Late at night on 12th June 1994, a dogwalker discovered the brutally murdered bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman outside Nicole’s Beverly Hills home. Both victims had been stabbed repeatedly and had their throats cut while Nicole’s two sons were asleep inside the house.
As police arrived at the scene and the investigation commenced, suspicion quickly fell on Orenthal James “OJ” Simpson, famous actor, former football star and Nicole’s estranged husband. During his seven year marriage to Nicole, OJ had allegedly been abusive on several occasions, offering police an instant potential motive for murder. Police tracked down OJ to inform him of his former wife’s murder. He was located in a hotel in Chicago, having taken a late flight at 11:45pm the previous evening. Simpson caught a flight back to LA a few hours later, voluntarily attending the police station to give an interview, fingerprints and a blood sample. Police noticed a bandage covering his middle finger, which Simpson claimed he had cut when he broke a glass, though his story on this matter later changed.
In the meantime, both the crime scene and OJ’s house were searched, yielding a wealth of incriminating evidence. A bloodied glove found near the two bodies, which was later shown to contain DNA from OJ, Nicole and Goldman, matched a glove found outside OJ’s home. Officers discovered blood both on the door of the suspect’s Ford Bronco, and also droplets leading into his house. Inside, a pair of bloodied socks were discovered, blood that was later matched to Nicole.
On 17th June 1994, a warrant for Simpson’s arrest was issued, but he could not be tracked down. His friend and lawyer Robert Kardashian publicly read out a letter written by Simpson which was later perceived as a suicide note. Shortly after this, Simpson was spotted driving on the highway, refusing to pull over when requested to by police. A passenger in the car, Al Cowling, dialled 911 and warned police that Simpson had a gun and appeared suicidal. A huge chase ensued, involving dozens and police vehicles and extensive live coverage by the media. Eventually the chase ended and Simpson was apprehended with a firearm, a large sum of money and a disguise in his possession.
On 23rd January 1995 an eight month trial began, in which OJ Simpson was charged with two counts of murder, to which he pleaded not guilty. The defendant used his wealth and power to compile a defence ‘dream team’, composed of some of the biggest names in criminal law and forensic science, including lawyers Robert Kardashian, Robert Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran, and DNA specialists Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld (the founders of the Innocence Project).
The prosecution put forth the image of an abusive man who had killed his ex-partner and her friend in a jealous rage, supported by OJ’s lack of alibi for the night in question and a wealth of seemingly incriminating DNA evidence. However through a combination of Simpson’s great defence team and a series of police errors, a great deal of the evidence supporting the prosecution’s case came under fire.
The general processing of the scene was sloppy, with items of evidence never entering the chain of custody, photographs being taken without scales for reference, bloody police shoe prints littering the scene and even evidence not ever being collected, most notably a bloodied fingerprint found on the gateway of the house. The latter was documented by one of the investigating detectives but was subsequently forgotten about and lost. A blood sample taken from OJ was allegedly carried around in the pocket of an investigator for hours after collection, rather than being immediately submitted as evidence and preserved. Furthermore, 1.5mL of this blood sample was supposedly lost, leading to claims of planted evidence and incrimination, further fuelled by accusations of a primary detective on the case, Mark Fuhrman, being a known racist. A pair of socks retrieved from the suspect’s home were found to have Nicole’s blood on them, however the blood was curiously not noticed at the time of collection and, according to the defence, the bloodstain patterns did not match the story, further supporting claims of evidence planting. Most notably, when presented with the incriminating bloody gloves during the trial, OJ proceeded to publicly try on the gloves, which proved to be too small. As his lawyer Cochran went on the announce, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit!”
The entire management of the investigation and evidence was referred to as a “cesspool of contamination”, and the aforementioned issues were more than enough to provide reasonable doubt.
On 3rd October 1995, OJ Simpson was found not guilty, though the Goldman family did later sue him in a civil case for a large quantity of money in damages. Incidentally in 2007 Simpson was involved in and found guilty of an armed robbery and kidnapping incident, resulting in a sentence of 33 years in prison. He is currently held at Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada, eligible for parole in 2017.
Crime Museum. Forensics at the OJ Simpson Trial. [online] Available: http://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/forensic-investigation-of-the-oj-simpson-trial
Rocklin School District. Case Study: OJ Simpson. [online] Available: http://www.rocklin.k12.ca.us/staff/lbrun/chemweb/Forensics/Unit_4_DNA/Case_Study_OJ_Simpson.pdf
It’s been more than 20 years since a verdict was reached in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, but the controversial case will soon be back in the national conversation with the Feb. 2 premiere of The People v. O.J. Simpson – American Crime Story.
