Shortly before midnight on June 11, 1994, the bodies of O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, 35, and her friend, restaurant waiter Ronald Goldman, 25, were found savagely stabbed to death outside Nicole’s condo on Bundy Drive in West Los Angeles. O.J. and Nicole’s children, Sydney, 8, and Justin, 5, were asleep in an upstairs bedroom, while Simpson had taken a red-eye flight from LAX to Chicago. Within hours, Los Angeles police went to Simpson’s lavish Brentwood home on Rockingham Avenue, about two miles away, where Kato Kaelin, who would become the world’s most famous houseguest, told them he heard three thumps in the night. Near the thumps, LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman, who would become America’s most famous racist, found a bloody glove that matched one at the crime scene.
Police used the emerging science of DNA analysis to tie the 47-year-old Hall of Fame football player, sportscaster, pitchman and actor to the murders. Instead of surrendering, O.J. issued a rambling, vaguely suicidal statement through his attorney, Robert Kardashian. Hours later the police — and media — discovered that Simpson’s friend, Al Cowlings, was driving his Ford Bronco on the San Diego Freeway, with the former NFL star in the backseat, holding a gun to his own head. Thus ensued the infamous “slow-speed chase” that played out live in primetime on network TV, turning a sordid double homicide involving a minor black celebrity into a national spectacle that exposed racial fault lines and set the standard for media madness to this day.
Simpson was jailed without bail and charged with two counts of first-degree murder, but prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty. He hired a “Dream Team” of lawyers who claimed Simpson had been framed by a racist police department, and instead of being tried in affluent Santa Monica, near where the murders occurred, the proceedings were held in downtown Los Angeles, where the jury pool was more diverse. Although the case was about whether O.J. Simpson murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, celebrity justice, interracial couples, domestic violence, tabloidization of the media, racism and police corruption were all on trial. And three years after riots broke out when an all-white jury in Simi Valley exonerated four police officers for the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King, a mostly black jury had an opportunity to turn the tables on justice.
By the time Simpson’s trial began on Jan. 29, 1995, I’d been a public information officer for nearly seven years and had hated every minute of it. So when a friend said he might be able to get me into the biggest media event of the day, I decided to pretend I was a journalist and cover the trial like I was a freelancer. Besides sneaking into the courtroom, I buzzed the crime scene, hung out in the press room and asked a dumped juror a question at a news conference. I also saw in microcosm the cynical strategies of the defense and prosecution, the shenanigans of the lawyers and judge, the odd interplay between the media and the trial proceedings, and the agony of the jurors. I had a blast, but by the time I finished writing a story, Simpson had been found not guilty and everyone was sick of O.J. stories. Is it still too soon?