When Evidence Backfires: If It Does Not Fit, You Must Acquit

EDITED: This article has been edited for accuracy.

In our first article on the OJ Simpson Murder case — now being examined in the TV special known as American Crime Story — we looked at failures to collect, prepare and test evidence such as blood samples, DNA evidence and other items that were presented in court in the prosecutor’s case against OJ Simpson.

There is one piece of evidence that was intended to be the pièce de résistance — the coffin nail that would put OJ away for good. We all know about “the bloody glove.”

 

Expensive gloves favoured by OJ Simpson

OJ Simpson had been given two pair of expensive Aris Light Gloves (size XL) by his wife, Nicole Simpson. He was often seen wearing these gloves. In his investigation of Simpson’s home hours after the murder, detective Ron Fuhrman discovered one bloody Aris Light glove in OJ’s yard. The blood was tested for DNA and there was blood from OJ and the two murder victims: Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, a friend of hers. In addition, the glove contained a long strand of blond hair similar to his ex-wife’s hair.

 

Advice from the enemy

Six months into the trial, defense attorney Johnny Cochran goaded assistant prosecutor Christopher Darden into asking Simpson to put on the glove. It looked to Christopher that it should fit. So, he took the dare. OJ knew he would be found guilty if he was able to fit into the gloves. He also knew that these svelte gloves, still caked with blood and had been frozen and thawed out several times, could be a struggle to pull on. He had allegedly stopped taking his arthritis medicine, which may have contributed to swelling in his hands, and he put on a pair of rubber sanitary gloves to further enlarge them.

The gloves would not go on past his knuckles. He made a dramatic presentation of trying hard to pull them on, but, he was, after all, a Hollywood actor in addition to his football career. And on live TV, with millions watching, including 12 jurors, the gloves demonstrably did not slip over OJ’s hands. Johnny Cochran was able to remind the jurors in closing arguments that “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”.

 

Another strike for Detective Fuhrman

The defense posited the theory that the investigating detective who discovered the glove — after scaling the wall into OJ’s yard all alone — had planted the evidence.  In a cross examination by F. Lee Bailey, Fuhrman was asked if he had planted any evidence and he denied this. However, in his second round of cross examination by defense attorney Gerald Uelmen, Ron took the Fifth Amendment which protects a person from self-incrimination. 

 

Hidden from the jury

In American courtrooms, sometimes cases are won or lost by excluding evidence from the possibility of being considered by a jury. There are various legal arguments that would keep proof from having an effect, including how the evidence was collected under legal rules, whether or not it is accurate or relevant, and at the farthest stretch of the imagination — that the evidence may be too damning.

In the OJ case, evidence — including a jailhouse confession that he “didn’t mean to do it” to fellow NFL player and pastor, Rosie Grier — was not allowed, nor was photographic evidence of OJ wearing the Bruno Maglli shoes. These matched the missing shoes that left bloody footprints at the scene, at his home and in his Ford Bronco.

OJ himself did not testify, nor was he allowed to be cross examined by the prosecution. A receipt for a purchase by OJ of a 12″ stiletto knife six weeks before the murders was not shown because after detectives questioned store employees about the purchase, the employees sold a story about the knife to the National Inquirer, a publication known for sensationalism and conspiracy theories.

These and other testimony, photographs and eyewitness reports were, however, used in the subsequent civil trial, through which Ron’s parents Fred Goldman and Sharon Rufo filed a suit for wrongful death and won a judgement of $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages, of which no payments have been made by OJ Simpson.

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