Friday, October 10, 2008

O.J. Simpson: Justice Delayed But Not Denied

The conviction of O.J. Simpson by a Las Vegas jury and his impending sentencing brings to a close the improbable and oftentimes infuriating legal journey he led America ever since that brutally hot June night in 1994 when his former wife Nicole and a male bystander were savagely murdered at knifepoint.

The journey strained and confounded America’s faith in the criminal justice system. It enflamed the racial tensions not only in the greater Los Angeles area but throughout America. It set the standard for the 24/7 media saturation of all notorious criminal cases that are now the norm.

O.J.’s lawyers can complain all they like about the Las Vegas jury was seeking vengeance against O.J. for his acquittal in 1995 but they ignore the more important point: that O.J. should never have placed himself in a position where he would have to face a jury for his actions. When he led his compatriots into that Vegas hotel room, he was opening a door for law enforcement to intervene against him which should never have been opened. Having dodged the greatest bullet of his life in 1995, O.J. should have gone into retreat, living a life of seclusion and circumspection. Instead in the thirteen long years following his acquittal, he toyed with the American people, mocked his pursuers, flaunted his “freedom”, and, basically, was living off the kindness of strangers.

Like the moth to flame (or the electronic bug zapper) he couldn’t resist the spotlight. Ultimately amidst the bright lights of Las Vegas, he got zapped and he did it all by himself.

For me his trial and conviction brings back memories of the 1995 trial. I think all of us has played amateur detective and pondered the evidence and constructed our own version of what happened during that bloody night in June 1995.

In my mind’s eye, I’ve always envisioned the murder as being a two-act performance by O.J. I never accepted the thesis of the Goldman family lawyer Daniel Petrocelli put forth in the civil suit against O.J. that followed the criminal trial that O.J. killed Nicole and Ron Goldman simultaneously in a blitz attack. I’ve always believed that O.J. went to Nicole’s house solely to kill Nicole. In my mind’s eye, I think O.J. creepy-crawled Nicole, gaining surreptitious entry into house (something which he had done numerous times before the murder) and took control of Nicole at knifepoint. The question which lies hanging is whether O.J. spoke to Nicole inside and whether Nicole recognized O.J.’s voice. If she knew that it was O.J. holding the knife at her throat inside the house did she willingly allow O.J. to take her outside the house thinking that O.J. was merely trying to frighten her and all she was going to get was another severe beating or did Nicole realize that O.J. had finally crossed the line into murderous rage and that she was going die and, realizing that if she screamed and struggled inside the house that her children—who were asleep upstairs—might come down to intervene and be killed by O.J. alongside with herself. Knowing that, did Nicole sacrifice herself by allowing O.J. to take her outside the house thus getting O.J. away from the children?

We’ll never know. What we do know is that once Nicole was taken outside the end came quickly, brutally, savagely, her head almost severed from her neck.

So much speculation has been made about Ron Goldman’s presence at the house that night. What was he doing there? Some called him a paramour of Nicole Brown Simpson. I never bought that. I believe that Goldman was there simply to return Nicole’s eye-glasses which had been left at the restaurant she had dined at earlier that evening. In my view Ron Goldman was the intangible factor in the murder—the best living witness had he not been killed—the joker in the deck that O.J. never anticipated when he plotted to kill Nicole. Before Goldman’s arrival, O.J. committed the perfect crime. He had dispatched his wife quickly, efficiently. Ron Goldman’s arrival at the house altered the equation. What did Goldman see when he came up the walkway? Did he see O.J. finishing off Nicole? Did he see O.J. getting ready to leave the crime scene? Did he see O.J. walking away from Nicole’s corpse?

My theory is that O.J. heard Goldman’s arrival and took cover in the foliage surrounding the house. I believe Goldman innocently approached the house and then, to his shock and horror, saw Nicole’s moribund (if not dead) body. He may have bent down to check on her and once he did so, O.J. took Goldman by surprise and had him under control. During the 1995 trial forensic expert Dr. Henry Lee demonstrated how some of Goldman’s defensive wounds could have been caused. He showed that Goldman had been held upright from behind with the knife at his throat. When I saw Lee’s demonstration I had a vision in my mind that O.J., before he killed Goldman, may have spoken to Goldman, assuming that Goldman was a lover of Nicole before finishing off Goldman.

The thing is, though, his attacking Ron Goldman was what ultimately led the police to his doorstep. It was probably during his struggle with Goldman that he got careless, made mistakes, and left evidence: the bloody glove at the scene, the nick on his finger tip which left his DNA at the scene, and the show prints left by his Bruno Magli shoes. Killing Ron Goldman had upset O.J.’s timetable, delayed his departure. When O.J. drove back to his home (and his eventual flight to Chicago), he was late and he knew he had to get back before the limo driver came so his alibi could be airtight. The problem was, the limo arrived at his house early, buzzed O.J. and got no response, eventually seeing a mysterious figure skulking on O.J.’s property (it was O.J.) before, finally, O.J. came out to greet the limo driver.

That limo driver was a key witness in the civil suit against O.J. and it was his testimony that resulted in the civil judgment against him for causing the death of Ron Goldman.

The Los Angeles D.A.’s decision to try the case in downtown L.A. instead of in Brentwood (where the crime took place) doomed the prosecution from the start. The L.A. jury was a runaway jury, bent on striking a blow against the L.A.P.D. instead of seeing that justice was done for Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. I have often wondered if Nicole and Ron Goldman had been black would the jury have been so willing to acquit O.J Simpson? I do believe however that the jury was hostile towards Nicole. I remember vividly Nicole’s sister Denise Brown’s testimony about her dead sister. Denise Brown had been called by the prosecution to tell the jury about her sister and to give the jurors there a portrait of Nicole as a means of eliciting sympathy and understanding about her brutal murder—to show that Nicole was a human being not merely a crime statistic. Denise Brown (dressed immaculately) in clothes bought on Rodeo Drive and her coiffed by the finest Hollywood hairdressers told the jurors about her sister’s plans to take her children to Cozumel for a vacation and that she and her sister were going to do Club Med afterwards.

Denise Brown’s pain, devastation, and anguish were real, intense, and genuine. The problem with her testimony was that she was telling a jury composed of people who would never go shopping on Rodeo Drive and never have their hair coiffed at the finest hairdressers in Hollywood; who couldn’t possibly afford to take their children on vacation to Cozumel and would never get a chance to do Club Med. I cannot help but feel that instead of eliciting sympathy for Nicole instead Denise Brown’s testimony drew rage, anger, jealousy from the jury. If Denise Brown had testified before a Brentwood jury (Brentwood is an extremely affluent neighborhood composed of people who shop every day at Rodeo Drive; who vacation with their children to Cozumel and do Club Med regularly) then her testimony would have garnered the sympathy the prosecution needed to clinch the case against O.J.

In the end O.J. beat the rap but he couldn’t defeat his own worst enemy: himself. That’s why he walked into that Las Vegas hotel room, got himself caught on audio and videotape, got arrested, tried and convicted and condemned to a Clark County Prison cell.

Justice delayed but now no longer denied.

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