When Evidence Backfires: The OJ Simpson Murder Trial

Much has been written about People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson, more commonly known as the OJ Simpson Murder Trial. The jury was sworn in on November 9, 1994 and opening statements were presented on January 24, 1995. Eight months later — after skirmishes between celebrity attorneys, drama from the police crime laboratory, perjury by a key investigating officer more — OJ Simpson was acquitted of the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. It was a case that was scrutinised by the whole world via daily televised programming of the proceedings on Court TV, and involved overwhelming evidence that would have put any other suspect behind bars in just a few weeks of trial.

This trial is the subject of American Crime Story on the FX Channel that first aired on February 2, 2016. This program is based on the definitive book on the trial and its social implications: The Run of His Life, The People v OJ Simpson, by Jeffrey Toobin, the highly-esteemed legal journalist who covered the trial in all of its gritty detail. You will meet the outstanding personalities: some who gained fame — and others who crashed under the spotlight and lost their careers. We will leave the breathtaking drama to the show. In these articles, we’ll endeavour to take a closer look at the evidence.

 

The faltering steps of early DNA evidence

DNA was still becoming a force for identification when the OJ trial began. There was not yet a breadth of scientific studies and courtroom precedence when prosecutors brought DNA evidence from blood found on the scene, in and on OJ’s famous white Ford Bronco. This was the same vehicle made famous by the long, slow police chase through Los Angeles — viewed live on TV from news helicopters. There were also bloody foot prints, bloody socks found in OJ’s living spaces, and finally, the bloody glove.

Blood was tested by forensic expert and criminologist Dennis Fung who testified that DNA evidence put OJ at Nicole’s house, and that bloody socks found in OJ’s home were stained with Nicole’s blood. Yet in exhaustive cross examination which took eight days, most of the DNA evidence came into question due to police procedures and uncertainty.

Errors included the fact that trainee lab assistant Andrea Mazzola — after collecting OJ’s blood samples for comparison — carried the samples around in her lab coat pocket for a day before making it an exhibit. The test lab came under scrutiny for prior errors in DNA testing. Bungling police technicians had mishandled the blood samples so badly that no accurate results were possible. Further, the defense ran separate tests on the same samples and got widely disparate results, cancelling out any credibility that remained for the police lab.

 

A “Racist, Dishonest” Cop?

Detective Ron Fuhrman drove over to OJ’s house in March 1995, hours after the murders had taken place to question him about his whereabouts that day. Finding nobody home, he jumped the wall, discovered and collected a bloody glove, identified bloody footprints that came from an expensive size 12 Bundy Maglli Shoe consistent with a shoe print in the Bronco that was the same size as OJ’s shoe size, and more.

During the trial, Fuhrman was cross examined by F. Lee Baily about his history of racial bias and use of the n-word. He denied that he had ever used that term nor had any bias at all against African Americans. A few months later, the defense played an interview Fuhrman had given in which he used the n-word 41 times. These tapes became vital to the defenses’ arguments that Fuhrman’s testimony was not credible.

In almost every instance, evidence that the prosecutors thought was bullet-proof and bona fide was discredited by a variety of challenges by the defense “Dream Team”.  In our next segment, we’ll discuss the crown jewel of evidence in this case — or reveal whether it was the most egregious misuse of evidence in courtroom history.

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  • nyc subway map says:

    I was never a big fan of OJ Simpson. I thought he tried to hard to fit in and be the “non-threatening black man” that was acceptable to white America. But I cheered along with my co-workers when the verdict was read. Not because I thought OJ was innocent but I thought for once the justice system worked for a black person in America. After hearing about black people being convicted with little evidence, it was good just to think that maybe we could get fair treatment.

    Of course, I was young then. This wasn’t really about race as much as it was about money. If OJ was poor, he would have been under the jail for this crime. If the police didn’t just shoot him first.

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