A year's Juice, freshly squeezed

Many believe that OJ Simpson will be found not guilty. But the media, the legal profession and the LA police may not be so lucky.
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The Independent Online
Exactly one year since jury selection began in "The Trial of the Century", the weary panel in the OJ Simpson murder case will today hear closing arguments. It is the final act in which lawyers must fuse high drama with logic, narrative and fragmentary evidence into broad themes. This will be a big day for Marcia Clark and Chris Darden, Johnnie Cochran and Barry Scheck. They will do their hair with special care, pay extra attention to the way they put together their outfits. And after these essential personal vanities, they will hone the closing speeches they have prepared for the end of America's trial of the century. For today, a year after initial jury selection started, that weary and oft-changed panel of 12 good and true men and women will hear the summing up to the trial of OJ Simpson.

The Murders

On the afternoon of 12 June 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson, OJ Simpson's estranged wife, does not save a seat for him at their daughter's school recital. OJ, appearing relaxed, stands at the back of the hall. It is the last time they are seen together.

At 9.40pm that evening, OJ returns from McDonald's with house guest Kato Kaelin. (The case later makes Kaelin, a sometime porn movie star, a media personality.) For the following 80 minutes, no one sees Simpson. Prosecutors contend that this was all the time OJ needed to drive to Ms Simpson's home, kill her and Ronald Goldman, a waiter at a local restaurant, get back to his estate, change and leave for the airport by limousine at 11pm. Simpson's lawyers argue that there was not enough time and explain that he was practising his golf swing.

At 11pm, in an alley leading to the front door of 875 South Bundy Drive, neighbours of Ms.Simpson find two bodies. Nicole has been virtually decapitated by a technique similar to that OJ Simpson was taught by commandos in preparation for a part in the film Seals.

The Marriage

It wasn't a happy one, and that forms a central part of the eventual prosecution case against OJ. It seems the all-American hero had a habit of beating up his wife, stalking her and threatening her with violence. The prosecution will open their case with taped emergency calls of Ms Simpson calling for help on New Year's Eve, 1989, with Simpson shouting in the background and trying to get into the house. Denise Brown, Nicole's sister, will testify how Simpson humiliated Nicole and threw her against a wall. If Simpson is found not guilty, it will partly be because the defence fails to establish his motive of wanting to bring his wife under his control.

The Fugitive

In Chicago, Simpson is alerted to the murders, and expresses surprise but no compassion. He flies back to Los Angeles, and on 16 June attends his ex-wife's funeral with their two daughters. The following day, Simpson is charged with murder. Through his lawyer, he agrees to give himself up at midday, but later that afternoon Simpson is spotted cruising the LA freeways in a white Ford Bronco driven by his friend Al Cowlings. He is tailed by police and media helicopters. America stops to watch the drama unfold, and Angelenos turn out to cheer him on. At dusk he returns to his estate and gives himself up to police. White Ford Broncos acquire cult status in LA.

The Police

The trial becomes a disaster for the Los Angeles Police Department, which itself is put on trial. After finding a bloody glove and a black ski mask at the murder scene, Detectives Philip Vannatter and Mark Fuhrman drive the five minutes to Simpson's Rockingham estate. In an alley adjacent to Kaelin's cottage, they find Simpson's white Ford Bronco: the driver's side door is smeared with blood.

Getting no response from the house, and without a search warrant, the detectives climb over the wall. Fuhrman finds the pair to the glove collected at Bundy. Vannatter finds a trail of blood drops up the driveway. DNA tests later show that the blood has the same genetic make-up as Simpson's.

Fuhrman takes on a vital role in the case after Pat Mckenna, a private investigator, unearths a screenwriter's taped conversations of the policeman in which he makes racist remarks. The defence alleges he planted the glove at Simpson's house as part of a racist conspiracy to frame Simpson.

Late last month, with the jury absent, the court hears the full racist venom of the Fuhrman tapes.Though the jury will only hear two relatively innocuous uses of the word "nigger", it is widely held that no black juror will find Simpson guilty

Fuhrman isn't the only problem. In April, after 10 days on the stand, the LAPD forensic expert Dennis Fung and the police lab are tainted as bungling and incompetent after counsel for the defence allege that samples were sloppily collected and poorly handled, rendering DNA results unreliable.


The Lawyers

It is a disaster for the police, but a bonanza for the lawyers. In a brilliant move, Simpson's attorney, Robert Shapiro, hires Johnnie Cochran and a "dream team" of lawyers and experts to defend his client. The lawyers, Judge Lanco Ito and both legal teams have their private and public lives examined in minute detail, from their haircuts to their childcare arrangements in the case of the lead prosecutor, Marcia Clarke.

