How a trial turned on a bloody glove

The verdict: A key police witness's racial jibes undermined prosecution 's forensic evidence

TIM CORNWELL

Los Angeles

Orenthal James Simpson - football star, TV commentator, comedy movie actor - is, according to the law, an innocent man. Argument will rage for years about the weight of evidence against him. At the very least - innocent or guilty - he benefited from one of the most confused and bungled prosecutions of a high-profile case in American legal history.

According to the prosecution, he was a cold-blooded murderer, a man who brutally dispatched his ex-wife and a friend and, within the space of an hour, showered, changed and took a limousine to the airport.

According to the defence, he was the victim of a hurried plan by the LA police department to frame a celebrity - and, more importantly, a black celebrity.

The pivotal moment in the trial was the argument surrounding a bloody glove found near the murder scene and spots of blood found in OJ's drive.

According to the prosecution the DNA match-up between this blood and Simpson's blood was a conclusive 57 billion to one shot. The defence alleged that the blood and glove were planted by the LA police department. Some credence was given to this claim when it emerged that Detective Mark Fuhrman, the policeman who found the glove, was an inveterate racist.

Judge Lance Ito allowed the jury to hear extracts of a taped conversation with Fuhrman in which he used the word nigger. Although the judge did not expose the mainly black jury to the full tapes, experienced trial watchers - and leaks from the jury room - suggested that OJ could not be convicted from that moment.

How strong was the evidence against OJ?

The entire 12-month trial seemed to turn, in the end, on OJ's chauffeur- driven journey on the night of the crime from his estate, in Brentwood, near Beverly Hills, to LA international airport. On Monday, just before they announced that they had reached a verdict, the jury asked to hear once again the testimony of his chauffeur, Allan Park. Mr Park told the court that, at 10.40pm on the night of the murder, he buzzed the intercom at Simpson's gate without an answer. Fifteen minutes later, he buzzed again. Simpson answered, saying he had overslept and was in the shower. In the intervening time, Park said he saw a man in dark clothing enter the house.

The testimony - never challenged in the trial - appeared to undermine the central assertion of the defence: that Simpson was at home practising his golf swing from 9.40pm to 11pm - while his wife was being virtually decapitated two miles away. At 11pm that night her mangled body was found alongside that of Ronald Goldman, a waiter at a local restaurant.

OJ, it seemed, had an opportunity to commit the crime. What of motive and proof?

The prosecution asserted that OJ was perpetually jealous, a man driven by the need to bring his ex-wife under his control. According to this version, he took Goldman for his wife's lover, although this was never proven. On 25 October 1993, just nine months before her death, Nicole Simpson dialled 911, for the police. "My husband - or ex-husband - has just broken into my house and he's ranting and raving outside in the front yard," Nicole told the dispatcher. In the background of the tape, played in court, OJ is heard raging about a National Enquirer story about the couple and slamming on a door. "I don't give a - any more, -," he yells.

Much depended on the bloody glove found at the murder scene and a trail of blood drops nearby and in his own driveway. Blood on the rear gate of Nicole Simpson's condominium, retrieved several weeks after the crime, also matched his. Blood on a sock found in Simpson's bedroom matched Nicole's. An FBI hair and fibre expert matched fibres found on a knit cap near the bodies and on a leather glove found behind Mr Simpson's house with carpeting in his Ford Bronco.

Richard Rubin, a former glove company executive, said he was "100 per cent certain" that the bloody gloves found at Nicole's home and Simpson's were the same Aris Leather Lights style number 70263 with Brasser stitching that Simpson sported in a photograph at a football game in 1991.

But all this evidence was discredited by the bungled early stages of the police investigation and the destruction of Detective Fuhrman's character by the tapes proving his racist attitudes - something he had denied on oath in court.

If not OJ, who?

The defence claimed that a Colombian cocaine cartel killed Nicole and her friend by mistake. They had, the defence claimed, been sent to assassinate one of her friends.

No convincing evidence was offered that such a plot ever existed.

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