
The last episode detailed O.J.’s tailspin after being acquitted in the criminal trial but losing the civil trial that the Goldman’s initiated. He began a sick and disgusting decent into hedonism and debauchery without any regard for his children. He felt untouchable, and lived that way, until he got caught up in the dumb plot to take back some lost memorabilia in Las Vegas. The Nevada judge threw the book – more like three books – at him, sentencing him to 33 years in jail. It was harsh, but most wouldn’t find it unjust considering his history.
In the end, it was, to me, a fascinating case study in narcissism, the need to be liked, and the evil dwelling just under the surface of humanity. It was a needless tragedy shot through with the racism and hate we continue to struggle with to this day. It was a snapshot of the inner workings of our legal system, and how giant of a role wealth plays in an accused’s innocence or guilt. Finally, and ultimately, it was heart-rending and terrible, but oh so captivating.FOLLOW THE OPEN FIELD