The Jury

Members of the jury become stars of the case in their own right. Jury selection begins on 26 September. The prosecution pushes to have women on the jury, believing that this will be a trial about domestic abuse. Johnnie Cochran understands that this will be a trial about race, and presses for black jurors. Jury and alternate jury of 17 women and seven men are selected who compose of 15 blacks, five whites, two Hispanics and two mixed. In April, the jury, having already lost eight of their number, stage a revolt and come to court wearing black to protest at three deputies guarding them being reassigned.

The jury has been in service for 33 weeks. They have heard 133 witnesses, examined 1,105 pieces of evidence, sat through drama and tedium, watched as careers have been made and broken, and suffered near total alienation from their normal lives.

The Media

The first tell-all book was published on 20 October, Simpson's I Want to Tell You. In it he says, "How could anyone ever believe I killed Nicole?" He has so far received 300,000 pieces of mail.

The trial has been good to CNN. In June, it estimated that it made $45m in additional advertising revenue from its coverage, and during Fuhrman's original testimony in April 16 per cent of the 22 million households with CNN were tuning in. At the start of the proceedings, seven stations in the Los Angeles area were covering; now there is only one, KTLA. KNX-AM, the only LA radio station to be transmitting the trial gavel-to-gavel, claimed a weekly rating of 1.8 million at the start. It now gets 1.1 million. That is 900,000 more listeners than a year before. The end of the trial will hurt the media, which will go in search of a substitute.

The Defence

The defence case opens with a glowing character reference from Simpson's daughter Arnelle. They contend that Simpson did not have the time to commit the murders, that the evidence was sloppily collected and/or planted in a racist conspiracy to frame Simpson.

An orthopaedic surgeon testifies that Simpson was too crippled by his football injuries to have committed the murders. The prosecution introduces an exercise video of Simpson taken weeks before the slayings - he appears perfectly able. In an out-take, he jokes about "hitting the wife".

In July, the prosecution calls Simpson to try on the gloves found at the scene. In a classic mistake of asking a question they do not know the answer to, Simpson has difficulty getting them on. It is a disastrous move from which the prosecution never fully recovers.

In early September, Fuhrman returns to the witness stand, out of the jury's presence, and invokes the Fifth Amendment protection against self- incrimination. Judge Ito rules that the jury may hear that Fuhrman's unavailability may be used in considering the value of his evidence, but he is overruled on appeal.

Thwarted in presenting the Fuhrman,the defence cast out for a dramatic finish. They call two mob informants to testify. Larry and Craig "The Animal" Fiato tell the court that Detective Vannatter told them that Simpson was a suspect when detectives first climbed the wall - rebutting Vannatter's original testimony that they were not in rush to judge, as the defence contends.

On 22 September, in waiving his right to testify, Simpson tells the court - out of the presence of the jury - that "he did not, could not, and would not have committed this crime".The prosecution is furious and calls his statement tantamount to testifying without cross-examination.

The Missing

The Colombian cocaine cartel's hired hitmen who, it is alleged by the defence, were sent to kill one of Nicole's friends but killed her in a case of mistaken identity.

Soon after the murders, Robert Kardashian, a friend of Simpson's, is videotaped taking a Louis Vuitton bag from Simpson's house. It is later surmised that the bag contained Simpson's bloody clothes and/or the knife. Most perplexing: the murder weapon is never found.

`When the court breaks for lunch I go out and do my errands'

Susie Gershon, a 54-year-old housewife from Prairie Village near Kansas City, is a self-described OJ addict. Her life revolves around the CNN coverage that begins at 11am and ends at 7pm. "It has become so addictive that I make my schedule around the trial. When the court takes its lunch break is when I go out and do errands," she says.

As with most OJ addicts, Mrs Gershon's affair with the trial started slowly. "I started by watching the chase and couldn't believe in the beginning that he could have so brutally murdered two people like that. I had to hear what went on."

OJ addiction, like most compulsions, is extremely boring for anyone not involved and can provoke jealousy. "One night my husband came home at 7pm and - he's the most mild mannered man - he walks in the house and starts screaming, `When is this going to be over with? Get a life. I can't take it any more.' "

Mrs Gershon has her favourites from the courtroom drama, among them Barry Scheck, the lawyer who has handled most of the DNA testimony for Simpson's "Dream Team" and one of the most engaging speakers in the court. Like most OJ addicts she has become something of a self-styled expert in the intricacies of criminal law: "I like all the defence lawyers but I have had a hard time with Judge Ito. Some of his rulings have been very pro- prosecution and I don't think that he has had good control. The most riveting part has been the glove. You know I had been saying all along, `Why don't they just try the glove on?' "

And the verdict? "I have wavered about whether Simpson is guilty. If I was a juror I would feel that he was but I could not say that beyond a reasonable doubt." And after it is over? "It will be a relief, I'll go back to my regular exercising, back to where I was before it started."