LOS ANGELES (AP) — It was declared the “Trial of the Century,” and from the day O.J. Simpson was arrested in 1994 on charges of killing his ex-wife and her friend, until he was acquitted almost 15 months later, it captivated the nation. Here are 10 key events to remember.
Passers-by, led by the mournful howls of Nicole Brown Simpson’s dog, find her body and that of Ron Goldman in front of her condominium in the wealthy Brentwood section of Los Angeles on the night of June 12, 1994. The coroner determines they were attacked by surprise and stabbed multiple times.
THE BRONCO CHASE
Instead of surrendering as promised five days later, O.J. Simpson flees in a white Ford Bronco driven by his former football teammate Al Cowlings. As authorities pursue the car over 60 miles of Southern California freeways, officers plead by phone with Simpson to surrender as he at times holds a gun to his head. The chase, broadcast live on TV, ends when Cowlings drives him home.
THE SUICIDE NOTE (OR WAS IT?)
During the pursuit, Simpson’s lawyer reads reporters a long, rambling letter many conclude is a suicide note. Although he never explicitly says he plans to kill himself, Simpson does say goodbye to his first wife and numerous friends. He declares he didn’t kill his ex-wife or Goldman and says: “Don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve had a great life.”
THE DREAM TEAM
As his case heads to trial, Simpson assembles a high-paid team of the nation’s best defense lawyers. It’s led by flamboyant attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr., who coins the term: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” It’s a reference Cochran makes in his closing argument, telling jurors the bloody gloves found at the murder scene and at Simpson’s home were too small for him.
DID THE GLOVES FIT?
It certainly didn’t look like it when Simpson tried them on. Some legal experts say the prosecution lost the case that day. “Don’t do a courtroom demonstration in front of the jury unless you know how it will turn out,” says former federal prosecutor Laurie Levinson.
THE RACE CARD
Defense attorneys denounced police Officer Mark Fuhrman, who found the bloody glove at Simpson’s house, as a white racist out to frame the black sports hero. After Fuhrman testified in court he hadn’t used racial epithets to describe black people in years, lawyers produced a recording of him repeatedly using the N-word. Time Magazine got caught up in the fray when one of its artists doctored a cover photo of Simpson to make him look darker.
THE NATION REACTS
After nearly a year of racial animosity fomented by the trial, the country is divided into two camps: Sixty-two percent of white Americans think Simpson is guilty and 68 percent of blacks think he’s innocent, according to a CNN Time poll taken at the time the verdict was issued.
THE SECOND TRIAL
After Simpson’s acquittal, the victims’ families sue him. A second jury, applying a lesser standard of guilt than required in a criminal trial, finds him liable for the killings and orders him to pay a $33.5 million judgment. Goldman’s sister and father spend much of the next decade taking him to court in an effort to collect.
FREE BUT NOT FREE
On Sept. 13, 2007, the day the Goldman family wins the rights to Simpson’s book, “If I Did It,” he bursts into a Las Vegas hotel room with a handful of acquaintances and seizes numerous pieces of his sports memorabilia two men are trying to sell. He is convicted of kidnapping, armed robbery and other charges and sentenced to nine to 33 years in a Nevada prison. He will be eligible for parole in three years.
IMPACT ON POP CULTURE
All but unfathomable. It helped establish the fledgling Court TV cable channel, now called TruTV. It launched the TV careers of several attorneys hired by the television networks to provide expert commentary, a phenomenon that led Woody Allen to remark in the film “Deconstructing Harry” that a special place in hell has been reserved for people who take such jobs. The trial’s judge, Lance Ito, was lampooned repeatedly on “The Tonight Show” by a group called “The Dancing Itos” and on television’s “Seinfeld,” actor Phil Morris became famous playing Jackie Chiles, a loud, bombastic attorney modeled on Cochran.
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