The O.J. Simpson Murder Trial was a highly publicized criminal trial of retired American football player Orenthal James Simpson on two counts of first-degree murder relating to the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman in June 1994. Following a lengthy and dramatic trial by a grand jury that lasted for eight months, Simpson was ultimately acquitted of all charges in October 1995. Due to the celebrity status of the defendant, coupled with an extensive period of intense media scrutiny and turbulent climate of race-relations under which the trial took place, the case was eventually dubbed “the trial of the century” by the U.S. news media.
At 12:10 a.m. on June 13th, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson, the ex-wife of retired American football quarterback O.J. Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found murdered outside of her condo in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Shortly after the police arrived at Brown’s residence, evidence collected at the scene immediately led them to suspect that Simpson was the murderer.
On the morning of June 17th, Simpson’s lawyers informed the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) that their client would turn himself in by 11 a.m., but in an unexpected turn of events, Simpson refused to comply and fled his house in a white Ford Bronco, leaving behind only a letter addressed to his friends and family members in which he claimed his innocence. Initially, the letter was interpreted as a suicide note, but by 6:45 p.m., the LAPD had identified Simpson’s vehicle heading north on Interstate 405 and a massive number of police vehicles and helicopters were mobilized to chase Simpson in a low-speed freeway pursuit that lasted for over two hours. Upon returning to his Brentwood home under the watch of a police motorcade, Simpson surrendered himself to the authorities and was arrested on charges of a double homicide.
News Media Coverage
All “Big Three” TV networks (ABC, NBC and CBS), as well as CNN and other local TV news outlets interrupted regular programming to broadcast the low-speed police chase, with NBC downsizing its coverage of the fifth game in the 1994 NBA Finals between the New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets into the picture-in-picture (PIP) format. The broadcast of the police chase drew over 95 million viewers across the country. In addition, more than 269 helicopters from various TV news stations participated in the live aerial broadcast of the low-speed freeway chase, which caused camera signals to appear on incorrect TV channels.
On June 20th, 1994, Simpson was arraigned at a court in Santa Monica and pleaded not guilty to the charges of a double-homicide; the judge ordered that Simpson should be held without bail. The following day, a grand jury was called to determine whether to indict Simpson for the murders, though it was promptly dismissed on the grounds of concerns for trial-by-media, due to the high level of media attention surrounding the case, and rescheduled for a probable cause hearing instead. On July 7th, the presiding judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence to bring Simpson to trial for the murders. At his second arraignment on July 29th, Simpson responded to the question of his involvement in the murders by stating “absolutely, one hundred percent, not guilty.” On January 24th, 1995, the trial formally began at the criminal courts in downtown Los Angeles, California, before a grand jury of 12 members comprised of 10 women and two men, the supermajority (75%) of whom were African Americans.
Led by the Los Angeles County’s Deputy District Attorney Marcia Clark and LAPD detective Tom Lange as the chief investigator, the prosecutors elected not to ask for the death penalty and instead sought a life sentence. Despite the critical absence of direct evidence, mainly the murder weapon and witnesses to the murders, the prosecution team was able to present circumstantial evidence to build their case against Simpson, including his records of domestic violence against Nicole Brown during their marriage, items of physical evidence found at the scene of the crime and DNA analysis of blood sampled from Simpson’s socks and a left-hand glove.
Following his indictment in July 1994, Simpson hired a high-profile defense team of 10 criminal lawyers led by Johnnie Cochran and Robert Shapiro, with two attorneys specifically focusing on the DNA evidence presented by the prosecution team. In countering the charges filed against Simpson by the District Attorney’s office, the defense team argued that their client was the victim of police fraud, essentially accusing the LAPD of tampering with and mishandling of evidence during the investigation. In addition, the defense team put forth an alternative scenario portraying Brown and Goldman as victims of drug-related gang violence undertaken by Colombian drug dealers, though it was ultimately deemed to be circumstantial and rejected by Judge Lance Ito.
On October 3rd, 1995, O. J. Simpson was found not guilty on charges relating to the deaths of Brown and Goldman.
Dubbed by American journalists as “the trial of the century,” O.J. Simpson’s case instantly became recognized as a “black dot” milestone in the history of American criminal justice system. Aside from its long-term implications on the state of the legal system, the news media coverage of the police investigation and the trial also left behind many legacies in its own right:
- Only two hours after the bodies of Brown and Goldman were found at the crime scene, at least one proposal for a nonfiction “instant book” about the case reportedly began circulating among publishers, although it was never picked up.
- During the investigation and the trial, the Los Angeles Times covered the case on its front page for more than 300 days, while ABC, NBC and CBS’ nightly news broadcasts gave more air time to reporting on the case than to the Bosnian War and the Oklahoma City bombing combined. Overall, the trial was covered in at least 2,237 news segments from 1994 through 1997.
- Due to Simpson’s close ties with many producers and insiders in the media industry, most TV networks were initially reluctant to produce or air any movie or miniseries dramatization of the case, which resulted in the indefinite postponement of NBC’s production Frogmen in 1994, though several direct-to-TV films and miniseries programs were aired by other networks during and after the trial.
American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson
On February 2nd, 2016, FX premiered The People v. O. J. Simpson, the first season of American true crime anthology TV series American Crime Story, which focuses on the double-homicide investigation and trial of O.J. Simpson, based on Jeffrey Toobin’s The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson. Upon its premiere, the show was met with both critical acclaims and high ratings, which in turn gave rise to an unprecedented level of online interest in O.J. Simpson’s murder trial.
On July 19th, 2017, O.J. Simpson was granted parole after serving the minimum of nine years of his 33-year sentence after being arrested in 2008 for armed robbery. His parole hearing streamed on live television and ran from about noon to 3:00 P.M. EST. All four members of the parole board agreed to release Simpson as he had “no prior convictions,” “community support,” and “stable release plans.” One of the victims in the case, Bruce Fromong, testified that he had known Simpson for years and forgiven him.
“The Lost Confession”
On March 11th, 2018, the television channel Fox aired a two-hour special titled “O.J. Simpson: The Lost Confession,” which featured a 2006 interview between Simpson and publishing magnate Judith Regan, in which he promotes the release of his book If I Did It. In the interview, Simpsons explained how he would have hypothetically murdered Brown and Goldman. Following the broadcast, Twitter users began posting clips from the interview with speculations that Simpson had actually confessed to the crimes, along with the hashtag #DidOJConfess (shown below).
#OJSimpson just confessed to murder. He stopped saying this scenario was hypothetical and started speaking about the murders in first person. This monster admitted killing his ex-wife in 2006 and the interview was buried. #DidOJConfess pic.twitter.com/Gmbcd6tmMb
— Sil Lai Abrams (@Sil_Lai) March 12, 2018