Friday, 8 April 2016

The People Versus OJ Simpson

Have been gripped by the BBC2 re-broadcast of the hit US series. I have a special interest as I lived in LA through the course of the trial. It was, truly, a soap opera, from Dominick Dunne's Vanity Fair columns to the Dancing Itos on Letterman. Almost tangible. I used to see dream team lawyer Robert Shapiro in my local supermarket in Pacific Palisades (where the tabloids at the till screamed their latest wacko theories). I once ran past Johnnie Cochran jogging on Santa Monica beach. I remember my downstairs neighbour bounding up the stairs and banging on my door mid-afternoon. I threw it open, assuming an emergency. "Oh my God, Fuhrman just perjured himself!" she wailed.

Somewhere amid it all was a pair of grisly murders. Nicole Simpson was almost decapitated. Ron Goldman, who was similarly butchered, became a mere afterthought in the sorry mess of a trial as Judge Ito lost control of the courtroom. As the People's key witnesses began, one-by-one, to sell their stories to the press, so its case evaporated. And they ballsed it up. Christopher Darden, IMHO, was just not up to it. He was a broken man by the end of it. Trying on the gloves was a mistake. Though a bigger one, I fear, was allowing Nicole Brown Simpson to be referred to, throughout, as OJ's "wife", painting Simpson a bereaved victim (albeit a very smiley, jokey one). Solid DNA evidence —  only a 21 billion to 1 chance that Simpson didn't do it! — was dismissed as "garbage". I remember Marcia Clark trying to explain the science of DNA to the jury (in a very patronising way) in terms of how it featured in Jurassic Park. That's how new it was. In the end it just became a clinical exercise in character assassination by the defence. Every witness methodically shredded.

The best book I read on the subject was American Tragedy by Lawrence Schiller and James Willwerth. It uses Robert Kardashian as its everyman. It purports that Kardashian knew pretty much from the get-go that OJ had blood on his hands and yet he persisted with his defence. Yep, the three Bobs — Kardashian, Shapiro and Marcia Clark's latest "do".

I have no doubt, based on the sheer weight of evidence, that Simpson was guilty as hell. But, of course, the case was never about a double-homicide. It was, as the author James Ellroy (whose own mother was raped and murdered) once put it to me, "a referendum on race." On the heels of the Rodney King beating and the riots, was it any wonder? Ultimately it was about whether black people in America got a fair shake from the law. They certainly didn't. And probably still don't... Except for Simpson. The LAPD bent over backwards to accommodate him. The case was compromised from the get-go.