While most of the public was unable to look away as the drama unfolded, some of us were still playing in sandboxes with our preschool classmates – or were mere twinkles in our parents’ eyes – and could use a rundown on the case before we tune in to see Sarah Paulson, John Travolta and Cuba Gooding Jr. re-enact (one of) the trial(s) of the century.
To help catch you up, we’re answering some of the essential questions you might have about the can’t-miss courtroom drama of 1994:
Why was O.J. Simpson a big deal?
Nicknamed “The Juice,” Simpson was one of the football players of the ’70s. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1968, and went on to become one of the greatest running backs in NFL history while playing for the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers. Simpson still holds the record for the most single-season yards-per-game average.
Simpson’s fame was bolstered by an acting career, which kept him in the public eye even after he retired from football in 1979. Besides appearing in films like The Naked Gun trilogy and The Klansman, Simpson was a staple in American homes thanks to his ad campaigns for Hertz and commentator work for Monday Night Football and The NFL on NBC.
What was his relationship with Nicole Brown Simpson?
Nicole was the football star’s second wife. She was a teenage waitress in Beverly Hills when she began dating Simpson in 1977; at the time, he was still married to his first wife, Marguerite L. Whitley.
O.J. and Nicole were married in 1985, six years after his divorce from Whitley. The pair had two children, Sydney Brooke and Justin Ryan Simpson. The sports celeb was already father to Arnelle L., Jason L. and Aaren Lashone Simpson (who drowned in 1979) from his previous marriage.
The pair’s marriage hit some rocks in 1989, when O.J. pleaded no contest to a charge of spousal abuse, and was sentenced to community service, probation and fines. Nicole filed for divorce in 1992, citing irreconcilable differences.
O.J. Simpson Trial: Where Are They Now?
What was the crime?
Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, waiter Ronald Goldman, were stabbed to death on June 12, 1994. Nicole was stabbed multiple times in the head and neck. Their bodies were found outside of her home in the early hours of June 13. She was 35 years old, he was 25.
What was up with that car chase?
After being questioned days earlier, Simpson was under orders to turn himself in to the police on the morning of June 17. The LAPD issued an all-points bulletin when he had failed to surrender himself by 2 p.m. At 5 p.m., Robert Kardashian (yes, Kim’s father) read for the media what sounded like a suicide note given to him by Simpson.
“Don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve had a great life, great friends,” it read. “Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person. Thanks for making my life special. I hope I helped yours. Peace and love. O.J.”
At 6:20 p.m., a driver spotted Simpson in the now-infamous white Bronco with a friend and reported the sighting to police. A police officer then ID’d the vehicle on Interstate 404, and the ensuing 60-mile, low-speed chase – with news helicopters covering every inch of the journey – kept the public glued to their televisions.
The Bronco arrived at Simpson’s home at 8 p.m., where he emerged from the car after some time. The LAPD found makeup adhesive, a fake mustache and goatee, Simpson’s passport and a gun in the vehicle.
So, why was Simpson found not guilty?
A jury found Simpson not guilty after an eight-month trial that ended on Oct. 3, 1995. The proceedings were televised on Court TV, and an estimated 100 million viewers tuned in to watch the verdict.
Although prosecutors had an overwhelming amount of DNA evidence against Simpson, including blood traces of the victims in his car and Nicole’s blood on a pair of his socks, the defense used technical mistakes by the forensics team to suggest contamination of the crime scene and cast doubt on the DNA evidence. Also, a video surfaced in which Mark Fuhrman, a cop who helped collect much of the physical evidence, made racist remarks and dropped the n-word multiple times. Fuhrman was later charged with perjury for claiming that he had not used the slur within 10 years of the trial.
Wasn’t there something about a glove, too?
A dark glove was found at the crime scene and its mate was later recovered on Simpson’s estate. The prosecution found DNA from Simpson and both victims on the gloves.
However, when the defense team convinced the prosecution to ask Simpson to try on the glove during the trial, it appeared to be too small for his hands. (This gave rise to Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran’s now-legendary phrase, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”) Prosecutors said they had not wanted Simpson to try on the glove because it had been soaked in blood and subsequently frozen and unfrozen several times to be preserved.
So why is O.J. In jail now?
In December 2008, Simpson was found guilty of 10 charges related to a gunpoint robbery at the Palace Station hotel in Las Vegas. The crime was unrelated to the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
The former NFL star is now serving a 9 to 33-year sentence at Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada, but will be up for parole in 2017.
The People v. O.J. Simpson – American Crime Story premieres Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 10 p.m. ET on FX.